Is Adding An RV Solar Panel Worth It?

Contributor

Conner Lund

Favorite Trip

Backpacking Ozark Trail

Home Base

Bowling Green, KY

Favorite RV

Winnebago Revel

About Contributor

Conner Lund is a Technical Content Writer. He has both hands-on experience and real-world knowledge. He’s an avid outdoorsman: camping, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, kayaking, hunting, and fishing are all things he enjoys that you could find him doing on any given weekend. He loves to travel and see new places. He does most of his exploring and camping out of his overlanding truck with a rooftop tent.

Comfort and convenience are the main benefits of upgrading from tent camping to RVing. This wouldn’t be possible without power. Power lets you charge your phone at night and brew a fresh cup of coffee in the morning. 

There are multiple ways to power your camper. Normally, you’d run most of your appliances using shore power at the campground, but that is not an option when you’re off-grid. Therefore, you are left using a portable generator or your batteries. Running your generator all day is noisy and costly, so you’ll heavily lean on your batteries. The problem arises when battery levels get low, and you must find a way to charge them. That’s where solar power comes into play. 

Let’s look at some advantages of using solar power off-grid and things to consider.

Benefits of Adding Solar to Your RV

Portable solar panel with power station
Photo by Camping World

There are many reasons to add solar to your RV. Solar provides free energy, freedom from campgrounds, and zero emissions.

Free Energy

Solar panels harness energy from the sun, so there’s no fee to use them, and they can also save you money in other areas. For example:

  • You won’t have to pay campsite hookup fees. 
  • You’ll save on maintenance costs since you won’t use your generator as often. 
  • You’ll reduce battery replacement costs by extending battery lifespan through more frequent recharges. 

Freedom

There’s nothing wrong with setting up camp at your local campground and enjoying the outdoors with fellow RVers. However, sometimes you might want to escape crowded campgrounds and experience nature with just your family. 

Eco-Friendly

Solar panels produce clean energy, meaning there are no emissions. This makes them eco-friendly, so you can rest assured you’re doing your part to preserve the great outdoors for future generations. 

Why A Solar Panel Kit Might Not Be Right for You

Although most campers can benefit from adding solar, there are a few reasons it might not be the right choice for you. Let’s review some reasons you might avoid solar.

Large Investment

RV battery types
Photo by Camping World

Adding a solar panel system to your RV is a large investment. Most systems have several parts: solar controller, solar panel, inverter, solar plug, wiring, etc. Depending on your power demands, you may need multiple panels and a larger battery bank, which can start to add up. If you don’t use your RV often enough, your investment could take a while to pay off. 

Only Stay at Campgrounds 

Plugging into shore power
Photo by Camping World

If you only stay at campgrounds with full power hookups, you likely won’t see a huge benefit from solar panels since your batteries will be constantly charged. That’s not to say you cannot still install solar panels and use them, the effect just won’t be as much as someone who camps off-grid.

What is a Solar Ready RV?

Zamp solar port
Photo by Camping World

Many newer RVs come from the factory with what is known as “solar prep” or a “solar ready” package. This usually entails a pre-installed solar charge controller and wiring linking the panel port to the battery. Therefore, all you’ll have to do is mount your panels and plug them into the pre-wired port for a plug-and-play install. The ports can be located on top of the RV for permanent panels or on the side for portable. 

If you don’t have an RV prepped for solar, don’t worry. Most solar manufacturers offer packages with everything you need to get “solar ready,” from the charge controller to the camper solar panels and all the wiring. 

How Many RV Solar Panels Do You Need?

5th wheel trailer with roof mounted solar panels
Photo by Camping World

The number of solar panels you need depends on several factors, such as the amount of sunlight you get, how much power you use, the size of the panels, and compatibility with your RV’s solar charging components. Although solar panels can still harness energy through clouds, the more direct sunlight you have, the better.

Power consumption is how much power you use. It’s important to remember that solar power has limits. For example, don’t plan on running all your appliances while off-grid and using only battery power. Appliances such as your microwave, blow dryer, and toaster should be used seldomly.

However, with the right setup, you can power some appliances, such as a 12-volt refrigerator, a hot water heater, and interior LED lighting. Please note that you may need an inverter to power certain appliances off battery power.

The best way to determine how much solar you need is to take your trailer out for an off-grid trip and use your appliances as you would normally. Keep a close eye on your battery levels. This will give you a good idea of how much you need to replace.

For example, by day one, you have used a quarter of your battery capacity, which is 200 amp hours. This means your current discharge rate is around 50 amp hours a day. If you had a single 200-watt solar panel, which produces around 10 amps per hour, you could likely recharge your battery after a full day of sun exposure.

Please note that many variables impact these numbers, such as battery type and age, solar panel efficiency, cloud cover, and panel orientation relative to the sun. These factors, and many others, will affect your discharge and recharge rate.

If you need more help, our guide to determining how much solar you need includes a complete RV solar calculator. Find it here.

Comparing RV Solar Power and Generators

These are both great options for powering your RV. Each has pros and cons, but an ideal setup includes both. 

