5 Ways To Get Started With Solar Power/Panels (RV/Camping)

Start Using Solar Panels To Generate Electricity When You Go RV/Tent Camping

Ever since I was a kid, I have loved camping. I spent many years as a kid camping with my grandparents in their RV. Back then, we didn’t have mobile phones, but we couldn’t watch TV when we were out boondocking without hookups.

Now I travel full time in my travel trailer and do all my work online. And since I spend 95% of my camping nights boondocking/dry camping, I needed a way to power my electronics.

Related Post: Do Solar Generators Come With Solar Panels?

My solution was to buy a solar generator, if you have no idea what a solar generator is, I recommend reading my post about them. Basically, it’s a battery with outlets that can be recharged with solar panels. The solar generator I have is the Goal Zero Yeti 1000. I connect 400 watts of solar panels to it to be able to use my laptop all day and watch TV at night.

Camping, more like glamping, right?

Not everybody goes camping to sit on their laptops all day, and only need to recharge their phone or RV batteries. But it can be hard to know where to start, and I know the overwhelming feeling of when you just start to learn about solar panels and how they work.

Therefore, I am writing this post today to hopefully help you find a way to use solar panels for what you need. I have split it up into five different categories and will share ways you can get it done with different products.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I will do my best to help you.

1. Foldable Solar Panels To Charge Phones, Tablets, Lights, Speakers, Power Banks

To keep smaller electronics charged that come with USB cables, all you need is a foldable solar panel with USB ports.

The Nekteck 21W Portable solar panel charger is an example of a great efficient little solar charger that will recharge your electronics while the sun is out.

Nekteck 21W Solar Charger(5V/3A Max) with 2 USB Port, IPX4 Waterproof Portable and Foldable Hiking Camping Gear SunPower USB Solar Panel Compatible with iPhone, iPad, Samsung Galaxy, and More

Check Price at Amazon

Put it on a table, hang it in a tree, or stand it on its side, and all you have left to do is connect your device for it to start charging.

Since the solar panel can’t store power on its own, I recommend getting a LanLuk power bank and plug the solar panel into this instead of your device, so you can use your devices during the day and charge them at night. You can, of course, plug your phone or tablet directly into the solar panel as well.

The LanLuk power bank is a portable battery with USB ports that can output a faster charge than the solar panel.

Even if you don’t go camping, a small solar panel like this can be great to have for emergencies.

2. Portable Solar Panels To Recharge RV Batteries

If you go boondocking/dry camping and only use your RV batteries to run the water pump, furnace, 12V TV, and lights, a 100W panel will most likely be enough.

A great portable solar panel that comes with everything you need is the Renogy 100W Suitcase.

Renogy 100W 12V Protable Foldable Monocrystalline Solar Panel, Folding Solar Charger with 10A LCD Waterproof Charge Controller for Camping RV Van, 100W Panel-10A Controller

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It connects to your 12V battery with alligator clips. Positive (red) to the positive terminal, and negative (black) to the negative terminal. The built-in charge controller will let you monitor how your panel and battery are doing.

Related Post: How Big Of A Solar Panel Do I Need To Charge RV Batteries?

The kickstand makes it easy to set up the panel and angle it towards the sun, and an included carrying case protects it while in storage.

I own two of these panels and have been impressed by how efficient they are, even when it’s cloudy. There is also a 200W model available if you believe you need twice the power. Just keep in mind that they’re pretty heavy.

If you have a quick-connect solar port on your RV/trailer, check out my post about using the Zamp solar port, or the Furrion solar port.

3. Portable Power Stations/Solar Generators With Portable Solar Panels

You can do what I have done, and buy a portable power station/solar generator. Power stations have outlets that can power regular 120V electronics. To understand their limitations and how they work, I recommend reading my complete post about solar generators.

If you don’t have much time, let’s quickly look at an example.

Acopower 150Wh + 50W Solar Panel

ACOPOWER 150Wh Portable Solar Generator with 50W Foldable Solar Panel Combo

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This is a portable power station that comes with a 50W solar panel. The power station has 150Wh battery capacity, which means that you could use a 30W device for about five hours (150Wh/30W=5 hours).

There are three ways to recharge it. With the included wall charger, a car charger, or solar panels.

Related Post: This Solar Panel Charges Both 12V Batteries & Power Stations

When it comes to ports, the Acopower 150Wh has one AC outlet, two USB ports, and three DC ports. The AC outlet (looks like the outlet in a house) can power electronics that require up to 100W continuously. Like a smaller TV, laptop, tablets, speakers, etc.

It’s not powerful enough to power any kitchen appliances, air conditioners, microwaves, heaters, or any device that needs more than 100W to run.

The 50-watt solar panel that is included can be plugged into the Acopower 150Wh power station with an included adapter. A 50W panel generates about 30-40 watts every hour and can charge the battery from 0 to 100% in about 5 hours.

My Yeti 1000 runs my microwave, coffee maker, and my travel trailer. It can be recharged with a solar panel like the Goal Zero Boulder 100 briefcase.

Related Post: Goal Zero Yeti 200X Review

If you’re interested in more powerful power stations that can power more power-hungry electronics and appliances, check out the comparison table I made in this post.

4. Power Station With Solar Panels Mounted On RV/Van/Car

You can use large solid panels with a power station as well. I have two Renogy 100W panels mounted to the top of my travel trailer. I connect them to my Yeti 1000 with an MC4 to Anderson adapter.

For more information about this, check out this post about how to use solar panels with different power station brands.

5. Lithium Batteries, Inverter, Solar Panels

The most advanced and permanent way to set up solar panels on your RV is by mounting them on top of the roof, then wire them to your 12V batteries through a solar charge controller.

There are a lot of kits on the market that come with everything you need to do this, the Renogy 200 Watt Solar starter kit is one of them.

Renogy 200 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel Starter Kit with 2 Pcs 100W Solar Panel and 30A PWM Charge Controller for RV, Boats, Trailer, Camper, Marine ,Off-Grid System

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The Renogy 200W kit will generate about 60A on a sunny day. It will not power your RV outlets, since that requires an inverter.

An inverter changes 12V DC battery power into 120V AC, to power standard 120V electronics. Since most RV battery systems are 12V, they can only run 12V appliances like the water pump, bathroom/kitchen fans, and 12V TVs. The inverter allows you to use 120V electronics that you usually plug into outlets in your home.

A kit like the Go Power Solar Elite is a more complete solar and inverter kit that comes with 380W of solar panels, and a 2000W inverter charger. The inverter charger can be wired to your breaker box and provide electricity to the outlets in your camper.

Go Power! Solar Elite Complete Solar and Inverter System with 380 Watts of Solar

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If an install looks and sounds hard to do on your own, RV dealerships are often very happy to help install systems like these.

A massive upgrade you can do when it comes to batteries is to upgrade to lithium. The Battle Born 100Ah 12V batteries have become extreme popular among RVers. Lithium can be discharged to a lower state of charge than the typical lead-acid batteries, and are much lighter.

Related Post: Battle Born Lithium Vs Renogy Lithium

I hope I have given you a couple of ideas about how you can use solar panels when you go camping, please leave a comment down below if you have any questions.

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