Solar Panel Tilting – How Much Difference Does it Make?

TheRVgeeks Miscellaneous 17 Comments


For us, the appeal of boondocking is the combination of natural beauty, peace & quiet and the comforts of home. But this can lead to a dilemma… how do you power those “comforts” without the sound of your generator spoiling the solitude?

You’ve heard us say it over and over — Boondocking (or camping off the grid) is our favorite way to RV. But having the right equipment can really enhance the experience.

For most die-hard boondockers, solar panels are a big part of that. But in the winter, with the sun never rising very far off the horizon, solar panels can use a boost. Or to be more precise… a lift.

That’s where solar tilt kits come in. In this short video we’ll show you exactly how much of a power increase each of our solar panels gains from tilting. We’ll also demonstrate how a small shadow can reduce solar output by a surprising amount. And we’ll even mention a couple of other tips about aiming them and keeping things clean.

You may have seen the recent video our friends Jason & Nikki of GoneWithTheWynns made about tilting the panels on their RV (before they hit the water, of course). If not, you can watch it here, where you can also read their great post on the topic. They delve into things we never even thought about when we installed our panels over 10 years ago… such as the effects of latitude and exact tilt angle.

In that same location where we were boondocking together, they also made a great video about whether you can run your A/C off your solar panels or not. We made a cameo appearance in that video, so you should definitely watch it here!

For some of the most comprehensive information about assembling a solar system for your RV, our friends Chris & Cherie of Technomadia.com have put together a host of great content. If you’re considering solar, this is a must-read resource.

Speaking of Cherie & Chris and enhancing the boondocking experience all in the same breath, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that they are the source for the most complete information available about staying connected on the road. Learn more at RVmobileinternet.com. And should decide to join their excellent Mobile Internet Aficionados group (which we highly recommend) you’ll save $5 on your first year’s membership by using the coupon code MIAGEEKS” when you sign up.

Finally, our friends Nina & Paul of Wheeling It have some great content about their amazing new solar-and-lithium-battery system, plus they have more detail about tilting their panels.

NOTE: When we mentioned in the above video that our solar panels were “perpendicular” to the sun, we meant laterally, as in they were facing due south and the sun was at its highest point in the sky that day, directly off the right side of the RV. To get the panels vertically perpendicular to the sun, the tilt height needs to be adjusted higher or lower depending on the time of year and current location.


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We're handy RVers, not professional technicians. We're happy with the techniques and products we use, but be sure to confirm that all methods and materials you use are compatible with your equipment and abilities. Regardless of what we recommend, consult a professional if you're unsure about working on your RV. Any task you perform or product you purchase based on any information we provide is strictly at your own risk.

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Comments 17

  1. I am going to replace the awnings over my slideout which shouldn’t be a problem since I watched your video on replaceing the patio awning, it only took my two sons and I two hours to do it. My question is this, one of the slideout awnings ripped completely thus unwinding the roller. How do I get this roller rewound ?

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Don! The solution to the problem of an unwound spring is very easy actually. But since we’ve never actually done it ourselves, we’re going to refer you to the only person we’ve personally seen do it: Tyler from Tough Top Awnings. The reason we’d prefer that you talk to him isn’t because it complicated to do, but rather it’s a matter of “feel” for how far to rewind the spring, and even though Tyler explained it to us as he demonstrated it right in front of us, we think he’d be better at accurately describing it. You can reach him at (360) 980-0537 (probably best to get him during the week). Be sure to tell him the RVgeeks said hello, and if you’re ordering fabric from him, don’t forget to use the “rvgeeksrock” code to get a discount!

  2. Pingback: M4 LED Lights For RV Toys: OHV/ATV/Side-By-Side/Motorcycle

  3. Pingback: Running an RV AC off Solar, Batteries, and a Hybrid Boosting Inverter | Technomadia

  4. Great video guys and so glad you mentioned shading!!! We were just doing a little solar testing today on series vs parallel and the effects of shading for the sailboat. We had fun simulating the shadows of booms and halyards. That dang boom is going to be a power killer! Such new challenges to figure out…sure could use a couple of geeks aboard to help us figure it all out. (insert arm twisting here).

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      Author

      We never thought about the challenges of solar on a boat. So much to learn. We are definitely jonesing for a visit, and happy to help figure things out while we’re there, assuming you don’t know it all already by the time we get there. But Florida is one of those corners of the country we get to so rarely. What are the chances you’ll be in NYC at some point? ;-)

  5. We love reading about your adventures so much so, that we purchased a travel trailer for ourselves!
    We have many questions, but the most important one right now regards insurance. Do you have any guidelines that we should follow? Are some companies better than another?
    Thank you,
    Patty

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      Author

      Congratulations on your new RV, Patty! How exciting! :)

      We’re insured in Canada, but we still remember the great service we received from Miller Insurance agency years ago when we had our policy in the States: http://www.millerrvinsurance.com

      Of course it’s been long time, and there are many other RV insurers out there, but if you want a reference from someone happy enough to remember their name right off the top of our head 10 years later, there you go!

      To get the names of other agencies that fellow RVers are also happy with, we’d suggest that you consider checking for the topic on the user forums at iRV2. There surely must be a thread about that, but if not, it’s free to post your question, and lots of people will surely be able to make other recommendations. Check that out at http://irv2.com/forums.

      Hope this helps, and congrats again!

      Safe Travels,
      Peter & John

  6. Hi guys,
    Welcome home from your Down Under trip. I do hope you learned just how easy it is to speak Aussi…my days in the USAF thought me how in five minutes at the first pub we hit in Sidney …Aussi for beer = Fosters in the oil can!
    Enough of the humor and on to some serious question on the topic on solar. First I commend you for giving credit to others who have sites or blogs on the topic and Rving.
    Here is my question…as my eldest son has shown me some interest in RVing to different parks and now wanting to boon dock he said that the RV he rented was a 31 Ft MV but he found that as much as he like it he didn’t care for the problem he had the first day out with the AC in the rear section and some sort of issue he had with the interior lighting. I found out with family it is best if an expert handles the question and answer. His problem with the ac was in the air in the back of his rented RV and he said he didn’t think or understand why when in motion he had to use the generator to keep the RV cool while in motion. Secondly the he needed lights in the dusk hours he didn’t understand why he needed the penny on when interior lights were needed while in motion and not in a non standing position and parked while not being connected to the power hook up at the park.
    So being the so called not knowing anything about anything I decide to let you folks have a run with an answer. Would you like to try to give him an answer?
    One thing I asked him was when you rented the Rv did you get a briefing and walk through from the dealer you rented it from? he said not really ( I think he did have questions but being a guy you know the drill that is why we never ask for direction…a guy sort of thing).
    He did tell me that this was the best vacation he has been on in years so I’d say the bug has bitten him.
    My last thing is your clip on the solar issue is what I am thinking will be an option I’ll add when we down size in a year or so as there is just me and the bride of 41 years and our little 107 pound Bernese Mountain God who is a certified Therapy Dog..so it’s just we three ..momma and me and the Hans makes three!
    Mike

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      Author

      Hi Mike! Thanks for the nice note and the welcome home. :)

      If we understand your primary questions correctly, the reason you sometimes need to run the A/C underway is if it’s very hot out, when the dash A/C can’t cool the large interior air volume of a motorhome by itself. And it’s worse if there are more than 2 people on board, because the extra people produce that much more heat, and also because only those sitting right in front of the dash get the cool air blowing right on them from the dash A/C. And the only way to run the roof A/C when not hooked up to shore power is by running the generator, since it requires 110 AC.

      The lights in an RV are 12-volts DC, so if they’re not working correctly when you’re not connected to shore power, it’s possible that the house battery is dead. On a rental RV, just about anything is possible!

      Hope you and the Mrs and your trusty therapy dog have a great summer, hopefully on the road. ;-)

      1. Thank you sir for your reply. I have had my eldest son read your reply and he said “I guess you are correct dad after all. ” I think I am the replacement for Rodney Dangerfield and now leading the stage life go ” I get no respect)…ha!
        We will have as good of a summer as the crazy New York State weather will
        give us…one day in the 80’s and the next in the 50’s…ha! well that is New York State. Now as for our Therapy Dog Hans, well…the colder the better…Ha!

  7. I watched all the videos of the Australia trip welcome back. Solar panels look like a big help when boondocking . I have learned so so much from your videos, this is my 1st time emailing you guys. Me and my wife are both retired and do some traveling out west (we live in upstate New York )we are going again this year and will be trying to boondock more . We have a 26 foot travel trailer and a Honda 2000 generator for power to boondock. How do you find places to boondock and arent you afraid of someone bothering you?

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      Author

      Hi Gary! Thank you so much for the nice comment and the welcome home. :)

      Our two favorite resources for locating great places to camp, including free boondocking spots, are Ultimate Campgrounds and Campendium. If you visit the U.C. website ( http://ultimatecampgrounds.com ), you’ll see that the “UC Website Map” is available by clicking on it in the center of the page. Then just keep zooming in with the little “+” symbol in the upper left-hand corner, and dragging the map to view an area you’re interested in. When you get zoomed in far enough that the numbers (which represent how many sites there are in that area) become symbols, such as “BLM” for Bureau of Land Management” or “CP” for County Park or “FS” for Forest Service, you can then click on the symbols to get details about camping there.

      You can also download the excellent Ultimate Campgrounds app from the app store onto your phone or tablet for mobile use. The app works especially well, since it knows exactly where you are, and allows you to scan the route ahead for possible places to stay. And the majority of critical info in the app is available offline, which makes it extra helpful in those remote spots where cell signal is spotty.

      Campendium is our other favorite ( http://campendium.com ). You can see much of the information without logging in, but all the details, including large photos, are available by signing up for a free account (which you should absolutely do)! They have a large, and growing, database of places to camp, including commercial RV parks, and free listings by state. The listings often include detailed user reviews, cell signal and photos. It’s an excellent resource and getting better all the time as listings continue to grow.

      As far as worrying about being bothered… we’ve been full-timing for over 13 years, and boondock every chance we get, and have not once felt uncomfortable anywhere. Peace and quiet is the rule, especially out in the wide open spaces out West. We’ve met lots of other nice people in the process and you surely will as well.

      I’m originally from upstate NY, too (born in Rochester). And the dramatic natural beauty of the West has lured me out here and we rarely RV East of the Rockies. We absolutely love it out here!

    1. Post
      Author
  8. Two impressive standouts on this video:
    1. How smooth the drove video is. (Is that the drone or the pilot or both?)
    2. How even a little shade can have a big effect on output.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi John! Our drone (a Solo by 3D Robotics) is remarkable. We featured a couple of different autonymous modes in this video. The opening shot was done using “Multi-point Cable Cam” where you fly it to multiple points in space, aim the camera where desired for that particular spot, and lock in each point in sequence. This creates a “cable” along which it will fly, with exact detail of where and how the camera will face at each point along the way. Then press the “play” button, and it will fly, hands-off, along the length of the cable, smoothly interpolating each camera angle/adjustment between points as it goes. When it gets to the other end, it just stops and hovers. Pressing play again will reverse the shot from finish to start, and you can do that over and over as long as the battery lasts. You can even change the desired speed/time of the shot in between each take, from very slow to very fast. The final shot was done using “Orbit” mode, where a point is set on the satellite map display, and it aims the camera at that point automatically as it continues to circle at any desired pre-set speed, in either direction. All of this is totally autonymous once the parameters are set, allowing us to be part of the shot without having to actively fly it. Amazing, isn’t it?! If you want to get fancy, you can do an increasing radius/altitude orbit by pulling up and away manually while it’s orbiting, which is a pretty dramatic shot. There are lots of other modes too, including follow, follow/orbit, and more. We can’t get enough of it. :)

      Oh…. yes, it is amazing how little shade it takes to affect solar output!

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