Full-time RV living can be a challenge, but also an adventure if you do things properly. Take electricity as an example, if you don’t have access to it throughout the day a lot can go wrong. In such a case, you can’t use your appliances or charge the battery in your devices. Most importantly, you can’t turn on the lights at night or the AC to cool off after a hectic day.
That’s why you need 24/7 electricity to survive outdoors.
But how do you access electricity? If you are parked at a camping site or an RV open-ground facility you will have access to electricity, greywater drainage, and other amenities. However, when you go off the grid and move around a lot, there is no way to access electricity, except for one.
We are talking about solar power.
You can use the sun’s power to generate electricity and use it throughout the day. When night falls and the sun goes away, you can use the energy stored in the RV’s batteries to power up your gadgets.
It is nothing short of a neat trick that can offer you flexibility in your RV travels.
How much solar power do you need for your RV?
Well, it depends on your usage and the space available in the RV. The roof has a limited area to fit the solar panels. The max you can do is 2000 watts on a 33-foot roof, which is enough to power all the appliances and even the AC for a while. But you cannot go overboard with AC usage as that requires even more energy.
Here is a breakdown of the RV’s energy consumption and the limitations you might face to generate electricity.
Limitations to RV Electricity Generation
There are a few things you need to consider before installing a solar energy system on your RV:
The cost of installing a solar panel setup on your RV is a bit too out of reach for most RV owners. Sometimes, it is not possible to stay within the budget and that’s why most of us skip this part. But it helps to learn about the costs involved in installing this entire setup.
The solar panels take up space but they also add a lot of weight to your RV. The solar power setup can, therefore, worsen your vehicle’s fuel economy and eat up all the cargo space. So, it is very important for you to adapt your lifestyle to the changes and look at the maximum load bearing capacity of your RV before taking a step further.
The third biggest consideration before installing a solar power setup is space. The more space you have, the more panels you can add for electricity generation. But keep in mind that the solar components will consume a lot of space you could instead use to store other things.
Energy Consumption vs Energy Production
After understanding the limitations, you can move on to other things like determining your priorities and outlining why you need a certain amount of electricity. You must understand your requirements for the solar power system and then buy solar components accordingly.
There are two sides to this coin. Some RV owners prefer using solar mildly for their daily appliances and gadgets. When the load requirements increase at night, they switch to power generators or some other external source. On the other hand, some of us love to go green and use solar all day and night for our needs.
You need to determine which one of these two cases describes you the best and then make moves accordingly.
But in any case, solar power will only provide you with 60% to 90% of your energy needs. You might still feel the need to access an external power source now and then. However, frugality in this matter could save you on that front as well. If you sleep early and wake up early, most of your energy will only be consumed during peak sun hours. In that way, you might be able to survive solely on solar power.
How to Calculate RV’s Electricity Usage?
The best way to calculate your RV’s energy needs is by doing a power system audit. Don’t worry, you won’t need complex equipment to measure electricity consumption. But an accurate battery monitor can do the trick for you.
All you need to do is buy a battery monitor and connect it to the negative line of the battery that leads to the RV. Now, you use your RV as usual and check the results over a week. Once you have all the readings, compare the consumption with the usage and take out an average of all the readings. That should be the amount of electricity your RV consumes in a day.
Power Measuring Basics
The battery monitor will show you the output in Amp-hours, which you will multiply by the system’s voltage (usually 12.6V for lead acid batteries and 13V for lithium-ion batteries). The result you will get is the energy in Watt-hours.
Now, check how long the battery lasted providing this output of energy. Convert the result into 24 hours and that is how much electricity for your solar power system to run a full RV non-stop.
How Many Panels Do You Need?
Once you have calculated the watt-hour consumption of your RV, you need to compare that with the energy a single panel will produce. So, for example, you are using a 100-watt solar panel that produces 350-watt hours of power in the entire day. Let’s say, you want to run 1500 watt-hours of electricity each day.
You will need:
1500Wh / 350Wh = 428 watts of solar power.
In simpler terms, you will need around 5 panels to provide you with that energy requirement.
Our rough estimate puts you around the 2000 watts to 2500 watts of consumption figure. You can use solar power to run your RV and provide that kind of energy. But keep in mind that AC use will be limited to a few hours every day. The cost of installing that kind of system would be a bit high but it at least saves you from depending on external sources of power.
Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by travel. I inherited this passion from my parents. Since my college years and to this day, I have had a passion for traveling in a motorhome. I am here to share my experiences with you.