Is RV Solar Worth It? A Friendly Guide to Weighing the Pros and Cons

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RV solar power is gaining popularity as a quieter and eco-friendly alternative to traditional generators, especially for boondocking and off-the-grid adventures. However, many people wonder if investing in RV solar power is worthwhile, considering the various factors involved.

In this article, we will discuss the advantages and limitations of solar power for RVs, addressing the factors that affect whether or not it is a wise investment for you. The decision ultimately depends on individual circumstances, such as travel frequency, preferred camping locations, and financial considerations. By understanding these factors and exploring the options, you can make an informed decision on whether RV solar power is the right choice for your travel needs.

Understanding RV Solar Power

Solar Panels for RVs

Solar panels are used by many RV users to harness the power of the sun and convert it into electricity for their vehicles. There are various types of solar panels available, such as rigid solar panels that are mounted on the roof of the RV or flexible panels that can be placed on the ground. With solar panels, RV owners are able to generate electricity while traveling or parked, making it a convenient and eco-friendly energy source compared to using a generator.

RV Solar Power System

An RV solar power system consists of several components, including solar panels, a charge controller, an inverter, and the batteries. The solar panels generate electricity from sunlight, which passes through the charge controller to safely charge the RV batteries. It’s important to choose the right combination of components, based on your power needs and the size of your RV, to ensure your solar power system operates efficiently.

When designing an RV solar power system, it’s crucial to calculate the total power consumption of your RV appliances and devices. This will help you determine the number and size of solar panels needed to generate sufficient power. In addition, it’s essential to consider the capacity of the batteries and the inverter to convert the solar-generated power into usable electricity.

Charge Controller

A charge controller, also known as a solar regulator, is an essential part of an RV solar power system. It regulates the flow of electricity from the solar panels to the batteries to ensure they’re charged safely and efficiently. Charge controllers protect your batteries from overcharging, which can lead to damage or shorten their lifespan. They also help maintain a consistent battery charge, ensuring you have enough power for your RV’s appliances and devices.

There are two main types of charge controllers: PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) and MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking). Both types serve the same fundamental purpose, but MPPT controllers are more efficient and better suited for larger and more powerful solar power systems.

By understanding the different components and their functions in an RV solar power system, you can make informed decisions when considering if solar power is the right choice for your RV needs.

Benefits of RV Solar

Energy Independence

One of the main advantages of using solar power for your RV is achieving energy independence. With RV solar panels, you can generate your own power on the road, reducing the reliance on grid electricity and fuel-powered generators. This not only saves you money but also provides more flexibility while traveling to remote areas.

Boondocking Freedom

Solar power enhances your boondocking freedom by allowing you to camp off-the-grid without the need for hook-ups or full-service RV parks. RV solar panels provide a reliable source of power to charge your batteries, enabling you to spend more time boondocking. Once your panels are installed, the sun’s energy is readily available, allowing you to embrace the freedom of off-grid exploration.


Embracing solar power for your RV is an eco-friendly option. Using renewable solar energy helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuels. RV solar power is much quieter and more environmentally friendly than using a generator, contributing to a cleaner and more sustainable way of life on the road. By choosing RV solar, you’re not only benefiting yourself but also protecting the environment for future generations.

Installation and Setup

Installing solar panels on your RV can greatly benefit your energy consumption and help maintain a sustainable source of power while on the road. In this section, we will discuss the installation process, focusing on mounting brackets and solar installers.

Installing a Zamp Solar portable solar panel on an Airstream RV

Mounting Brackets

To securely attach the solar panels to your RV roof, you will need proper mounting brackets to ensure they stay in place during travel. Several companies such as Renogy, and Zamp Solar offer specialized mounting brackets designed for RV solar panels. These can include:

  • Flat mounts: Ideal for flat RV roofs.
  • Tilt mounts: Perfect for angled roofs or to maximize sun exposure.
  • Z-brackets: A versatile option that can be customized based on your specific needs.
Solar panel mounting brackets for Airstream RV's with curved roofs.

