Portable Solar For Motorhomes, Recreational Vehicles And Camping Trailers

Categories: Solar PV Panels.

Portable Solar Panels For Motorhomes

When you are choosing a reliable alternate source of power, solar energy is the best choice. The number of portable solar power systems being used are increasing by the day. Portable solar panels for motorhomes and recreational vehicles are the preferred energy choice for many campers. There are good reasons why solar power should be installed in motorhomes and recreational vehicles.

solar panels for motorhomes

Motorhome Powered By Solar Panels

Using  portable solar panels for motorhomes increases your holiday freedom to select destinations that don’t have connected power. You need to choose to access a fuel station but when you have solar power that is the limit of the restrictions. Solar power is a quiet system so you can maintain the environmental purity of your campsite and reduce your carbon emissions at the same time.

Portable solar panels for motorhomes need no fuel other than sunlight to operate. The maintenance of portable solar panels for motorhomes is limited to cleaning and checking connections. There is a financial aspect of installing a solar system on your RV. The purchase of panels involves a one-time expense but there are immediate benefits reaped over a number of years and the trips that follow.

A typical portable solar panels for motorhomes system consists of solar panels, batteries, monitoring and controlling devices. The higher the number of solar batteries connected to the panels, the more appliances that can be powered by the system. So, typically the first step in the process of assessing  a portable solar power system for motorhomes is to estimate the daily power that the motorhome would use. That will depend on the appliances and devices installed in the motorhome.

Checking The Energy Consumption Needs

As a recreational vehicle user and motorhome owner you will need to know the operating power consumption of the vehicle. You need to calculate the power consumption of every appliance in watt-hours/day. The picture below gives a sample of the energy consumption breakup of devices generally used in a motorhome.

Based on your lifestyle as a camper with

portable solar panels for motorhomes

Energy Consumption Of Devices In A Motorhome

You need to factor in the occasional use of some appliances, like a vacuum cleaner or a hair dryer, in these calculations. Also, some appliances when not in use are in sleep mode, and they still consume some power.

Solar System Components

There are four basic components that constitute the solar power system of a motorhome. They include the solar panels, charge controller, inverter, and storage batteries.

solar electric language

Solar Panels

There is a variety of solar panels available to choose from. Their main difference is in the solar cell materials used. The most popular solar cell material is crystalline silicon which makes two of the most popular types of solar cells; Polycrystalline and Monocrystalline. The latter is more efficient and is priced higher than the Polycrystalline cells.

Another type of solar cells is the thin-film solar cell (TFSC) called Amorphous, which come in flexible shape but lower efficiency than crystalline silicon.

An additional feature you must consider when selecting the solar panel for the motorhome is the portability. You might choose the portable solar panel for motorhomes or the rooftop solar panel. For smaller vehicles, portable solar panels are an ideal choice. You wouldn’t choose to park your camper in the sun once you reach your campsite unless you’re camping in the peak of winter.

Generally you would prefer parking the RV under shade and putting out the portable solar panels for motorhomes in the sun. These panels give you the chance to place them a few meters away from the vehicle in full sun. The installation costs for these portable solar panels are minimal, and they do not need the sort of framing required for roof mounted stationery panels.

Solar panels come be bought in various sizes so you can buy a size that suits your vehicle needs. Some solar portable panels have legs so that you can easily adjust the angle at which you want the panel to be. You should keep adjusting the position of the solar panel to the sun’s position and get the maximum sunlight. Some panels can be folded to fit into a small storage space. Portable folding solar panels are popular for use with motorhomes.

portable solar panels for motorhomes

Portable Solar Panel For A Motorhome

The solar panels that are fixed onto the roof of the motorhome or RV are rooftop solar panels. It is feasible to have roof-mounted solar panels for larger vehicles. However, you cannot easily change the position of such solar panels frequently, yet they are preferred by some campers. They are convenient when installed and removing them from the vehicle for charging is no hassle.

