Using solar power for camping has rapidly risen in popularity. Thousands of people have seen the benefits of using solar energy and are taking everything from RVs to tents camping with nothing but solar power to rely on.
You need at least one 100-watt solar panel for camping in an RV and less for a tent. Exactly how much solar power you need for camping depends on how much energy you are using, how long the trip is, and how many people are attending the camping trip.
Read on to learn how to estimate how much solar power you’ll need for camping of all types. We’ll learn how much energy a typical solar panel produces and how you can maximize the amount of power your panels produce. Let’s get started.
How To Estimate Your Camping Energy Needs
Unfortunately, determining how much solar power you need for any camping trip is not very cut and dry. Many factors are involved, and in honesty, quite a few calculations.
While you won’t be able to know precisely how much power you’ll need for your camping trip, you can estimate it to the best of your ability. Let’s talk about the primary factors you must consider in your estimations.
It shouldn’t be surprising that larger vehicles like an RV will use significantly more power than shelters, such as tents. Primitive camping requires very little if any, power; thus, energy consumption goes down drastically.
If you’re the type that likes to camp in style, you can expect to need to account for significantly more energy use. On average, a 100-watt solar panel will produce between 4 and 6 amps per hour, depending on how much direct sunlight it interacts with. If it’s partly cloudy, you can expect closer to 4 amps for an hour.
With these calculations in mind, you can anticipate one 100-watt solar panel producing somewhere between 20 and 30 amps at full charge.
Now, how much this actually powers depends on the specific RV that you have and what you’re powering. This amount of power may last for a full day, a half day, or a few hours. You should consider what appliances you’ll be running, how often you’ll use the lights, etc.
If you’re going for a more primitive camping experience, you can likely get by with something as small as a 30-watt solar panel. However, if you want to be safe, go for something larger. Most primitive camping requires little power supply, and you may even be able to make it with a portable solar power bank instead. Still, it’s always a good idea to always have some solar panels available for energy use.
Number of Things Being Powered
Another critical factor in estimating the amount of power you’ll use is the number of things you plan to power. It’s much easier and faster to provide power to a few cell phones and a simple stove than to light up an entire camper and run a minifridge and oven.
The more things you intend to power through the panels, the more power you will need. While it seems obvious, it’s far too easy to underestimate how much power your devices and appliances will use, and then you’re left with dead batteries and a pitiful camping trip.
When estimating how much power you’ll use on your camping trip, ensure that you count all your appliances, devices, and so on. Look at the appliance’s label to determine how much energy it consumes and plan accordingly.
As I mentioned, there’s quite a bit of math involved here, but think of it this way. The more math you’re willing to do, the more accurate your estimation will be and the less of a headache you’ll deal with later on when camping.
Number of People on the Trip
People use a lot of energy! An individual traveling solo camping uses significantly less energy than a ten-person party.
For this reason, you’ll want to consider how many people will be consuming the energy produced by solar panels. Usually, a single 100-watt solar panel will provide for between 2 and 4 people, depending on how often they use power.
Of course, if you’re on a celebratory camping trip that is expected to use more power, you may need to plan for two 100-watt solar panels instead.
Length of the Trip
Another major factor to consider is the length of the camping trip. While solar panels are completely rechargeable, longer trips often consume more energy at one time.
People become restless on long trips, especially when there isn’t much to do. As a result, they end up using more appliances and more electronics, thus charging their devices more often and using more power. It all adds up over time.
You should also consider how the length of the trip will affect the total amount of power used. Longer trips typically require significantly more energy use, both in the short term and long term.
Looking at the Numbers
After you know all the factors, the actual estimation process begins. This process looks at all the factors we discussed and plans accordingly with real numbers to calculate the total amount of energy used.
The first thing you’ll need to determine is how much energy your devices are expected to use. Let’s take a look at some examples below.
100-watt solar panels are by far the most commonly used on camping trips. This is because they will nearly always produce enough power to get you through for a few days. However, they do require adequate amounts of sunlight – usually upwards of eight hours per day.
Generally, one 100-watt solar panel will produce about one kilowatt-hour per eight hours of charging time.
Of course, we must also consider the solar panel’s voltage and amperage. Now, voltage, amperage, and wattage are all based on one another. For example, to calculate the amount of wattage, you must know the amps and the volts because AMPS x VOLTS = WATTS. For most 100-watt solar panels, you can expect them to put about 12 volts. The result is about 8 amps per solar panel.
