Some wonder whether their RV solar panel angle needs adjustment. Others wonder if it's even necessary to bother tilting their solar panels. The truth is, solar panels are most efficient when faced directly into the sun.
Some RVers go so far as to mount their panels on racks that swivel to track the sun across the sky. This usually is not necessary. However, a bit of tilt may be a good thing depending on your location and the time of year. If you'd like to see maximum charging output, with minimal fuss, then read on...
Adjusting your solar panel angle in summer is usually not necessary, unless you're RVing in Alaska. When you're that far north, the sun is low in the sky even in summer, so it's best to tilt your solar panels. For those camping in the lower 48, you can leave the panels flat during the summer months.
In winter, when the sun is lower in the sky, giving your panels some tilt will greatly improve their performance. Instead of tilting, another option is to add more solar panels to increase your power production.
How many degrees tilt your RV solar panel needs depends on your latitude. Here is a formula you can use to calculate the optimal angle when winter camping:
(Latitude x 0.89) + 24 degrees
To find your latitude, click here to use this nifty tool powered by Google Earth.
Here's how it works: If you're boondocking in Quartzsite, Arizona for the winter, your latitude is approximately 34 degrees. So to calculate your degree of tilt, multiply 34 by 0.89 to get a rounded figure of 30. Add 24 degrees to get 54. 54 degrees would be your optimal angle of tilt.
Using this formula will get your RV solar panels angled almost directly at the sun at noon in winter. This will allow your array to gather the most energy throughout the day.
The solar panel can be angled by mounting it to your travel trailer or motorhome roof with "L" brackets attached to the short sides of the panel. You could instead mount the brackets onto the long sides of the panel - but the downside here is that the panel will need to be raised higher when tilted and this will leave it more prone to wind damage.
After mounting the solar panel to your roof with the "L" brackets, it's time to adjust the angle. Take a couple of metal bars, with bolt holes on each end, and secure them between the solar panel and the "L" bracket, lifting the panel on one side. You'll want to use bars that are of the correct length to provide the optimal angle of tilt for your location. If traveling to different locales (and latitudes), you can drill several holes along the bar to give you several tilt angles.
You'll want to orientate your RV so the solar panel is angled toward the south when parked. It's best to give this some thought before mounting the solar panel. If your refrigerator is located on the street side, you might want to park so the curb side of your RV is facing south. That way, the refrigerator will be kept cooler, being on the side facing north. With this is mind, you'll want to have the solar panel mounted so that it can tilt toward the curb side.
Keep an eye on the forecast, and if high winds threaten, it's best to lower your RV solar panels to prevent damage. Solar panels are quite tough. Mine have survived hail while lying flat, and 40 mph winds while tilted. But they certainly aren't cheap, so it's smart to avoid a very costly mistake whenever possible. Also, don't forget to lower the solar panels before taking your RV back out on the road!
Learn all about RV solar panels, choosing a solar charge controller, and portable solar panels so small they fit in a backpack. It's all here...
Visit our RV Boondocking Store for solar panels and complete solar kits.