Campers with Solar Panels – Are They A Good Idea?

Unfortunate truth about solar power

As with all things, RV solar power comes with its pros and cons. Before purchasing expensive solar panels for their roof, RVers should carefully weigh all factors.

The quieter, more environmentally-friendly RV solar power is better than using an generator. This is a great choice for those who want to camp off-grid. There are some things that RV solar power isn’t aware of.

The high price of solar power

High quality RV solar panel kits can be expensive. In recent years, prices have become a little more affordable. A good system for RV solar power can be quite expensive.

A few 100-watt panels can quickly add up. To store power, you will need deep-cycle solar cells and a charge controller to prevent them from overcharging. An inverter is needed to convert the DC power into AC power. After everything is done, you might be looking at an investment of $1500+

It can be a bit complicated to go off-grid.

It is more difficult than just pulling up to the campsite and connecting to shore power to set up your RV’s solar power. Before you buy anything, it is important to understand how much power your home uses each day. This will allow you to calculate how much power your panels require.

Ronnie Dennis, Do It Yourself shared a detailed guide that covers every step in the solar power setup.

A battery bank is essential

You don’t need to worry about power outages with shore power. You can plug in your laptop and coffee maker at the campsite once you have power. Your life is not affected by the weather or the time of day.

A battery bank is required if you have solar panel systems. These batteries can be used to provide power during the day, nighttime and for parking out of direct sunlight. Although they are more expensive than lead-acid, lithium-ion batteries are better options for solar energy storage. They are lighter and more compact than lead-acid batteries, and they last longer.

Parking in the shade can prove difficult

You might imagine your RV being parked in a shaded spot away from the scorching sun on a hot summer’s day. If your solar panels aren’t getting direct sunlight, however, they won’t produce nearly as much power.

You might get the best of both solar power options if you don’t require a lot of power. Because it doesn’t require drilling holes on your roof, it’s usually easier to set up. Renogy and Acopower make high-quality portable solar electric systems. To go with their solar panels, Goal Zero also makes portable electric power stations. They have an inverter built-in and outlets for electronics. Are you already using rooftop panels? You can make them portable with this simple mod from Do It Yourself RV

Is solar power really worth it?

While RV solar power does have its downsides, it is definitely worth the investment. It is expensive upfront but it allows you to be boondocking in public land instead of staying in an RV park with hookups.

It will pay off the initial investment, as you’ll be able to save camping fees and electricity costs. The solar power system is silent and easy to maintain.

1 thought on “Campers with Solar Panels – Are They A Good Idea?”

  1. Charles Dickson says: March 19, 2021, 12:55 pm
    Nikki, good article. I would suggest that you look into using solar panels instead of buying new panels. These panels are cheaper and still produce good amounts of electricity. It’s important to remember that this is a buyer’s beware thing. However, it will save you some money when it comes time to set it up.

    RV Newbie says: June 21, 2021, 4:06 PM
    Bill, this is a simple solution, but it can be more expensive – in terms of fuel consumption and wear on the engine (especially if you have a gas one). This would work, but it is unlikely to be a long-term solution.

    Popeye says: November 1, 2021, 12:07
    My batteries are still in my shed. I was just out in my ROO233S the other day and both the fridge and lights worked perfectly. I can’t testify to the furnace and water heater, as I haven’t tried to use them.

    Reply
    Bill says: May 10, 2021, 11:47
    My RV has two batteries and a solar hookup. My question is: Why invest in solar panels when I could simply crank my motorhome and charge the batteries in half an hour?

    Trekker says: July 22, 2022, 12:21
    Generators are not my favorite. A better solution is to use advanced Li technology (e.g. lithium-ironphosphate batteries) and an alternator that charges only the Li batteries while it is running.

    Solar power for an RV is, in my opinion, a gimmick, except when it’s used to run LED lighting or a fridge.

    My wife and I rented a 2020 Winnebago Revel last year (2021). It had four 100-W solar panel panels and lead-acid batteries that produced about 1 KWhr of “usable energy”. There was no generator onboard.

    The Revel featured an induction stovetop. The inverter/battery protector shut off the cooktop halfway through cooking, so we had to eat most meals at lukewarm temperatures. This happened when the van was parked at a height of 9,000 feet in direct sunlight.

    If you add in electric appliances such as air conditioning, which the van didn’t have but was required for, the RV solar grid’s 500-1000 W-hours of power per day won’t be enough. This assumes that one can find a sunny spot in which to roast their RV throughout the day. We often camp in forests in the Pacific Northwest, where the sun isn’t direct. Also, cloudy days are common.

