If you’ve never used solar power for your RV or if you just know nothing about it, you’re definitely not alone. Most of the RVing we personally do involves full electric and water hook-ups and for the most part I’m happy with that. If we’re without hook-ups, we have a generator. But solar has an environmental allure…plus the silence! Generators are teeth-rattlingly loud and can be annoying to anyone relaxing close by.
Solar is a techy, complicated subject for me – there are a lot of parts, terms, situations, options and preferences involved. In this post, I’m going to cover the basics (Typical Solar Power System Components will be covered in a follow-up post coming soon) – hopefully enough so that you are able to decide if solar is worth looking into further as an investment for yourself!
What is a Solar Power System?
An RV solar panel is basically a battery charger. You can operate lights, fans, appliances and electronics anywhere the sun shines – even remote locations. A solar system (or solar kit), is several solar panels and other gear that create enough power for regular operation of whatever you’re running in your RV. You can customize your system to suit your needs – a simple system can just keep your RV batteries topped up or you can have a more extensive system that runs all the modern conveniences of an RV.
Generator or Solar?
Generators run on fuel and they produce noise when in use. Generators will run air-conditioning, high-wattage appliances and pretty much everything you plug in. Generators directly power the 120 Volt system and supply power to all the appliances and outlets.
Solar panels are silent, low maintenance, and do not require fuel. Solar will not (for the most part) run air-conditioning or high-wattage appliances like the microwave. Can you run these things off solar? Yes, if you invest in the proper set up.
Solar panels and generators can be used together. For example, you could use solar for everything you need except the air-conditioner or high wattage appliances and then run the generator to watch TV, use the microwave or run A/C and let solar top up the batteries for everything else to run on.
Why Install Solar Panels?
The two main purposes that solar panels serve are:
1. Trickle charge RV batteries
2. Provide primary electrical power
#1 – Trickle charge RV batteries
A solar trickle charger keeps your batteries topped up and fully charged. Your RV batteries lose power over time, regardless if they are being used or not. This is the same as your car battery dying if the car sits idle for too long. You don’t want to leave a battery dead for a long time as this can cause permanent battery damage (unable to hold a charge).
Compact and lightweight, around 12”x12”, chargers plug in easily via battery clamps. Simply position the panel to pick up the most sunlight possible. Newer RV’s may already have a solar trickle charger installed direct from the manufacturer.
#2 – Provide primary electrical power
Anything in your RV that runs off your batteries can run from an RV solar system. So if you’re camping without electrical hook ups and you don’t have (or want to run) a generator, solar panels are an option to fill your electrical needs!
As mentioned above, this is something you can customize to suit your needs. It depends how much power you want or need. There is some calculation and planning to this – as with all investments!
Interesting Solar Facts
- while they’re usually rated at 12 V, they often put out about 16-20 V
- solar power systems are scalable to fit your needs
- 8 minutes – time it approximately takes for the sun’s energy to travel the 93 million mile journey before it can be converted into electrical energy via a solar cell
- In 1447, Leonardo Da Vinci predicted a solar industry long before any solar panels had even been conceived.
- If all the sun’s energy that radiates to earth over a 1 hour period were able to be harnessed and stored for use, the amount would be capable of powering Earth’s usage for a whole year!
- Electric ovens are the largest consumer of electricity in the home. Microwaves – 2nd / central air conditioning – 3rd.
- Solar is a cost-effective means of power that is virtually maintenance-free
- It’s clean, quiet, and good for our planet
So, Is Solar Right for You?
Solar may be the perfect fit for you IF:
- You spend a significant amount of time in your RV per year. It may not be a worthwhile investment for some people who only spend a few weeks per year RVing.
- You want to camp off-grid or in remote places – and enjoy the comforts of electricity!
- You don’t want to run generator. Or you hate it.
- You like the idea of energy independence – or maybe you just don’t want to worry about electrical hook-ups or costs!
Solar may NOT be for you IF:
- You mainly camp in places that have electrical hook ups
- You go camping weekends or a few weeks per year
- You camp in really warm places that require running a lot of A/C – yes, solar can do this but it’s an extreme setup for something that a generator does quite easily
- You have a generator and you’re OK using it when needed
Solar is an investment and an RV lifestyle choice. Myself, I’m checking a lot of “not for you” boxes. That’s OK for me right now, with small kids and weekends only around work this summer, I’ll stick to hook-ups for a while longer! I do love solar as a clean energy source though so when the day comes and we’re spending more time in the RV exploring more places, we’ll be going solar.