Solar Installers

While some RV owners might feel comfortable handling the installation process on their own, hiring a professional solar installer is highly recommended. Solar installers are well-versed in the requirements and specifics to RV solar systems, ensuring a seamless and efficient installation process. They can help:

  1. Evaluate your RV’s energy needs and recommend the appropriate solar panel capacity.
  2. Assess the RV roof’s structure to determine the optimal mounting method.
  3. Wire the solar panels to the RV’s electrical system in a safe and reliable fashion.

When searching for solar installers, make sure to verify their experience and reputation in the RV solar industry. Consider discussing your project with multiple installers to find the best fit for your needs and budget.

Comparing Costs

Solar Systems vs Fuel Generators

When considering a power source for your RV, two options usually come to mind: solar systems and fuel generators. Both have their advantages and disadvantages in terms of the investment required, their impact on the environment, and the amount of power they provide.

RV solar systems can be a more eco-friendly option, as they generate power from sunlight and produce zero emissions. They are also significantly quieter than fuel generators, which can be particularly beneficial for those who value a peaceful camping experience. However, solar systems may not generate as much power as fuel generators, especially on cloudy days or in heavily shaded areas, which could affect the efficiency of your RV appliances. A complete RV solar panel system will typically cost between $600-$2000, and most solar panels for RVs are between 100 and 400 watts of power source.

On the other hand, fuel generators provide more consistent power output, making it easier to run multiple appliances at the same time. However, these generators come with their own set of drawbacks, such as emitting harmful fumes and contributing to environmental pollution. They also tend to be much louder, which might be a deal-breaker for some campers. The cost of running a gas generator includes the upfront cost of the generator itself as well as ongoing expenses for fuel.

Investment in Solar

Investing in a solar panel kit for your RV can be a wise decision for several reasons. Not only is it more eco-friendly, but it can also save money in the long run. Solar panel installations typically have a few ongoing expenses and minimal maintenance costs compared to fuel generators, which require regular refueling and servicing. The initial expenditure for an RV solar system includes the cost of the panels, charge controller, and wiring accessories, with some kits also including a power inverter.

While solar systems can be a more expensive upfront investment compared to fuel generators, it’s essential to weigh the long-term benefits and drawbacks of both options. RV owners must carefully consider their power requirements, the environmental impact, and the costs involved before choosing the most suitable power solution for their needs.

Battery Considerations

When considering RV solar power, it’s important to take into account the different battery options available and the energy demands of your specific setup. In this section, we’ll discuss different battery types and how to calculate energy demands for your RV solar system.

Battery Types

There are several types of batteries you can use for an RV solar system:

  • Lead-acid batteries: These are the most common type of RV battery due to their affordability and availability. However, they have a shorter lifespan and require regular maintenance compared to other options.
  • Deep cycle batteries: Designed for regular deep discharge, these batteries are ideal for RV solar systems. They typically have a longer lifespan than lead-acid batteries but may be more expensive.
  • Lithium-ion batteries: Though pricier than the other options, lithium-ion batteries offer a longer lifespan and require minimal maintenance. They also have a higher energy density and are lighter in weight, making them a popular choice for RV solar setups.

To learn more about batteries read our Battery Basics Series where we go into types of batteries, how to care for them, how to wire them and more.

It’s vital to consider the storage capacity and lifespan of your chosen battery type, as well as your budget, when determining which battery is best for your RV solar system.

Calculating Energy Demands

In order to determine the right battery bank size for your RV solar system, you’ll need to calculate your energy demands. Here are the main steps to follow:

  1. List all devices and appliances: Make a detailed list of everything you’ll be using on your RV that draws power, including lights, fans, electronics, and kitchen appliances.
  2. Find the power consumption: For each item on your list, determine its power consumption in watts. This information can often be found on the device or in its owner’s manual.
  3. Estimate usage time: Think about how much time each device will be used daily. Multiply the power consumption of each device by its estimated usage time to calculate the daily watt-hours.
  4. Calculate total energy demand: Add up the watt-hours for all devices to determine your RV’s total daily energy demand.
  5. Consider battery efficiency: Batteries are not 100% efficient in storing and releasing energy, so it’s important to factor in inefficiencies when calculating the required capacity of your battery bank.

