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RV Solar Panels for Beginners

Camping with Solar Panels

RV Solar Panels for Beginners

An RV solar kit might not save you as much money as you think.  Here’s the truth about solar power for RV.

If you want solar power for your RV, you need three elements: RV solar panels, batteries, and a power inverter. The panels are made from silicon and phosphorous. Sunlight causes the electrons in these cells to break and bond over and over, which creates electricity. This electricity gets stored in the batteries as DC power. The inverter transforms this into AC power, which runs electronic products. So, with solar panels, batteries, and an inverter, you can generate free, renewable energy.  Just how much energy will you get from your RV solar kit, though?

How Much Solar Power Do I Need for My RV?

If you’re considering RV solar, this is the most important question you need to ask. The answer depends upon which type of devices you plan to power in your RV. It also depends upon how long you plan to power them. Lastly, it depends upon your RV solar kit – the solar panel, batteries, and inverter. Let’s take a closer look at each of these components that deliver solar power to your RV:

  1. Solar Panels: If you want to run large or multiple devices for a long time, you need a solar panel that fully charges your batteries every day. If your panels aren’t able to do this, you’ll run out of stored power because you’ll be using it quicker than you’re replacing it.
  2. Battery: A single car battery has the potential to run almost all household devices. But for how long?  The number of batteries you have helps determine how long you’ll be able to operate those electronic products.
  3. Inverter: The size of your inverter determines how much AC power you can use. These devices range in size and strength.

The size of solar panels and inverters – and the number of batteries you need – depends on the devices you want to power. How long you plan to power these devices is also part of the equation. Even the smallest of electronic products and appliances can be a huge drain of energy. Here is a list of basic appliances that are energy eaters:

  • Tea kettles
  • Toasters
  • Coffee pots
  • Heating pads
  • Heaters
  • Electric ranges
  • Refrigerators
  • Hair dryers
  • Microwaves
  • Washer/dryer
  • Power tools 

RV Solar Panels to Run AC?

Are motorhome solar panels the answer to running your air conditioning unit? Many RV owners ask about this when they’re considering solar power for their RV. If small appliances are energy eaters, can you imagine what a rooftop AC unit would be? Short answer: an energy hog! Generally speaking, an RV solar kit isn’t the best way to power your AC unit.

To use solar power to run your AC, you’ll need enough battery to support the load.  (You’ll be running your AC for several hours.) If you’re using regular batteries, you’ll need so many that it will add weight and take up space in your motorhome. Do you really want to leave things at home that you would rather have with you on your trips? 

You might be able to solve this problem by switching to lithium batteries. This creates other difficulties. Lithium batteries can be costly. If your installation requires many of them, it could put a dent in your wallet. To power these units, you’ll need about 1,000-1,500 watt solar panels.  This means you’ll need four to six times the surface area that your RV has to fully power your camper with solar power.  You’ll also need a large inverter, which can also be expensive. All this added weight has a huge effect on your gas mileage, which already isn’t great in a large RV.

RV Solar Pros and Cons

We spoke with several RV owners with solar panels atop their recreational vehicles. While the pros and cons seem 50/50, all the pros are conditional. The cons to an RV solar kit affect the very thing that RV owners want – free energy to power their appliances.

Pro: Can use solar panels to run 12v devices at state parks and music festivals, but only when not running AC.
Pro: Can help save about $25-$60 a night when staying in an RV park when running small appliances.

Con: Still need to rely upon a generator on rainy/cloudy days.
Con: Cost and weight are considerable and still can’t run AC without making a huge investment. (Most RV owners rely on propane to operate rooftop air conditioning systems.)

The Best Solar Panels for RV

We’ve given you an overview of what to expect when you use solar panels for RV use. To sum it up, solar panels and hardware needs to become six times more efficient to power all your camper’s devices.  If you still want solar power, we recommend that you talk to your local RV dealer. In addition to batteries and inverters, they’ll recommend the best RV solar panels on the market.  

Get DIRECTV for RVs, Campers, and Motorhomes

Are you looking to add something to your recreational vehicle?  How about a DIRECTV mobile dish installation?  This delivers your favorite DIRECTV programming while you’re on the road and at the RV park.  As an AT&T Preferred Dealer, Signal Connect sets you up with a DIRECTV account, satellite equipment, and a local DIRECTV installer.  We’ll also get your account activated so you and your family can enjoy satellite TV while on vacation.  There are many amazing benefits to a DIRECTV for RV setup.  If you have any questions, just give us a call at 866-726-4182.