.Solar panels aren’t just for houses and solar farms anymore. Panels come in all shapes and sizes and can be a great resource for electricity out in the boondocks.
RV solar panels are definitely worth the investment, especially if you’re spending all season out in the boondocks. If you convert over to solar, you could see a return on your investment in less than five years, all while improving your camping experience and doing something good for the environment.
Before you take the plunge into solar panels for your rig, let’s go over how they work, if they’re right for your set up, and what some of the best options are.
RV Solar Panel Utility
Solar panels for RVs, residences, and commercial buildings all work basically the same way: panels capture sunlight and convert it into electricity that can power appliances or be stored in batteries.
The main difference when it comes to camper solar panel setups is in power generation.
An RV system will generate enough power to support small devices and major kitchen appliances. A residential or commercial solar installation is intended to meet most of the needs on the property.
You can always add more panels to your RV’s solar installation, but you will be giving up precious storage space.
That being said, you’ll no longer have to worry about power consumption, regardless of whether you camp on the grid or deep in the wilderness.
Having solar power as an option is a cost-effective, convenient, environmentally-conscious way to make sure all of your appliances and devices are powered no matter where you roam. And that piece of mind is reason enough to consider adding a solar option to your rig.
What Goes Into A RV Solar Installation?
To get your solar panels up and running, you’ll first have to invest in some gear.
Solar Panel Components
- A solar panel (or as many as you’re comfortable storing in your camper)
- A charge controller. This will prevent overcharging.
- Batteries for energy storage. Lead acid and lithium-ion are popular options.
- An inverter. This will convert DC electricity to 120v AC electricity for plug-in devices. Inverters are built into some batteries.
RVers have the option to purchase these components separately to optimize your setup. There are also RV kits available.
RV kits should come with a solar panel, charge controller, cables, and mounting hardware – everything you need to get your RV grid up and running.
What RV Solar Panel Kits Are Available?
When investing in solar for your motorhome, you can expect to pay $1.15 to $2.50 per watt (with kits that include the panels).
Kits should also include cables and a charge controller. Many kits also come with one or more batteries, which generally cost $100 to $400 depending on capacity.
Check out what is included in your kit, keeping in mind that you’ll want an inverter and a mounting option included if you want that option.
Renogy 100-Watt Solar Kit + 30-Amp Charge Controller + Cables
This is a great basic solar kit for RVs. For $239.90 on Amazon, you can get all the gear you need for the panels. All you need to do is find a battery and you’re ready to start drawing power from the sun.
This kit peaks at 100 watts for output. This means it can charge a half-drained 100-amp-hour battery in 6 to 8 hours.
If you plan on enjoying an afternoon in the great outdoors, this setup will get your battery charged. And if that isn’t quite fast enough, you can always add additional panels to speed up the process.
WindyNation 400 Watt + 30 Amp Charge Controller + 1500 Watt Inverter + AGM Battery + Cables
If you want a RV kit that includes everything you need to get off the campground grid, then this is the setup for you. It is definitely an initial investment at $1689.99 on Amazon, but it includes everything you could need for total electrical independence on the road.
This kit comes with not one, but 4 100-watt photovoltaic panels.
The 1,500-watt inverter is big enough to provide 120v AC power to your microwave, hair dryer, phone charger, and other plug-in devices.
The charge controller does not have excess capacity to accommodate any more panels, but most RVers find that 4 panels is enough.
So Is Solar Worth The Upfront Investment?
With a high-end, all-inclusive RV setup coming in at over $1500, you want to be sure you’re getting a nice return on your investment.
If you spend lots of time boondocking (camping without power hookups), then solar energy will give you serious savings over a gas generator.
When replacing a heavily used gas generator with a full solar setup, most RVers report a “payback period” of under 5 years. That’s not too bad if you plan on RVing years down the road.
Can I Do My RV Solar Installation Myself?
Of course! In fact, RV solar kits are intended for DIY installation and are very user friendly. The installation involves quite a few parts that need to work in harmony, but most RVers report installing their own solar panels without too much trouble.
When Can I Not Use My Solar Panels?
Solar panels are going to catch the most solar power for your batteries on sunny days. They’ll still work on overcast days or during mid-day showers, but the power generated is going to be significantly less reliable. They also will not capture much power for you at night, even if there is a full moon out.
If you plan on boondocking out in the boonies for the entire camping season, and for years to come, then solar is definitely something to look into. Solar panels will save you on gas for your gas generator, and will also eliminate the noise pollution caused by the generator.
Solar panels even come in portable sizes. If you just want a power source for your phone and a few small devices, there is still a solar option for you! Investing in a solar panel can help you immerse yourself in the great outdoors and enjoy life off the grid, no matter how long you’re out on the open road.