By understanding your energy demands and assessing the different battery types available, you can make a well-informed decision when choosing a battery bank for your RV solar system.

Efficiency Factors

When considering if RV solar power is worth it, there are certain efficiency factors that come into play, such as maximizing sunlight exposure and selecting the right park and campsite. In this section, we’ll discuss these aspects to help you make an informed decision.

Maximizing Sunlight Exposure

One of the most important factors for an efficient RV solar system is maximizing exposure to sunlight. Solar panels generate electricity by converting sunlight into energy which can be stored in batteries for use at a later time. To get the most out of your solar panels, it’s important to ensure they receive as much direct sunlight as possible.

Factors to consider include:

  • The number of sun hours in the location you’re traveling to
  • Positioning of solar panels to optimize energy collection
  • Ensuring there are no obstructions, such as trees or buildings, that may block sunlight

Keep in mind that sun hours differ from the actual number of daylight hours. Sun hours refer to the period during the day when the sun’s intensity is at least 80% of its maximum, and only during these hours can solar panels efficiently generate power.

Park and Campsite Selection

Choosing the right park and campsite is critical to ensure optimal performance of your solar system. Here are a few points to consider when selecting a location for your RV:

  • The availability of solar energy in the area can be impacted by the geographic location, time of the year, and weather. For example, sunnier areas like the Southwest will have more solar energy available than other regions throughout the year.
  • Picking RV parks or public land that have campsites with an open view of the sky allows for more direct sunlight reach your solar panels.
  • Some RV parks might have restrictions on the use of solar panels or may not provide enough space to set up your solar system effectively. It’s important to check beforehand if the RV park allows and supports RV solar systems.

Assessing Your RV’s Power Needs

Before deciding whether solar power is worth it for your RV, it’s important to assess your RV’s power needs. This section will discuss how to determine the necessary appliances and the power consumption of devices in your RV.

Determining Necessary Appliances

When planning your RV trip, consider which appliances are essential for your comfort and convenience. Some of the most common appliances found in RVs include:

  • Fridges
  • Microwaves
  • TVs
  • Air conditioners
  • Toasters
  • Charging devices for phones and laptops

It’s important to determine which of these devices are necessary for your specific needs and prioritize them accordingly. Some RVers may find that they can do without a TV or microwave, while others may prioritize having access to their electronic devices. It’s crucial to strike a balance between energy demand and available power.

Power Consumption of Devices

Once you have determined the necessary appliances, it’s time to calculate the power consumption of devices. This will help you understand the energy demands of your RV and whether solar power can meet those needs. Some common devices and their approximate power consumption include:

  • Refrigerator: 100-400 watts
  • Microwave: 600-1200 watts
  • TV: 50-300 watts
  • Air conditioner: 700-2000 watts
  • Toaster: 800-1500 watts
  • Phones and laptops: 20-200 watts

By calculating your daily energy use, you can estimate the necessary power output for a solar power system. Most RV solar systems provide AC electricity, making it compatible with most devices and appliances.

Understanding your RV’s energy demands can help you weigh the pros and cons of solar power. By assessing the power consumption of necessary appliances and devices, you can make an informed decision about whether solar power is a viable option for your RV trips.

Portable Solar Solutions

Portable Solar Panels

Read up on Portable Solar Panels to find out if they can work for you. Portable systems are great for lower power needs of 200-watt or less. Bigger than that and they take up space and are a tad cumbersome to work with.

For RV enthusiasts who enjoy visiting remote locations or just want to be more energy independent, portable solar panels can be a great addition to your setup. These lightweight and flexible solar panels provide an alternative power source that is easy to set up, take down, and carry around.

Some popular brands for portable solar panels include Goal Zero and Renogy. The panels can charge various devices directly or be used to charge portable power stations. The flexibility of these panels allows for more convenient installation locations on your RV, such as curved surfaces or tight spaces.

Portable Solar Panel Kits

Another option for RV solar solutions is to invest in a portable solar panel kit. These kits typically include one or more solar panels, a solar charge controller, and the necessary cables and mounting hardware. Solar panel kits can range in size and power output, making it possible to tailor your system to suit your specific needs.

