RV solar panel installation

This will help you make the key decisions

A good RV solar panel installation will give you the results you want, at the price you want so it all works well for you.

But there's more to RV solar panel installations than just the panels.

Before you decide what sort of panels, how many and whether to have them mounted or movable, there are some key decisions to make the system work well for you.

And who will do the installation? There are plenty of

  • RV solar panel systems installers
  • makers and installers of RV solar battery chargers
  • RV solar panel makers and suppliers.

Pick the right combination and you will get a good result from your RV solar charger and whatever solar panel for RV is best for your use.

To match your panels to your needs, there are some factors to consider. They are the same factors whether you do the buying and installing or you use a trained and qualified professional RV solar panel installation expert.

If you pick the wrong one or pick a person who doesn't understand what you want, your system may not deliver the results you need. After all, you don't want a flat battery when you're away from mains power nor dim lights when you need bright ones to read comfortably.

Which RV solar panel installation do you need?

So here are some things to consider when choosing an RV solar panel installation to ensure it does what you want:

  • Will you be boondocking or camping away from a mains supply? If so, you will need power to run some or all of your appliances and lights. If you won't camp away from the mains, you might be better off spending your money on something other than RV solar chargers.
  • How often will you need to rely on batteries alone? This may be because you camp away from the mains or because when you stay in an RV campground, there are no campsites with power available.
  • Where will you be when you need solar power? :
    • Will you need to park in the shade because it is hot? If so, you may need panels that work well in shade or one of the RV portable solar generators, either:
      • just the panels with a regulator and a long RV solar panel wire cable to connect back to one of the excellent solar RV battery chargers OR
      • an all-in-one solar battery charger for RV that is portable and has a set of panels with a controller and a battery built in.
    • Will you be in an exposed area where your panels can get maximum sunlight? If so, you have more choices and flexibility.
    • Will you be in a deep valley where the days are shortened by the height of the surrounding ridges? You may need to go for a more expensive RV solar panel installation with high efficiency panels, high capacity batteries or batteries that can be discharged deeply and often without damage.
  • Do you expect to use this RV as personal emergency accommodation in the event of a natural disaster? If so, you may need to rely on solar power for a long time until the mains power is restored. In this case, you may need more panels, more batteries or both. However, unless you are in an area where natural disasters occur frequently, if emergency accommodation is your main use for the solar battery charger for RV, it may be more realistic to reduce the drain on your batteries by having fewer and more efficient appliances used for shorter periods.
  • How long are you away from the mains? If it is only for short periods, you may get by with a smaller RV solar panel installation and a smaller bank of solar-charged batteries. This is because you will be charging the batteries by other means: Possibly from the engine of the RV when you travel plus from shore power, either in a campground or back at home.
  • If there was no solar power for a while and your batteries were getting low, could you survive using candles or torches or something else for light? Or, must you have the ability to survive with significant levels of battery power for whatever is the longest period that you might be away from the mains?
  • How many hours of sunshine in the shortest days when you need solar power?
  • How much will your batteries discharge in an average day and how much on the worst day that you expect under those conditions?
  • And does it happen by day, by night or both?
  • One way that batteries are rated is by amp hours. For example: a battery might be a 105 amp-hour battery. This means it can supply 105 amps for one hour or one amp for 105 hours. That's the theory. In practice it is more complicated but for now, this will do.
  • What is your peak demand (the largest draw on your power supply) at what time of year and under what conditions? To work out your highest demand for power, add up the current drain for each appliance multiplied by the number of hours that it runs each day. This will give you the total in kilowatt hours and you can then convert that to amp hours and use that to work out how long your batteries will last. Each battery has a realistic maximum discharge point. Going beyond that point is likely to damage the battery permanently. Some batteries can go as low as 20% charge, most are better kept above 45% charge.
  • What other sources of power do you have to charge the batteries in that situation? For example:
    • you may have a wind generator OR
    • you may be using your RV to tour around during the day and stopping in different campsites each night. If so, will your RV alternator charge it sufficiently, or will you need solar to top it up? OR
    • you may have a fuel-cell-powered generator OR
    • you may have a small portable generator OR
    • you may have a generator built into your RV OR
    • you may be plugging into shore power regularly.
  • Are there ways you can save power so that you could get by with a smaller RV solar panel installation?
  • How much battery capacity do you have?
  • What sort of batteries do you have? Wet cell, sealed wet cell or low-maintenance, absorbed glass mat, calcium, deep cycle etc. Each of these has its own charging pattern and discharging pattern. By matching the battery type and capacity to the RV solar battery chargers and the needs and wants that you have, you can set up your rv solar panel systems to give you the results you want.
  • Do you need to invert or convert your power from 12 V DC to mains AC for any of your appliances?
  • Do any of your appliances have a high starting power such as a microwave oven, a mains-powered air conditioner or anything else that needs a significant kick to get rolling? Such appliances put an extra load on the system because they need a larger inverter or power converter which draws more when the kickstart happens and often draws more even when it's not happening.

These and many other considerations will have a big impact on the type of RV solar panel installation you choose and on its effectiveness.

Share this page: