Adding RV solar power to your RV’s electrical system is a popular option for any motorhome or travel trailer. But just putting panels on the roof may only help you gain a fraction of the power available if you’re not using them to ‘follow the sun.’ But by tilting RV solar panels to directly face that big ball of fire in the sky, you can dramatically increase the amount of energy you have available on any camping trip.
Benefits of RV Solar Panels
Having solar onboard is a great way to keep your batteries full, especially if you enjoy boondocking.
Many RVers like to get off-grid, and although they might have a generator to recharge their batteries, it’s a noisy alternative that can ruin the peace and quiet you went out of your way to find.
RV solar panels are almost like having a free energy source (at least after paying the upfront cost for the equipment!) that helps you enjoy the tranquility of a dispersed campsite without all the noise of an engine running.
What Does Tilting RV Solar Panels Gain?
When the sun is directly overhead (during the summer months), solar panels mounted flat on your roof can often fully charge your batteries in just a few hours, since they’re facing more directly toward the sun, and thereby maximizing their output.
But if you’re camping during the winter season, the sun stays lower on the horizon (that would be the southern horizon in the Northern Hemisphere), even during the middle of the day. This means that the sun doesn’t ever hit the panels straight on, so the cells on the solar panels aren’t absorbing the sun’s rays as efficiently… and, thus, aren’t producing as much power to charge your batteries.
Tilting your RV solar panels helps to solve this problem.
By raising or lowering one side of each solar panel to aim it more directly at the sun (while it’s lower on the horizon), you’re giving the panels fuller, more direct exposure to the sun’s rays. This angle will increase the energy your panels produce… and decrease the time needed to recharge your batteries completely.
How To Tilt RV Solar Panels
You can increase the efficiency of your RV solar panels by attaching each one to a tilt kit. There are several different systems that can be used.
In some tilt kits, the angle of the tilt is determined by the length of the rod you insert to raise one side of the panel. In order to adjust the angle, you have to use different length rods. This was the way our original tilting kit was designed. We never bothered using different length rods, though… the single length we had was designed to be fairly optimal for the desert southwest snowbirding we typically do.
In other kits, the metal supports that hold the panel to the roof have evenly-spaced holes along their length and bolts that secure the panel in place. By loosening the bolts on one side of the mount, you can remove the bolts on the other side and tilt the panel up. By securing fixed-length tilt bars to a matching set of holes in the two support beams (one on the roof, one on the back of the panel), you can set the angle of tilt. The closer you attach the rod to the hinge point, the higher up the panel will be tilted.
Either system allows you to tilt the panel up toward the sun to maximize their output. And tightening the screws in the selected holes will hold them securely in place… so they won’t be affected by wind… AND allow you to lower them flat to the roof and secure them for travel.
It’s an easy and inexpensive way to get full use out of your solar system.
If you want to get the “Cadillac” of tilting systems, the SolaRVector tilt kits we installed along with our solar upgrades allow us to tilt at will without ever going up on the roof. They’re more expensive than traditional tilt bars, and require a more complex installation. But they’re amazing! Because we used to have to get up on the roof to tilt… and to stow… our panels, we were less likely to climb up there twice for short stays.
Since our SolaRVector kits allow for effortless tilting, we now tilt our panels during the shortest camping trips, even just a night or two.
Whether you plan to tilt or not, be sure not to mount the panels too close to any obstruction on your roof, as these will cast shade on a portion of your panel. Even a small shadow can decrease your input significantly!
How Much Power Increase Does Tilting Provide?[one_half]If you’re still skeptical about the amount of energy gained by ‘following the sun,’ let’s look at an experiment we conducted.
We parked our RV facing due east in the winter sun, with our three solar panels laying flat against the roof of the motorcoach.
In watching the solar controller, we documented the battery charge at 16.9 amps when the panels were flat, and the sun was low in the southern sky (at an angle to the panels).[/one_half] [one_half_last]
Watch our video about the benefits of tilting RV solar panels
As we moved one panel up (pointing south) at an angle perpendicular with the sun, the output of the panels increased by 2 amps.
The same thing occurred as we tilted the second panel – another 2 amps of power.
And with the third panel angled, we got another 1.5 amps (because a corner of the panel had a shadow from the air conditioner cover on it).
At the end of the experiment, our solar controller read 22.4 amps of output.
So tilting toward the sun, in this case, increased the energy collected by a whopping 5.5 amps. On our solar setup, that was almost 33% in added power!
Tilt Kit Info
You can find adjustable and standard tilt kits for every size of solar panel online, through solar specialty stores, and even at Home Depot. They’re very reasonably priced. Tilting the panels can help you gain so much additional power that it’s like adding another solar panel to your system, but at a fraction of the cost!
Of course if you want to go super high end when tilting, details about our tilt systems are available on the SolaRVector website. They’re a bigger investment, but a real game-changer.
Alternatively, if you have the space on your roof to add 33% more panels to your system, you can get the same power output WITHOUT tilting your panels. But if you DON’T have the room, you can get 1/3 more power out of your solar panels by tilting them toward the sun, especially during the winter months when the sun is low in the sky.
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Sunday 29th of November 2020
The biggest benefit of tilting solar panels come in the winter when solar collection is down due to shorter days and more cloudy weather.
For my location in SW MT, in Dec tilting panels at 70 degs increases solar collected by a factor 2.33 compared to flat panels!
Tilting in the summer produces much less gain, and generally you don't really need it because days are long and weather is more sunny.
You can use the PVWatts NREL calculator to get a good estimate of the gain for tilting -- it takes into account your location and the local weather in its estimate.
Saturday 28th of November 2020
Saturday 28th of November 2020
Do you keep your solar power to your batteries turned on when you are hooked up to shore power?
Saturday 28th of November 2020
Hi Larry. Great question! Yes... we do. For the most part, our solar system stays powered on 24/7/365. We have even used it to offset the cost of metered power when staying in locations that charge extra for electricity.