How Much Solar Does a Skoolie Need? (5 Buslifers Share Specs)

how much solar does a skoolie need

Building a skoolie solar system is often the most intimidating part of the entire conversion process since it’s complex, requires some specialized knowledge (and math, oof), and is potentially dangerous if you make a mistake. One of the most important aspects of the process is figuring out how many solar panels and batteries to install. 

So, how much solar does a skoolie need? A skoolie will require anywhere from 320 watts to 2,400+ watts of solar. It is critical to size your system appropriately to your power needs, type of travel and geographic location. Some skoolies need only a few hundred watts to power everything onboard while others require thousands of watts.

In this article, we’ll look at five different skoolies with systems ranging from 320 watts to more than 2,400 watts. Let’s dive right into some real-life examples of skoolie solar systems.

Thomas and Bianca’s Skoolie Solar

First up, I chatted with Thomas and Bianca of @avoidhighway about their skoolie solar. Here’s what they shared:

How much solar does your skoolie have on the roof?

“Our roof has three 400-watt panels totaling 1,200 watts of monocrystalline solar.”

Why did you choose this amount?

“We wanted to have enough power to be able to use an air conditioner for a few hours a day in the heat.”

What products/companies do you recommend for solar panel setup?

“We would recommend Victron and Renogy! We have a Victron battery monitor and charge controller and a Renogy 3,000-watt inverter. They are working so well for us so far.”

How much did your skoolie solar system cost?

“Our entire solar system cost roughly $5,000.”

What advice do you have for newbies setting up their first array?

“Some advice for setting up your first solar array would be research, research, research. We loved watching ‘Explorist Life’ on YouTube. He is very thorough and walks you through every step.”

Devin and Breanna’s Skoolie Solar

Next, Devin and Breanna of @basicallynomads shared some details about their skoolie solar setup:

How much solar does your skoolie have on the roof?

“We have five 400-watt panels for 2,000 total watts of solar.”

Why did you choose this amount?

“Traveling full-time can get expensive really quickly if you’re paying to stay at RV parks every night. We’ve seen prices from $40 all the way up to $140 per night. We, personally, wouldn’t be able to afford staying out on the road for long if we paid that every night. The alternative? Boondocking. Solar has allowed us to boondock for extended periods of time while enjoying all the amenities our bus has to offer!

This includes AC as long as we’re getting good sun. Long story short, we chose 2,000 watts because we wanted to operate the bus just as if we were plugged in no matter where we were. Obviously, a few rainy days in a row can spoil things for us, but 2,000 watts of solar plus our generator allow us to be off-grid for at least a week or more.”

What products/companies do you recommend for solar panel setup?

“We’re huge fans of all things Victron. They’re one of the absolute best for mobile applications. While they don’t sell panels, they sell basically everything else needed for a solar setup and most of their devices offer Bluetooth monitoring. We also highly recommend spending the extra cash for Dakota Lithium batteries.”

How much did your skoolie solar system cost?

“About $10,000 total invested in our solar system. $5,400 of that is our Dakota Lithium battery bank.”

What advice do you have for newbies setting up their first array?

“Research. Research. Research. And just when you think you have it figured out do some more research. I spent around 40 hours researching my first solar build. Since then, I’ve completely rebuilt it because I still didn’t know anything. The biggest lesson I learned? Don’t cheap out.

My current solar charge controller is actually my fourth, because I kept trying to save money and build the ‘bang for my buck’ solar system. I actually would have saved money if I would have just bought the better brand in the beginning. My initial frugality almost cost us our bus and our ‘cheap’ $800 inverter almost caught fire one day. So, don’t cheap out. You and your family’s safety is worth it.”

 

Also read:

How Big Are Skoolie Bathrooms? (7 Buslifers Share Specs)

10 Best Campervan Batteries for Off-Grid Van Life

 

Erin and Joel’s Skoolie Solar

Next, I got the scoop from Erin and Joel of @_stayinskool_:

How much solar does your skoolie have on the roof?

“We have four Renogy 200-watt 12-volt panels” for a total of 800 watts.

Why did you choose this amount?

“We started out initially with just the two-panel kit. This was great for our first long trip, and was plenty for charging our phones, laptops, and running our water pump and lights. However, once we both started working remotely and added in a mini refrigerator and routers, we found that we could really use the extra power. Having four panels has been great now!”

What products/companies do you recommend for solar panel setup?

“Renogy and Weize! Here are a few links to the products we have:

Renogy Panel Kit

Weize 12V Deep Cycle Battery

Powermax Converter

Renogy Wander Charge Controller

How much did your skoolie solar system cost?

“~ $800 for the two panel kits

~ $800 for the four batteries

~ $150 for the converter

~ $40 for the charge controller”

In total, that’s about $1,790.

What advice do you have for newbies setting up their first array?

“My best advice is to not be intimidated by a lack of solar knowledge. We learned as we went and figured it out with guides and online videos. Try to build your setup in a way that you can easily add to it in the future just in case your needs change as you embrace skoolie life. Always remember to be safe and careful when working with electricity too!”

Joe’s Skoolie Solar

Finally, I chatted with Joe (@joe.walsh.85), who shared his experience putting together a skoolie solar system in the UK:

How much solar does your skoolie have on the roof?