Honda generator in woods
Photo by Camping World

Solar is great because it provides clean, renewable energy. However, don’t expect to power larger appliances, like the air conditioner, without draining your batteries too quickly.

Generators are great for powering larger appliances and if sized properly, you won’t have an issue running them all night. They do, however, create noise and require a constant supply of fuel along with continued maintenance. This is why it’s good to have a portable or onboard RV generator AND a solar system for camping. 

FAQs About Solar Panels for RV Use

Let’s pull back the curtain and lend some “free energy” to some commonly asked RV solar power questions: 

What Will a 200-Watt Solar Panel Run on an RV?

200-watt Go Power! solar panel kit
Photo by Camping World

For starters, solar panels don’t power devices directly. Instead, they charge the battery, which powers the accessory. 

On average, a 200-watt solar panel will take at least 8 hours to fully charge a 100Ah 12-volt lead-acid battery. That presumes ideal environmental conditions like direct sunlight and zero cloud cover. It also doesn’t account for the fact that the battery may be discharging simultaneously with your solar system’s efforts to recharge it (i.e., whether you’re using 12V devices inside your RV).  

In other words, it’s a great-sized starter panel, but don’t expect it to keep up with your entire RV. Depending on the size of your solar controller, you can link panels together as needed for more power. A standard-size controller is rated at 30 amps, so you could link two 200-watt panels together if needed.

Start your journey into solar with the Go Power Overlander Kit.

Can Solar Panels Run An RV Air Conditioner?

Air conditioner units on RV roof
Photo by Camping World

For most RVers, running their air conditioner on solar/battery power is impractical. Although possible, it would require a very extensive solar panel system and a significant upgrade of their battery bank, which would cost several thousand dollars.

Simply put, air conditioners draw too much power and deplete your batteries too quickly. You’ll almost always have to use a generator to power an air conditioner while off-grid unless you have an RV like the Keystone Outback OBX with a variable compressor designed for limited off-grid use.  

Can an RV Run on Just Solar Power?

This depends on several factors. The first and most important is power consumption. If you use only essential appliances such as your refrigerator, water heater, and LED lights sparingly, you can power your RV for a limited time with the right size solar panels and battery bank. 

However, If you want to power your entire trailer and air conditioner, you would be better off relying on generator power to supplement solar.

Do Solar Panels Work In Bad Weather?

Row of trailers parked on beachfront
Photo by Camping World

Yes, you’ll still be able to charge your batteries with solar panels on a cloudy day. However, they won’t be nearly as efficient as on a sunny day. For example, if your 200-watt panel is rated for a maximum hourly output of 10 amps, that’s the most you’ll get in the best conditions. On a cloudy day, you may only see around 5 amps. 

Therefore, you’ll need more panels if you camp in cloudy areas than someone who camps in sunny areas for the same amount of power. You must consider placement and weather to get the most out of your solar setup


At the end of the day, solar equipment is an expensive investment but worthwhile. With enough use, it will pay for itself and continue to put money back in your pocket. As solar technology advances, panels will become more affordable and efficient, allowing you to do more with less. 

Let us know your thoughts on solar power in the comments below and if you’ve made the plunge.

  • Comment (9)
  • Paul says:

    I’m all for portable solar suitcase 100 w 20amp panel.
    The heck with drilling holes in the perfectly good roof.
    I was following a 5th week trailer and there solar panels flew off their roof .
    I look for shade for my RV so solar panels on the roof are useless.
    With my Renogy suitcase solar panel I can place it where the sun is.
    A good chain and lock keeps it secure.

    • Conner Lund says:

      Hey Paul,

      Thanks for sharing! That’s great input. The main downside is that you’re limited on how much solar you can add, but if you’re just looking for a small charge, portable is a great option!

  • Nancy Schumacher says:

    I am thinking of 24v system for 600w panels for my chevy express. I want to know ballpark what it would cost installed.

  • Arnold Bos says:

    How many and what type of batteries would I need to power my RV. These are the appliances and accessories that are used every day. Coffee Maker, Toaster, Microwave, one and sometimes two TVs, one TV for sure 6 hours per day, second TV around one hour a day, 6 led lights lights for two hours in the morning and four hours in the evening, washer and dryer.
    The last electric bill showed usage of 850 KW for a 30 day period.
    Thank you

    • Jean says:

      Solar panels are handy for when the power is lost from the electric provider.

      • Conner Lund says:

        Hello Jean,

        Yes, that’s a great point. If the power supply at the campground is down, you can absolutely rely on your solar panels and battery bank for backup; thanks for sharing!

  • Joe says:

    So what is a good solar set up. does only power 12volts?

  • Brad Cowan says:

    Hi, Nancy! Stop by Camping World’s Service Center for more information regarding solar panel installations and quotes.

  • Wade Thiel says:

    Hey Joe, here’s a good kit that Camping World sells. It has panels, a charge controller, and an inverter.

    https://www.campingworld.com/coleman-300-watt-crystalline-solar-panel-kit-with-30-amp-charge-controller-and-300-watt-inverter-117515.html#q=solar+kit&start=2

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