Is It Worth Having a Solar Panel on a Motorhome?

Looking for solar panels for motorhomes can seem daunting, especially when there are so many factors to consider. It may not seem like a worthy endeavor, but we can break things down to make things easier to handle.

Solar panels are a technology that is rapidly progressing, and today there are a variety of ways that solar panels can fit in with motorhomes.

Whether you’re looking to have an emergency power supply or hoping to power your entire motorhome with solar, there are options.

In this guide for solar panels for motorhomes, we’ll cover:

  • How solar panels work on motorhomes
  • What kind of solar panels work best for motorhomes
  • How to use solar with motorhomes
  • What to look for when buying solar for a motorhome
  • Other FAQs

We’ll make sure you’re confident in your solar panel decisions and help you be the most informed on solar panels for motorhomes.

Roof Of A Motorhome With Solar Panels On It
Roof Of A Motorhome With Solar Panels On It

Solar Panels and Motorhomes

Solar panels can work very effectively with motorhomes, and they can supply you with either an added boost or the entire trip’s worth of energy, depending on your needs and setup.

We’ll give you the basics to feel confident in your choices, but generally, solar panels work well with motorhomes. One of the primary benefits is that a solar panel can only work as well as the position, which makes a setup that can travel so worthwhile.

Of course, this means if you prefer to keep your motorhome in shaded areas, you may not find solar panels work well for your needs. You’ll want to keep things in direct sunlight as often as possible for the best outcomes.

Solar panels are a freeing fit for motorhomes, as you can keep things powered without needing other external hookups. Now, let’s delve into optimizing solar panels and motorhomes’ effectiveness.

What Kind of Solar Panels Work Best for Motorhomes?

Any solar panel on the market could be on a motorhome, but the smaller roof space means that powerful solar panels or flexible solar panels are usually a better choice to get the most out of them.

When choosing solar panels, there are a few terms you can familiarize yourself with to make the process easier.

  • Amorphous panels are flexible solar panels and are newer than other methods. Because of this, they aren’t the most effective choice. But their flexibility and thinness make them easy to work and install.
  • Monocrystalline panels are usually the most expensive, but they do provide the most power.
  • Polycrystalline panels are a bit less effective than monocrystalline but work well and are a more durable, cost-effective option than either of the two above.

What Is the Best Size Solar Panel for a Motorhome?

Generally, this depends on how much power usage you need. As well as that, if you choose 100-watt solar panels, you’ll need more in a setup to achieve the same result with fewer 200-watt solar panels.

In one basic method to figure it out, 100-watt solar panels produce around 30-amp hours per day, and 200-watt solar panels produce around 60-amp hours per day for batteries.

What Solar Panels Are Best for Campervans?

Campervans can have even less roof space than some other motorhomes, so another style of solar panel that can be effective is portable solar panels. These don’t have to be mounted and can be unpacked at campsites to absorb extra energy on the go.

Power Outlet On The Side Of An Rv
Power Outlet On The Side Of An Rv

How Do You Use Solar Panels on a Motorhome?

Solar panels on motorhomes can be a backup source of power or your main source. You can configure the system according to your needs by determining your energy usage.

First, you should determine how many electrical appliances you plan on using solar power. You’ll need to determine your usage for each and add them together to get the entire picture of the amount of power you’ll need.

The basic formula is the power consumption of the item in watts (W) multiplied by the hours used (H) to determine the watt hours (WH).

Then, depending on the solar panels you’ve picked, you can determine how many solar panels you need based on their capacity. The solar panels will also create different amounts of energy depending on the anticipated sunlight.

For instance, a 100-watt solar panel will create 100w of energy per hour of direct sunlight. In a day with around 5 hours of sunlight, one solar panel can produce about 500w.

Of course, if you don’t want to calculate this or want to make sure your calculations are accurate, some people find it helpful to measure their actual usage.

You can accomplish this by taking an electricity usage monitor, which is an external device, with you on your next average outing.

