Ah, the wind in the pine trees, a trickling brook, chattering squirrels. Camping in a pristine setting without a generator to disturb the peace. It sounds great: living off the grid in your RV. And if you spend a significant amount of time boondocking, “off the grid” is a real benefit. Installing solar panels on your RV first appears to be a no-brainer, but assessing the true value and return of investment is critical to making the decision.
How does solar power work?
Yes, the panels produce power even on a cloudy day, but the savvy RVer will learn how the production process and maintenance works. Fortunately, the process is relatively simple, whether we’re talking about your home or your RV.
Significant factors include the type of battery you want to use, a portable or fixed system, and the wattage needed for your appliances.
Beginner’s Guide to How Solar Panels Work
First, how much boondocking do you do?
For how long? In what kind of weather? No, we’re not talking about clouds versus sun as solar panels function on cloudy days. Do you plan to frequently use your air conditioning? That is a huge power drain on whatever system is in your RV. Are you using propane or only electricity?
Assess your needs
We suggest analyzing your typical power usage for both boondocking and campground parking to start the decision-making process. The GP Electric calculator will get you started. You need to know your RV class and type batteries. An online AI assistant is available too.
Using a battery monitor that connects to your phone while boondocking and camping gives a clear picture of your power usage. What an excuse to get on the road! Spend some time in the types of places you normally stay while monitoring the monitor. And get familiar with the wattage required by your onboard appliances and computer.
Auxiliary equipment for solar panel use
Popping some panels on the roof isn’t the end of the story. In addition to the panels, solar systems also require batteries and a connector plus inverter to store and make use of the power collected. A solar kit will save some bucks and includes the complete system: panels, connectors, cables, and mounting hardware.
Secondly, driving while the panels are installed is not recommended, especially if the panels are angled. For normal highway traveling, panels can be removed.
Installation: DIY or professional?
DIY is completely realistic and certainly cheaper. The Internet has so many resources and instructions. If you’re not confident of your skills, however, consider a professional installation. Yes, it will cost more and you will spend some time getting quotes, but some peace of mind accompanies this process.
How much investment are we talking about?
The answer to this, of course, depends on the wattage you want and the size of your RV. Your calculator is essential to determining whether solar power is a long-term asset. Yes, you are being more “green,” as solar power is seriously eco-friendly. Are you living in your RV or taking it out only a few times a year?
Would a portable system work as well for the weekend warrior? The financial outlay for a portable system is substantially less, but so is the amount of power produced and it will supplement—not eliminate—your generator. An investment of $700 to $1,000 can give you 120 to 200 watts. (As a point of reference: an air conditioner uses around 21,000 watts.)
A 23—35 foot RV will generally cost $3500—$4000 for a 400-watt installed solar system. For a Class A vehicle, a 1200-watt system is generally $5,000—$7,500. An excellent place to begin is at RV with Tito.
Again, where do you park, for how long, and in what kind of climate? If you typically use a park or campground supplied with hookups, you may want to think about a portable solar panel “suitcase,” transportable and simple to connect and use.
For your consideration
That initial assessment we mentioned up front will tell you more than we can for your own situation. Check around the parks and campgrounds for other RVers who use solar panels and ask them about their experience. RVers are notoriously friendly and generous with advice. A good discussion of the pros and cons is here.
Spending some time—even all your time—at Riverbound Custom Storage & RV Park may set you up for preferring a portable solar system as you won’t hear generators here. Not to mention, having covered sites, man caves, and a raft of amenities such as sports courts, laundry, café, pool, playground and dog run and an abundance of sunshine for any solar system you decide to use. See you at Lake Havasu City, AZ!