Whichever solar panel you choose, it is recommended to get the installations done by a professional. The roof mounted solar panels need to withstand strong headwinds and constant vibrations while the vehicle is on the move. For those reasons they need to be attached to the motorhome securely.


A charge controller connects the solar panel energy source to the energy storage batteries. The controller ensures that the batteries do not overcharge. It does that by limiting the rate of charge to the batteries.  

This device provides a protection against drainage of power and shuts down energy flow when the stored power goes below fifty percent. Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) controllers provide an even more efficient way of power generation by converting the solar energy into an optimum voltage for the batteries used.


The inverter turns the low-wattage DC power into AC power or diverts DC to the batteries.  Most appliances run on AC power only.

Batteries / Storage

A motorhome usually runs on at least one 12-volt, lead-acid battery. When using a solar system, three more batteries are added to generally provide 280–340 amp-hours (AH) of capacity. Another option is to use 6-volt, golf-cart style of batteries with four of them set up in series to provide 440 AH of capacity.

Lithium-ion batteries are more efficient in energy storage but have a higher price for this efficiency. Lithium-ion batteries are lightweight as compared to lead-acid batteries.

The Price of Freedom

If you install a 500-watt portable solar panel system, it can generate enough energy for the daily electric consumption of the motorhome. A 500-watt system that gets sunlight for six hours a day is capable of generating 2,400 watts of energy.

Factor in the fact that few days would get a hundred percent sunlight for all these six hours. Remember that you will experience some system inefficiencies as well. You can ramp up the wattage anytime by adding panels and batteries.

Portable Solar Panels

You need not change the inverter and the controller to support the additions to the system. Solar power systems are available in kits, which include panels, a system monitor, wiring, connectors, mounting gear, controller, and inverter. It costs around $3,500 to $4,500 for a typical solar set-up, but this initial investment can be recouped in a few years, depending on the motorhome usage.

Click on the button below for one option that can get you started.

A refrigerator is an appliance that uses almost 1770 watts a day. To ensure you do not need to run the refrigerator on a generator you must add enough capacity to run a refrigerator all day which will be 4800 watts/day, for a system total of 6,800 to 7,300 watts/day.

Get To Break-Even With A Portable Solar Panel For Motorhomes

Saving from using a portable solar panel for motorhomes means to save money by using it in place of a gas generator. An average generator uses a half-gallon of gas per hour with the average price of a gallon of gas in the U.S. being $2.54.

Using a generator for four hours results in an expense of $5 for gas. Supposing you invested $4,000 in a portable solar panel for motorhomes. Instead of using gas, you would reach a break-even point on your solar investment in 800 days of use. That number of days of use is equivalent to 2.19 years.

Once the break-even point is achieved with the portable solar panels for motorhomes, the solar energy is free. The only other cost payable would be the minimal maintenance cost in the form of replacement parts. The batteries need to be replaced after about five years of use.

You might need to use a gas generator on rainy days or during cloudy periods with low sunlight. If your motorhome is to run an air conditioning unit in the daytime, you may need a generator. Operating an air conditioning unit in a motorhome requires a lot of power so it is difficult to run one even with an optimum sized solar system.

The Road Ahead For Solar Powered Vehicles

The portable solar power motorhome is just one phase of vehicles using this energy. The next phase will see cars and other transportation using solar as well. Tesla is planning to launch an electric semi and Cummins has already come out with their electric semi.

Boatmaker Hinckley Co. is the pioneer in the field of the first fully electric luxury yacht in the world, which can reach up to 43 kph (27 mph) and has a range of 64 kilometers (40 miles). Eviation Aircraft has launched an all-electric, zero-emissions prototype aircraft with a range as high as 965 kilometers (600 miles) with a seating capacity of nine passengers.

This is a frontier for a disruptive technology opportunity. We continue to be amazed by portable solar panels for motorhomes, vehicles, boats and planes. Motorhomes are only the beginning of this sustainable solar electric revolution.

Our best pick for portable solar panels for your motorhome is the Renogy Solar Eclipse with charge controller.

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