Attaching the power meter to the primary electrical panel will do the work for you and give you your real-time electricity usage data.

How Do You Charge an RV Battery With a Solar Panel?

Once you install the solar panels, they will charge batteries after they’ve absorbed sunlight. For a leisure battery at 12v, you’ll usually need a single 200-watt solar panel with enough sun for 5-8 hours, or a single 100-watt solar panel will take 10-16 hours to charge.

Solar panel kits usually come with everything you need, including directions on how to mount them. In a few steps, the mounting process usually proceeds the following way:

  1. Securely mount the solar panels onto your motorhome roof.
  2. Mount the charge controller inside and close to the batteries.
  3. Run wiring from the solar panels into the motorhome. Wait to connect it.
  4. Connect the wires from the charge controller to the batteries.
  5. Double-check the wiring for safety before officially hooking it up to the power source.
  6. Connect the wires between the solar panel and the charge controller.

What Should I Look for When Buying a Portable Solar Panel?

You’ll want to know exactly how much power you intend on using so you can choose the most effective solar panel for your needs without wasting money.

Once you calculate your power usage and find the best setup for how many solar panels produce that power, you’ll want to make sure you have good batteries. A 100 ah 12v battery has around 1200 Watt-hours storage capacity. Have enough batteries or large enough batteries to properly store your power.

Solar panels usually come in complete kits with the inverter and charge controller. These crucial components help keep the electrical flow going in the right direction and in the correct amounts. The inverter also makes the energy usable for everyday appliances.

If the solar panels you’re purchasing aren’t part of a full kit, make sure you individually purchase a charge controller and inverter.

Here are some other factors to consider when choosing a solar panel:

  • Measure your motorhome roof to make sure the sizing is correct.
  • Think about the long-term care of solar panels, which involves regularly cleaning them so the PV cells can absorb the most light.
  • Consider if you feel comfortable mounting the solar panels yourself or if you’ll need the extra cost of hiring help.
  • Consider how much sunlight you expect the panels to receive on a day.
  • Decide if you’d like your solar panels to be stationary in one position or mounted so they can tilt throughout the day.
  • Choosing the cheapest solar panels might seem like a good option, but they typically don’t last as long as higher-end solar panels.
  • Solar panel reviews should be considered, especially relating to longevity.

Choosing Batteries for Solar Panel Setups

Just as important, if not more so, as the actual solar panels are the batteries in your setup. Don’t waste solar power on batteries that can’t handle it.

There are multiple types of batteries, and each battery will have its capacity. Make sure the capacity of your batteries is large enough for the amount of solar you’ll generate.

Lithium batteries are typically the preferred type of battery because they charge faster and can run more efficiently than lead-acid batteries. Lithium batteries are the newer tech. 

Lithium batteries are particularly well-suited for motorhomes because they can usually handle multiple charges simultaneously. This means they can output power to multiple sources, as long as the inverter can handle it.

Lead-acid batteries still definitely have their place. They can also be slightly more cost-effective depending on the size, and this can be handy when already putting the money into buying solar panel kits.

Solar Panels For Motorhome FAQs

Here are the most common questions people ask when considering if it’s worth having a solar panel on a motorhome.

Do I really need solar for my RV?

No, while there are many benefits to solar for RVs and motorhomes, you don’t need solar. There are usually external hookups or generators. Solar is just a renewable option for power.

How do you clean solar panels on a motorhome?

You can use the same methods to clean other solar panels. From the ground, you can simply spray the solar panels with a water hose. If you’d prefer to get on a ladder, use water and soap with soft brushes.

How long do RV solar panels last?

Longevity depends on the quality of the solar panel, but a good solar panel can last up to 20 years. Cheaper solar panels may only work at peak performance for a few years.

What does it mean when an RV is solar-ready?

A solar-ready RV has been wired by the manufacturer, usually in a partnership with a solar company. This does not mean that the RV comes with solar panels or contains all the necessary components, like the inverter or charge controller. It should be easier to run the wiring when setting up solar.

