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10 Reasons Your RV Doesn’t Need Solar Power

10 Reasons Your RV Doesn’t Need Solar Power

10 Reasons Your RV Doesn’t Need Solar Power

Solar Powered RVs are all the rage in 2022. If an RV doesn’t come with solar pre-installed, it’s very likely “solar ready.” But, is this solar trend really going to benefit your RV travels?

More importantly, will solar power save you money?

Even though both of our camper-trailers have included solar power, today we’re talking about all the reasons you DON’T need solar for your RV.

Let’s dive in!

1. Where Are You Camping?

If you like living the “RV Park Life”, solar power isn’t really needed. RV parks provide ample power for all your electric needs.

Sure, you may need to camp overnight at a Walmart or Cracker Barrel en route to your destination, but a simple 12v battery system should provide enough power for one night. Additionally, an overnight stay or two probably doesn’t justify the financial burden of a solar system.

Pro Tip: Here’s how to legally camp at Cracker Barrel.

2. Class B Life

Even though Class Bs are quickly jumping on the solar train, these RVs require it the least. Every time you turn on your engine, you’ll be recharging your battery system. A long travel day will easily fill you up to 100%.

This is similar with Class A RVs. However, in our experience, Class A owners move at a much slower pace (making an organic battery recharge less likely).

Class B owners most often use their RV as their “daily driver” – allowing recharge on a regular basis.

3. You Don’t Mind The Hum of an Inverter Generator

We’ve always preached that there’s no shame in using an inverter generator (if you follow common courtesy rules). An inverter generator will provide enough power to run your RV AC and cost much less than a solar system.

These type of gennys start around $450. Additionally, gas prices are still relatively inexpensive. This combo can offer you a week of power for $20.

Not a bad price!

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4. If You Need AC

If you’ll be camping off-grid in a hot climate, 99.9% of the time your RV solar system won’t be able to keep up with your cooling needs.

By chance your system can keep up, it will cost at least $20,000 to get that kind of power installed. Even over time, this won’t come close to the economic price of a generator.

It’s mostly a myth that solar power can run an AC unit for an extended period of time.

5. You Don’t Want To Buy Lithium

If you think lithium batteries are too expensive, you probably shouldn’t invest in a solar system.

Sure, a few deployable panels are great for keeping your lead-acid batteries topped off…but if you’re wanting a real solar system, you need lithium batteries.

Here’s the reason: lithium offers more usable power per battery and weighs less. A 100 amp hour lead acid battery can only provide you 50 amp hours of power before you begin to potentially damage the battery.

A 100 amp hour lithium battery can essentially be brought down to 100% without harming the future life cycles.

To simplify it, 100 “useable” lead acid amp hours will weigh around 110lbs. While 100 “useable” lithium amp hours will weigh about 31 lbs.

That’s a big difference when if comes to an RV’s carrying capacity.

6. If You’re Unsure, You Don’t Need It

Before installing an RV solar system, you’ve got to be sure to want (and need) it. Even if you want to boondock most of the time, try it with a generator first.

The $450 generator will cost a lot less than a solar set-up (and you can easily resell the generator to recoup your cost).

If you realize you love being off grid and you hate the hum of the genny, bite the bullet and buy solar. If you can live with that gentle hum, don’t worry about it.

7. If You Like Rustic Camping

If camping to you means disconnecting from it all, solar won’t be a great addition. This usually applies to weekend campers longing to escape the daily grind.

We totally understand this mentality! Solar power may, in fact, tempt you to hop on the internet or watch TV.

If that sounds like you – keep it rustic and stay away from tech!

8. They Can Make Your RV Hotter

An RV roof covered with black solar panels will soak up a lot of heat. This heat bleeds into your unit and can keep it 5 to 10 degrees warmer than without solar.

It’s an unfortunate byproduct of installing solar.

If you’re camping in the desert during the winter, this added heat may be nice. However, during those hot summer months, the extra heat will be unwanted.

9. They Can Reduce MPGs

Another side effect of mounting solar panels is the potential for worse miles-per-gallon on travel day. There are a few ways MPGs become lower after a solar install.

First is the added weight. A large solar set up can add 100s of pounds once its all installed.

Additionally, depending on how they’re mounted, the aerodynamic ability of your RV can become worse.

