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Are RV Solar Power Systems a Gimmick?

If you dream of camping where stars shine brighter than a lantern, an RV solar power system may be the next item on your “must-have” list.

As we look to get away and see it all, keeping our home away from home comfortable becomes our greatest need. 

But what is a solar power system? What does it cost, and is it worth all the hype?

Let’s find out!

What is a Solar Power System?

A solar power setup consists of a few components that combine to charge your RV batteries. These usually include your batteries, solar panels, a charge controller, and a converter. 

While some RVs come with a system installed, others may come prepped. Owning older RVs often means retrofitting to install solar power.

The size of your setup will depend on how much power you need, plus how much roof space you have for the collectors. 

The Benefits of Solar Power for Your RV

Having an RV solar power system provides many benefits. These are only a few of them.

The typical lifespan for an RV battery is 2 to 3 years, and they’re costly to replace. Using solar panels to recharge those batteries can extend their lifespan to 10 years.

Solar-provided power offers a quieter camping experience too. Generators are noisy, but a solar power setup can keep everything running with no extra noise.

It’s also considered friendlier to the environment. Without the need for fuel to run the generator, you’ll use fewer resources. In addition, the air around your campsite will be cleaner since there won’t be any exhaust from the generator’s engine.

One of the best advantages of solar power, in our opinion, is you gain the ability to camp in more locations regardless of the hookup situation. 

If you like the idea of camping on a beach, chances are there won’t be an electric pedestal at your site. Being able to run off batteries, you can soak in the sights and sounds of the beach while never needing to leave home.

Lastly, full-time RVers who pay for their electric usage will find that an RV solar power system can help cut costs by allowing you to unplug and run off your batteries.

Pro Tip: If you want to install solar panels on your RV, make sure to shop from one of these 5 Best RV Solar Panel Brands.

RV with solar boondocking in desert.
If you enjoy boondocking, solar panels can allow you to extend your stay.

The Disadvantages of RV Solar Power

Even with all the advantages, there are disadvantages to solar power as well.

Solar collectors aren’t small, and it’s essential to see if your roof has enough space for the amount of energy you need. There are methods to determine how much power you need and how many panels you’ll need to provide the power. But that’s another article.

Professional installation of your system can also be costly. Although DIY is an option, having a professional install your system is a good idea.

Solar panels can soak up heat while soaking up the sun. If they’re installed close to the roof, and most are, the heat they soak up can bleed through to your RV’s interior. This can cause an internal temperature increase of as much as ten degrees.

In addition, panels will only produce the stated watts in perfect weather conditions with the sun shining directly on them. Any change to the angle of the photovoltaic cells or even a partly cloudy day will affect how much energy the batteries will receive. On a cloudy day, it’s unlikely your batteries will charge very much. Dirty collectors will also decrease your inbound wattage.

One of the more critical downsides is that an RV solar setup will add weight to your RV, which will affect how much cargo you can carry. The weight of the panels or any additional batteries you’ve installed will certainly change the overall weight of your camper

Man installing solar panels
Solar panels can get heavy and impact your overall RV weight.

How Much Does It Cost to Add Solar to an RV?

The cost of an RV solar power system depends on multiple factors. The price for a teardrop or a pop-up will vary compared with a Class A motorhome. Are you a rustic-style camper, a glamper, or somewhere in between?

Basic systems around 400 watts are excellent for weekend off-grid trips. These systems will allow for minimal electric use and could cost between $1,500 and $4,000, not including installation.

A system of around 1,200 watts can typically power everything except the air conditioning, with components costing up to $6,000.

If you want to run all of the appliances and air conditioning units in your rig, a solar setup needs a lot of roof space and could cost up to $18,000. Again that’s just for the parts and doesn’t labor for the installation.

The larger the RV and the more energy you need, the more cost involved.

Pro Tip: Solar panels are only useful if used correctly. Make sure to avoid these RV Solar Mistakes That Are Seriously Problematic.

How Long Do Solar Panels Last?

The lifespan of a typical solar collector is 20 to 30 years! A solar panel can last up to 40 years when they’re well taken care of.

Is Solar Power for Your RV Worth It?

Given the cost of the components and fees for professional installation, it may seem as though installing an RV solar power system isn’t worth it. But depending on the type of camping you prefer and the amount of energy you need, a solar setup could be a great addition. 

Solar can save you money on campsite fees because you can camp off-grid more often. You’ll be able to save money on fuel for the generator. And, by using a greener alternative for off-grid power, you’ll be doing the planet some good too.

Imagine all the new places you can explore and sounds you’ll hear with a solar power system added to your RV! 

Do you have a solar power setup for your RV? We’d love to hear about your rig and what you’ve installed.

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