If you aren’t familiar with electronics, this may sound a little confusing, so let’s briefly overview amps, volts, and watts below.
- Amps: Amps, or amperes, measure the current of electricity. The current can also be called the speed of the electricity. It is how much power is being released at any given time.
- Volts: Voltage is the amount of pushing force the device has. It is the pressure from the electrical circuit.
- Wattage: Wattage is determined by the amps and volts and is the overall power the device produces based on how much electricity the battery holds and how much it is being released.
The basics are that these three and the resistance determine how much power any given device uses or produces.
Determining How Much Energy Each Appliance or Device Uses
To accurately estimate how much energy you’ll need for your camping trip, you must know how much energy each appliance or device uses. Luckily, there’s a pretty simple formula to figure this out.
- Figure out the wattage of the device. The wattage is nearly always listed on the label of the device. For an RV or camper, chances are likely that you can find the information online if it still contains the original appliances. This will be the starting number to determine the rest of the energy usage.
- Look at how often you use the device each day. For example, if you’re going to be cooking all day long, you’ll want to estimate the number of hours you’ll be using the appliance. This aims to determine the total watt-hours you are using in a day. The formula here is fairly simple. It looks something like this: WATTAGE x HOURS USED = WATT HOURS PER DAY.
- Convert to kilowatt hours. In general, energy use isn’t calculated in watt-hours. This is because it would result in thousands of watt-hours. Instead, it’s converted to kilowatt hours by dividing the watt hours by 1000. Whether you choose to do your calculations in watt-hours or kilowatt-hours doesn’t really matter, but it may be easier for you to convert it to kilowatt hours.
- Determine how many days you’ll use the appliance or device. Multiply the wattage hours or kilowatt hours by the total number of days you’ll be using it to get the total energy use for the time frame.
You’ll want to do this for each appliance and device you’ll take on the trip.
Finally, let’s tie this together with your solar panels.
Determining How Much Energy Your Solar Panel Will Provide
Determining the amount of energy produced by your solar panels is the same formula as what we used to determine the amount of energy used by appliances.
You’ll simply look at the total wattage of your solar panel – nearly always listed on the panel. Then multiply this by the hours it will be charged to the watt hours per day it can provide. Convert this to kilowatt hours, and it will give you a rough estimate of the amount of energy you have to work with.
Tying It All Together
This has been a lot of information, so let’s tie everything we’ve discussed together.
The only way to determine how much energy you can expect to use on a camping trip is to look at the numbers involved. There’s a lot you’ll need to consider to get a completely accurate estimate, but there are significantly easier ways to estimate it. Just keep in mind that the easy ways also result in less accuracy.
While we discussed multiple factors today, the two most essential factors in your energy consumption are the total energy pull—primarily based on what type of shelter you’ll be camping in—and how often you’ll use solar energy to power your experience.
Ultimately, these are the things that really determine how much energy you’ll use.
Once you have a rough estimate of how much energy you’ll use, you must plan accordingly with your solar panels. If you’re going on a trip with less than three people in an RV, you can expect to be able to power your RV completely on one 100-watt solar panel. To be safe, however, you should plan for at least two panels.
You should also consider how much sunlight your solar panels will be exposed to. The less sunlight will be available, the more solar panels you should have available to collect more energy at once. While we would all like to have eight hours of direct sunlight per day on our solar panels, realistically, you should expect about five hours, even without a cloud in the sky.
With that said, it’s important not to overestimate the amount of energy your solar panels will provide for your trip. It’s better to underestimate and not be left without energy.
You can make this process easier by simply looking up the average amount of energy used by your camping vehicle. This will give you an estimation without going through all the calculations.
If you aren’t camping in a vehicle, you can plan for your energy consumption to be significantly less. In these cases, you can get by with a portable solar panel, but it depends on how many devices you have.
When planning your trip, ensure you consider all the factors involved and always remember – it’s better to overestimate your energy use than underestimate it.
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- Battle Born Blog: Amps, Volts, Watts: Differences Explained in Simple Terms
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- Renogy: What Can I Power With a 100-Watt Solar Panel?
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- RV Life: How to Determine Your RV Power Needs
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