10. Installation is Expensive

If you don’t have the skills to install a solar system by yourself, hiring professionals is really expensive.

It’s an issue of supply and demand.

Lots of people want solar installed. Most of them can’t safely do it themselves. And, there aren’t many professionals out there that know how to do it.

Installing solar on an RV is much different than on a house. And, RV service centers are already working on large back logs.

Be prepared to pay a lot and wait a while for completion.

When Does Solar Power Make Sense?

If you enjoy the amenities of power and love camping off grid, solar can be the perfect compliment to your RV lifestyle.

We love free camping – especially when its super quiet! Solar power allows us to have ample energy while off grid without making a peep.

Our system includes 500ah of lithium batteries and 640watts of solar. We use a Victron 3000 inverter to supply 120v power. This system will allow us to operate off grid indefinitely (when is at least partially sunny). We can also get a few hours of AC use out of it daily.

M

Saturday 26th of March 2022

The problem here is people have different living environments. Some people use air conditioning some people don't. Some people want a lot of electricity and some people don't use it. Some people live in climates where it's dry and cool or even cold they're only electrical requirement is their laptop computer or mobile phone. And some people like me live down south where it's hot and humid and run air conditioning almost 24 hours a day. Another thing is some people travel a lot moving from place to place they're not using their electricity and they're driving able to charge their batteries for when they stop driving. Some people like me won't start their vehicle engine for many days at a time just staying in one place. Some people use propane generators and they stay very close to places where they can refill propane other people are far away from propane refilling stations and have to drive a considerable distance using up gasoline in their RV to get there and back. Some people can store lots of fuel for the generator or have an oversized fuel tank under their RV to feed a gasoline generator and some people choose propane and still have ample supply of propane under a large RV. Some people have a 20 lb propane tank that gets used up quickly and needs to refill that to keep their generator going. Some people feel their generator with gasoline and it's so difficult to carry additional gasoline outside of a fuel tank so unless they're siphoning gas they're generators going to be out of gasoline pretty quickly which means another run to the local gas station using up more gasoline to drive there and back and it's just a hassle. I think people don't realize that everyone has different electrical requirements they live in different places some people need a lot more electricity than other people. The biggest thing I think people fail to understand is that if you're not driving to recharge a battery Bank and the cost of idling is super expensive to recharge a battery Bank and the exhaust fumes from an engine or generator if not vented over the roof properly can come back and fill the RV with fumes remove the ability to have any big usable amount of electricity. And then in my experience from the cities that I visit there's no place to use a generator at best I have to sneak off somewhere to use a generator and hope that no one sees me or hears me when I need to use the generator when I don't have enough power from solar. I find it incredibly difficult from my point of view to generate any usable amount of electricity from a generator or from the alternator. From my point of view how can anyone have any electricity that's usable without solar panels? The issue here is not even cost, it's also availability of power because generators and engine consumes fuel which is finite and requires refueling and in a lot of cases people off grid don't have additional fuel. I think it's best to keep an open mind and realize that each type of power source is necessary for each application. Every location provides a different challenge for producing electricity and everyone's electricity consumption is going to be different depending on the person's needs, desires and location. Where I live in the winter time I don't use any air conditioning my Total electric consumption is about 2 kWh. I suppose I could go without solar power if I had to it wouldn't be that big of a deal I would still consume fuel off my vehicle's engine to run the alternator I would probably use generator. But when it's warm I consume over 8 kWH sometimes even as high as 12 kWh. So because my electric requirement is so large I need to pull that off solar panels because I can't operate a generator that long and the amount of fuel I would consume is impractical to operate a generator and impossible to take that off of my engines alternator I'd go broke very quickly paying for gasoline. I have one of the most fuel efficient generators that produces 650w for 3.5 days on 20 lb of propane (5 gallons of gasoline). If I could run the generator instead of installing solar panels I would most likely do that but I run into the problem I am not able to run the generator in almost every location within the cities I visit so it's not a cost issue. I think there's no most people I would say if the word most people were to apply to any group then I would say most people living in cold climates do not need solar power I would say that's an accurate statement because they're electrical requirement is very low. I would say that most people who live in a warm humid environment that have the ability to use a generator do not need solar panels and that could be an accurate statement. But there are so many difficulties in using a generator that for many people it's just not a possible option at all. And this I don't know but keep an open mind when traveling most people stay at RV hookups with shore power electricity to plug into I've not found that personally in fact not a single location that I have stayed at other than one which was a campsite provided electricity none of them other than that one time provided electricity. I don't know how people do it but I'm in a stealth camper van so I'm probably traveling a different path. I could not do it without solar panels requiring air conditioning. I hope everyone keeps in mind that everyone is facing different electrical challenges based on their geographical locations and time of year and in some situations which apply to an entire geographical location they actually do need solar panels. Another thing to consider is some people only sleep in their RV and out doing something all day. I am inside my RV all day sometimes going out I am consuming all of that electricity without driving without the engine running without the ability to use a generator because it's not permitted in the locations I visit. It also depends where people are are they even able to use a generator and in some cases I can't even have the engine running. I would love to run the generator it's so easy, but it just doesn't work for me and I don't think it would work for people who need to use the generator for too many hours day after day because they'll run out of fuel. If you park next to a fuel station it's not so difficult. A lot of generator problems can be solved by adding on a noise baffling box to put the generator inside and mount to the back bumper it could prevent you from fitting in a normal parking spot. You can eliminate almost all of the noise