|If you’re a frequent off-grid RVer — or aspiring to be one — you’re probably eager to switch over to solar power, or at least to learn what solar power can do for an RV. Running all your electrical appliances with nothing but the sun’s rays to sustain you sounds like a dream to anyone who’s ever tried to relax with a noisy generator running in the background.
If you’re not quite ready to make the big upgrade to solar, upgrading your generator may help the noise factor.
But in the long run, there’s no doubt about it: solar really is the way to go for serious boondockers. Not only is it way quieter, but it’s also much better for Mother Earth. And although it’s expensive to set up in the first place, over time, it’s more cost-effective than constantly filling up that liquid propane tank.
What are the benefits of solar on an RV?
A solar installation on your RV can be a clean, reliable, and affordable way to ensure you’re comfortable on the road.
Solar keeps you powered up.
Solar panels for your RV can recharge your house batteries, allowing you to run appliances while on the road without needing to hook up to power. Maintaining a steady stream of power can also extend the life of the batteries in your RV since you’re not constantly drawing down power from them.
Solar is clean and reliable.
Contrary to noisy, dirty gas-powered generators, solar power is clean and virtually silent. Also because you’re harnessing the power of the sun, you don’t have to spend extra money on gas for your generator.
Solar helps you go to more places.
Having a solar installation can also expand your camping options. While you may have previously stayed in campgrounds with hook-ups or RV parks to ensure steady access to electricity, now you can take your RV off-grid into more remote areas without worrying about being left in the cold.
Solar panels require minimal maintenance.
Solar panels are also virtually maintenance-free, requiring only minimal cleaning over time. Maintenance is especially easy for portable RV solar kits and panels that aren’t mounted on the roof.
What do I need to consider when going solar on my RV?
Adding solar to your RV is different than adding solar to your home because while home solar systems are typically designed to cover all of your home energy needs, RV solar systems are designed to maintain a steady bank of power in your batteries and provide enough power to charge a few appliances in your motorhome.
You’re also facing size limitations on an RV or van that you wouldn’t have at home, so you’re limited to the number of panels you can even have.
What to consider when sizing your RV solar system
When it comes to sizing your RV solar system, there’s a variety of factors to consider.
How much are you willing to spend on your solar system? This will limit how many panels you’ll install, as well as specific technologies, such as batteries. For example, lithium-ion batteries have a longer lifespan with high discharge and recharge rates, but they are the most expensive batteries. Also, monocrystalline panels are more space-efficient than polycrystalline panels, but they are also more expensive. Factors like this show you that you may have to make some compromises when installing your solar system.
How much square footage do you have to work with on your roof? If you’re dealing with a small space on your roof, you’ll either want to install just a few roof-mounted panels or use portable solar panels. Many portable solar panels are available as a folding-suitcase style kit, meaning you can just set them out on the ground and start collecting energy. BSLBATT has a range of both roof-mounted and portable solar panel kits.
How many batteries will you have in your RV? If you only have the budget and space for a few batteries, you won’t want to install an excess of solar panels for your RV. If you do, you’ll just be wasting money on solar panels that will collect energy that won’t be able to be stored.
Will you be traveling or living in sunny, hot environments or cloudy, cold climates? For example, if you live somewhere with steady sunshine a majority of the year, you’ll be able to collect and store plenty of energy to power your appliances. If you’ll be traveling in a rainy climate, you may not have enough energy input to generate large amounts of power to cover all your energy needs.
In addition, batteries operate best in a cool environment. If it’s too hot, they may overheat. On the other hand, very cold temperatures also have a negative impact on your batteries because it has to work harder and at a higher voltage to charge. Keep this in mind when sizing your system and selecting batteries. For more information about battery bank sizing, check out our blog post.
How do I cover my energy needs? To determine what size system will best fit your needs, we recommend making a list of all the appliances and devices you plan on running. The main appliances to take into consideration when addressing energy needs may include a TV, lighting, water pump, laptop, fans, microwave, and refrigerator.
We recommend using the BSLBATT solar panel calculator to help determine your specific energy needs. Having an accurate understanding of your needs will give you a better idea of the costs and ensure you don’t under- or over-build a system.
The Solar sizing calculator allows you to input information about your lifestyle to help you decide on your solar panel and battery requirements. You’ll just need to know what total watts your electronics will consume, how long you plan on running the devices, your charge controller efficiency, and average sun hours per day. The solar panel calculator will then be able to tell you the minimum and recommended system size, as well as the recommended battery output.
If you’re brand new to solar, BSLBATT’s solar kits are a great solution and takes the headache out of making sure your components are compatible.
Solar Power for Off-Grid RVing: What You Need to Know
As you can see, transforming the sun’s energy into usable power for your RV takes quite a bit of work — which means you’ll need to invest in a significant amount of equipment up-front. Solar panels also need to have a clear line of exposure to the sun to produce energy, which necessitates frequent cleaning and finding appropriately sunny camping spots.
Finally, before you go investing in all these items a la carte, keep in mind that every individual piece needs to be compatible with the other components. Although you can buy them one at a time, you’ll need to double-check to ensure everything will work together — you wouldn’t want to drop a pretty penny on a device that won’t fit with your system!
That’s why it can be a really great deal to go with a fully-loaded, pre-built RV solar panel kit, which comes with everything you need to get your RV solar system started. They’re not cheap, but they’re also not much more expensive than buying everything separately, and it’s a whole lot more convenient.
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