How Much Solar Does it Take to Full Time RV?

Posted in How To's on May 12, 2017 Last Updated on May 6, 2018

This is a topic that comes up far more often than you would imagine. First, lets get the basics out of the way, and set some expectations.

If you would like to run your AC and your microwave using solar, you’re going to need thousands of dollars worth of panels. You’re going to need a giant battery bank – we’re talking a whole bay dedicated only to hundreds of dollars in batteries and wire. Keep in mind, all of that adds weight to your rig. Usually, you only have a few thousand pounds of “stuff” you can put in or add to an RV.

Now, on to what you can reasonably power using solar.

Scenario 1

We know a couple who have a single 100 Watt panel and a pair of 6V batteries. Their usage is lighter than ours, allowing their system to:

  • Power and charge laptops
  • Charge phones
  • Power  a light
  • Run the ignition on their fridge

Scenario 2

We built our solar system, starting with the basics. it consisted of two 6V batteries and two 110 watt solar panels (plus controller, wiring, etc.). On nice, bright sunny summer days, we could use this to:

  • Power and charge laptops
  • Charge cell phones
  • Run our LED lights at night
  • Power our inverter for printing labels for our business
  • Handle our refrigerator’s starter/ignition needs
  • Power our water pump

Then, we would head to Florida for the winter, the sun would be low in the sky, the power providing rays would be touching our panels less often, and we would have a serious drop in power. At this point, we upgraded to four 6V batteries. This allowed us to go for longer, but we still were having times when our power was just too low too often. With the price of panels dropping, we added two 100 Watt panels to the system.

Four panels (total around 400 watts) and four 6V batteries seems to be our sweet spot. We have only dipped low (still well above 50%) on one occasion of heavy use, and we were charged back up to full the next morning.

As you can see, these are two similar cases, with our setup being twice that of our friends to handle our needs.

Where to start

If you want to dive right in and just get solar installed, we recommend at minimum a pair of 6V batteries, and two 100 watt panels. This will handle a lot of basic needs. In reality, you are going to want to perform an energy audit, and calculate you real power usage in amp hours. Once you have an idea of how many amp hours you use, you can purchase enough batteries to handle your needs, and enough solar panels to make sure those batteries stay charged.

We aren’t going to dive into that here, as there are tons of resources already online that can help you determine your power needs. Heres a quick verson with links.

  • First, calculate your amp hour usage, using sites like batterystuff or ktbattery
  • Once you have your amp hours calculated, you can now plan how many batteries you need. Remember, your batteries shouldn’t be pulled down to 50% or lower charge. If you need 200 amp hours, you want 400 or more amp hours worth of batteries. Crown 6V GC2 batteries are one of the choices, and are around 220 amp hours.
  • Once you know your battery bank size, based on your needed amp hours, you can calculate how many solar panels you will need to charge those batteries back to 100%. Again, there is a handy calculator at batterystuff and a pile of information at wholesalesolar.

This should give you an idea of what you can realistically run with solar, what you may need, and the tools to get into the nitty gritty of planning, if you so choose. Please leave a comment if this was helpful, or if you have questions!

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