from the generator if you have space for that. The box would be noise restricting so it would prevent air flow from moving through the box a powered cooling fan would be necessary. That would also affect the air fuel ratio inside a carbureted generator. When people find out how expensive it is to build the noise box they might rather put the money towards solar panels. Or some people can just put their generator inside a metal box which won't make it that much quieter it solves some of the problems such as running it in a parking lot once it's attached permanently to the vehicle you can run it in a parking lot as long as the noise is not an issue. It really depends on each person's situation their rig and location. I had my camper van rig all figured out equipped with the generator until there wasn't anywhere to actually use the generator where I go. There was no shore power. The only electricity I had was from the alternator and I park almost all of that time not running the engine. I tried staying inside without air conditioning under the hot sun for a few hours and that was it I couldn't do it. Even with the doors open the temperature coming through the windows and the hot metal walls got so hot I thought I could die. I had to put solar panels on. I would think there's a lot of people that are in the same situation traveling inner cities that don't have space to mount a quiet generator box sticking off the back of their vehicle or can't run a generator because of the noise or have no place to put the generator on the ground in a busy parking lot that like me in hot weather require solar panels. It would seem completely foreign for someone who lives in a cooler climate because they don't need that much electricity. And it would seem completely foreign for someone traveling outside a busy city where no one cares if they run a noisy generator. I sometimes park next to other camper vans without solar panels and without a generator and I've noticed they leave their engine running all night while they're sleeping for electricity. I'm just thinking how wealthy they must be to pay for all of that fuel? I understand people take weekend trips a few times a year and it's not all that difficult for them to leave the engine running because it's not a long-term expense. I am in the van for months at a time I could not possibly leave the engine running with that expense and don't want the hassle of having to refuel every day. When I run out of shower water then I would go and refuel. I like being able to boondock for 2 weeks. It gets difficult longer than that because I'll run out of food or water or gas something I need to restock. A lot of people don't realize batteries are not required for solar hookups. If you're only using solar panels to provide electricity for a cooktop or air conditioning you only need one battery. You can run air conditioning for up to 10 hours a day when it's hottest and no air conditioning when the sun is setting and at night. There's actually reduces your solar investment considerably without batteries. You can have it to where the air conditioning automatically turns on when the solar charger has sufficient electricity coming from the solar panels. Without batteries you don't need a lot of solar panels to run air conditioning only about 1,000w of solar panels for air conditioning like 3 house panels. If you tilt your panels you can do it with just 600w of panels. Of course I'm talking about a small window air conditioner or inverter mini split air conditioner. The inverter air conditioner is better if running off battery but if only running off solar panels the window air conditioner is fine since you're not storing power you don't have to worry about wasting any power just leave it running. That's solar hookup would cost about $1,200 providing power for an air conditioning unit or something else up to 500w for up to 10 hours. Of course there's no electricity at night other than whatever is left over on that single battery. The battery is necessary but does not have to be big or expensive just a small lithium battery to get the air conditioning unit started as the initial power draw to get the compressor going will be over 1,000w for most 5000btu AC units. You could have the air conditioning unit run auto so it will always be on even if you're in the RV or not it just turns on with the sun, turns off when the power goes off controlled by your charge controller. Keeps the humidity out of your RV. As for heat I was unable to provide sufficient electricity for a heater I had to go with burning fuel for heat. Unfortunately I burn through that fuel too quickly to be boondocking for too long. I can however supplement some of that fuel usage with electric heat until I've exhausted my electricity. I can still get about 5 hours of electric heat, does save some heating fuel to allow longer boondocking days. I really think the solar panel issue mostly applies to people in the hottest climates especially the ones that are humid and hot. I still require a generator for night time, choosing fewer batteries to lower solar cost. I also use the alternator charger sometimes if driving. Someone could also install the minimum solar panels necessary to run air conditioning which is about 1,000w rating on panels using one small battery to get the air conditioning unit started. There's no need for them to install in an expensive battery Bank sometimes it's only hot during the day and cool at night that would provide up to 10 hours of air conditioning if tilting panels otherwise probably about 6 hours of air conditioning with flat panels. That reduces their overall solar installation to about $1,400 and then the small battery will provide power for low power electronics overnight. Solar doesn't have to be outrageously expensive to run air conditioning. A cheap generator usually burns through 2x more fuel than a top quality generator. For example my generator can continuously run 650w for 84 hours on 5 gallons of gasoline although concerted to use propane now. Compare cost of high end generator it will closely match cost of solar installation with out batteries. Although the generator provides power in darkness the solar panels do not. I just wanted to make people aware there isn't always an option that applies to everyone there is no most people. There is people who use air conditioning and people who do not. There is people who spend a lot of time in their RV and people who do not. There is most people in a group such as geographically located who need air conditioning that can be a blanket statement. But each group of people have completely different factors. People inside cities have more restrictions compared to people out in the countryside regarding to generator usage. People who spend a lot of time in their RV are going to burn through a lot more fuel without solar panels. I'm just pointing that stuff out. Solar panels are definitely not for everyone. There is a very large group of people running air conditioning who require solar panels. People boondocking may not be able to refuel. And I personally don't understand how people are so easily finding RV parking lots with electricity? In the cities RV parking lots around $55 a night where I travel and most of them have no openings it's not a question of money they don't allow people to come in because they're full. That gets very expensive very quickly. I understand some people don't travel very often that's not a very big expense for a few days. Some people travel a lot longer. Some people don't travel they just live in their RV full time.

