Many individuals and families who want to live more off-grid commonly ask, “How much solar power do I need for my RV?”
The best rule of thumb is about 100 watts per 30 amp-hours each day, but there’s more to it than just putting enough panels up. Read on to learn just how much solar power your RV needs depending on what you operate, how efficient your panels are, and more.
What's In This Article
Understanding Solar Panel Performance
Most solar panels are sold by watt production, which is how much electricity they can generate under peak conditions. However, as experienced RV owners know, you’re probably not going to enjoy peak conditions for your entire trip. Everything from passing under trees to driving during the rainy season can impact a solar panel’s performance (1).
While every location on Earth receives some sunlight over a year, the amount of solar radiation that reaches any one spot on the Earth’s surface varies.
For this reason, amongst others, RVs haven’t yet switched over to electric-focused systems the way some other vehicles have, but it’s entirely reasonable to expect more of that over time. We demand more and more electricity for things like powering smartphones or wireless internet access points, and solar panels are a great way for RVs to meet those electrical needs out on the road.
Batteries and Storage
Most commercial solar panels are about 20% efficient, although researchers have made panels that are up to 50% efficient (2). However, most people don’t use solar power as soon as they gather it.
Instead, people either charge the main batteries on their RV or route all the energy into a separate storage system and connect that to the TVs and other appliances inside the RV.
In short, having enough storage can reduce the number of solar panels you need.
For example, let’s say that you use 20% of your energy in a separated system each day, but recharge an average of 15% from your solar panel. That’s a net drain of 5% each day, which means you can go roughly 20 days before totally draining your battery.
Even if you can’t add more solar panels to your RV, you can extend your trip times by adding larger, better batteries.
Read More: How Long Do Solar Batteries Last?
How Much Power can I get for my RV?
Many ask, “How many solar panels do I need for my RV, really?” To answer this, look at your expected wattage consumption.
To give you a better idea of what you can expect, running an AC unit, coffee maker, and laptop could add up to around 2,100 watts (3). Under road conditions, you can expect closer to 600 watts at a time.
For additional context, a television may draw about 200 watts, and a mini-fridge will be the same (but requires 24-hour use). In addition, microwaves tend to be power-hungry, though, so they could draw more than you’re charging. For those looking for a visual, check out this great video by Love Your RV where they setup camp in Arizona with a 500 watt system:
In short, solar panels provide enough energy to power smaller electrical devices, but not enough power to run energy-hogging devices all on their own. However, there are a few ways to deal with this. You can find out more on our homepage with our full-range of solar solutions.
Managing Energy Use with Trip Planning
Aside from getting bigger batteries, one way you can manage energy use better is with smart trip planning. Taking a few days to camp in a sunny region can give you time to recharge your RV’s batteries before the next part of your trip.
This is particularly true if you’re towing a trailer and can fit extra solar panels in it. If you hook those up during longer stops, you can power energy-hungry appliances while still recharging your batteries. In essence:
Asking, “How much solar power do I need for my RV?” means deciding on a target overall energy usage and sticking to it.
Remember, actively managing your energy usage can help improve solar efficiency. Just choosing a day or two each week to turn off the television can turn a drain into a charge and extend your trip.
For more information on the best solar panels for RVs, you can check out our Buyers’ Guide here.
How Many Watts do I Need to Run my RV?
The number of watts that you will need to run your RV will vary based on the appliances you’re planning to run.
For example, a small fan may use 100 watts, while an AC unit might utilize 1800 (4). Tallying up your daily usage can help you estimate a solid watt count for your solar plans.
Are Solar Panels Worth It For An RV?
In our books, yes, solar panels are definitely worth it for an RV if you want to reduce your demand on the electric grid while camping. What’s more, solar can allow you to travel off the beaten path without sacrificing the comforts of home.
For example, if you calculate how many solar panels you need to run a refrigerator, you can enjoy home cooked meals while you’re off-grid. In our experience, very few RVers regret investing in solar for their homes on wheels.
Can You Run An RV Air Conditioner With Solar Power?
Yes, you can absolutely run an RV air conditioner with solar power. Remember to calculate the wattage consumption of your AC unit, then calculate the number of solar panels you’ll need to run your AC. With a 2kW solar system, or 4kW solar system, you can expect to get a significant amount of runtime, and a much cooler cabin space.
- How Does Solar Work? Retrieved from: https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/how-does-solar-work
- Photovoltaic Energy Factsheet, Retrieved from:http://css.umich.edu/factsheets/photovoltaic-energy-factsheet
- Quick Guide to Power Usage in Your RV. Retrieved From: https://streetswander.com/rv-lifestyle/rv-power-usage/
- RV Power Consumption and Tips for Conserving Energy. Retrieved from: https://www.airstream.com/blog/power-consumption-and-tips-for-conserving/