What to consider about solar, from solar panel kits to portable solar panels
Solar energy has never been more popular, and it’s for good reason. With rising energy costs and decreasing solar technology costs, implementing solar energy is a great way for many homeowners and travelers to save money, have reliable access to electricity, and go green.
However, if you’re new to solar, it can be incredibly overwhelming to sort through all the information out there. To ease some of your frustrations, we’re going to break down the basics of solar panels, from how the technology works to the installation process.
How do solar panels work
First let’s talk about the basics of how solar energy is generated.
Photovoltaic solar panels are made up of many solar cells made of silicon. When sunlight hits the panels, they create an electric current. Panels have both a positive and a negative layer, which creates an electric field.
The current collected by solar panels then feeds into a charge controller, which controls how much current goes to a battery. Charge controllers prevent batteries from being overcharged. They also have the ability to shut down a system if the energy stored dips below 50%. Batteries store and produce DC power. In order to use AC appliances, such as microwaves, laptops, and phone chargers, an inverter is used to change the power from DC into AC power.
In a home, solar panels are connected to a grid inverter, which is then connected to the existing electrical network in your house. In an RV, van, or boat, you can choose from a range of different inverters based on your specific energy needs.
To summarize, the key components of a solar installation includes:
- Solar panels (Collection)
- Charge Controllers (Monitoring)
- Batteries (Storage)
- Inverters (Usage)
Do I need to go off-grid?
Not necessarily. Generating energy from a variety of different sources is a great approach to ensure you have steady access to electricity and take advantage of the economic benefits of solar, while also avoiding the need to install an unnecessarily large and expensive system. Regardless of if you’re in an RV, cabin, or home, it’s often helpful to think of your space as its own mini-grid. When you’re still on-grid, solar energy will be one of a few different energy sources, which could include tapping into the traditional electrical grid if you’re at home or using shore power or a traditional gas powered generator in an RV. All of these sources will feed energy into your home or batteries in your RV, van, or boat.
Benefits of using solar panels
Solar is reliable, cost-effective, sustainable, quiet, and virtually maintenance-free.
Solar is cost-effective and has a low-payback period.
Solar can save you thousands on monthly utility costs on your home or cabin over the lifetime of the panels. If you’re installing solar panels on an RV, you’ll save money on campground and hookup fees, as you’ll be able to generate your own energy from the sun. And because you’ll be able to start saving the minute you start using your solar panels, the payback period is fairly short.
Solar is virtually maintenance-free.
Solar panels require minimal cleaning and maintenance. We typically recommend hosing them down at least once a year and keeping them clear of debris, leaves, or snow. Other than that, they pretty much take care of themselves.
Solar provides freedom to RV dwellers.
Contrary to noisy, dirty gas-powered generators, solar systems are a greener option that also happens to be virtually silent. Solar panels on your RV can recharge your house batteries, allowing you to run AC appliances while on the road without needing to hook up to external power sources. Maintaining a steady stream of power can also extend the life of the batteries in your RV since you’re not constantly drawing down power from them. Plus, solar panels can work all day long, whether you’re home or not, meaning you could be out for a hike and charging up your batteries in time for movie night in your RV.
Having a solar installation can also expand your camping options, giving you the ability to go off-grid more whereas you may have stayed closed to modern campgrounds in the past.. To help you decide if RV solar is worth the investment, refer to our post on the Renogy blog.
Using solar lowers your carbon footprint.
We all want to leave a healthy, greener world for future generations. By making solar a part of your life and decreasing your reliance on fossil fuels, you’ll be able to make a positive impact on the environment.
Solar is easy!
Lastly, while it may seem intimidating at first, adding solar to your home, boat, van or RV is actually quite easy. The Renogy solar panel kits make it easy to ensure all the components of your system are compatible. Then, once you have it all set up, it’s just a matter of flipping the switch and you’ll be generating power in no time.
Do solar panels work in cloudy areas?
Even if you’re in a cloudy area, solar panels produce around 25 percent as much energy as they would on a sunny one. Also, despite popular belief, solar panels actually operate more efficiently in colder areas than in warmer ones.
However, if you know you’re going to be mostly travelling or living in mostly cloudy areas, it’s important to take that into consideration when considering how much power your system will be able to generate and if that investment in the system is worth it. Refer to the Renogy solar calculator to get a more accurate estimate of what size system you need.
What’s the difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels?
