The use of solar panels on RVs is increasing. Whether this is due to people wanting to live more "greenly" than in the past or they simply want to go off the grid (where power isn't readily available), more and more RVers are adding RV solar panels to their rigs. Whatever the reason, RV solar panels are a great idea! Solar panels have two main uses: they can trickle charge house batteries and they can be a source of primary electrical power.
Primary Electrical Power
Anything inside your RV that can be run off of a battery can also be run off of a solar panel system. A complete solar panel system can provide primary power to your entire RV, making it a great addition to your home away from home. To do this you must install several solar panels with corresponding gear, often sold as a solar panel kit. This kit creates, monitors, and regulates your RV's power to ensure that there is enough power for routine operation of your RV’s systems.
Measuring & Calculating
While it seems like you might just be able to cover your RV's roof with solar panels and call it good, that's not the case. On a sunny day, only a small percentage of the sunlight that hits your solar panels is actually turned into usable energy for your RV. And you'll also have to deal with rainy, cloudy days, solar panels at the wrong angle, and other factors that diminish the sun's effectiveness. Before solar panel shopping, measure the amount of space up on your RV's roof. This will determine what size of panels to get. Do not include vents and A/C units in your measurement total. Then, to determine your energy usage, calculate how much energy you use of your 12V battery over a 24 hour period. This will be your solar panel requirement.
Solar Charge Controller
The charge controller makes sure your solar panel system run like clockwork. It also protects too much voltage from reaching your batteries. Sometimes solar panels can deliver more voltage than they say they will and more than your batteries can handle. One of these chargers will effectively limit the amount of voltage that is sent to your batteries so that they are not overcharged. Almost all solar panel kits come with a controller.
Maximum Power Point Tracking
If you're just dabbling in using solar power when RVing, then using maximum power point tracking (MPPT) probably won't be of any concern to you. But if you're putting together an impressive solar power station on your RV, then listen up! MPPT can help ensure that the energy you're stockpiling from the sun is not needlessly wasted. This device converts the higher DC output from the solar panels to a lower DC voltage needed to charge your RV’s batteries, in effect making sure that your solar power is used wisely when charging your battery.
Digital Monitoring Unit
A digital monitoring unit allows you to read the volts, amps, and cumulative amp hours of your solar panel system so you know just how effective your solar panels are. As is always the case, the more expensive kits come with the more detailed monitoring units.
Use high-quality mounting hardware! You have a few choices when it comes to mounting your solar panels. You can mount them temporarily or permanently. If you choose to mount them temporarily, this gives you the option of positioning them to face the sun when you move locations. You can also mount your panels either flat or with some tilt brackets.
Solar panels are a smart RV investment. You'll feel good about helping the environment and you'll love the money you save over the long haul.