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More and more RVs and campers are turning to solar power, and why not? With solar energy you are no longer tied to traditional energy grids. You can go anywhere you please and without giving up the use of electronic gadgets and appliances. But the question remains: are portable solar panels for RV worth it?
Portable solar panels for RVs are ideal for running small appliances or devices. They can also be used as emergency backup power in case you are far from an RV shore power source.
How Much Power Can a Portable Solar Panel Produce?
Portable solar panels generate around 100 to 300 watts, whereas large solar arrays for homes range from 4,000 to 10,000 watts or more. Portable RV solar panels are for you if you want solar power without having to set up a bulky generator. We highly recommend the Varwaneo 100W 18V Solar Panel Kit as it works for camping, RVs and other outdoor activities.
Power also depends on the size of the solar arrays (solar panels linked together), the design efficiency and how much sunlight the panels receive. While portable solar kits are usually in the 100-300 watt range, you can always buy more to increase power output.
The amount of power you get depends ultimately on the weather and how many hours of sun is available. During the summer your solar panels will produce a lot of energy if directly exposed to sunlight. On cloudy days you won’t get as much power.
With an 80 to100 watt solar panel you should be able to:
- Charge mobile phones and other devices
- Charge and use a laptop
- Use LED lights
- Run a cooler
With a 160 watt solar system you can:
- Operate a small radio
- Use more LED lights
- Charge and use your laptop for longer periods
- Operate some small kitchen appliances
You can make that solar power run longer by not using these appliances at the same time, or by being more energy efficient with your solar panel. If you only use small appliances for just a few minutes then the power will last longer.
If you want to run larger kitchen appliances and use lights, your laptop, TV etc at the same time, you need at least a 300 watt solar generator like the FlashFish 300W Solar Power Station.
How Many Solar Panels Does My RV Need?
A 100 watt solar panel is good for small appliances only. If you want to use a TV, blender, coffee maker etc, at the same time you should pair it up with at least another 100 watt panel.
But the most effective method is to do a test run. Go on an RV trip but don’t use your power generator. Just use your battery bank. Assuming you have 2 lead acid batteries with a 100 amp hour rating, check how many hours or days before the indicator reaches 50%. By 50% the battery needs to be recharged.
if it took 2 days that means you use 50 amp hours a day. Now all you have to do is get solar panels that can generate 50 amp hours a day. A standard 100 watt solar panel can produce 6 amps on a clear day. By doing the math you need two 100 watt panels to produce 50 amp hours.
A good way to save on power is to use camping appliances. A 12V battery can run camping stoves, coolers, slow cooker and even a mini refrigerator. Camping appliances are designed for portability and energy efficiency so they should work with portable solar panels. These appliances don’t require an inverter either.
How Much Does a Portable Solar Panel Cost?
The most basic solar panels cost $150, while high end systems are priced several thousand dollars . Now why would a portable watt solar panel cost so much? Usually these are kits that include an inverter, charge controller and other accessories.
There are two popular types of solar panels: monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Monocrystalline is more efficient, producing up to 15% more power than polycrystalline. it is also more expensive. So if you see a pricey portable solar panel, it’s likely mono. Most solar panels are polycrystallne, but mono panels are becoming increasingly available.
Keep in mind that solar panels alone won’t run your RV. You also need:
- A battery to store solar power.
- A charge controller to regulate current from the battery to the panel.
- An inverter to convert solar power to AC (not necessary if you only use DC reliant devices).
You can buy each component separately or purchase complete solar kits. These kits include the panels, charge controllers, inverter and the necessary cables and connectors. Most also come with an LCD display so can you keep an eye on the power levels.
These kits cost anywhere from $700 to $2,000. Note that you may still need to purchase the batteries separately. Buy deep cycle batteries as you will be charging and recharging them on a regular basis. Various types are available such as lithium, lead acid and AGM. AGM and lead acid have to be recharged at 50%, while lithium batteries provide 80% to 100% capacity. They are also more expensive.
What to Look For in Portable Solar Panels
- Size: solar panels sizes are measured in watts. Use the methods given above to figure out how much power you need.
- STC Rating: this informs you how well the panels operate in ideal weather
- ISO 14001 compliance: complies with environmental regulations and suitable for outdoor usage.
- Power rating; take a good look at the maximum output, amperage and nominal power.
- Dimensions and weight: if portability is your priority, check these figures out.
- Warranty: solar panels usually have long warranties. The longer and the wider the coverage, the better.
- Frame load; a durable frame load is required to cope with heavy snow and wind.
- Foldable solar panels: also know as thin film panels, they are usually 20% less efficient than rigid panels, but they are lighter. Since they’re flexible, a flat surface is not necessary.
- Check when the panels were made. Newer panels offer superior performance.
- Make sure the panel comes with the IEC 61215 label. This indicates the panels can handle adverse weather.
- Comes with the IEC 61730 safety standard label.
- If your RV is often near the seashore, look for panels with ammonia and salt resistance.
- Look up how well the solar panels perform in low irradiance.
- How many cells does it have and how many watts per panel? Remember it is not the number of cells that matter, but the total watts the whole panel can produce.
- Do some research on the manufacturer. It also helps to look up user reviews on the product so you get an idea of what to expect.
How to Install Portable Solar Panels on an RV
If you purchase a solar power kit, all the necessary components, connectors, wires and cables are included. The process varies somewhat from kit to kit, but it’s relatively straightforward.
Charge the battery first. Hook up the battery charge controller. Lay out the solar panels on the roof of your RV. You may need some help getting the solar panel cables to connect to the battery. Once mounting is complete, connect the unit to the inverter. Link up the inverter and battery and you’re done.
Once the system is connected, check the charge controller. The display will show that the solar panels are charging the battery, assuming there is sunlight. If it dos not, check the wiring and go over your steps again.
Is a Solar Panel a Good Investment For My RV?
Over the long term yes. You have to spend quite a bit for the system, especially if you use your RV daily or plan to live in it. But in return you won’t be paying any more monthly bills. You won’t be tied up to any location either.
Portable solar systems do not have moving components. They’re low maintenance and don’t produce any foul odor. The cost of solar panels as well as inverters, batteries and other accessories are also going down.
Think of portable solar power as a long term investment. If you plan on using that RV for years to come, it is a good idea to invest in a reliable, clean and efficient energy source that won’t tie you down.
There are a lot of factors to consider of course, but generally, portable solar panels are for you if:
- You take RV trips during the weekends
- You don’t use a lot of power hungry appliances in your RV
- You want emergency backup power
- You have other power sources for large appliances (if you have them)
- You won’t have access or be near RV parks
But before you buy solar panels, you have to account for other aspects. Buying solar panels is simple enough, but it is an investment and you want to make sure you’ve got everything covered.
Anywhere you look, it is clear that portable solar panel use is on the rise. From homes to businesses to RVs, it just makes sense for a lot of people to have access to power on the go. If you go on RV trips but don’t want the hassle and the cost of setting up a full solar system, then going portable is the answer.