Solar Panels for RV

Photo of author
Written By Tony Lopes

Sustainable marketer and clean energy specialist. 

You can get clean, renewable power from the Sun with solar panels for RVs. Millions are enjoying the open road in nature while getting the benefits of free, clean energy.

Let’s explore everything to do with solar panels for RVs. We look at how to determine your energy needs, how to choose the right system, how to install and some recommendations. If you want specific info about flexible solar panels for your RV, check this out.

BTW, some of our recommendations might include affiliate links which means we make a small commission if you buy, at no extra cost to you. That’s how we can keep making useful articles for you!

Let’s hit the road to solar power!

What are solar panels for RVs?
Why should you get solar panels for your RVs?
Types of solar panels for RVs
How many solar panels do I need for my RV?
How to size your battery bank for your RV
How much power do you need?

What are solar panels for RVs?

RV solar panels are installed on the roof or other surfaces of your RV. The solar panels work just like the panels you find installed for homes and businesses. The solar panels create electricity when they are struck by sunlight – this is called the photovoltaic (PV) effect. The panels are connected to a charge controller which regulates the energy which is passed on to battery storage system.

RV solar panels give you an alternative source of energy when you don’t have access to a campsite or other grid power point.

Solar panels are also a source of renewable energy. This means you’re using energy that doesn’t pollute the atmosphere with CO2 like what fossil fuels do.

Why should you get solar panels for your RV?

Freedom! Solar panels allow you to go far into nature, away from the grid, while being able to power your RV. Free, clean energy from the Sun is captured by your solar panels and stored in your battery bank so you have energy even when the Sun is not shining.

Types of solar panels for RVs

Solar panels generally come in 3 types: polycrystalline, monocrystalline and amorphous.

The polycrystalline cells are cheaper but also slightly less efficient. They are made from multiple pieces of silicon and are also regarded as durable and reliable.

The monocrystalline cells are the gold standard currently in terms of efficiency. They are constructed from a single silicon crystal and therefore more expensive to make but will give you the most energy from the same amount of space. The difference in efficiency between polycrystalline and monocrystalline cells is now so small that it doesn’t make too much of a difference which one you go for.

Flexible panels are made thinner and more bendable components. These panels can be glued and shaped to various surfaces on your RV. Although these are significantly less efficient than polycrystalline or monocrystalline panels. they have very good uses and can complement your energy system for that extra boost.

How many solar panels do I need for my RV?

Your RV has specific energy requirements. These are based on the appliances you have and how often you use them. You might also be looking at using solar only to supplement your energy needs and topping up with your main energy supply coming from the grid – or you might be looking at a fully off-grid system that allows you to be away from the grid completely.

It’s important that you know how to calculate your energy requirements. Each appliance and device you will charge has a specific energy rating. Make a list of everything that will pull power and a good estimate of how long you will run these for each day.

Make a spreadsheet or list on paper with everything documented and then total everything so you can work out what your daily energy requirements are.

You can use a solar calculator to predict how much energy you will get from the Sun over a specific time period for the area you are in and how much energy you can produce in kilowatt hours.

Here’s a great RV solar calculator you can use that’s based on the size of your RV and gives some great estimates based on your type of travel and the DC and AC loads you need.

This great solar sizing worksheet will give you some useful guidelines for calculating everything.

Once you have figured out what DC and AC appliances you have running and how many hours they will run for each day, you can calculate your weekly or monthly energy needs.

Your battery bank needs to be the right size for your energy needs. It’s no good having a bunch of solar panels but only a small battery – the battery storage needs to be sized according to how much power you will draw each day and then you can add the right number of solar panels based on your battery storage size.

How to size your battery bank for your RV

Use the spreadsheet you created of all your appliances and for each item in the list you should include:

  • Name of the appliance
  • The running Watts eg 1,200 Watts for the hot plate, 650 Watts for the coffee maker etc
  • How long the appliance will run for (in hours)
  • Watt hours (running Watts x number of hours run)
  • Volts e.g. 12.8 V
  • Amp Hours = Watt hours divided by Volts

Once you have the total Amp hours for all your devices and appliances combined you can design the battery system. Batteries are rated in watt hours or amp-hours which is how much power the system is drawing.

Your solar panels will need to charge your batteries so that you have power after the Sun sets.

How much power needs to flow from your solar panels to your battery system?

You need to calculate the maximum power needs from your solar panels. Since you know from the calculations above what your daily amp hour requirements are you can also work out the continuous and peak discharge current your battery bank must handle. So, if all the appliances were running at the same time what would your current requirements be?

Current is calculated as Watts divided by Volts.

If your current is higher than the continuous rating of your battery bank you will either need to reduce the number of appliances you use at the same time or increase the battery bank capacity. Your monitoring system will shut down the battery if you run appliances at the same time and this is higher than the peak current rating.

If you don’t have enough current some of the devices won’t start or run and so your solar panels come into the picture as they fill up your battery banks.

Solar panels come in different power ratings but are usually between 100 to 300 Watts each. This changes depending on the type of solar panels you have and the weather and light conditions. As a rule of thumb, you will get about 30 amps of power from a 100 Watts solar panel.

Your solar panels are joined together in an array. The more panels you have the more powerful your array.

If, for example, your appliances require 140 amp hours and each panel provides 30 amps, you will need 5 panels. This means 5 x 30 amps = 150 amps will cover the 140 amp hours needed.

You should build in a cushion of about 25% capacity over and above your needs so that you have power on days when the sun is not shining very brightly due to clouds or bad weather.

We recommend you chat to a solar professional to assist with these calculations but it’s important that you understand how to do these calculations yourself. This gives you information for when you shop for panels, batteries, charge controllers and designing our solar power system for your RV.

Knowledge is power!

Leave a Comment