Modified Tumbleweed at the Solar Living Institute
Can You Rely On Solar Power For Your Tiny House RV?
The short answer is - YES, but you'll need to determine which solar system will work for you. Do this by calculating: 1) Your energy needs, 2) Your expected sun hours based on your geographical location, and 3) The optimal weight and size of your system
How Can I Calculate My Energy Needs?
First, try using a solar calculator to determine your current electrical usage. You can also calculate your energy needs using this appliance chart. Next consider energy efficient or alternative powered appliances for your Tiny House RV to reduce your electrical usage and the overall size of your solar system.
Can you use an energy-star refrigerator or a propane refrigerator?
Can you switch your lights to LEDs?
Can you heat your space with a wood or propane stove?
Can you heat your water with propane?
Can you cook with propane instead of electricity?
Do you need a blender? A coffee machine? A microwave? A washer / dryer? A big TV?
How Can I Calculate My Expected Sun Hours?
If you do not plan on moving your Tiny House RV, use this chart to determine your average daily sun hours. Keep in mind, you can expect less sun in some seasons.
Ryan Mitchell's Tiny House RV Solar Panel Set Up in North Carolina
If you plan on traveling with your Tiny House RV, it may be difficult (or impossible) to determine your average sun hours. You may want to purchase a larger solar system or reduce your electrical need. If you are caught in bad weather on your trip, and your solar system can not keep up, you can rely on campgrounds for an electrical outlet. You may also want to carry backup power - such as a gas generator.
Weight & Size of the your Solar System
Solar panels, batteries and inverters are usually heavy and bulky. This is an important consideration when determining the preferred system for your Tiny House RV. If you do NOT plan on moving your Tiny House RV, you can build an external shell for your batteries. You can then park your Tiny House RV in an ideal sun exposure location and mount solar panels to your roof, or mount your panels on a swivel rack that can turn for optimal sun exposure.
If you intend on traveling with your Tiny House RV, you will need to take care when considering the weight and storage of your solar system. I'm going to speak from my personal experience, as I travel with my solar powered Tumbleweed Cypress.
My Portable Solar System
I use the Goal Zero Yeti 1250 Solar Generator with four solar panels (two 100 watt panels and two 90 watt panels). I have one panel mounted to each side of my Tumbleweed for transport and the other two are stored in the bed of my truck. The panels in my truck charge my Yeti Solar Generator as we travel down the road.
You can see one of my panels mounted to the side of my Tiny House Rv in the above photo. The mount is also a hinge, and I add telescopic legs to prop the panel for ideal sunshine
I do not suggest mounting solar panels to the roof of your Tiny House RV if you intend on traveling, for two reasons: 1). You may not always park in an area with optimal sunshine. Having my panels separate and portable allows me to position and clean them easily. 2). Damage may occur from low hanging branches to panels mounted to your roof.
What I Love About the Yeti Solar Generator:
- It's an all-in-one system. The inverter, batteries and charge controller are combined to create a "solar generator." *Note: the Yeti generator cannot generate power without solar panels.
- It's extremely portable. It's on wheels! We store it in the cab of our truck when we are on the road.
- I can recharge it from a regular outlet if there is no sun.
- It weighs only 103 lbs. That may sound like a lot, but lead-acid batteries are heavy.
- It's affordable. $1599 for the Yeit Solar Generator. That's cheap for solar!
- It powers almost everything in my Tiny House RV. The Yeti can keep my computers, phones, and cameras charged, as well as my LED lights and water pump powered forever, as long as I have sunshine. It's a small system - only 1250 watt hrs, so I cannot use my hair dryer nor my space heater. I use alternative appliances to lower my electrical need: propane water heater, propane stove top, propane refrigerator, and a wood stove heater.
Jenna Spesard is currently living and traveling around North America in a DIY Tumbleweed Cypress with her partner, Guillaume, who is a professional photographer and Tumbleweed Workshop host. They are photographing and writing about their adventure and occasionally they will be hosting an open house. Follow their informative blog.