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Guide to motorhome with solar panels

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There are many reasons to add solar panels to your motorhome , travel trailer or camper. Most obviously, traveling around often means spending the night in places that don’t have easy access to the grid. Today, the most adventurous among us manage to live and work full-time on the road, making an motorhome with solar panels almost a necessity.

A motorhome is a self-propelled recreational vehicle (RV) that, as the name suggests, is like a home on wheels.
Motorhomes typically have sleeping space for two to eight people. Each sleeping space is either fixed or converted from other parts of the RV interior (usually a pull-out sofa). The kitchenette area is equipped with cooking equipment. The types of equipment included vary by RV make and model, but typically kitchenettes come with a stove, oven, refrigerator, and sink. More luxurious models may also come with a microwave. RVs also usually have a small bathroom with a shower, sink and toilet.
The Motorhomes also features a cab area with driver and passenger seats. These seats often rotate and become part of the living space. A dining table area provides a table and seating space typically used for dining.

motorhome with solar panels
motorhome with solar panels

What are motorhome with solar panels?

motorhome with solar panels work similarly to residential and commercial solar panels, only on a smaller scale and easier to transport. Once installed on your RV, RV or camper, solar panels collect sunlight and convert it into electricity that can be used by your vehicle. In turn, you can use this electricity to power appliances, lights, and outlets in your motorhome.
First, understand that you have two options to consider when choosing solar panels for your motorhome or campervan.

1) Portable motorhome with  solar panels System

This system is the easiest to set up and use. These systems typically plug into a dedicated solar plug on the RV and include one or more 100-watt solar panels that can be secured to the roof with Velcro straps. Other portable solar panels come in suitcases. You can connect the panels with wires and place them in areas with the most sunlight.
Recommended sungold HP Series 100W-400W Portable Solar Panels for motorhome, this solar panel is a good choice for RV enthusiasts who may want to keep the lights on, devices charged (i.e. mobile phones, computers) and The trailer battery is fully charged. This is typically the lowest overall cost of entry, however, you do pay more per watt for the portability of the system and some portability for emergency RV power.

2) Permanent motorhome Solar Panel System

Going the permanent motorhome with solar panels route will be the most expensive of the two options, but this option also happens to be the most efficient. You’ll get the most bang for your buck per solar watt, you can maximize any unused roof space with panels, the panels will constantly collect sunlight (i.e. while you’re driving), and once you park your car, these don’t need to be set up.
Sungold flexible solar panels and rigid solar series panels are recommended, and permanent RV solar panel systems are usually installed by professional companies that specialize in RV solar panel installation. These systems are designed for those who are trying to maximize the use of solar energy to charge not only their devices, but also appliances such as refrigerators, microwaves, coffee makers and even air conditioners.

Eco-friendly solar powered motorhome
Eco-friendly solar powered motorhome

How does motorhome with solar panels work?

Unlike a generator, your motorhome does not run directly on solar energy. Instead, solar panels convert sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity and store it in onboard batteries. This means you’ll have enough power to use at night or in bad weather.

The inverter installed in the motorhome then converts the DC power into alternating current (AC), which is the type of power used in homes. DC electricity powers various components of your motorhome, such as slides, lights, electric awnings, and fans. But home appliances typically run on AC power, which means an inverter allows you to use solar energy to power electrical outlets, microwaves, washers and dryers, hair dryers, coffee makers, and more.

200w High-Efficiency Sungold Portable Solar Panel for Motorhome
200w High-Efficiency Sungold Portable Solar Panel for Motorhome

Starting and Running Watts of Typical Household Appliances 

ApplianceRated (Running) WattsStarting Watts
Washing Machine12002300
Light Bulb60-750
Coffee Maker10000
Clothing Iron15000
Toaster Oven12000
Curling Iron15000
Space Heater20000
20” Box Fan200350

FAQs about motorhome with solar panels

Is it worth installing motorhome with solar panels?

That’s a great question, and honestly, it’s very personal for everyone. Deciding to add a solar panel system to your motorhome or campervan takes time and money.
Solar panels are great for people who:
Want to be able to go off the grid more when traveling in your motorhome . Installing solar panels will electrify your motorhome instead of being connected to the campsite’s electrical connection/power supply.
Prefer quiet solar collection to the hum of a gas generator
With a little research, some time, and investment, you can really open up the possibilities of motorhome travel.

How many do you need for an motorhome with solar panels?

Unlike residential and commercial solar systems, which are designed to power an entire home or business, motorhome with solar panels typically provide a more modest output. This is usually not a problem since you don’t use as many lights and appliances in an motorhome as you would in a physical property.
First, you need to determine your motorhome electrical needs. Motorhome with solar panels are rated in watts, and you need to know the wattage (or watt-hours) of any device you want to run on solar power – think refrigerators, microwaves, phones, TVs, etc. Basically, for anything if your motorhome with solar panels uses electricity, you need to calculate watt usage.

Calculate Watt Usage
A quick way to do this is to find the amps (or watts) on the device to determine its usage. You need to convert everything to watts, so if the device just has amps times volts you get watts.

Example: 120 volt rice cooker, 3 amps. 120 X 3 = 360 watts.

Once you know how many watts each device uses, you can determine how many hours per day you use that device and multiply it by that usage rate to get your daily watt usage, or watt-hours.

Example: Use the above rice cooker for 30 minutes or 0.5 hours. 360 watts X .5 = 180 watt hours.

Calculate the number of solar panels needed
Once you know your watt usage, you can now calculate the number of solar panels for your RV, and more specifically, how many watts of solar energy you will need.

Most people assume that a 100 watt solar panel can produce 800-1000 watts of electricity per day (8-10 hours of sunlight). Unfortunately, this is not the case. If you measure it that way, you’re going to be disappointed.

A conservative rule of thumb is that every 100 watts of solar panels will collect approximately 350 watts per day due to factors such as weather, optimal sun angle/exposure, and panel efficiency.

Example: You have a 5 watt phone that charges for one hour, you charge it with a 360 watt rice cooker for 30 minutes and a 1500 watt hair dryer for 6 minutes.

Telephone 5 (watts) x 1 (hour) = 5 watts

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

Hair dryer 1500 (watts) x .1 (hour) = 150 watts

Grand total:

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

In this example, a 100-watt solar panel is enough to generate enough power to charge your battery and run your devices every day. As always, check with the company that installed the panels to determine the number of panels you need.

What else do you need for motorhome with solar panels?

Your motorhome needs more than just solar panels. There are still some things to pick out, e.g.
charge controller


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