Michael A

Tuesday 22nd of March 2022

You're so full of sh$t

RVs should come with solar rooftops built into the roofs themselves.

It also allows you freedom to not have to plug in and stay in at parks around other people you don't want to be around. When you are at National Parks you won't have to park and plug. And it saves on fuel.

They are even converting Tesla semi trucks into RVs now. A fully electric RV with its own solar converters on the rooftop would be the ultimate experience especially not having to worry about buying gas.

The same type and amount of solar panels for a house could be on top of an RV. And those can provide an entire week of stored energy.

22 RV Boondocking Tips for 2022 - Drivin' & Vibin'

Tuesday 18th of January 2022

[…] Keep in mind: Here are 7 reasons you don’t need RV solar power. […]

Darrell Patterson

Saturday 11th of December 2021

I use a 200 watt suitcase solar charger that folds up and easily fits in my car, taking up little space and adding little weight. It easily recharges my batteries in about 3-4 hours and the cost was around $475. I also have a 2000 watt generator that I use sparingly (when I need A/C or the weather is nasty). The solar was not that expensive. I lock my panel to the trailer with a super hardened chain, cable lock and padlock to discourage theft. So far so good and I am a happy camper. Lithium is next on the agenda, then I'll be set.

André

Friday 10th of December 2021

I work full-time in my rig as I travel the country. I am ready to throw my overhead a/c unit in the garbage because the sound level is unacceptable for 50+ hours per week usage. Thus, I've just installed a 30.5 SEER residential mini-split heat pump (ac/heat).

Next are four solar panels that will provide 1760W of power (rated); the heat pump at maximum requires 1500W but my small 23ft RV won't need high power ever. Others who have done this show about 600W sustained is all that's required.

So, solar combined with a 5.1KWh battery will be plenty.

The compressor and evaporator of the mini-split are astonishingly quiet. Not having a generator running: more quiet. I'm boon docking in beautiful locations to have quiet and this strategy is going to give me that.

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