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, and you will want to carefully consider all the factors before you decide to buy some panels for your roof.

While yes, RV solar systems are the best option for boondockers, and they’re quieter and more eco-friendly than using a generator, there are still some unfortunate truths about RV solar power that many people are not aware of. 

The cost of RV solar power

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

A few 100-watt panels can add up fast, then add on some deep-cycle solar batteries to store power, a charge controller to keep them from overcharging, as well as an inverter to turn the DC power into usable AC power for your electronics, and you may be looking at a $1500+ investment.

Setting up RV solar power

Unlike pulling in to a campsite and hooking up to shore power, setting up your RV solar power is a little more complicated. Before you even buy anything, you will need to know about how much power you use on a daily basis in order to figure out how much power you will need your solar panels 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, regardless of the weather or time of day. 

On the other hand, if you have solar panels, you’ll need a battery bank to store extra 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 as 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 will give you the best of both worlds and is often easier to set up as it doesn’t require drilling holes in your roof.  You can find quality portable solar panels made by Renogy, Acopower, and Eco-worthy. Goal Zero also makes portable power stations, to use with their solar panels, that have a built-in inverter and outlets for your electronics. If you already own rooftop panels, check out this easy mod from Do It Yourself RV on how to make them portable.

Is RV 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 propane 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

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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