How Many Solar Panels Do You Need for a Camper?

by Gabrielle DeSantis

What if you could make your camper have more of a closed-loop system by relying on solar panels instead of gas-powered generators or campsite plugins for electricity? As solar technology continues to improve, using solar panels to power the devices in your camper has never been more accessible. Still, creating this type of system isn’t as simple as plopping a panel on your roof and calling it good. 

Learn more about using solar panels for your camper, including calculating how many you’ll need to accommodate all of your devices.

Calculating solar panel needs 

One of the first questions you might ask is, “How many solar panels do I need?”

This depends on what you plan on doing with your solar panels and whether you want 100 percent of your power to come from solar or if it will supplement other means of energy. According to Explorist, the number of panels doesn’t matter nearly as much as the total wattage that each can produce. 

For example, you can purchase a 300 -att solar panel or install three 100-watt panels and get the same output. There are several types of solar panel wattages, and you can mix and match them as needed to fit on the roof of your camper, or you can buy a portable solar panel to use occasionally. 

How many watts will you need?

Here comes the tricky part: figuring out how many watts you’ll need to power your camper’s devices. If you already have a camper equipped with batteries, you’ll need to figure out how many amp-hours they can store. If you don’t yet have batteries, it’s a good idea to figure out how many amp-hours you’ll need for your camper to calculate how many batteries you’ll need. Fortunately, Explorist also has a guide for estimating electrical needs. 

Once you know the total amp-hours your batteries can store, you can figure out the total wattage required to power them. A helpful rule of thumb to know is that 100 amp-hours from a 12.8-volt battery typically equals about 1,280 watts of power. How many solar panels you’ll need to generate enough power to charge a battery fully depends on how much sunlight you can get in a day, as well as several other factors. 

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say you can expect about six full hours of sunlight per day. So if you find you need 2,000 watts of power per day to run all of your camper’s appliances and devices, you’ll need at least two batteries. Take the 2,000 watts of daily power usage and divide it by the number of sunlight hours you expect — six — to get about 334 watts. This is the total wattage you’ll need from your camper’s panels. 

Of course, this calculation is only a rough estimate, but it can help paint a clearer picture of how much power we’re talking about. 

Are solar panels on campers actually worth it?

For some avid campers, yes, solar panels are worth the initial investment. However, occasional campers or weekenders are less likely to see returns on their investments. But some people don’t care about getting their money back — they only want to avoid relying on traditional electricity and want to make a positive environmental impact. 

The initial investment in solar panels can be expensive, so many people find it helpful to build their cache of panels gradually to supplement other means of power in the beginning. They can continue to build their closed-loop solar system and begin to phase out less clean power methods instead of having to shell out tens of thousands of dollars at once. 

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