How to Use Solar Power in Your RV

Have you ever considered the idea of running your RV on solar power? This might seem a bit outlandish, but in reality, more and more RVers are turning to this awesome and sustainable RV electrical solution.

In this article we will discuss why you might want to join the RV solar crowd and how you might go about doing that.

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Why RV Solar Power is Amazing

Let’s first address the why. Why would you want to spend time and money finding a way to run your RV on only the power of the sun? There are actually a couple of answers to this.

The first reason to create a solar power system for your RV is for the incredible freedom it offers. Being able to camp comfortably without electric hookups means you can explore wherever and however you like without ever needing to seek out a campground before bedtime.

Another great reason for investing in solar power? Cost savings. Skipping campgrounds means skipping campground fees. Meanwhile, those with solar power can boondock perfectly comfortably without running a generator, meaning you won’t be shelling out cash for fuel.

Obviously, solar power is an amazing way to go, and an investment you won’t regret.

What You Need to Know about Solar Panels

Now that you know why you need to have solar on your RV, we should discuss the how. We will begin by discussing the traditional solar panels that so many people install on the tops of their rigs.

The Types of Panels

Solar panels can be broken down into two categories:

  1. Crystalline Silicon Panel: This is the most common type of solar panel. This category encompasses both the polycrystalline (which is the less expensive option) and monocrystalline (which is the more efficient of the two).
  2. Thin-Film Solar Cell: They may be less efficient than either of the crystalline solar panel types mentioned above, but thin-film solar cell panels have their place. These panels are very lightweight, making them ideal for those with a low cargo carrying capacity.

How Many Panels?

Wondering how many panels to purchase? Well, most casual campers could do alright with a 400-watt system.

That said, an 800-watt system would be a much safer bet, and with a good battery bank and inverter, could run everything in your RV aside from the air conditioner. Still, “energy hogs” such as the microwave and hair dryer should be used sparingly.

Using Your Panels

Once the panels are installed, you will need to keep some things in mind in order to ensure your panels are working properly.

First, it is important to know that the panels will not do the job alone. In order to have solar power in your RV you will need an entire solar system. This would include a decent battery bank, an inverter, and a charge controller. Without these things, the panels will be useless.

Fortunately, a good solar power kit will include everything except the battery bank. Batteries can be purchased from a variety of retailers, but we recommend lithium ion batteries from Relion Batteries.

Another thing to know is that the panels must be in the sun in order to work properly. This means parking under trees is a no-go, and in some cases, people will choose to mount their panels so they can be tilted toward the sun.

On top of that, the panels will need to be cleaned regularly. After all, a dirty panel isn’t going to do its job very well. Cleaning the panels isn’t difficult, but it’s still a task you’ll need to keep in mind.

Solar Panel Cost

The cost of a rooftop solar system depends on a lot of different factors. These include 1) the type of panels you select, 2) how many you decide to install, and 3) whether you do the solar panel installation on your own or hire someone else to do the work.

Generally speaking, the cost for a whole solar system might start around $1,000 for a very basic system, though prices can go much higher than that.

Portable Solar Panels as an Easy Solution

Looking for a solar solution that doesn’t require as much time or money? If you won’t be using solar power often, a portable solar panel may be just the thing for you. These panels can be easily packed away when not in use and pulled out when the battery needs a charge. They do not need to be mounted to anything, and can be turned to face the sun no matter where it may be in the sky.

Many newer RVs come ready for a portable solar panel with a place to plug one in directly to the power system. If your RV doesn’t have this, connecting the portable panel to your battery will be a bit more difficult, but not impossible.

Portable solar panel prices start around $500 and go up from there.

Solar Generator Option

There is also the option of purchasing a portable solar power generator. That said, the word generator is quite misleading as these power boxes don’t actually generate any electricity at all, and instead simply store the power for later use.

The power these boxes store can actually come from a variety of sources, including a household outlet, or even a car charging port. However, since this is an article about solar power, we will focus on that option.

In order to charge a solar generator using solar power, you will actually need to purchase solar panels in addition to the generator itself. Most solar generator brands recommend specific solar panels which pair with their power boxes quickly and easily and without any need for an adapter.

Solar generators are great for those who only need a place to charge their phones or a way to run a fan. They will not power an entire RV though, and because they take so long to recharge using solar power, they aren’t really the ideal solution for the camper who wishes to use solar power often.

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