It’s an exciting time for the development of solar energy technology. Compared to their bulkier counterparts, modern solar panels for RVs are designed to be more compact and smarter. As a result, solar panels are more accessible to a wider audience than ever and are more adaptable in almost any situation.
RV solar panels have really taken off over the last few years, and so the technology is constantly improving. Although they do have their downsides, depending on whether they’re mounted or portable. We’ll explore what RV solar panels are, whether they’re a worthy investment, and also check out the pros and cons of solar panels for RVs.
Take clean, green energy with you on your next road trip.
What are Solar Panels?
To start, it’s a good idea to get familiar with what solar panels are. Solar panels are essentially flat panels filled with solar cells that soak in the energy from the sun. This energy is then transformed into electricity that can be used to power homes, institutions, factories, and even an RV.
They are usually fixed to a rooftop to maximize the chances of capturing the sun’s rays from sunrise until sunset.
A Brief History of Solar Panels
The first known records of the invention of solar energy began in 1839 when scientist Alexandre Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect. This is a process in which a layer of semiconductor materials produces an electric current when sunlight beams onto them.
In the 1950s, it was discovered that silicon can be effectively utilized as a semiconductor material for solar panels to absorb solar radiation to create electricity.
Subsequently, technology has advanced, and there are now two main types of solar panels: monocrystalline solar panels and polycrystalline solar panels.
What are Solar Panels for RVs?
Thanks to technological advancements, you can use solar panels on the go for your RV or campervan.
They pretty much work the same way a residential solar installation operates. They capture light from the sun and convert it into electricity.
You can buy portable solar panels for RVs that are simple to set up. Or you can choose small-scale, flexible solar panels made specially to be fixed to a vehicle rooftop.
Components for Fixed Solar Panels
There are many bits and pieces needed for fixed solar panels. Below is a breakdown of what’s required for a static RV solar setup:
Stops your RV solar system from overcharging.
Lead-acid, gel, or lithium batteries to store power.
Converts DC into AC electricity.
Wires and cables
To hook up all your equipment together.
Attaches panels to the rooftop of your vehicle.
Are Solar Panels for an RV Worth it?
Certainly, an off-grid solar system is an eco-friendly and cost-effective way of maintaining power whenever you need it.
A roof-mounted solar system for an RV is great for those who travel extensively on the road each year.
Conversely, for part-time travelers who go off-grid, say, every other weekend or for a couple of weeks each year, roof-mounted solar may not be viable and could cost more in the long term. In this case, a portable solar setup would be a much more suitable option.
How Many Solar Panels Do I Need to Run my RV?
How many panels are needed for your RV or van depends on your electricity usage.
Think about your lifestyle when you go off-grid. Do you spend time as a photographer using heavy-duty cameras, drone equipment, and a laptop to edit your work? Or are you a foodie who loves to cook using an electric hotplate and blender? Perhaps you only need a couple of lights on and smartphones charged?
To determine how many solar panels you need for your RV, journal your power usage in wH. Make a note of the watts of each appliance you and your family/friends use and the average daily usage in hours.
To find out how much power your appliances draw out each day, you need to find the watt-hours being used for each one. To calculate, simply multiply watts by the hours of usage:
Wh = (W x Hrs)
An example of one person’s usage living day to day in an RV would look like this:
|Appliance||Power in watts (W)||Average Time of Use (Hours)||Total Daily Power Usage in watt-hours (Wh)|
Determine how many solar panels are needed for an RV by totaling the number of watt-hours you use per day.
Usually, RV solar panels vary between 100 – 400 watts of power. For example, a 400W solar panel charging for 5 hours in the daytime would convert sunlight into 2,000Wh of charge for your gear each day. Double the panels up, and you have double the watt-hours.
Looking at the table above, solar energy is perfect for charging smaller appliances like lights, phones, and even a hot plate. Yet it would struggle to charge up a refrigerator for a whole day.
