If you’re considering going off-grid in your RV, either full-time or part-time, where you’re going to get your electricity is probably among your biggest concerns.
With the growing popularity of leading a fully mobile lifestyle, there’s a wealth of information online about van and RV living. But there are substantial differences between the largest RVs on the market and their enormous energy requirements vs. small van conversions that can operate well on relatively little power. With so many variables, finding the correct information to suit your requirements can be a real challenge.
In this article, we’ll focus exclusively on RVs to determine whether 200 watts of solar energy is enough for all your electricity needs.
How Many Watts of Solar Do I Need To Run My RV?
RVs come in all shapes and sizes. How many watts you’ll need depends on your RV’s size and the power consumption of the appliances you’re running on board.
A large RV usually comes complete with a TV, large fridge, air-conditioning, etc. It will probably require at least four 200-watt solar panels to meet your solar energy capture needs. Even then, you might be pushing things.
On the other end, a relatively small van with a modest set of appliances could function on a single 200-watt panel, though you might be cutting it close again.
To get a clear idea of exactly how much solar energy you need for your RV and the appliances you wish to use, you need to make some careful calculations to get an accurate estimate of how much electricity they consume.
Is 200 Watts of Solar Power Enough?
A single 200-watt portable solar panel may be enough to run a small van or RV, but it doesn’t leave you much wiggle room. It’s generally thought that 200 watts of solar energy capture is the minimum needed for an RV setup. But again, it ultimately depends on how much energy your appliances and devices consume.
Fridges are often a significant hurdle when it comes to using a minimal solar setup. Even the smallest fridge can gobble power at an alarming rate, with a small 12-volt fridge using between 30 and 55 Ah (amp hours) per day on average. Considering the fridge must always remain on, that doesn’t leave much power left over for anything else.
While 200 watts may be enough to power a small RV or van with very limited energy requirements, we’d highly recommend upsizing your wattage or purchasing extra batteries for backup that you can recharge as and when needed.
If you have the means to opt for a more substantial solar power solution, modular power kits are an outstanding option. They are increasingly popular for RV owners looking for a long-term sustainable and renewable energy solution without struggling with minimal electricity and conveniences. EcoFlow’s Power Kits range from 2kWh to a whopping 15 kWh of power. The solar energy generation and storage capacity are an enormous step up from a 200-watt solar panel setup. But increasingly, RVers are choosing to live with all of the comforts of an on-grid home — even on the road.
Check out this handy calculator to see how much power your ideal RV setup would require.
A smart extra battery is another possible option to bolster energy storage capacity, and having one can effectively double how much energy you can store from your solar panels.
What Do You Need for a Complete Solar Power Setup?
If you’re looking for a complete solar power setup for your RV, the process is now much easier than it was just a few years ago. It used to be that you would have to install a complicated electrical system in your van, complete with batteries, panels, inverters, and a control panel.
However, with better and more affordable portable solar generators, this much more accessible option is quickly gaining momentum. EcoFlow’s Portable Power Stations and Solar Generators can be charged either through solar panels or with on-grid electricity and offer a wide variety of inputs so you can plug your appliances and devices straight in. If this setup sounds absurdly simple — that’s because it is!
Permanent vs. Portable Solar Setups
Despite the clear benefits of using a portable power setup, you shouldn’t discount a permanent installation. Indeed, it even has some advantages.
A permanent solar setup, with solar panels secured to the roof, will typically produce more energy than portable options — particularly when you’re on the move.
Another plus is greater security. The panels are securely attached to your RV. You can leave them unattended and charging for hours, something you probably wouldn’t want to do if you left them unfolded on the ground. As mentioned above, the EcoFlow Power Kits are an ideal permanent installation option.
When you need to generate solar power, you are somewhat limited in where to park. You’ll need to ensure the panels are in direct sunshine.
Permanent systems can also take up considerable space, and you might not have much to spare, depending on the camper size.
For a more portable solution, EcoFlow’s DELTA Solar Generators offer the robust capabilities of a permanent installation but with added flexibility.
Portable solar panels are affordable and give you more options for placement. Plus, when your panels are secured to the RV roof, they’re not going anywhere. That can be a plus for security, but you can take a portable setup on extended hikes or camping trips and have off-grid electricity wherever you go.
It’s worth noting that you’ll also need to take the generator with you, as well as the panels. Solar panels can’t supply electricity on their own. If you plan to carry your solar generator around on foot a lot, it’s a good idea to keep size and weight in mind.
Thanks to recent technological advancements, models such as the River 2 Solar Generators are smaller and more lightweight — some models can even fit in your backpack!
Frequently Asked Questions
When discussing wattage, voltage, and all things electrical, it can sometimes sound very abstract when you try to place them into real-life terms.
Here are some common devices and items to give you a rough idea of energy use with a 200-watt solar panel:
• A 60-watt lightbulb could run for 11 hours
• A laptop could recharge for around 2 hours
• A TV could run for 2 hours
• An energy-zapping microwave could be on for just one hour
Of course, you wouldn’t need to run all your appliances for those times, but it gives you an idea of how quickly 200 watts can disappear.
Choosing the Perfect Solar Setup
While you can satisfy minimal power requirements for your RV with 200 watts of solar energy, you will need to constantly monitor your energy use to avoid running out. Since 200 watts is the bare bones when it comes to providing electricity for your RV. You’d be much better off raising that figure if you can make it fit your budget.
Doing so doesn’t necessarily mean adding more solar panels, though that is a viable option. A smart extra battery can be used to double or even triple energy storage capacity, but that would require diligence and at least occasional access to on-grid power to keep the battery charged.
We’d suggest going for something with a higher capacity, which could mean either an extra solar panel or opting for a more powerful 400-watt panel — currently the most powerful portable solar panel on the market.
Creating the perfect solar setup for your RV depends on what you want to power and for how long. Are you a weekend warrior who doesn’t mind rationing energy? Or are you looking to disappear off the grid for weeks at a time?
Once you answer this, finding your perfect solar setup becomes a whole lot easier.