Renogy offers both monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. Polycrystalline panels, which are light blue in color, are less efficient than monocrystalline panels, but they are also cheaper. Monocrystalline panels, which are darker in color, are more space-efficient. By taking these factors into consideration, you can choose the best panels based on you budget, energy needs, and space.
Should I use 12v and 24v panels?
Panels typically come in either 12V and 24V options. Solar panels can be wired in series or in parallel to increase voltage or current, respectively. Most RV’s and boats have 12V battery banks, so people usually stick with the 12V panels in order to be compatible with those. The advantage of using a higher voltage battery bank is that is saves you money in the long run as you need less charge controllers and can use thinner cables for the same amount of power. If your energy needs are over 3KW, go for 48 volt system. Large off-grid houses often use 48V.
Portable vs. Roof Mounted Panels?
Portable solar panel systems give you the ability to generate and store your own electricity using portable solar panels, charge controllers, batteries, and inverters. Instead of mounting to a roof, portable solar panels come in different forms and are often available as folding suitcase panel kits that can be set up on the ground or flexible panels that can be mounted or hung from your vehicle or other vertical surfaces. Portable solar panel kits can be a great solution for those not ready to install a solar system on their roof, have limited space, or who have smaller energy needs.
How do I know what size system I need?
To determine what size system will best fit your needs, make a list of all the appliances and devices you plan on running. The main appliances to take into consideration when addressing energy needs may include a TV, lighting, water pump, laptop, fans, microwave, and refrigerator. We recommend using the Renogy solar panel calculator to help determine your specific needs. The solar sizing calculator allows you to input information about your lifestyle to help you decide on your solar panel requirements. You’ll just need to know what total watts your electronics will consume, how long you plan on running devices, your charge controller efficiency, and average sun hours per day.
The solar panel calculator will then be able to tell you the minimum and recommended system size, as well as the recommended battery output.
How to install solar panels
For an on-grid system on a home, it is necessary to contact your local electrical company to inform them that you are planning on going solar and contact a licensed installer/contractor for installation of the system. They will be able to help you with any permitting, inspections, and walk you through the process.
For off-grid kits, including Renogy’s solar panel kits, we recommend consulting with an installer, electrician, or our technical support team for guidance and support. All our off-grid kits are DIY ready with a user-friendly installation process and our installation guides are available online.
How do I care for solar panels?
Solar panels require minimal maintenance. In the winter, we’d recommend investing in a snow brush for removing snow from the panels (although panels generate enough heat to typically melt off most snow.) In the fall, we’d recommend brushing off any leaves that may collect on the surface of the panels. We’d also encourage you to wash off the panels at least once a year to remove any dirt or other residue that may have collected. All of these practices will ensure that your panels are operating at maximum efficiency.
How do I generate energy at night?
If you want to be completely off-grid, you’ll need a battery storage system for nighttime. However, this is not required for most rooftop solar panel installations. In most situations, you’ll have access to the traditional energy grid from your utility as a reliable backup. If it is nighttime, too cloudy to produce solar energy, or you are using more energy than the panels are producing, your house will pull from the electrical grid like it does now.
Another beneficial component to consider is net metering. Net metering is a billing mechanism that allows you to receive credits on your electricity bill when your solar panels produce excess electricity (such as the middle of the afternoon) and then sends that electricity back into the grid. At night when your panels aren’t producing power, you can use those credits when you’re drawing energy from your utility.
The net meter device is installed on your home and is similar to the electric meter you probably have on your home now. However, now it measures power going in two directions instead of just one.
How long do solar panels last?
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that many solar panels typically last for about 20 years. They’ll often also be able to generate energy beyond that point at lower efficiency rates.
Most of Renogy’s solar panels have a warranty of 10 years for material and workmanship warranty. Refer to your specific technology for detailed warranty information.
Do I need to replace my roof before I install solar panels on my home?
If you’re installing solar on the roof of your cottage, cabin, or home, we’d recommend replacing your roof if it is nearing the end of its lifespan. Some roofs only last about 20 years depending on its materials and the climate where you live. So if your roof needs to be replaced soon, it is a wise financial decision to take care of this first.
Where to buy solar panels
Renogy has a range of solar panels of various sizes and applications. We offer kits specifically for those living or travelling in vans and RV’s, as well as complete solar panel kits for home for autonomous use on small homes, cabins, and sheds.
Hopefully this answers all the big questions you may have about solar panels. For more information about other aspects of going solar and how to address your solar needs, refer to the Renogy Learning Center.