Solar Panels for RV Roof: A Beginner's Guide

 solar panels for rv roof

So, you're one of the smart sustainable thinkers who plan to kit out their RV with solar panels?

Moving into 2022, there are hundreds of solar panels you could choose to install on top of your RV, which means the entire decision making process tends to be quite intimidating. 

We would like to share all our solar knowledge with you to make your next camping adventure that much more adventurous and eco-friendly!

Let's get started.


What is a Solar Panel and How Does It Work?

solar panel set up for camper

Solar panels create clean energy by transforming light from the sun into electricity. This can then be used to power electrical loads within your RV.

Solar panels are made up of several singular solar cells, which themselves consist of two types of semiconductors, called p-type and n-type silicon.

These solar cell layers absorb the photons produced by the sun, and in doing so result in an electric current being generated.

Each and every photon that strikes the surface of the solar panel causes electrons to be knocked out of their atomic orbit.

These electrons are then released into the solar cells electric field which then pull them into a directional current.

The entire process is known as the Photovoltaic Effect.

Look, I know understanding how do rv solar panels work is pretty confusing, so if you haven't quite grasped the concept yet, I recommend you give this video a watch.


What Size Solar Panel Do I Need for My RV?

To add solar panels to rv, first and foremost it's important to remember that the quantity of solar panels are irrelevant.

You should rather focus on the total amount of watts your solar panel produces.

Now remember, you don't run your electric appliances off of your solar panels. You run your appliances off of your vans solar batteries, your solar panels are there simply to recharge your campervans batteries.

Your batteries should be chosen based on your electrical demands. Your solar panels should be chosen based on the amount of recharge your batteries require.


How Many Watts Of Solar Panels Do I Need To Recharge My Batteries?

adding solar to rv

To determine this, you first need to figure out what the total amount of amp hours your batteries produce.

In our example RV we've got three AGM batteries that produce:

  • 60Ah
  • 60Ah
  • 70Ah
  • Total: 190Ah (Amp Hours)

As a general rule of thumb we recommend 200 watts of RV solar panels per 100 amp hours (Ah) of batteries as a base guideline (that's 100Ah Lithium or 200Ah AGM).

So in our example we'd require 200 watts of solar panels to recharge all three of our AGM batteries within a reasonable timeframe. Lithium batteries are significantly more expensive than AGM batteries. However, we highly recommend looking to install lithium over AGM 9 times out of 10. 

Based on our example, if you were to install 400 watts of solar panels, you'd simply recharge your batteries twice as fast or more efficiently in low light conditions.

Installing solar panels for RV roof is all about being versatile. You'll also be charging your batteries via your alternator (this happens while you're driving). So, relying purely on your solar panel is unnecessary.


What Are the Costs of a RV Solar Panel?

The costs of solar panels for RV roof are vary greatly. When planning your budget you should consider factors such as the type of solar panel (monocrystalline, polycrystalline), the wattage, is the panel rigid or flexible and of course, the brand dictates price quite abit.

As a ballpark figure, RV solar panels generally range in cost between $100 - $300. 

Feel free to browse our selection of portable solar panels here,   which can help adding solar panels to rv.


Where is the Best Place to Put a Solar Panel on a RV?

add solar to rv

To determine this, one needs to take into consideration the ecliptic (the imaginary path the sun follows) and the set up of your RV.

First off, putting your solar panel on one of the sides of your van would be very much counter productive. Depending on your driving direction, you'd only be benefiting from the suns solar rays for half the day.

Once the sun reaches it's zenith, what then? This is precious solar energy being lost every second.

There's no doubt the most logical place to put your solar panel would be on the roof of your RV.

It would be silly to place the solar panels underneath any roof racks as once again, you'd be losing out on so much potential solar energy absorption.


Can I Connect a Solar Panel Directly to a Battery?

In theory, yes you are able to connect a solar panel directly to your battery. You would do this simply by connecting the solar panels positive wire to the positive battery terminal, and vice versa for the negative wire.

While doing this will charge your battery, you may run into two problems by using this fast track method:

1. At night when there's no active charge, your battery runs the risk of leaking electricity back into the solar panel, which may slowly discharge your battery. However, the amount is usually so slight you wouldn't even notice it.

If you are adamant on preventing this leakage, you can fit a simple diode in the line (a one way valve for electricity).

2. The second issue can be abit more serious - if the solar panel is left on it's own it can actually overcharge your battery. To avoid this it's essential you fit a charge controller.

This device has the correct circuitry to stop the flow of power from the solar panel to the battery once the battery is fully charged.


What Are the Benefits of Solar Panels for RV Roof?

camping with solarIt's been a campfire topic for some years now, what good does a RV solar panel actually do and is it worth installing?

Let us sum up 5 of the benefits I believe make installing solar power worth it.

#1 It's Environmentally friendly

Yes, a solar panel will charge your van's battery for free with clean energy every single time the sun comes out. This way you rely solely on your batteries and your solar panels for power. No need for Co2 producing generators that only further the effects of climate change.

#2 Off grid living

Solar panels (with the appropriate batteries) will allow you to stay off the grid for longer. So exploring some of those off the beaten track destinations may now finally be reachable. Self reliant = freedom!

#3 Simply fit and forget

Once you've maneuvered through the initial investment and installation costs, solar panels are generally hassle free. That is, they don't need any maintenance, except for the once in a while good cleaning, they should last you years without any issues.

#4 Save your moola

Some campsites require that you pay an additional fee to hook up to their electrical grid. While the sentiment is flattering, wouldn't you rather save all that money in the long run and while you're at it, maybe the environment too?

#5 They're not annoying

Solar panels will simply fit onto the top of your RV and stay there. They don't weigh much and shouldn't bring up your fuel consumption.

Besides that, solar panels make absolutely no sound, whereas a gas generator will keep you and the whole campsite awake during the night.


Final word

I hope you enjoyed this article, we certainly enjoyed creating it. Stay tuned for more information on all RV related articles. 

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to let us know in the comments section below. Also, please share any of your RV solar panel photographs, we'd be stoked to see your setup!


FAQ

1. Are solar panels on RV worth it?
Is solar power worth it? Don't get me wrong, RV solar power has some downsides, but it is absolutely worth the investment. While it is a hefty cost upfront, it gives you the ability to go boondocking on public land rather than having to stay in a crowded RV park with hookups.

2. What will a 100 watt solar panel run in a RV?
Things that can be quite easily run on a 100-watt solar panel are laptop and phone chargers, ceiling fans, LED light bulbs, and DVD players. Anything bigger than that will generally require more than one 100-watt solar panel.

3.Can you put solar panels on top of an RV?
Any type of solar panel can be made to work with an RV; however, there may be some challenges. First is space available. solar panels for RV roof may have lots of stuff on it and require the use of smaller panels. If the roof is wide open, full-size residential panels like used on homes can be used for RV solar panels.

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