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The Unfortunate Truth About RV Solar Power


RV solar systems have pros and cons. Photo via iRV2 Forums

The Unfortunate Truth About RV Solar Power

Like most things, RV solar power has pros and cons. RVers will need to carefully consider all the factors before buying expensive panels for the roof.

RV solar power is much quieter and more eco-friendly than using a generator. It is also a great option for boondockers looking to go camping off-the-grid. But there are still some unfortunate truths about RV solar power that many people are not aware of. 

The high cost of RV solar power

Quality RV solar panel kits are not cheap. Prices have gotten a bit more reasonable in recent years. However, a system can still get pretty pricey if you want a good RV solar power setup.

A few 100-watt panels can add up fast. Add on some deep-cycle solar batteries to store power and a charge controller to keep them from overcharging. Don’t forget an inverter to turn the DC power into usable AC powe. When it’s all over, you may be looking at a $1500+ investment.

Off-grid RV power is a little complicated

Setting up your RV solar power is a little more complicated than pulling in to a campsite and hooking up to shore power. Before you even buy anything, you will need to know about how much power you use on a daily basis. That lets you figure out how much power your solar panels need to generate. 

Ronnie Dennis from Do It Yourself RV shared an in-depth guide on every step of the solar power setup:

You’ll need a battery bank

With shore power, you never really need to worry about backup power. Once you’re hooked up at the campsite, you can just plug in your laptop or coffee maker like you would at home. The weather or time of day doesn’t affect your life at all. 

On the other hand, if you have solar panels, you’ll need a battery bank. This provides power for nighttime, cloudy days and when you want to park out of the sun. Lithium-ion batteries, though more expensive, are a better option for solar energy storage than lead-acid batteries. They’re lighter, more compact, and have a longer lifespan.

Parking in the shade can be tricky

On a hot summer day, you’re probably dreaming of parking the RV in a nicely shaded campsite out of the blistering hot sun. However, if you have installed solar panels on your roof, they won’t generate nearly as much power if they are not getting direct sunlight.

Portable solar power units might give you the best of both worlds IF you don’t need tons of power. It’s often easier to set up since it doesn’t require drilling holes in your roof.  Quality portable solar electric systems are made by Renogy, Acopower, and Eco-worthy. Goal Zero also makes portable power stations, to use with their solar panels. What’s nice is they have a built-in inverter and outlets for your electronics. Do you already own rooftop panels? Check out this easy mod from Do It Yourself RV on how to make them portable.

Is solar power worth it?

Don’t get me wrong, RV solar power has some downsides, but it is absolutely worth the investment. While it is a hefty cost upfront, it gives you the ability to go boondocking on public land rather than having to stay in a crowded RV park with hookups.

From what you’ll save on camping fees as well as on electricity costs, it will make up for the expensive initial investment. Solar power is also completely silent unlike a generator, and maintaining your RV solar panels is easy once everything is set up.

Many new RVs on the market even come pre-wired for solar power. For example, A True Solar Power Package Can Now Be Included With Your New Keystone RV.

Cover photo via Serolynne under Flickr Creative Commons

Author Nikki Cleveland Avatar

Nikki Cleveland

Nikki is a writer and editor for Do It Yourself RV, RV LIFE, and Camper Report. She is based on the Oregon Coast and has traveled all over the Pacific Northwest.

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