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How Much Solar Power Do I Need to Power an RV

Boondocking your RV can be a tricky balance.

While you likely still want many of your usual conveniences, common energy sources often take away from the overall peace of your experience. 

It’s hard to enjoy the tranquility of time in nature with a loud generator buzzing away!

Luckily, there is one clear alternative.

The average RV requires between 3,600 to 5,000 watts of energy per day, depending on your individual needs. Solar power provides a far slower charge than many other options, but it can be done by a camper who fully understands how this energy source works.

ACOPOWER 500 Watts 12/24 Volts Polycrystalline Panel Solar RV Kits with 40A MPPT LCD Charge Controller/Mounting Brackets/Y Connectors/Solar Cables/Cable Entry housing

Solar power makes a great, eco-friendly alternative to gas-guzzling generators.

But it’s not necessarily as straightforward as you might think.

In this article, we’ll be answering a few common questions about how you can use solar power to keep your boondocking experience as comfortable as possible. 

How Much do RV Solar Panels Cost

If you plan on powering your RV purely on solar panels, you might be in for an expensive surprise.

RV panel kits can be pricey, costing up to 8,000 dollars of panels and supplies to fully power an RV.

However, by using solar panels in combination with a pre-charged battery…

You can easily supply your RV with the energy it needs for half that price. 

In addition to buying your solar panel, you’ll likely also need to purchase a charge controller, inverter, and the appropriate cables to connect all this equipment together. 

While solar panels themselves are an expense, the biggest issue in price comes from the number you’d need to fully power an RV.

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need

On average, each solar panel produces between 200 and 300 watts of energy per hour,

But that is only in ideal circumstances. 

Unless you happen to be camping in the middle of the desert.

You’re unlikely to be able to provide each individual panel with the charge it needs to keep all your appliances running.

With three or four solar panels, you should be able to power most of your needs.

But only by strictly rationing your electrical power.

Remember to account for changes in sunlight quality when calculating how many panels you’ll need as well. 

During the average day, a camper in an unshaded spot could estimate around five hours of optimal sun conditions.

But remember that cloudy days, rainstorms, and haze can diminish the quality of light.  

Surprises happen, and there’s no telling when a sudden storm might result in the eventual loss of your power!

If you hope to power your camper using only solar…

It’s still a bright idea to keep a few fully charged batteries.

This will help fill in the gaps that solar panels can’t reach alone.

Are Solar Panels on an RV Worth The Money

While solar power is an excellent option for some, the upfront cost of a complete solar kit means it is potentially a major financial drain for others.  

An investment into a purely solar-powered lifestyle is only a financially sound one if you plan on boondocking full-time and using your panels in combination with an additional battery. 

If you only occasionally take your RV on the road, the initial cost may not be worth it.

By using your solar panels at every given opportunity, you can save enough energy to make up the cost of the panels themselves in only four years. 

However, if you only use your system a few times a month, your RV will likely pass its lifespan before ever recovering the money spent on your solar system.

Can The Solar Panels Charge my Batteries

Solar panels can charge RV batteries.

But the charge itself is slow and may take a long time to fully complete. 

As such, it’s best to charge your batteries before you begin your journey.

Solar power is an incredible process, but it’s not a fast one.

While you can use solar panels to charge your batteries, it’s unlikely to happen simply on the drive from one spot of your journey to another. 

Can I Install The Solar Panels Myself

It’s possible to install solar panels on your own RV.

But the process itself isn’t as simple as you might think.

It’s best to only attempt your own solar panel installation if you have a foundational understanding of wiring and assistance.

Do Solar Panels Cost a Lot to Maintain

Your solar panels may cost a significant deal upfront, but luckily, most of the cost stops there.

Solar panels are incredibly durable and require very little maintenance.

By covering your solar panels when not in use, you can extend the amount of time that passes between cleanings.

It saves you time and a small amount of money you might have used in the process.

Cleaning your panels is as simple as using a mop, a bucket of water, and a small amount of soap.

Much as you would when cleaning the rest of your RV.  

Not only are solar panels easy to maintain, but they’re built to last.

How Long do Solar Panels Last

Solar panels manufactured today are expected to last around thirty years.

And the technology is new and ever-expanding.

These panels are durable and should easily withstand rough weather and outdoor exposure. 

Just because your solar panels look fragile doesn’t mean they are.

While each solar cell is finely tuned and only a few millimeters thick, each panel that houses those cells is constructed from highly durable glass, metal, and plastic. 

With proper care, your solar panels should last the length of your RV. 

Are The Solar Panels Removable

Solar panels are removable.

But you may find that they aren’t worth the effort involved in removing and replacing them.

Instead, portable panels will provide you the freedom you need to chase the sun without having to move your camper. 

Solar panels can be heavy.

And the process of moving multiple different panels to and from the roof of your RV can be a dangerous hassle. 

If you know that you’ll likely spend the majority of time camping in areas where the sun can be scarce, portable panels can be more easily moved along the ground level to follow the sun’s rays.

Conclusion

When it comes to camping, solar power isn’t a perfect system.

Changes in solar quality, the upfront expense, and the slow charging rate can be an impediment to many campers. 

However, if you regularly camp and know how to use solar power with battery power…

Then you should have no problem enjoying your time without fear of power failure.