Will a solar panel charge a leisure battery?

Yes, a solar panel can charge a leisure battery. The amount of time it takes depends on the specific solar panel and the light it’s receiving.

Is a 120w solar panel enough?

What size solar panel will be enough depends entirely on your needs and energy usage.

Are solar panels worth it for motorhomes?

If a solar panel is worth it usually depends on the person, but solar does provide a great way to have freedom with a motorhome. However, some can see them as too costly.

Can solar panels be fitted to park homes?

Yes, solar panels can work for park homes. Anyone can go solar, and they usually need a more personalized setup. You should check with the owner of any motorhome parks to make sure solar panels will work well with the local grid.

References

General Solar Panel FAQ

What Problems Do Solar Panels Solve?

In environmental terms, solar panels can potentially solve a handful of problems, including;
1. Air pollution
2. Water pollution
3. Greenhouse gases
4. Reduction in fossil fuel use

For individuals, solar energy allows you to become completely self-sufficient when it comes to your electricity needs and can save you a lot of money in the long run.

What Are 3 Important Uses Of Solar Panels?

The three most important uses of solar panels are;
1. Solar electricity. This can be used to power almost any appliance in your home, including TVs, computers, and fridges.
2. Lighting. In addition to the use of low-power, LED lightbulbs, solar panels can provide an efficient, low-cost, and environmentally friendly way to provide lighting to homes. 
3. Portable solar. In our modern, always-connected lives, our phones, tablets, and computers are almost always with us, and all run on batteries. Portable PV chargers can help keep our batteries topped up no matter where we are, as long as there is some sun to charge them.

Do solar panels give you free electricity?

Once the cost of the array is paid in full, the energy it produces is free. There are ongoing maintenance costs, too, such as annual panel cleaning, etc. 

How much will my electric bill be with solar panels?

Suppose your solar array includes a solar battery backup system, and it is large enough to fully cover your energy usage per day. In that case, your monthly electric bill will be next to zero dollars, even with a grid-tied system. 

If your solar array does not include a solar battery backup system, then at night, your house or business will use grid electricity. That cost will vary but expect to pay from 1/3-2/3 of your average electric bill, and that cost will fluctuate seasonally. 

Do you save money with solar panels?

The simple answer is, Yes, you save money with solar panels. There is an initial upfront cost, but since solar panels are warrantied for 25 years, you will save money over time. You will also begin to see monthly savings in energy bills, but there are other ways that solar panels pay you back. Those include:
1. Adding value to your home or commercial building 
2. Monthly decreases in energy costs
3. The ability to add more energy appliances without increased monthly costs
4. The potential for tax credits for going solar

Can solar panels power a house 24-7?

Most definitely! Solar panels can certainly power a house 24-7, with the addition of a high-quality inverter and a suitable battery bank, of course. To power, a house under normal usage will require a massive solar array, though, and there will be a very expensive initial financial outlay.

Do I need to tell my energy supplier I have solar panels?

This depends on where you live, but in most cases, it’s not necessary to inform your energy supplier that you have solar panels. That said, you may be producing excess power with your solar system, in which case you may be able to sell that excess power back to energy companies.

In this case, you’ll naturally need to be in contact with them. 

What Are Solar Cells Known as and Why?

Solar cells are also called photovoltaic (PV) cells. They are called so because the term ‘photovoltaic’ literally means light i.e. photo and electricity i.e. voltaic.

These cells generate electricity through the photovoltaic effect. This effect basically causes the generation of free electrons from the semiconducting silicon material of the solar panel when sunlight hits its surface.

What Type of Solar Panels Are Most Efficient and Why?

There are currently three types of solar panels available in the market that are:
1. Monocrystalline
2. Polycrystalline
3. Thin-filmed

Among these, monocrystalline solar panels are known to be the most efficient among all others.

Does heat enter your home through the roof?

Absolutely. Heat enters your home through your roof, and on a hot day your attic can get up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Through conduction, heat from the sun warms your roof which then warms your attic and the rest of your home.

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