Solar power has been a revolution in the world of energy and it’s given us a sustainable and affordable way to get free electricity from the sun.
If you own an RV, there’s a good chance you have some RV solar panels already installed in the vehicle or use them separately and they can be a real lifesaver when you’re traveling on the road and want to charge your battery.
So, how do you charge your RV battery with a solar panel the right way? If your RV doesn’t already have solar panels already you’ll need to ensure you choose a solar kit that’s big enough and an inverter that helps transfer the energy into something that can be used. Thankfully, there are many solar kits that make this easy so it’s just a matter of figuring out which one you need for your RV.
With solar panels connected to your RV, you’ll be able to give yourself enough energy for a number of things.
Whether you want to simply keep the RV battery running or supply power for other appliances, there’s bound to be the right solar product out there to help you do it.
Can You Connect an RV’s Solar Panels With the Vehicle’s Battery?
If you own an RV that already has solar panels installed, there’s a good chance these are connected to the vehicle’s batteries.
While they do provide it with energy, this is usually only intended to be a ‘trickle charger’ which prevents the car’s battery from dying if you end up camping somewhere for longer periods of time or leaving it stored away somewhere.
More often than not, they won’t be enough to provide you with daily power for use inside the RV.
To fully charge the RV’s battery using solar panels, you could expect the process to take days or weeks.
A standard RV solar panel is around 1.5 – 5 watts in size which means they make between 50 – 30 milliamps of power.
If you want to increase your panels and give yourself more energy from the sun, it’s definitely possible, but you’ll likely have to update the wiring as well as the solar panels so that they can provide enough energy for your RV.
What Do You Need to Make it Work?
There are two main things needed to make a solar setup work: quality product and enough access to sunlight.
Many people assume that just because their solar panels are sitting on the roof of their RV that it will give them enough sunlight to work with, but it usually requires more than that.
Correct positioning and ideal weather conditions both impact how much energy these panels actually make.
A solar kit for an RV requires a few working parts, and the better their quality the more energy output you can expect from them.
Look for these products in an RV solar kit for the complete package:
- Solar panels which collect the sunlight;
- Batteries to store the power;
- Solar charge controller/regulator;
- Inverter for converting power;
- Installation parts like cables and fuses;
How to Set up an RV Solar Kit
To give your RV a complete overhaul and start with a brand new setup of solar panels, there are a few things you’ll have to do to make it work.
First, you’ll want to make sure you’re choosing the right size of solar panels that will create enough energy to use.
- Figure out how many watts or amps of power you need to use each day based on your energy consumption. It’s always better to overestimate here so you’re not left short.
- Figure out how much direct sunlight your solar panels will get during the day and if it will be sufficient to fully charge them. A standard summer day offers six hours and a winter day four hours of sunlight, so use these as a base.
Wiring is another important aspect to keep in mind because you’ll need to make sure they’re the right size.
The current drawn from the RV battery needs to be able to go through the solar panels and the cable so it has to handle that specific load.
With the size calculated and the right solar panels purchased, you’ll then have to connect it through a regulator and then to the vehicle battery.
Using a regulator means even with high voltages going through the solar panel it won’t damage the battery, and depending on the design they’ll have different ways to install them.
A standard solar kit will come with everything included to make it work and depending on if you want a portable kit or one that connects directly to the vehicle’s battery this might include the panels, cables, and standalone battery.
They’re easy to attach provided you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and can start delivering solar energy once they’ve been fully charged.
How Much Power Will a Solar Kit Deliver Your RV?
There are many different calculators available online that give you an idea of how much energy your RV needs to run off solar.
Generally speaking, a standard solar kit installed in an RV is sufficient just for trickle down energy that keeps the battery from fully draining, but they can be as advanced as offering enough power to run your entire setup and all of its appliances.
To determine how much power you need, you have to figure out your average daily consumption and then purchase solar panels that are capable of producing this much output.
Most people base this figure on around 50 amp-hours a day, and so they need two 100-watt panels that each make around six amps an hour of energy to give them enough power.
With every RV being so different, it’s best to make your own calculations.
Making the switch to solar power for your RV can save you a lot of money and wasted power, so long as you know the right products to use.
Here are some commonly asked questions about solar power and RVs to help you learn the basics.
What is a Typical Setup for an RV Solar Battery?
Running the standard appliances you’d expect from an RV, like a microwave, lighting, and other small appliances, you can be expected to need at least three 120-watt solar panels in place.
One 120-watt solar panel can provide you with around 6 amps of power on a sunny day so overestimating with three panels will usually suffice.
Do I Have to Connect a Solar Kit To My RV?
If you’d prefer to use solar energy for powering up appliances and go directly from the source, this is possible with a portable solar power setup.
These feature inverters so you can plug your appliances into the battery provided and use this power instead of relying on the vehicle’s battery.
How Long Do Solar Panels Last?
Depending on their quality, the average solar panel should last for around 25 years when cared for correctly and will guarantee at least 80 percent of their rated output during this time.
Always choose a solar panel kit for your RV that has a long warranty to ensure its quality and service.