In addition to providing power for your RV, portable solar panel kits can also help keep your batteries charged when your alternator is not running or provide power for smaller devices when you’re off-grid. They are especially useful for those with Class C RVs, as these vehicles often have limited power generation capacity.

Is RV Solar Worth It?

Pros and Cons of RV Solar

RV solar panels offer several benefits for those who spend a considerable amount of time traveling and camping in their RVs. One of the most notable advantages is the ability to generate clean and renewable energy. Solar technology provides a more eco-friendly alternative to power your RV compared to using a generator, as well as being much quieter[^1^].

For avid boondockers who frequently camp off-grid, an investment in solar panels for RVs can be a valuable power supply solution. This renewable energy option allows you to disconnect from electrical hookups without sacrificing comfort or utility[^2^].

However, there are some downsides to consider before installing solar panels on your RV roof. For one, the initial cost can be quite expensive, especially if you opt for a larger or more advanced system[^3^]. Additionally, roof space can be limited, particularly on smaller RVs, which restricts the number and size of solar panels that can be installed.

Making the Decision

When determining if RV solar power is the right choice for you, consider how often you use your RV, what environments you typically camp in, and if you frequently stay at campgrounds with electrical hookups[^4^]. If you spend most of your time in well-equipped RV parks, installing solar may not be as cost-effective, whereas if you frequently boondock or camp in remote locations, the benefits of solar could be substantial.

Research is essential for understanding the type of solar cells and panel systems that will suit your RV and lifestyle. Consider the efficiency, size, and output of the panels, as well as the integration with your current power supply system[^5^]. By assessing the pros and cons as it fits your needs, you’ll be able to determine if installing solar panels on your RV is worth the investment.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much can solar panels reduce RV electricity costs?

Solar panels can significantly reduce RV electricity costs, depending on the size and efficiency of the system installed. By generating clean, renewable energy from the sun, solar panels can power various appliances and devices in your RV, reducing the need for external power sources or generators. It is essential to assess your RV’s energy consumption to determine the most suitable solar system size for your needs.

Can a solar-powered RV run all the appliances?

A well-designed solar power system can run most of the appliances in an RV. However, the capacity to power all appliances simultaneously depends on the size of the solar system, battery storage, and the energy efficiency of your appliances. It’s vital to prioritize essential devices and consider energy-efficient options for appliances like air conditioning, refrigerators, and microwaves to maximize solar power usage in an RV.

What is the optimal number of solar panels for an RV?

The optimal number of solar panels for an RV depends on various factors, including your energy consumption needs, the available roof space, and your travel habits. As a starting point, many RV owners find that a 200-400 watt solar system works well for their needs. It’s necessary to assess your RV usage, power requirements and consider any future plans to increase power consumption before installing solar panels.

Do solar panels increase an RV’s resale value?

Solar panels can potentially increase an RV’s resale value, as they provide an additional, eco-friendly power source that allows owners to save on energy costs and enjoy off-grid camping. Prospective buyers may appreciate the added convenience and environmental benefits of a solar-equipped RV. However, the technology’s age and effectiveness, along with proper installation and maintenance, are crucial factors that may affect the solar panels’ impact on resale value.

How long can solar panels power an off-grid RV?

The ability of solar panels to power an off-grid RV depends on the solar system’s size, battery storage capacity, and power consumption. On a sunny day, a suitably designed solar power system can keep an RV functioning for several hours or even days, if energy usage is managed efficiently. It is crucial to monitor energy consumption, conserve power when possible, and ensure the battery bank is sufficiently charged to extend the solar power system’s off-grid capabilities.

What are the best solar panel brands for RVs?

Several reputable brands offer high-quality solar panels designed for RVs. Some popular options include Renogy, Zamp Solar, Go Power!, and Grape Solar. It’s essential to compare the efficiency, output, durability, and warranty of solar panels from various brands before making a decision. Additionally, user reviews and expert recommendations can provide valuable insights into the performance of specific solar panels suited for RVs.

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