Solar and Off-Road Trailers

I want to address a few common misconceptions about solar panels. It’s very important to understand not only how they work, but also what to expect from solar so that you are fully armed with the knowledge that you need to make excellent choices.


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Common misconceptions:

  • Certain components “Run off of solar”
  • If I have solar panels, then my batteries will always be close to full
  • Solar panels perform equal to their rating

Certain Components “Run off of solar”

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This is technically innacurate. In the most basic sense, the only thing that your solar panels do is charge your batteries. If your trailer ran off of solar power, then everything in your trailer would stop working an hour before sunset. Even though some of that power is being pulled away before it is converted to charge for your batterires, it is most helpful to think of your solar panels as only there to charge your batteries. The reason why this is important is because it gives you a more accurate view of your solar system as a whole (especially from a troubleshooting point of view).It underscores the fact that your trailer’s power supply is a combination of batteries (charged by solar as well as shore power) and the batteries themselves are the real power source, ensuring a consistent and reliable energy supply beyond the limitations of solar energy generation during the day.

If I have solar panels, then my batteries will always be close to full

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The notion that having solar panels will ensure your batteries always remain close to full is a common misconception. While it is possible to achieve this if you have an ample amount of solar power, the reality for most RV owners is quite different. In most cases, the stock solar panels that come with your RV are designed to either slow down the rate at which you deplete your batteries during heavy usage or provide a modest charge during periods of lower power consumption.

If your goal is to actively maintain a consistently high battery level, you will likely need to explore additional solutions. These might include installing extra solar panels on the roof, investing in portable solar panels that you can position optimally for sunlight, practicing power conservation strategies, or a combination of these approaches. This is because many RVs do not come equipped with sufficient solar power capacity to keep your batteries continuously topped off, akin to the attentive service of a waiter refilling your coffee at a diner like Denny’s.

In essence, while solar panels are a valuable addition to your RV’s energy system, it’s important to manage your expectations and consider these additional measures if you aim to maintain a consistently high battery charge level, particularly during extended trips or heavy power usage scenarios.

Solar panels perform equal to their rating

Screenshot 2023 11 06 154534One common misconception in the RV industry is the belief that solar panels will consistently deliver their rated output, but in reality, this is rarely the case. When you first encounter solar panels with a specific rating, such as 100 Watts, it’s natural to assume that they will reliably produce that amount of power. However, the practical performance of solar panels can be quite different from their nominal ratings, and it’s crucial to understand why this occurs.

Under ideal conditions, which include factors like bright sunlight, optimal angles, and no shading, you might achieve a solar panel’s full rated output. In this case, the 100-Watt panel could indeed generate 100 Watts of electricity. However, such perfect conditions are rare in the real world. Variations in sunlight intensity, cloud cover, temperature, shading from trees or buildings, and the angle of the panels relative to the sun can all impact a solar panel’s actual performance.

In practice, it’s more realistic to expect a solar panel to deliver around 75% to 80% of its rated output, which means that a 100-Watt panel may generate 75 to 80 Watts on a typical day. In less than ideal conditions, this output can drop even further. Some lower-quality panels might perform significantly below their ratings, producing as little as 50% or less of the stated wattage.