RV Solar Panels – How To Get Started

Lyle Ellerbee

The functionality of solar power is still a new concept to many RVers. Many believe that solar power systems are not practical or that the systems are too complex and expensive.
After one experiences solar power generation, many agree that it is one of the most useful tools to come around in a long time.

The creation of solar power is pretty simple. Solar panels convert light from the sun into energy. The process is known as “photovoltaic process”. The word Photovoltaic is a combination of the Greek word for Light and the name of the physicist Allesandro Volta.

95% of all solar cells are made up of the semiconductor silicone (SI). As light hits the cells, the semiconductor absorbs the light and electrons on the semiconductor are excited creating an electrical reaction in the form of a DC charge. The DC current can then be used immediately or routed to batteries for storage.

Setting Up An RV Solar Panel System.

The components needed to set up an RV solar panel system are:

  • A Solar panel
  • A Charge Controller
  • A Storage Battery
  • And an Inverter

Multiple solar panels can be wired together to generate enough power for the needed output. The most important factor when choosing the right panels is the semiconductor material. Crystalline panels produce power more efficiently and have a longer life span than other semiconductor materials.

A charge controller is another piece of equipment needed. The charge controller monitors the batteries and when current is needed, it is supplied in the right amount.
The controllers voltage regulation is needed to ensure the batteries are not damaged by excessive voltage. 12v solar panels can produce voltages up to 19-21 volts depending on the amount of sunlight. Charge controllers are rated in amps. This is the total amount of current is can regulate.

Where To Store The Power For Later Use.

The energy produced by solar panels is normally stored in “Deep Cell” batteries for future use. Deep cell batteries are the favored choice due to the fact that they are designed to be discharged and recharged over and over again.

The amount of power need determines that amount of batteries needed. Batteries are rated in amp hours. For example, a 1 amp hour battery will provide 1 amp of current for 1 hour. Two 150 amp hour batteries in parallel would total 300 amp hours and would provide 10 amps of power for 30 hours. To determine how much power is needed, Add up the total current draw of all the loads on your RV.

The lights in your RV are typically DC and can be operated from the storage battery But most appliances run on AC power. In most cases you will need an inverter. An inverter converts DC power into standard AC current.

Inverters usually come in two types, “True Sine Wave” and “Modified Sine Wave”. Modified sine wave inverters are usually cheaper and can be used to power basic ac power devices.

True sine wave inverters are best for sensitive electronic equipment such as laptop computers, etc. Inverters are rated based on how much power they can supply.

Connecting Solar Panels Together.

Solar panels can be connected together to obtain a higher voltage or power capacity. Connecting two 12volts 5amp panels together in series would give you 24volts 5amps. Connecting two panels in parallel would yield 12volts 10amps. The same is true for batteries.

The panels are then connected to the charge controller. The controller then connects to the batteries. And then the batteries would connect to the inverter. The inverter can then be connected to route AC power to the RV’s electrical outlets.

So there you have it. RV solar panels are great for dry camping or on the go. Solar power is clean, reliable, and the most cost effective means of keeping your batteries charged and the lights on.

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