How Much Solar Power Do I Need For My RV

Written by John Ho on January 7, 2021

Having to run a generator to meet the energy needs of your RV might be the most irritating thing one could face. But, we are all aware of the fact that this practice is usually carried out when the solar power of your RV gives out on you.

Since not every RV owner has three majors relating to electrical tech so misreading and wrongly executing solar panels is a common practice among RVers.

We know how complicated it can be to truly understand and implement the proper solar power equipment for a regular RV owner who is only trying to get electricity for his trailer.

In this regard, we have jotted down all the useful information that you would need to install the needed solar power system in your trailer in the easiest way possible.

Calculate the power consumption of your RV

One of the most critical steps of finding the right solar energy equipment for your trailer is to first calculate the power that is needed in your trailer.

Without knowing the power consumption of your RV, you are never going to be able to find the solar power equipment that you require.

For say, if you install an array of solar panels around your trailer but have a battery installed that is limited to storing only a fraction of what you generate, then all the extra solar energy will go to junk.

So calculating the power consumption of your RV is the first initial step. Below, you will find a simple step-by-step method on how to calculate the power consumption of your trailer.

Step 1

This step is pretty easy to follow so do not get scared by the maths yet, it may seem like your highschool math nightmare but it is in reality quite simple. Just follow all the instructions carefully and you will be good to go.

First, find out the power outputs of all the electrical appliances that you use in your trailer. The power output of each electrical appliance is written on the label present on the back of the appliance. Once, you have found out the power outputs of all the devices, now take the power output of each appliance and multiply it by the number of hours it is used in a single day.

For example,

If the power output of your microwave is 40 watts, and you use it for about 2.5 hours in a day, then,

For microwave : 40 × 2.5 = 100 watts/day

In the same way, now calculate the per day power consumption of all your electrical appliances like your TV, fridge, etc.

Step 2

After taking out the per day power consumption of all your electrical appliances, add the per power consumption of all the appliances together to find out the total power consumption per day of your trailer.

For example,

If the per day power consumption of your microwave is 100, and the per day power consumption of your TV is 200, the toaster consumes 50 watts/day and you only have these three appliances that consume electricity in your camping trailer, then,

Total power consumption of your trailer per day = 100 + 200 + 50 = 350 watts per day.

Step 3

One more thing to keep in mind is that the total power consumption per day that we have calculated up till now is ideal, and in real-world usage, there are usually a lot of power losses so there is no chance that the devices are going to consume the calculated number of watts in a day.

To find out the close to actual power consumption, we multiply the total power consumption per day that we calculated in ideal conditions by 1.5.

 In our case, ideally, the total power consumption in a day was 350 watts, so when we multiply it by 1.5, we will get the close to actual total power consumption in a day which would be 525 watts.

Battery required to store your trailer's solar power

After you have found out the total power consumption of your trailer, it is vital to also know the battery size that you would require in order to store the solar energy needed to run your appliances smoothly.

To pick the right battery, you will have to learn a bit more about batteries. I already know that no part inside of you would be interested in learning about batteries and since this is not an electrical engineering course so there is only one important thing that you should know - all batteries have an amp-hour and a voltage rating.

Suppose the total power consumption of your electrical appliances in a day is 525 watts so you require a 60 amp hours battery to get the job done.

Here is why,

Watt-hours / battery voltage = 525 / 12 = 43.75 amp hours.

Now take into consideration that discharging a lead battery to less than 50% can damage the battery. So it is safe to get a bigger battery than what you require.

In the same way, you can also find out the size of the battery you will need by the total watt-hours of your electrical appliances.

What type of solar panels to install

Before we dive deeper into the discussion of how many solar panels you would require to charge or run all of your electrical appliances. First, you should learn about the two types of solar panels that are majorly used by RVers. We are aware of the fact that there are more types of solar panels other than these two but since they are not as frequently used anymore so discussing them would only make things more complicated.

Below, we have listed the benefit of using both of these technologies so you can decide for yourself which benefit sounds more of a selling point for you.

Why many RVers use monocrystalline solar panels

There is a simple reason why many people prefer using monocrystalline solar panels and that is they are more efficient than any other type of solar panel. Because of their efficiency, they perform well in low-light conditions.

So if you usually go camping in areas where more overcast days are predicted than sunny days, then using monocrystalline solar panels in your RV can come in handy in your case.

Why many RVers use polycrystalline solar panels

While polycrystalline solar panels are surely much less efficient than monocrystalline solar panels but they are a lot cheaper. And their price is probably the reason why many RVers prefer them over monocrystalline solar panels.

So if you are also not too invested in benefiting from the efficiency of monocrystalline solar panels, then it will be better if you might just skip them.

The size of solar panel required for your RV

Now that you have learned everything from calculating the total power consumption of your trailer per day to the benefits of using different types of solar panels. We think that it is now about time that you finally learn to find out how many solar panels you would require to smoothly run all the electrical appliances in your RV.

The amount and size of solar panels you require really come down to the size of the battery that you are dealing with. Because in the end, it is the energy stored in your battery that powers and charges your electrical appliances, not the solar energy generated directly from your solar panels.

So as we have already shown you the method of calculating the battery size which will work best for you, it is now just a matter of learning what size solar panel would charge your battery more optimally.

Size of the solar panel to the size of the battery comparison

Let's start with an example. Suppose if you require a 60 amp hours battery to run all your RV appliances smoothly, then you would require a 200-watt solar panel to fully charge your battery in a day.

If the above example left you dizzy, then try to understand this, a 100 watts solar panel can charge a 30 amp hours battery in a day. In the same way, a 200 watts solar panel can charge a 60 amp hours battery in a day and so on. You can compare your battery size to these ratings and find the perfect solar panel for your RV.

FAQs

Summary

The trend of using solar panels to run the electrical appliances of your RV is only growing as the technology is becoming more and more efficient with time. This modern solar tech is surely very capable but only if you implement it right and most RV owners go through a series of frustrations and failures before they finally learn to implement this tech in a manner that actually benefits them.

Reacting to this issue of RVers, we decided to step up and explain the whole process of calculating the total power consumption for RV owners so they could get a suitable battery for themselves and then further select the perfect size solar panel to take full advantage of the accessory.

Article written by John Ho

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