Solar Panels

Expert Advice

RV Solar Panels: A Beginners Guide To Going Solar

Jesse and Lauren Stuart share their tips for using solar panels on your RV.

Thinking of installing RV solar panels on your Camper or RV and don't know where to start? From RV solar systems to inverters, and understanding what kind of solar panels are best for an RV, there is a lot to consider when looking to get solar panels for your rig.

So why get RV solar panels installed? Well, RV solar panels are a great way to power your RV when you’re looking to break away from electric hookup sites and try dry camping or boondocking. When you have RV solar panels and a solar system set up in your RV or Camper, you'll be able to power all or some of your RV’s electrical needs like lights, appliances, and even your RV air conditioner.

Whatever size RV you have, before you purchase your RV solar panels, there are a few things you need to know.

RV Solar Panel Systems: Which Is Right For Me?

First, understand when choosing solar panels for your RV or camper, you have two options to consider.

1) The Portable RV Solar Panel System

This system is the easiest to set up and use. These systems typically plug into a dedicated solar plug on your RV and include one or more 100-watt solar panels that can be attached to the roof with Velcro straps. Other portable solar panels come in a suitcase. You connect the panels via a cord and place them in an area that is getting the most sun.

The portable RV solar panel system is a great choice for RVers who are not needing a lot of power, maybe want to keep their lights on, devices charged (i.e phones, computers), and trailer batteries topped off. This typically can be the lowest overall cost to entry, however, you do pay more per watt for the portability of the system.

2) The Permanent RV Solar Panel System

Going the permanent RV solar panel route will be the most expensive of the two options, but this option also happens to be the most efficient. You'll get the best bang for your buck per solar watt, can maximize any unused roof space for panels, the panels will be constantly collecting sunlight (i.e while you're driving), and these won't require setup once you are parked.

Permanent RV solar panel systems are typically installed by professional companies that specialize in RV solar panel installation. These systems are designed for those who are trying to maximize solar to charge not only devices, but appliances like refrigerators, microwaves, coffee makers, and even air conditioners.

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need To Run My RV?

First, you need to determine your RV's power needs. RV solar panels are rated in watts, and you'll need to know the wattage (or watt hours) of all the devices you want to run on solar power - think refrigerator, microwave, phones, TV, etc. Basically, for anything that uses electricity in your RV, you'll need to calculate watt use.

Calculating Watt Use

A quick way to do this is to locate the amps (or watts) on your devices to determine their usage. You need to get everything converted to watts so if a device only has amps multiplied by the volts to get watts.

Example: 120v rice cooker that draws 3 amps. 120 X 3 = 360 watts.

Once you know your watts per device used, you then determine how long you will use it daily and multiply it by that use rate to get its daily watt usage or watt-hours.

Example: Using the above rice cooker for 30 minutes or .5 hours. 360 watts X .5 = 180 watt-hours.

Calculating Number of Solar Panels Needed

Once you have your watt use, you can now calculate the number of RV solar panels and more specifically how many watts of solar you need.

Most people think that a 100-watt solar panel will produce 800-1000 watts of power per day (8-10 hours of daylight). Unfortunately, this is not the case. If you measure this way, you will be setting yourself up for disappointment.

A good conservative rule of thumb is that per 100-watt solar panel you'll collect about 350 watts per day due to things like weather, optimum sun angle/exposure, and panel efficiencies.

Example: You have 1 phone at 5 watts to charge for an hour, you use a rice cooker that uses 360 watts for 30 minutes and you use a blow dryer that uses 1500 watts for 6 minutes.

Phone 5 (watts) x 1 (hour) = 5 watts

Rice Cooker 360 (watts) x .5 (hours) = 180 watts

Blow Dryer 1500 (watts) x .1 (hours) = 150 watts


5 (watts) x 180 (watts) x 150 (watts) = 355 watts / day

Given this example, 100 watts of solar panel would be sufficient enough to generate enough power to charge your battery and run your devices each day. As always, please consult with the company installing your panels to determine the panel amount you need.

What Else Do I Need For My RV Solar Panels?

You'll need more than just solar panels for your RV. There are a few more pieces to pick up, such as

  1. Battery Bank
  2. Inverter
  3. Charge Controller

Battery Bank

Batteries store the electricity produced by the solar panel so that your RV can still be powered when there is no sunlight available (i.e. at night or during bad weather). And technically, your solar panels do not power your devices. The solar panels charge your battery and your batteries are what supply the power.

Most batteries are either 24 volt or 12 volt and are usually rated in Amps or Ah. Ideally, you want a battery that has enough capacity to power all your devices/appliances for a couple of days. That way if you have a day of no or low sunlight, you still have some juice to power your devices/appliances.

The quick conversion to find out how much battery you need is watts divided by volts equals amps.


An inverter charger converts DC power (produced by solar panels) into AC power that can be used by your RV's electrical system. It also can take AC power and convert it to DC power to charge your batteries.

A good rule of thumb to determine how large of an inverter you may need is to take the total watts you will be using at any given time and multiply it by 1.25.

Charge Controller

Lastly, you’ll need what is called a charge controller. The main purpose of a charge controller is to create a one-way street for energy. The charge controller takes the energy generated from your solar panels and channels it to your battery bank.

Other benefits of the charge controller are monitoring and stopping potential issues like overcharge or discharge which can ultimately damage your battery.

Is Installing RV Solar Panels Worth It?

That’s a great question and in all honesty very personal to each individual. There is time and money involved when deciding to add a solar panel system to your RV or Camper.

Solar panels are great for those who:

  • Are looking to get a little more off-grid when RVing. Installing solar panels will allow your RV to power up, instead of being connected to campground electric hookups/power.
  • Are looking for a more sustainable solution to sourcing energy
  • Prefer the quiet collection of solar power vs the hum of a gas-powered generator

With a little bit of research, some time, and investment you can truly open up the possibilities of where you can go RVing.

Jesse and Lauren Stuart

The Wandering Stus

Lauren and Jesse Stuart, a travel blogging couple, along with their dog Huey cruise the country in their travel trailer sharing travel tips, itineraries, and their adventures along the way!