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Everything You Need to Know About Solar Panels for RVs

Are you considering installing solar panels on your RV but don’t know where to start? There are many factors that you should consider and we’ll cover all these factors in this article. Let’s begin. 

Amazing Evolving of Solar Panels

When the solar cell was first invented by Charles Fritts in 1883  its efficiency was less than 1%.  Now the home solar systems have efficiencies of around 30%. Today solar energy allows you more opportunities to travel and explore amazing places. There is a strong hope for a significant increase in panel cell efficiency in the near future. Below you’ll find a timeline graphic:

Efficiency of Solar Panels Over the Years

Understanding the Needs

First, you might think that you wouldn’t benefit from solar energy because you generally stay in parks but what if the power goes out or the power plugs are not enough for everyone? If you tend to stay in camper sites then a small kit can be a smart solution for you, so you can charge your batteries in unexpected situations. 

But if this is not the case and you’re mostly on the road then you should calculate your RV’s energy need. 

Let’s Do Some Math!

Take a notebook and note down the watts or amps of each electrical device at the RV (recreational vehicle)

If a device has amps then you should convert it to watts by multiplying amps by volts you’ll get watts. (Watts=Amps x Volts)Then multiply it by daily usage hour. 

Example:

Imagine that you have 3 devices: 

  1. a 120v microwave with a power consumption of 13 amps (120 x 13) 1560 watts and you’re using 15 minutes daily. (15 minutes is equivalent to 0.25 hours)
    1560 watts x 0.25 (hour) = 390 daily watt usage
  2. a 120v dryer with a power consumption of 10 amps (120 x 10) 1200 watts and you’re using 12 minutes daily (12 minutes is equivalent to 0.2 hours)
    1200 watts x 0.2 (hours)=  240 daily watt usage

3. a 120v TV that’s 180-watt and you’re using it 2 hours per day.
180 watts x 2 hours = 360 daily watt usage 

Then sum them up: 
390 + 240 + 360 = 990 daily watt usage

How Many Panels Needed?

A typical 100-watt solar panel produces roughly 350 watts per day. (Please keep in mind that when calculating electricity production just only taking into account the daylight hours leads you inaccuracies. Because some other factors such as temperature, cloudiness, and angle affect the performance of electric production. 350 watts per day is a modest and realistic expectation)

Based on the given example 3 panels are sufficient for this RV owner. 

RV Solar Panel Types

a. Portable Kit

There are 2 main solar panel types: portable kits and permanent solar panel systems. Let’s talk about portable panels; because they are portable, they are not as large as the roof-installed ones. Portable kits are easiest to set up and have the lowest overall cost. But you have to pay more per watt produced and the worst side is that they cannot power up your entire RV they produce less energy like only enough for batteries and lights. If you don’t need more than that, you can go with this route.

b. Roof Type Solar Panel

This type is more efficient and the most expensive of the 2 options. Since most RVs have flat roofs fixed panels are ideal for them. It’s installed by professional companies. RV solar panels’ bigger differences from household panels are that RV panels need a controller and an inverter to convert the energy from AC to DC power. We will cover the controller and inverter in more detail later on in this post.

Inverter

It’s a device that converts direct current (DC) electricity, which is what a solar panel generates, to alternating current (AC) electricity, which the electrical grid uses.

Controller

A solar panel controller is a device that keeps the charging levels in control. It prevents overcharging. 

Solar Panel Degradation

Everything degrades over time. This rule includes solar panels. This degradation reflects the energy production as well. Energy production loss is roughly 2.5% for the 1st year and then 0.5% per year for the remaining years. That means you’ll get 85.5% efficiency after 25 years. 

Factors That Accounted For Degradation

  • Exposure to sun

Because of their nature, solar panels are exposed to sunlight constantly which gradually causes damage to materials, and over time UV light reduces the cells’ ability to absorb light. 

  • Temperature

Since solar panels are exposed to direct sunlight during the day and intended to absorb it, they experience more significant temperature fluctuations between day and night than we perceive.

This temperature fluctuation, called thermal cycling, will gradually weaken the connections between your solar cells and cause a dip in efficiency.

  • Humidity

Humidity has bad effects on panels. It gradually reduces the conductivity of the system. Also, small water drops interrupt the sunlight and this reduces the energy production efficiency. 

Pros of Having Solar Panel

  • Ease of use: After installation, very minimal attention is needed, you don’t need to worry about maintenance.
  • Environment Friendly: You’ll have relief of not harming nature by using fossil energy.
  • After Installation It’s Free: It generally does not require money to continue operating.

Conclusion

We covered the evolution of solar panels, energy needs, portable and roof types of panels, degradation, etc. Then what’s the conclusion? Are solar panels for caravans worth it? Yes!

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