Solar Powered RVs are all the rage in 2023. 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.
Let the RV Park do the heavy lifting when it comes to your power needs.
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.
If you have a diesel engine, you may also benefit from a diesel heater. And, a heater is something any solar set-up will struggle with operating.
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 $600. Even with higher gas prices, a generator that sips fuels slowly can offer you a week of power for $20.
Not a bad price!
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 $600 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!
For backup power, simply bring along a pre-charged, handheld USB charger.
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.
11. Wait It Out
Inflation is high. Labor is expensive. The economy is teetering around every which-way.
Solar power is usually not an essential expense.
If you can wait it out during these rough waters, there could likely be a more cost effective solution in the future.
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.
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I guess I’m an anal boondocker lol! I have 200 watts of solar, but also carry the same Honda generator you have. Which is NOT $450, but $1050. There are of CV course o n.v sector $450, but not Hondas. Then to boot I have a lithium jump starter. At age 70 I guess I want to make sure!
Sounds like the way we RV!!!
That’s right generator cost $1500 to be able to run a/c . I can’t make it all night running heater battery’s that came with camper don’t have enough to make it pass 5:00 in the morning ; setting at 60. Have bought one 100 watt panel to recharge , but will add another . plan to switch to lithium in the future. The two 12v I have now just don’t cut it.
Points well put.
The husband and I just started having this conversation after seeing the solar trend. Thanks for the input.
I bought a I power generator that has a Yamaha motor, which is supposed to be as good or better than Honda. Its currently $499.99 on Amazon. Its as quiet, and runs electronics safely like a Honda, but $700 cheaper.
We have had 1040 watts on roof and 2040 ah’s in Trojan T-105 RE’s batteries that are 98% recyclable. Go camp in 29 degree weather and with no heater on those batteries and see how long it is before they take a charge haha. If your a real camper and camp in weather that’s 32 or below you want be charging those batteries anytime soon.
I paid $155 dollars a battery x 8 equals $1260 plus tax. That’s 2040 ah’s and they can be run down to 20% as we have done before with no issues other than the voltage drop that occurs and we deal with it.
We have run a solar setup with FLA for 7 yrs. Just recently replace the batteries and after 7 yrs the cost is about the same.
Lithium has its place for sure but if your a real camper and go out in the cold lithium isn’t it. Why put in a system that has to have a heater to keep them warm. We have camped in 19 degrees and full sun and no heater to keep the batteries cozy.
To each his own when it comes to this topic. Have fun in your travels you two.
Solar panels have worked brilliantly for us in our Class B. Here’s why;
Sometimes we would stay a few nights maybe 3 or 4 at a state or National Park with no power… If we’re not moving the van and the sun is shining we have power flowing whenever the sun is shining.
You’re right, if you are driving every day and you’re plugged into shore power then maybe solar panels is not a good investment, but, solar is quiet, passive, practically maintenance free and they last a long time..
We have two panels and 275 watts of power to power the twin 224 amps hour 6 volt AGMs…… We’re maxed out of space and I can charge by driving, solar, or running the generator…. which needs exercising regularly.
I happen to think solar panels are great; they are one of the best upgrades I made on my rig. I found being unplugged and just in the sun the panels normally charge my system back to 100 percent everyday whether we’re traveling or not.
FINALLY .. someone says it. We’ve done 35000 miles without solar or lithium in our Promaster. 2 AGM batteries run the large Isotherm refer for 3 days without charging. Lights are LED. Computers are charged with a simple 300W inverter. Stove is propane, water heater is 12V run only when running the engine. IF we ever wanted to not drive for just 2 hours in 3 days we might consider adding a portable 100w panel stored under the bunk that we can set out in maximum sun, at the correct angle, or add another battery. We prefer to camp in the shade. And, it’s hard to be stealth with solar on top.