Solar power is perfect for sustaining long road trips for RVers, travelers, and campers. Clean, renewable energy from the sun is both cost-effective and environmentally friendly.
But before you go out and invest in the most expensive solar power system, you’ll want to consider the amount of solar power you actually need for your RV.
Understanding how to calculate your power consumption needs is the first step to identifying the type and size of the solar system you need.
Once you decide on the right solar power setup, you’ll be able to power all of your RV’s electrical needs, like appliances, lights — and even your air conditioner!
We’ll quickly cover how solar power works, how to calculate your solar power consumption needs, and other essential things to consider.
How Does Solar Power Work in RVs?
Powering your RV’s appliances and equipment using solar power requires numerous components that all work together to collect, store, convert, and deliver the electricity you need.
The main components you’ll need for your RV solar system are:
- Solar panels
- Solar battery
- Charge controller
Here’s how the process works:
The solar panels collect power from the sun’s rays during daylight hours and direct that energy to the solar batteries, where it is stored as DC power.
The charge controller’s primary function is to send the energy to the solar battery system while regulating the amount of power stored to prevent overcharging. A controlled energy flow is essential to preserve the battery’s longevity and functionality.
When you wish to run your appliances and charge your devices, the inverter converts the stored DC energy into AC electricity and delivers it through various types of outlets (AC, USB-A, USB-C, etc.)
Solar batteries are essential for portable solar power systems. They store the electricity captured by the solar panel, ensuring that your RV remains powered when there isn’t any sunlight available. Most solar batteries are either 12 or 24 volts and rated in Ah or Amps.
If you’re a full-time Rver, you’ll likely want a battery with enough storage capacity to power your appliances and devices for at least a few days. That way, if you have a day or two with low sunlight, you have some backup energy stored to keep your RV up and running.
How Much Solar Power Does an RV Need?
Knowing how much solar power your RV needs before investing in your system is essential. Underestimating the number of panels or storage capacity could lead to running out of electricity on a regular basis or restrict how many appliances you can run simultaneously. Overestimating your consumption needs could result in wasting money on additional panels and other components with nowhere to store excess energy.
Identifying the Electricity Consumption of Your DC & AC Appliances
The simplest method for calculating your power needs is to identify the electricity consumption of the DC and AC appliances you wish to run and add them all up.
First, you’ll need to check each appliance’s specifications, which should be on the appliance label, in the instruction manual, or a quick google away.
Estimate how many hours you’ll use each appliance and multiply that by the total number of watts the device consumes hourly.
Ensure you’re calculating the electricity consumption for all the appliances in your RV that you want to run — and the devices you want to charge. You’ll need to include everything that uses electricity to estimate your total energy consumption accurately.
Many solar panels use watts as a measurement for power output. Sometimes you’ll find the amps consumed by your appliances listed rather than watts. In that case, you’ll have to calculate the conversion from amps to watts. For example, a standard crockpot uses 120 volts of AC energy and draws three amps. That calculation would look like this: 120 volts x 3 amperes = 360 watts.
You must also factor in how long you’ll run a given appliance to estimate the total watt-hours. Sticking with the crockpot example, you’d multiply the total watts used for the crockpot by the number of hours you plan to use it daily. So if you use it for half an hour daily, that’s 360 watts x 0.5 hours = 180 watt-hours that the crockpot needs.
Things to Consider When Going Solar
There are plenty of reasons to choose solar energy for RVers, but not just any solar generator or solar kit will do. Here are some of the many things you should consider when looking to go solar for your RV.
When deciding on your solar system, one of the most critical factors is portability. Portable solar panels can go anywhere with you and constantly produce power on the road, making them an excellent off-grid energy solution.
Another portability factor you’ll need to decide on is whether you want to opt for a portable solar panel installation or a stationary rooftop setup. If you opt for a roof installation, you’ll need to avoid parking in a shaded area since a lack of direct sunlight will significantly hamper your system’s performance.
Some RV owners prefer portable solar panels that they position on the ground. You can take portable solar panels pretty much anywhere, and installation doesn’t require drilling holes in your RV roof.
Additionally, the portable power station or solar battery you’re using to store electricity and power your appliances should have some degree of portability. Suppose the size and weight of the solar generator are manageable for a person to carry. In that case, this opens the doors for various other applications — such as camping and hiking.
