If you have RV solar panels installed, then it’s important to know that during the winter months, the drop in temperature can severely affect the battery storage capacity for the panels. However, if you use the batteries regularly, they won’t freeze as easily. The temperature would need to drop way below zero before you would have to be concerned with that. However, if you fail to keep the batteries fully charged then they actually can freeze. Learning how to winterize your RV solar panels will keep your system in tip-top shape and ready for the upcoming RV’ing season.
How to winterize RV solar panels is simple. If you don’t plan on using your RV for the winter months and you want to protect your RV solar panels and the system as a whole, purchase waterproof, lightproof covers for the panels and remove the battery, storing it in a dry, dark place. You can leave the solar panels uncovered if they’re in good condition. However, if the panels are scratched or cracked and you live in a part of the country that experiences harsh winter conditions, then you must remove any snow that builds up on the panels. This will prevent the snow from melting and settling into the cracks in the panels, an issue which could severely damage the panels if the melted snow froze.
If you live in a warmer part of the country, then you don’t need to bother with winterizing your solar panel setup.
As you can see, caring for your solar panels during the winter months is actually very simple. You may need to cover your solar panels in certain circumstances or remove the battery if you’re anticipating freezing conditions. But ultimately, most types of solar panels can handle cold weather conditions rather well.
Read on to learn how to keep your solar panels functional and in great shape during the winter, how to properly store the system’s battery, and what to do with your solar panel system in inclement weather.
Caring For Your Solar Panels Year-Round
RV solar panel systems are fairly low maintenance. If you cover a lot of ground a day, then your main concern should be keeping the solar panels clean and dry, in order to absorb more of the sun’s energy. Some types of solar panels are considered more efficient in terms of power absorption. But at the end of the day, both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels both work to provide your RV with the power it needs to run appliances and your sensitive electronics.
When you travel during the winter months, or if you leave the solar panels on your RV year-round, then there are other concerns, such as water damage, if the solar panels have chips or cracks.
Snow and ice will be the major concerns here, although a general dip in power is also a big issue most RV users struggle with during the winter.
We’ll cover what you can do in serious weather conditions to protect your solar panels and keep your system in great shape for the upcoming caravanning season.
Solar Panel Systems in Snowy Conditions
When your solar panel kit was installed, you probably took great care to place the panels in positions that allowed them to get as much light from the sun as possible. This will also be a big plus in the winter since the rays from the sun will melt any snow that lands on the panels. However, if it’s snowing out, the snow usually doesn’t stick to solar panels, instead, it will slide right off the panels because they’re so smooth.
In the event that the snow does end up sticking to the panels, make sure when you remove it, you do so carefully, in order to avoid scratching the surface of the panels. Another worry is leaving snow on the panels and allowing it to melt. If there are any scratches or cracks in the panels, then the snow will melt and seep into these cracks where it can freeze and do some serious damage. Always avoid using a rake or metal shovel to remove the snow from the panels as doing so can also easily scratch the surface. A great option is a soft-bristled broom or a solar panel snow rake.
If you don’t plan on using your RV during the winter months, you can easily winterize the panels by covering them in waterproof material.
If you do plan on using your RV and the solar panel system, then you may need to adjust the angle of the panels in order to generator the max amount of energy during the sunny hours of the day. In the winter, the panels should be facing south.
Leaving Your Panels Up and Running During the Winter
Most RV users, whether they plan on using their RV or not during the winter months, will leave the solar panels on their RV, with no protection, even in snowy conditions. Most brands of solar panels feature metal that’s corrosion resistant, so you won’t have to worry about the solar panel frames rusting. This allows you to leave the solar panels out in the open, in the winter, without the hassle of having to cover them up to protect them from the elements.
If your solar panels have scratches and cracks, or even if you’re just worried about damage from snow and melting snow, go ahead and purchase covers for the solar panels. These covers can be pricey and can provide a moderate amount of protection, as long as they’re waterproof and lightproof.
Depending on what part of the country you live in, you may experience more overcast days than sunny ones. However, even if it’s overcast the panels can still collect energy, although not quite as much as they can on a sunny day. Of course, during this time, it’s more important than ever to ensure the panels are kept clean and free of dirt and debris, in order to improve their energy absorption.