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    Charles says: August 15, 2022, 8:31 AM
    If solar is your only source, it can be expensive and inefficient to power an RV with solar. 800 watts of solar have been added to my Thor Omin SV34 Super C. This can be used as an additional power source when the sun is shining. This gives enough energy to fully charge the batteries (4 deep cycle 6v). The coach is very powerful because it has 3 TVs and 2 frigs (one large residential frig), as well as all my computers, phones, Ebikes, etc. It is not sunny, which hasn’t been since June in Az and Utah, California, due to the monsoon seasons solar is useless. The best source of reliable power is either our portable generator or onboard generator. Even on sunny days, we can still camp in the forest. The sun is no good again.

    Reply
    Garet says: July 13, 2022, 5:03 PM
    My Thor Citation already owns an Onan Generator. Can I use the existing inverter and battery bank to run solar?
    What should I do if it is not?

    Reply
    sleeper van rental near me says: May 11, 2022, 7:12 AM
    This is a great post! This great content will be linked to our website. Keep up the excellent writing.

    Reply
    Doug says: April 22, 2022, 8:18pm
    Our 40-foot Monaco motorhome has 4350 watts solar. I use a 6000-watt 240 split-phase inverter with 10200 wh lithium battery storage. The A/C, electric water heater, and washer/dryer are all run by the inverter. I have had the inverter for 1 1/2 months. It has produced more than 700 KW of sun power. It is a joy to use.

    Reply
    Honda says: July 24, 2022, 6:13pm
    I want to run my ac. I have a trailer with a 15-foot length. Is this possible? ?

    Reply
    Michael S says: August 23, 2022, 11:27 am
    Please give details. Brand, product, model, etc. It was installed by who? Cost – I would love to duplicate. That sounds great!

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    Peter Hefner says: April 8, 2022, 3:41 pm
    I HAVE A 22′ FUNFINDER WITH A FURRION SOLAR CHAGE 10A. WHAT DO I DO TO MAKE IT WORK? WHAT CAN IT DO? Is it to keep the BaTtery CHARGED? Or can it be used to keep power in the CAMPER. I WAS TOLD IT HAD A 12V SYSTEM. I CAMP IT WITH A 30AMP PLUG. I WOULD LIKE A RECORD OF WHAT I NEED TO DO. THANK YOU PETER HEFNER

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    Bob Kendrick says: November 24, 2021, 8:47 pm
    I am an ex-Interstate tours coach. I have a decent size 12 volt fridge …… What do I need to use the fridge ?….? Nothing else ….just Evacool fridge / freezer

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    George Moore says: March 13, 2022, 4:00 PM
    You can calculate the energy required in Watts or Watt/hr. You need to determine how many Watts are required. A typical 12 volt refrigerator uses 60 Watts. It would consume 1440 W/hr for a 24-hour period if you had a 60-watt refrigerator. (60×24). The size and power of solar panels is dependent on their purpose. Four 100-watt panels or one 400-watt panel would produce approximately 1440 W/hr over the daylight period. (These calculations are based upon Peak sunlight hours and use only 3.5 across the U.S. 100×3.5 = 350. Therefore, 100 Watt solar panels only typically produce 350 W/hrs of energy during the daylight period. You would need 4.
    350W/hour seems low to me, but it’s what I see online so that’s what I’m using. If I had 6-8 hours of sunshine, or even 10-12, I would expect that a 100-watt solar panel would produce 700 Watts per day. If you have the ability to store the energy for the night, 4 100W panels or 1 400W panel will work in any part of the US. California gets half of this amount in summer. To store energy for running at night, you’ll need a 720 W/hr lithium battery. 60W x 12 hours. You will need to charge more if your battery is running for less than half the day. This is especially true if you’re traveling in Canada and Alaska.

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    craig stephenson says: March 27, 2022, 1:05 pm
    Refrigerators don’t run all day long. Refrigerators of today are very well insulated. They can stay cold for long periods without cooling. This is especially true if they’re not being opened and closed a lot. They won’t use all the energy 3 panels produce. The excess energy can be stored in your battery bank. In a 24-hour period, the fridge will work for approximately 6 hours. Your calculation will give you 60 x 6= 360 W/hr. Because it only uses energy when it runs.

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    AquaHabitatCom says: May 31, 2022, 11:20 am
    It could depend on the task that the fridge is being asked to perform. Cooling drinks requires less energy than freezing frozen food. It takes a lot of energy to freeze water for a portable cooler. For most people, the answer would be somewhere between 360-720. Since I love freezing, my preference is for the high end.

