What Will Solar Panels Power in My RV?

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April 21, 2011

By James Mannett,
CEA Solar

Solar power for your RV depends on many factors: number of batteries, types of appliances, duration of use, presence and size of the inverter, and, or course, your budget. While solar panels won’t power everything on your RV, most items can be powered, either partially or entirely, by solar—with careful planning.

After being given a list of appliances, the most common question I get asked is, “How much solar do I need?”

Along the way, I have developed a simple tool to help the RV owner determine their energy demand. This downloadable worksheet enables the RV owner to enter the number of hours each appliance or electric device would be used and provides a total number of amp/hours of energy demand over a 24-hour period. At the bottom of the sheet are examples of how many amp/hours/day a typical solar panel size will generate.

I’ll stress here that this is NOT an exact science. There are MANY variables — any of which can change the outcome. To be ideal, solar energy production predictions (amp/hours/day) depend on the following variables. Here are some of those variables:

• Number of hours of direct sunlight
• Clouds and thickness of clouds
• Weather
• Temperature
• Panel tilt
• Panel direction
• Panel soiling
• Latitude
• Season

And finally, don’t be worried about having all of the solar you need all at once to meet your demand. Instead, adopt a phased approach. Even partial solar power will reduce the number of hours your generator needs to run. Most well designed, industry standard, RV solar devices can be adapted to grow with your needs and as your wallet permits. Be sure to ask your supplier when purchasing how additional panels (and power) can be added in the future without having to throw anything away that you already bought.

Have questions about RV solar power? You may write James Mannett at [email protected] or visit his blog at http://blog.rvsolarnow.com where you may post your comments or suggestions about this article or others that appear there. Download his free solar power calculator by clicking here. James will be giving seminars on RV solar power at The Rally, Redmond, OR, July 13 and July 16 2011. RV solar devices can be seen at www.rvsolarnow.com.

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  1. Pingback: How Many batteries and solar panels would it take to power an RV? | Uses of Solar Power

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  3. Blaine Norton

    I installed a solar system in my fifth about 4 years ago and it’s been working great. I have four batteries
    connected in parallel (12 volt). What I would like to know, would it be better to run the inverter cables
    from the far end of the bank (say the – ) and the ( + ) from the close end. Rather then both cables from the close end. Or would the longer cable, ( my cable is 0/1 welding cable) produce too much resistance. By connecting at each end of the bank would the draw not be more like drawing from the bank as though it was one large 12 volt battery?
    Thank You…..

  4. Solar power may re-charge the RV’s batteries as I recall it. Therefore the amount of time necessary to run your generator to supply power becomes less. Right?

    Thank You.

  5. Pat Roukens

    A Good Sam app for the tablet is a stellar idea! How about it GS?

  6. Tim Renshaw

    Hey folks… not all android users have a “Droid” phone… an ever increasing number of us have “tablets” (without a phone number). We’d like to have access to your new apps too!


  7. CharlieMax

    Where can you purchase a decent size residential ref that only draws 1 amp at 120 volts or 120Watts?

    A Samsung reidential ref that is being installed to replace propane units in Country Coach RV’s, draws
    11 amps at 120 volts.
    That is over 1400 watts.
    The inverter will pull about 120 amps from the batteries when the ref is running.
    The battery requirement is considerable.