Keep in mind that the capacity of batteries can significantly impact their weight. If you have a high storage capacity solar battery or power station, that can naturally make for a heavy system. However, even some heavyweight, high-capacity solar generators — like EcoFlow’s Delta Pro — remain portable by including wheels and a handle, similar to a suitcase, allowing you to take it wherever you go.
Solar System Size
Finding the appropriate solar system size for your RV will depend on how much power you consume. You can determine how many solar panels and batteries you need based on your power needs, as outlined above.
The more appliances you have, the greater your electricity usage and the more solar panels you’ll need unless you have occasional access to shore power to top up. In many cases, two or three high-efficiency solar panels will generate enough energy to run essential appliances.
If you run large appliances like an air conditioner or a refrigerator, you’ll need a solution with a higher capacity, such as the DELTA solar generators.
In some cases, you might also benefit from additional backup power. A dual-fuel smart generator gives you the option to generate backup power using gasoline and propane (LPG) — both of which are easy to come by on the road. An emergency backup that utilizes a different energy source can give you additional peace of mind — especially for lengthy off-grid excursions.
If you purchase portable solar panels for your RV, you can quickly set them up on the ground. Ground setup is more straightforward since you position the panels, connect them to your portable power station and face them toward the sun.
You’ll need to adjust the panels in the sun’s direction every few hours to ensure maximum solar production. One minor disadvantage is that a portable system requires you to set it up and put it away every time you visit a site.
Roof-mounted solar panels are an option if you prefer a more “set-it and forget-it” method. With a rooftop installation, you can collect solar power the whole time you’re on the road during daylight hours — not just when you’re stationary.
You’ll need to park your RV in an open area with sunlight to ensure maximum solar power capture, and you can’t turn the panels towards the sun to optimize how much energy the panels capture.
One innovative solution that gives you the best of both worlds is EcoFlow’s new modular Power Kits. You get a fully-integrated customized off-grid power solution with rigid and flexible solar panels tailored to your individual needs. With the Power Kit, you can get up to a massive 4800w of solar power input, and installation is free.
Life off-grid will never be the same.
Types of Solar Panels
There are two primary types of solar panels: monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels.
Polycrystalline panels are cheaper but are also far less efficient.
While monocrystalline panels cost more, they are the most efficient. If you’re limited in space (and who isn’t in an RV), these panels are ideal. We recommend finding a monocrystalline panel that meets or exceeds the industry standards for efficiency rating.
If you plan on using an EcoFlow solar solution with your RV, you may want to incorporate a smart extra battery to store any additional energy you’ve captured. Most RVers opt for 12V batteries.
Lead-acid or lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries are the two most common battery types. Lead-acid batteries are an affordable, durable mature technology. However, they require regular maintenance and are significantly less efficient than Li-On batteries.
Lithium-ion batteries are more expensive, but store more energy, have greater efficiency, and last much longer. Lithium-ion batteries are well worth the cost if you live the RV lifestyle full-time.
The most advanced portable solar generators now use LiFE-P04 (LFP) rechargeable batteries. LFPs are the next generation of battery technology, and you’ll find them in high-end solar power systems like the DELTA Max and DELTA Pro.
Ease of Installation
For RVers and campers who are on the go frequently, finding a solar power system with easy installation provides a hassle-free experience and saves a lot of time.
Many portable options, like the River 2 solar generators, are lightweight and solar panels can come with pre-drilled installation holes or even be planted on the ground.
Instead of buying solar panels, a portable power station, and all the other required components separately, a viable option is to opt for a modular power kit. EcoFlow’s power kits make building the ideal custom solar power system even easier since you know everything is compatible, and EcoFlow even offers free installation.
Solar power is perfect for RVers looking to live an off-grid lifestyle to power their appliances and meet all their electrical needs without relying on campground electric hookups.
Whether you’re searching for a sustainable alternative to energy generation or prefer a clean and quiet solution compared to a noisy gas-powered generator, there’s a solar power system from EcoFlow that’s right for you.
With some planning, you can accurately identify how your electricity needs and find the best solar setup to take the comfort and convenience of RV living to a new level.