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    Benoit Trudeau says: May 12, 2022, 8:31 AM
    Thank you for the great information

    Reply
    Terry Visalli says: July 7, 2022, 7:28 pm
    Hello I have a question? I’ve searched the internet for answers but can’t find them. Now, our camper has two solar panels. It was included with the purchase. It came with it.
    We are grateful

    Reply
    Mike Varnau says: November 6, 2021, 8:22 PM
    It is impossible to mix lead-acid batteries with Lithium Ion ones in one system. Although you won’t get smoke and fire, you will experience the worst performance from each type of battery. When changing a battery, you must make sure it is completely charged. It is possible that the charger or inverter will need to be replaced, depending on its age.

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    Ed says: October 19, 2021, 2:33 p.m.
    According to one industry insider, and my own experience, solar panels don’t last as long on RVs as they do on fixed structures.

    11 160W GRAPE Solar panels show signs of delamination. One panel has a large flap that hangs down. These panels were in service for 7 years, and it is unlikely that they will last 10 years.

    This changes the calculation of the cost of RV solar. RV solar is an option that I can afford. I like the freedom of not having to use the generator, and not being restricted by rules or hours. Even though it is more expensive than I expected, I will still have solar.

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    Mark Milburn says: September 29, 2021, 9:40 pm
    This topic is exactly what I need! Even though I’m 74 years old, we are still new to RVing. A new trailer 25′ in length has a dometic 2872 fridge. This fridge is not the 12 volt third option. I can install 720 watts of sun on the roof, which will power the fridge and all the inverters. I have one question: How do I make it possible to choose between inverter AC or shore AC? Any information on this would be greatly appreciated. Perhaps a link to a “how-to” would be helpful.

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    Mark says: October 9, 2021, 10:02 AM
    Two motorhomes have built-in switches that turn on the inverters when they are not connected to shore power. They can power a TV for a few hours but are not large enough to run a microwave oven. An inverter may be already installed if your trailer is equipped with built-in batteries.

    An instruction manual for wiring a switch between AC sources should be included in a DIY RV inverter.

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    larry says: October 31, 2021, 5:36 pm
    Higher end components will automatically switch to shore power when there is enough.
    If not, a 110 acv high watt cross-over switch will suffice.
    Blue Sea Systems AC Rotary Shift – Off + 2 Positions 120V AC30A

    .

    Reply
    Drew Morgan says: November 19, 2021, 11:54 AM
    A manual switch could be installed, but an automatic transfer switch senses shore power and removes the inverter from the power loop is preferred.

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    Eric Johnson says: March 11, 2022, 11:11 am
    An automatic transfer switch is required. It must be properly set up to detect shore power and make use of it when it is available. If it is not connected, it will draw power from the inverter.

    Reply
    Kevin Baglow says: August 13, 2021, at 4:07 am
    I am Thrilled! I purchased 4 x 340wat panels, 8 100 ah gel batteries and a growatt5K inverter. I can use a portable fridge, jug, and magnet hot plate simultaneously if it is sunny. I can charge my phone and laptop while I do that!

    Reply
    David says: July 29, 2021, 9:47 am
    I want to use a 12v ARB cooler for my Jeep. Is the Renogy 100-watt system sufficient? I live in the west.

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    Mike Nathan says: August 18, 2021, 10:34
    I had an ARB fridge, and wanted to do the exact same thing. I attached a Renogy Solar Panel 1 – 100 Watt to my roof rack, and connected it to an MPPT charger controller. The 12 volt deep cycle battery was then connected to this. The shore power controller was wired into the battery so I could charge it while driving, and not just rely on the sun. This was not an inexpensive installation. The installation was described in detail. I didn’t want the ARB to pull off my main battery when it wasn’t running. It would only draw off the spare and solar. It was not a complete success story. The ARB would drain the secondary battery quicker than the solar could recharge it. Eventually, the secondary battery would be depleted and the ARB would go into low voltage protection. Maybe a lithium battery would have made it better. It would work well for short trips and light hiking, but not for all-day trips. Any extended trips didn’t work out very well. For sun reference, I’m in Southern California. I hope this helps.

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    David says: September 12, 2021, 4:08 pm
    Thank you, I was able to upgrade to Renogy panels of 2-100 watts. Victron MPPT controller is running with a 100Ah battery. The second 100 watt panel was added. The panels produce between 580 and 670 watts per day, while the ARB consumes about 350 watts. My ARB in the Mohave desert is 34 degrees on a day of 107 degrees.

