Is Adding Solar Power to Your RV Worth It?


Wade Thiel

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Wade divides his time among various outdoor activities in both urban and rural environments. An adventurer by nature, he is always up for a challenging hike, fun hunt, or day out on the water with friends and family. When he isn’t enjoying the outdoors, he’s writing, reading, or tinkering with motorcycles and cars.

One of your biggest concerns when RVing is power. It doesn’t matter if you’re a full-timer or a weekend warrior, adventuring in a motorhome or travel trailer, you need electrical power to make the systems and electrical components and applications work. Without that power, you’ll be much less comfortable and less happy while camping.

While there are electrical hookups at many campgrounds, a solar power system is another way of getting power to your RV. It takes a little planning, but installing can allow you to go further and stay out longer on RV trips. Is solar worth it for your travel style? Let’s take a closer look.

Why Solar Power for Your RV Is Smart

Photo by Camping World

Solar panels installed on an RV are one of the most common ways that people who RV often recharge their battery banks. It’s a popular option for many reasons. Here are some of the biggest ones.

Costs are Coming Down

A solar panel kit used to be a massive investment. Solar kits and solar chargers are no longer reserved for the extremely wealthy. While you’ll still have to make a significant investment, the cost of the equipment in terms of the panels themselves, the inverter, controller, and solar batteries are coming down.

According to Energy Sage, the cost of solar power equipment in the United States has come down significantly in the last few years. It’s also expected to continue to do so as new energy technologies hit the market. This means you can make the investment for less money overall.

You Have Power Anywhere

If you’re an avid boondocker, then solar power is basically a must-have. Dangerous things can happen when you’re not able to reach someone for help because of a dead phone. When boondocking you’re not plugged into any power grid and this means you’ll need to create your own power and keep your RV batteries charged.

Some people do this by using portable gas generators, which work great, but a solar power setup can be a great alternative or supplement to your generators, and it’s also a form of clean energy. As you boondock, be cognizant of how you use and conserve energy.

Solar Equipment Works in a Variety of Environments

Photo by Camping World

Many people think if it’s cloudy your solar panels won’t work. That’s not the case. Modern photovoltaic cells can harness the sun’s energy even when conditions are less than ideal. Don’t think that adding a solar cell to your RV means you’re stuck to only camping in high sunlight areas.

You can easily use your solar panels even when it’s cloudy. When doing this, plan ahead and have a backup. Obviously, bright direct sunlight will give you the most power, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Keeping a portable generator on hand is still a smart move.

It’s Not Too Difficult to Install

Many RVs come prepped for the addition of solar panels. While most of these models are newer, even older RVs can be outfitted with solar panels pretty easily.

If you don’t have an RV that comes solar prepped, then you can get help from a variety of retailers, who will help you outfit your rig with the necessary equipment. Reach out to a Camping World Design Center near you to see if you can have the installation done by our service professionals.

Why Solar Power Can Not Make Sense

Camping with solar panels for converting energy from the sun to electricity.
Image by photosbyjim from Getty

At this point, you might be thinking that solar panels sound great and you want to go out and buy some to generate electricity for your off-grid camping needs. Well, that’s fine, but you should know why and when they can not make sense.

It Can Be a Major Investment and Take Time to Pay Off

It’s true that the price of solar panels is coming down, but they’re still a pretty big investment for most people. Depending on the size of your RV, you may need a lot of panels to cover your electricity needs, not to mention the cost of multiple lithium batteries to store the energy collected by the panels. This can make the costs of RV solar power add up.

Also, if you don’t use your RV extremely often, then it can take a very long time before you really get enough use out of your RVs for the initial investment to make sense. Full-timers should have no problem getting the most out of their solar investment, but many weekend warriors will find the expense tough to justify. Think long and hard about whether or not it’s worth it to make the investment.

Most RV Parks Have Electric Hookups

Related to the idea that solar panels can be a big investment is the fact that many RV parks and campgrounds offer electric hookups. So, if you’re camping at locations that already have the hookup, you won’t need solar for RV trips. If you’re a weekend warrior, this can mean it’ll take even longer to justify the investment.

However, if you camp solely in locations where there are no electric hookups adding solar can make sense. Think about how and where you camp before you add solar to your rig. It’s really your habits that will determine if adding an RV solar system, including the new Happier Camper, is worth it.

Think About Where You RV

Photo by Camping World

While residential solar panels and their smaller RV equivalents can produce electricity on cloudy days, their effectiveness goes way, way down. So it’s smart to consider where you spend most of your time RVing.

Do your destinations have a lot of sunny, bluebird days? Or do you spend most of your time RVing in places that are known for regular cloud cover?

If you fall into the latter category, a permanent solar installation on your RV roof might not make sense. But a portable 100 watt solar panel that you can easily set up and wire into your RV battery may still be effective on days with full sun exposure.

Consult an RV Expert

All in all, deciding whether solar power for your RV is worth it is a very personal decision. There’s a lot to consider, which is why we recommend speaking with an expert at your local Camping World Design Center. Our design centers are an excellent resource for all your RV design needs. Find one near you today!

While your solar setup may not be enough to power large RV appliances like air conditioners, it can allow you to extend your boondocking stays by keeping the lights on much longer than they’d stay on otherwise. Solar technologies have come a long way in recent years, so investigating RV-friendly solar options is definitely worth it!

Do you have solar panels for your RV? How do you like them? Leave a comment below. 

Is adding solar to your RV worth it?

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