Pros and Cons of Fixed RV Solar Panels
There are both advantages and disadvantages to mounted solar panels. Let’s weigh these up:
|– Harness clean, green energy from the sun.- No need to worry about finding a powered campground- Power up your home comforts wherever you go|
– Cheaper power in the long term.
|– Can be expensive if you’re not a frequent road tripper (boondocking)- Batteries, controllers, and DC/AC inverters must be hooked up to the RV. – Fussy to set up (drilling holes, mounting, etc.)- Not portable – wired up for RV power only|
EcoFlow Solar Power Systems for your RV
As an alternative to fixed solar panels for RVs, EcoFlow has an efficient solution. EcoFlow portable power stations and solar panels have all the advantages of static solar panels, without the disadvantages.
Portable and Packable
Unlike static solar panels, the EcoFlow DELTA and RIVER range and portable solar panels are transportable and easy to set up. This solar ecosystem powers up your devices without the constraints of a fixed and wired-up electrical system. They come in a range of capacities and watts to suit your off-grid lifestyle, whatever your electricity usage.
The beauty of using an EcoFlow solar power system is that you can harness solar power within a small space.
What’s more, during the times you’re not traveling, the EcoFlow solar suite can also double up as an emergency power source for the home whenever there’s a blackout. It can even be utilized to lower your energy bills. How convenient is that?
Choose a Solar Set up to Suit your Lifestyle
After calculating your and/or your family’s daily watt-hour usage, you can figure out which DELTA or RIVER power station and the number of solar panels is most suited to your needs.
Below is a handy table demonstrating the supporting solar input for each portable power station and the number of solar panels needed for each unit according to their solar input.
|EcoFlow 60W Solar Panel||EcoFlow 110W Solar Panel||EcoFlow 160W Solar Panel||EcoFlow 220W Bifacial Solar Panel||EcoFlow 400W Solar Panel|
|EcoFlow DELTA mini (Solar input 300w)||5 panels||3 panels||2 panels|
|EcoFlow DELTA (Solar input 400W)||4 panels||3 panels|
|EcoFlow DELTA Max (Solar input 800W)||5 panels||2 panels||2 panels|
|EcoFlow RIVER Pro (Solar input 200W)||3 panels||2 panels|
After journaling and referring to the table provided above, you should be able to make a much more informed and considered decision of which portable solar suite to choose that works in tandem with your lifestyle.
Additionally, a portable solar ecosystem is simple. It saves you the hassle of drilling, mounting, and hooking up an entire electrical system. Especially helpful if you’re not an electrician or engineer!
The EcoFlow portable solar ecosystem is easy to set up and can be placed anywhere. For instance, you can park your RV anywhere in the shade (where it’s most desirable on a hot sunny day) and fold out your portable solar panels anywhere there is sunlight. Enjoy the scenery while your power station charges to full capacity.
Afterward, you can pack up your panels, stow them away effortlessly and charge your appliances using your EcoFlow portable power station.
Ecoflow Power Kits – The All-New Solution to Off-Grid Power
If you’re looking for a more permanent setup compared to portable power stations, EcoFlow’s new Power Kits reinvent the traditional RV solar panel system. They combine batteries and solar panels with the “Power Hub,” which combines chargers, solar controllers, and more into a 5-in-1 solution — saving you space and time setting up.
For the trade-off in portability, you get a baked-in solution designed specifically for your vehicle that’s easy to expand or contract to your needs.
The Bottom Line
Overall, installing static solar power for an RV or campervan can come with many hurdles. Specifically, mounting, drilling holes, expenses, and multiple components are a few examples. If you spend most of the year living in your RV or campervan, then permanent solar panels may be ideal and a worthwhile investment in the long run.
However, if you’re a part-time off-grid traveler journeying for frequent weekend breaks or the odd two-week-long trips each year, then an EcoFlow solar suite with the correct solar input and capacity for your needs would be more tailored to you.Interested in diving deeper into the portable solar panel topic? Read our definitive guide here.