Since solar panel enters into our lives, we see various applications of solar panels everywhere. But solar panel systems aren`t just for houses or commercial properties--they can be a great source for on the go electricity users as well. In this article, learn about how solar panels for RVs and campers work, if they’re right for you, and what some of the top options available are.
The basics of an RV solar panel setup
Solar panels for RV campers or motorhomes work in the same way a residential solar installation operates: solar panels capture sunlight and convert it into electricity, and you can use that solar electricity to power appliances. You can buy specialized portable solar panels designed for easy set up and take down for RVs, as well as small or flexible panels that are designed to be mounted on an RV roof.
If you spend time camping and traveling in an RV, a solar panel setup can be a cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and convenient way to use electricity on the go. Solar panel systems generally require little to no maintenance and provide a dependable source of electricity when the sun is shining. For RV owners who mostly stick to campgrounds with electrical hookups, however, RV solar panels likely won’t provide enough of an extra benefit to rationalize spending on them.
Factors you need to consider when buying an RV solar panel system
One important difference between residential panels and RV panels is the size of the system: RV solar panel setups are usually designed to provide enough power to recharge either small devices or a few larger kitchen appliances, while a home solar system is typically sized to cover most or all of your property’s electricity needs. You can always add more panels to your RV solar setup, but given the small amount of roof space and energy storage capacity requirements, RV solar panel systems are generally on the smaller side compared to residential rooftop installations. Below we have laid out some groundwork for you to determine how big of a system you need.
How many solar panels do you need to run an RV
Most solar panels for RVs are between 100 and 400 watts of power, and an RV needs about 120 watts of energy on average. This means that an RV will need three 400, ten 200 solar panels, or any other combination of power outputs to meet it’s typical energy demand of 120 watts.
RV solar panel costs
Generally, a complete RV solar panel system will cost between $600-$2000 including the solar panel itself, installation and any custom electrical work that needs to be done in order for the panel to work properly. Costs vary widely depending on the type of use for your RV from weekend outings to extended multi-day trips.
Do you need batteries for your RV solar panels
A deep cycle battery for your RV solar system is essential for running appliances outside of daylight hours or when it is cloudy. Since RV solar panels are not grid-tied, your battery bank is your principle source of back up energy. RV batteries will store energy produced by your PV panels, allowing you to use it as needed, while a charge controller will regulate that energy and prolong battery life.
Should you install solar panels on your RV
If you’re the type of RV owner who plans on spending lots of time in remote locations and dry camps without power hookups (known as “boondocking”), solar energy may be a way to generate power and see some long-term savings when compared to a gas generator. Over time, the costs of continually starting up and running a gas generator will exceed the investment required for a solar panel system. You can expect your solar “payback period” to be under five years, but the actual time it takes to recoup your investment will depend on the equipment you purchase and the amount of sunlight that hits your solar panels.
However, RV solar panels won’t make financial or practical sense for every RV owner. If you spend the majority of your RV time at campgrounds, you’re probably better off hooking up to the local power system and paying the associated fee. Installing solar may end up saving you money in the end, but you may have to wait a long time to break even. Additionally, if you only take RV trips a few times per year, the upfront cost of an RV solar panel setup will likely not be worth the few times you can actually use the system.
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