Before Winter Hits
The end of the summer season is the perfect time to give your solar panels a once over, cleaning and prepping them for the oncoming winter weather. However, if you don’t live in a part of the country that experiences harsh winters, aside from a little routine maintenance, you won’t have to do much to prepare your system for the oncoming colder weather.
If you do have to deal with intense winter conditions, then before the first freeze, make sure you check out the solar panel’s power system, and remove the battery and cover the solar panels, if you don’t want to worry about snow buildup. This is also a great time to do any repairs or routine work that you put off during the summer.
How Cold Weather Affects the Battery
In colder temperatures, the battery’s lifespan is cut significantly. However, if they’re stored and maintained and winterized properly, you can maximize the battery’s lifespan.
Most manufacturers rate their batteries with an ideal operating temperature that ranges from fifty to eighty-six degrees. A battery will usually lose ten to twenty percent of its capacity every fifteen to twenty degrees below eighty degrees. The internal chemistry of the battery slows down and the charge acceptance drops, while the resistance is on the rise. Fortunately, this type of reduced capacity is only temporary. Yet it can still be a major problem considering that most renewable energy systems have the lowest solar production during the winter.
Storage options that are fine for common batteries don’t really provide that much protection for RV solar panel system batteries. The best way to protect these types of batteries in the winter months is to store them in a well-insulated space that can provide protection from direct sunlight. If, for any reason you’re not able to protect the batteries from freezing temperatures then you may need to purchase a much larger battery bank in order to compensate for the reduced capacity.
What Type of Weather Can Do Serious Damage to Solar Panels?
Obviously, if your solar panels are new or are otherwise in great condition, then you don’t have to worry about wind, rain, or freezing temperatures. However, older solar panels are more susceptible to damage since water and debris can make its way into the cracks and crevices of the solar panel setup. Hail can also be a major concern, even for new solar panels.
To learn more, click here to read our article on how to protect RV Solar panels from hail.
How Long Do RV Solar Panels Last?
The average solar panel has a lifespan of six to ten years, depending on how often you use the system and how well you care for it. The system’s battery can typically last two to three years. Solar panels may get cracked or chipped during use, in which case, prompt repairs can help to keep your panels fully functional. However, if you fail to take care of a cracked panel in a timely manner it may need to be replaced if the damage is extensive or if water makes its way into one of the cracks.
What Type of Generator Can I Use with My Solar Panel System?
Inverter generators are usually the go-to style of generator for this setup. The Generac 7117 GP2200i Portable Inverter Generator is one of the leading camp generators on the market. It offers reliable power, an excellent runtime, and can help to supplement your power if you’re camping out in inclement weather and your solar panels aren’t providing much juice.
Click here to read our buyer’s guide to learn more about inverter generators and the type of power they have to offer.
What are Solar Panel Systems for RV?
We recommend the HQST 100 Watts 12 Volts Polycrystalline Solar Panel Off-Grid RV and Boat Kit. These kits are perfect if you need some extra juice when you’re traveling in your RV. Most styles of RV solar panel kits can provide more than enough power, in ideal weather conditions. This kit by HQST has a high efficiency rating and scored well for ease of installation, maintenance needs, and overall quality.
If you’d like to learn more about RV solar panel setups and how they work, click here to read our RV solar panels buyer’s guide.
Will RV Solar Panels Still Work on Overcast Days?
Yes. However, they won’t absorb as much energy as they obviously will on sunny days. If you’re camping out or driving across the country during the winter months, you will need to learn how to properly conserve energy since most solar panels experience a major dip in energy. Most experienced campers and RV users often turn to inverter generators for this purpose.
How to winterize RV solar panels is simple. If the solar panels are in great shape, you can leave them on the RV, uncovered. If you live in a part of the country that gets snow every winter, you may want to remove the snow if it builds up, or you can simply leave it, it’s more a matter of personal choice. If the solar panels are already pretty worn and have small scratches and cracks, then purchasing solar panel covers is a great idea and one that can prevent melting snow from doing serious damage if it seeps into the cracks and freezes again. It’s also important to remove the battery if you live in a colder part of the country that experiences freezing temperatures. However, if you use the battery regularly or you live in a warmer part of the country, then there is no fear of the battery freezing. Ultimately, the level of protection your solar panels need during the winter months depends on their age, quality, and overall condition.