Here’s a quick litmus test you can do?
- Do you use your RV for more than a couple of weeks a year?
- Do you boondock or camp off-grid frequently?
- Do you hate using a generator?
- Do you use your RV when it’s mostly sunny with longer days?
If YES to all or most of these, then RV solar will likely benefit your RV experience and you should explore if RV solar will work.
- Do you use your air conditioner or electric heater often?
- Do you stay in RV parks, or places with electrical hookups?
- Do you use all the creature comforts of home in the RV (household electrical devices)?
- Do you have space to add batteries and solar panels to the RV?
If YES, then RV solar likely isn’t a great solution for you and how you use your RV.
Determine if Adding Solar to Your RV is Worth the Investment
There are several factors to consider when determining if RV solar panels are worth the investment for you:
RV Usage: How often do you use your RV, and where do you typically go camping? If you frequently go off-grid and rely on generator power or battery power, then RV solar panels can be a cost-effective and sustainable solution.
Budget: RV solar panels can be a significant upfront investment, so it’s important to consider your budget and long-term financial goals. It’s worth evaluating the payback period of the investment and the return on investment. It’s also worth calculating how much a generator will cost you over the long term. Fuel will be the largest cost, but there are also oil, filters and other general maintenance. Good Sam estimates the costs between $1,919 to $13,682, but that’s for larger motorhomes and seems a bit excessive. You should be able to get annual maintenance done at a shop for about $150 to $250, but remember this doesn’t include all your gas.
Power Needs: Consider your power needs in terms of the appliances and devices you use in your RV, as well as your desired level of energy independence. For instance, if you plan to use a device like a crockpot, or watching a big screen TV ALL DAY LONG, you’ll use more energy and that will require a larger system of solar and batteries.
Maintenance: An RV solar system, including the batteries, are a low maintenance item. Just clean off the panels from time to time with soap and water. This will require you to access the roof if your panels are mounted up there.
RV solar panels can be a great investment for those who frequently go off-grid and want to reduce dependence on traditional power sources. But it is important to weigh the pros and cons and do your research before making a decision.
The PROs and CONs of an RV Solar System
The PROs of RV Solar:
You can save money on electrical hookups or generator use (for the life of your RV)
One of the main advantages of RV solar panels is the cost savings on electricity. When you have a solar panel system installed on your RV, you can reduce or even eliminate your dependence on traditional power sources such as electrical hookups or generators. This can result in significant cost savings over time, as you will no longer need to pay for electricity while camping or for the fuel to run a generator.
Additionally, RV solar panels can also help you save money on camping fees. Many campgrounds charge for electrical hookups, and by using solar power, you can avoid these fees and camp in more remote locations.
It’s worth noting that the cost savings will depend on the size and efficiency of the solar panel system you choose, as well as your RV usage and power needs. However, many RV solar panel users report significant savings on their electricity bills after installing a system.
It’s worth noting that many RV solar panels are warrantied to work for 25+ years. Most RV’s only last for about 10 years. Most lead-acid batteries that utilize a good solar system last 2 to 3 times longer, or up to 8 years, and an EASY 10 years for lithium.
Learn more about RV batteries here – Battery Basics – Types of RV Batteries
Increased independence and ability to boondock ANYWHERE
RV solar panels is the increased independence and ability to boondock, or camp in remote locations without hookups.
Boondocking is a popular activity among RVers, and with a solar panel system, you can enjoy this experience without worrying about running out of power. You can have the confidence to stay in remote locations for extended periods of time, and enjoy the peace and quiet that comes with it.
Your solar system can power essential appliances such as lights, refrigerator, and charge your devices, this means that you can have a comfortable camping experience even far away from everyone else.
Lower environmental impact
RV solar panels have a lower environmental impact than traditional power sources, making it an eco-friendly option for RVers. Solar power is a clean and renewable energy source.
Additionally, installing a solar panel system, you can reduce your dependence on generator power, which can be loud and produce emissions. This can help to reduce noise pollution and air pollution, making it a more pleasant experience for yourself and others while camping.
It’s worth noting that the environmental impact of RV solar panels will depend on the materials and manufacturing process used to produce the solar panels and the battery bank, but in general, the environmental impact of solar power is much lower than that of traditional power sources.
Potential to increase resale value of the RV
Installing an RV solar panel system can be a game-changer for your RV adventures by providing cost savings on electricity, increased independence, and a lower environmental impact.
But here’s a surprise benefit: it can also boost the resale value of your RV!
Many RVers are looking for ways to reduce dependence on traditional power sources and increase sustainability, so having a solar panel system already installed can make your RV stand out and more attractive to potential buyers. It’s not only a great investment for your current RV lifestyle but also a smart move for the future.
The CONs of RV Solar:
Initial cost and installation expenses
One of the downsides of RV solar panels is the initial cost and installation expenses.
RV solar panel systems can be a significant upfront investment and the costs can add up quickly. Installation can also be costly if you’re not a DIYer.
Additionally, for those who use their RV infrequently, the payback period for the investment may be longer, making it less cost-effective. It’s important to consider these costs before making a decision on whether to invest in RV solar panels.
Typical cost for a small and simple RV solar system is around $1,500 – $3,000 (including batteries).
Typical cost for a larger and fully off-grid system can range between $2,500 and $15,000 (including batteries).
To see what size solar you might need, read – What Size Solar System Is Right For My RV?
Limited power output in certain weather conditions
Another downside to RV solar panels is that their power output can be limited in certain weather conditions. Solar panels rely on sunlight to generate electricity, and on cloudy or overcast days, the power output can be greatly reduced.
In extreme weather conditions such as heavy cloud cover, or snow cover the solar panels may not function at all. This can make it difficult to rely solely on solar power in these conditions.
You can compensate for these low power days by having a larger battery bank, using a generator, or going to a park to hook up to shore power.
Potential for system malfunctions
Solar panel systems are complex and consist of multiple components, such as the solar panels, inverter, battery bank, and wiring. If any of these components malfunction, it can cause the entire system to stop working and require repairs.
In my experience working with an off-grid solar panel and solar system manufacturer, system malfunctions are not common. But when they do happen it can be hard to troubleshoot and commonly will require someone with experience in electrical systems.
However, most RVs will have something go awry in the first 1.5 years. If you had your solar system installed by a reputable installer it won’t be the solar system. When installed right a solar system will be need the least amount of attention.
Determining If RV Solar Is Right For You
Determining if RV solar panels are right for you boils down to your RV usage and camping habits.
First, think about how often you use your RV and where you typically go camping. If you frequently go off-grid and rely on generator power or battery power, then RV solar panels can be a cost-effective and sustainable solution.
Next, evaluate your budget and long-term financial goals. RV solar panels can be a significant upfront investment, so it’s important to consider the payback period of the investment and the return on investment. But also compare the cost of RV solar to the cost of operating your generator. Don’t forget to tally in how LOUD a generator is and much they can bother other campers. Trust me it’s SUPER annoying.