“I have 2,430 watts of solar produced by six LG Neon 2 BiFacial 405-watt panels.”

Why did you choose this amount?

“I calculated my loads based on everything in the bus (including Daikin BluEvolution air conditioning – which provides heating too). 2,430 watts was the maximum I could achieve from six panels and still have room for a roof deck.”

What products/companies do you recommend for solar panel setup?

“I chose LG panels because of their reputation. These run through a Sofar Hybrid Inverter and charge two 48-volt Pylontech US3000 batteries, which gives me 7.2 kWh of battery storage.”

How much did your skoolie solar system cost?

“Total spend for my entire system was around £5,000 (about $6,900). To get quality and efficiency you have to invest some money. Our bus runs entirely off grid full time.”

What advice do you have for newbies setting up their first array?

“Do lots of research before buying anything. I’ve found UK companies to be pretty unhelpful in terms of off grid. Nobody really does that here, so I had to do lots of reading and gain an understanding of what all the data sheets mean for individual products. Don’t be disheartened by unhelpful attitudes!”

My Skoolie Solar

Finally, I’ll answer the same questions about my own 22-foot skoolie, @stu.the.bus:

How much solar does your skoolie have on the roof?

We have two 160-watt Renogy panels for a total of 320 watts. After a couple of years on the road, my boyfriend rigged up a system so the solar panels can be tilted to about 40 degrees, which helps immensely with power production in the winter when the sun is low in the sky.

Why did you choose this amount?

We enlisted help from everyone we knew who knew anything at all about electricity and solar power, and cobbled together a list of all the things we would have in the bus that would draw power, and what we thought the total amount would be. We also shopped within our budget and kept size restrictions in mind since we have a small bus and wanted to include a large rooftop deck as well.

In hindsight, we wish we had done more solar and battery capacity, or at least gotten lithium batteries instead of AGMs so we would have more power to tide us through rainy days. However, our current system works for our needs.

What products/companies do you recommend for solar panel setup?

We have Renogy solar panels, but all of our other components are non-brand-names from Amazon and I don’t particularly recommend them. However, if we had had unlimited money for our solar energy system, we likely would have gone with Battleborn batteries and probably a Victron charge controller.

How much did your skoolie solar system cost?

It cost around $1,500 all-in.

What advice do you have for newbies setting up their first array?

As everyone else has said, do your research. And, even then, you probably won’t know exactly what you are doing. We didn’t fully understand solar energy systems until we attended a few tiny home festivals and skoolie gatherings and saw some pristine systems. Don’t get discouraged, ask for help, and go see a system in real life before you begin if possible!

FAQs

Finally, let’s look at a few skoolie solar FAQs:

How big of an inverter do I need for my skoolie?

It depends on how much power you need, but for a small to mid-sized system, a 1,500-watt inverter will likely be sufficient. Select an inverter that has a higher surge rating to ensure it can handle things like a fridge turning on. If you’ll have air conditioning, electric heat, or otherwise need tons of electricity, consider bumping up to a 3,000-watt inverter.

What can 600 watts of solar power?

First of all, it’s important to note that while a solar panel might be rated at a certain wattage, that is not a guarantee that it will actually produce that much power – factors like the angle of the sun, the weather, the air quality, the cleanliness of the panel, the quality of your charge controller and battery bank, etc. can all reduce the actual amount of power production.

However, a 600-watt solar array in good to optimal conditions could potentially power the following:

  • Your inverter so you can have AC power
  • A decently large fridge/freezer
  • All of your small rechargeable devices (phones, tablets, laptops, cameras, etc.)
  • Roof vent fan
  • Composting toilet fan (24/7)
  • Diesel heater
  • Lights
  • Some bonus power to tide you over on cloudy/rainy days

But, if you are planning to add an air conditioner or other amenities, you will likely need more than 600 watts. Keep in mind that anything that heats or cools will use TONS of power.

What is the difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels?

Polycrystalline solar panels have a blue-ish color and they are made of multiple silicon crystals. They are less efficient but more affordable than monocrystalline panels, which are black in color and made of single crystals. Monocrystalline panels are more expensive but more efficient, which means that they turn a greater percentage of the sunlight that hits them into usable power.

Closing Thoughts

Adding solar energy to a skoolie is definitely one of the more complicated aspects, but it can certainly be done, even by beginners. There are tons of written resources online as well as detailed YouTube videos on the subject, and most people in the skoolie community are willing to help out if you have questions or need some encouragement.

Honestly, even after 3.5 years on the road, when we meet other skoolie people we almost always compare solar energy systems and composting toilets right off the bat. We all love to discuss the minutiae of our builds so don’t hesitate to reach out!

Or, if you really don’t want to mess with solar, you can always pay a professional to handle that aspect of your build – there is absolutely no shame in getting expert help.

 

Up Next In School Bus Conversions:

Do You Need a CDL to Drive a Skoolie? (Bus Conversion FAQs)

10 Most Common Skoolie Conversion Mistakes

Skoolie Floor Plans: 4 Steps to YOUR Perfect Design

How do you Raise the Roof of a Skoolie?

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