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    Phil M says: July 14, 2021, 11:23 AM
    “Unfortunate Truth?”
    Generators consume more fuel than you do, which is a sad fact.
    Consider the cost-effectiveness of each. Generators will always cost fuel. Solar panels never cost fuel. Generators won’t pay for themselves.
    You don’t need to abandon your generator and become obsessed with solar. If you prefer the quiet and peace of mind, you can have one or both.
    It is also easier to start with deep cycle lead acid batteries rather than switching to lithium. You can have both. Gradually change your mind.
    Another advantage to solar panels is that if they are properly installed, there will be air underneath which can provide shade. Shade is good for RVs, as we all know.

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    Drew says: July 14, 2021, 11:09 AM
    It states that $1,500.00 is the cost of the system when it’s “over”. A solar installation that is truly useful costs between 3 and 7K, depending on the system’s ability to produce 7 to 900 watts. You’ll find out a lot more if you do your research. You should also consider where the majority of these components are made and what reliability factors they have. We have abandoned manufacturing in this country for many years, which means that we cannot control quality, availability, and quantity. This will help you make an informed decision about the mods you are considering.

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    Richard Hubert says: July 14, 2021, 8:32 AM
    Is it worth the effort? You can take full advantage your self-contained independence.
    A good solar system and a reliable Lithium Ion battery bank can make a huge difference. You can travel anywhere you want and don’t have to worry about hookups. You will need an RV that can be used for dry camping (boondocking) in order to stay in most National Forest CGs and Harvest Hosts.
    Although we have good solar, we quickly realized that it was more important to have a reliable battery system. For many years, we struggled with Trojan deep-cycle batteries. They took too long to charge and did not maintain the correct voltage (low voltage and inverter shuts down), and could only be used at 50% of their rated capacity. We finally gave up and switched to LiFePO4 lithium batteries. It completely changed our dry camping abilities. The difference was made by using higher voltage, faster charging, and more amperage.
    However, you must have good sunlight to fully charge your battery. This is not possible if the vehicle is parked in shade or rainy. You could charge the engine while driving or you can use the generator for those situations.

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    Richard says: July 14, 2021, 7:06 AM
    You must assess your primary power consumption before you consider going solar. I have both a fixed solar system and a tracker solar system. Fixed on the coach’s roof, 400 watts and portable tracking unit, 320 watts. Fixed units lose 20-30% efficiency, while the portable tracking unit is more efficient and will produce more power. We use this setup, along with two Zamp Controllers and 300 ah Lithium Batteries. The generator is rarely used. The microwave is our main power source. It’s used for heating food and making mochas. This configuration offers boon-docking possibilities that are greatly enhanced.

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    Alan Warwick says: July 13, 2021, 4:48 PM
    This seems like a paradox. Solar cells work best when there is lots of sunlight. You will need to have A/C when there is a lot of sunlight. The inverter is not designed to power A/C units.
    A charging station with extreme power will provide 600 watts. A generator can provide anywhere from 8000 to 12000 watts. Big difference. To run high-draw appliances or A/C, you will need a generator.

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    Hunter D says: August 7, 2021, 11:23
    The Living Vehicle Model 2022 can be run 24 hours A/C with an extra solar awning in temperatures up to 110 degrees during the day.

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    R says: November 19, 2021, 2:29 pm
    They didn’t allow me to recoup the cost of their models..new offer: I got 330,000$..yikes, camping is no fun!

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    Charlie Aarons says: September 29, 2021, 10:04 pm
    Perhaps not. A 60a@12v AC with a 5-8000 btu/hr rating can be run for several hours on a battery bank of 10-12kwh. Li is good, but not great if you live Alaska.
    Solar panels 950w
    I got rid of my generator (Fisher Panda 3.6kw diesel) and hooked it up to my house to power the hydraulic 240/120v generator from the hydraulic outlets on my Unimog camper.
    If you don’t yet have an AC, there are 3 vent/fans and 4 low-amp internal fans. Good mosquito netting is also available.

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    Chris S says: June 18, 2021, 12:36
    Is it possible to provide some shade for the RV roof by covering the Solar Panels? One of those RV Sunshade items for when we park in full sunlight on 30 amp has been something I have considered. It seems that solar panels could serve this purpose AND keep our batteries charged.

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    Ed Soniat says: July 14, 2021, 6:12 AM
    I installed 12 panels to my roof. They cover more than half of my roof. It doesn’t provide shade.

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    Terry Donald Dickson says: June 7, 2021, 11:45
    “With shore power, there is no need to worry about backup power. You can plug in your laptop and coffee maker at the campsite once you have power. What does the weather and time of day have to do with your daily life? ?
    We must remember that without a good battery, the lights, furnaces, refrigerator brains, and water heater brains won’t work. Yes, electrical equipment that runs on AC power can be plugged into shore power. However, most RVs are DC powered.

    Reply

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