If you’re an RV fanatic or are looking to become one, you’ve probably wondered if solar panels are worth their high cost.
Solar panels are mounted on the top of the RV. Any time sunlight hits them, they generate an electric current. They offer a reliable source of electricity that is low maintenance and cost effective.
Solar panels are used together with a generator and batteries as part of a full power solution. Any time they are exposed to sunlight, they’re generating power and recharging the house batteries – saving money on generator fuel.
If you only take your motorhome out once or twice a year, or are constantly hooked up to shore power – the cost may outweigh the benefits. Otherwise, solar panels are worth the investment.
Upfront Cost for RV Solar Panels
The upfront cost of solar panels can vary widely by location, but around $600 for a simple system is a minimum starting point. This includes the installation, and all the equipment needed.
A panel itself can be as low as $90 apiece – but most RVs cannot accept power generated by the panels by default. Some other equipment is necessary as well.
Your basic solar power system consists of the following equipment:
- Solar Panels: Generates electricity when exposed to sunlight.
- Solar Charge Controller: Regulates the electricity generated by the panels and passes it to the battery bank.
- Battery Bank: In RVs, this is going to be the 12-v house batteries.
- Power Inverter: Converts DC power from batteries to household AC power for electronics.
- Battery Monitoring System: Measures and displays power in battery bank.
- Connection Equipment: The various cables, fuses, and switches necessary in an installation.
Some RVs come with systems pre-equipped for solar power, while others do not. Most come with a battery bank and inverter. This makes nailing down a cost point really difficult.
The best solar panels for RV are going to vary because there are too many models of RVs and Motorhomes to account for all of these factors and give an exact minimum. $600 is the very least you should be ready to spend to install a solar panel system in your recreational vehicle. So what is the best solar panels for RV
Benefits of Solar
A common misconception is that the solar panels will generate power for your electronics directly. This is not usually the case.
Most of their power goes to charging the house batteries, which saves on generator fuel costs. The house batteries of your RV then supply power to your electronics.
You will only benefit from solar panels if you disconnect from shore power for lengthy periods of time. Many motorhome enthusiasts refer to this as Boondocking.
Boondocking is when you take your vehicle out camping away from external power sources. Any electricity used must be generated or drained from the batteries. Integrating solar panels into the electrical system of an RV allows for effortless battery charging – even when you’re not there.
The batteries receive a constant trickle charge from the panels as long as there is sunlight. This helps to extend the lifespan of the batteries by as much as 50-75%. And since you have to charge the batteries less, you save on fuel for your generator.
Solar panels provide a cost-effective and green method of power that needs minimal maintenance and can last for decades.
Over-Time Savings On Power
The real benefits of Solar Panels comes from their savings over long periods of time. Any electricity they generate during an outing saves money on generator fuel. Even on a cloudy day, they are still generating electricity.
They need little maintenance, and a good solar panel can last for decades before needing replaced. Over that time, they continually save money that would otherwise be spent on generator fuel or campground shore power.
If you find yourself outdoors, off the grid on a regular basis – solar panels are a wise investment that will save you money in the long run.
Getting The Most Benefit Out of Solar Panels
Let’s review the three most common types of RV user and break down which of them would draw the most use and cost-effectiveness from solar panels.
These are those people who will take their RV out every weekend. For the most part they stick to campgrounds, boondocking now and then in the great outdoors.
Weekend Warriors use their RVs a significant amount. If the campground power hookup fees are starting to pile up, they may be tempted to go solar. There are portable solar panels they can use to try it out without committing to a full installation.
These portable systems are intended for directly charging your 12 volt batteries. They don’t integrate into your power system, instead connecting directly to the battery terminals. Portable solar panels start at around $140 and include everything you need to charge your batteries.
Boondockers are those RV enthusiasts who love to go off grid and enjoy the great outdoors. They almost never connect to shore power and are usually far away from the nearest campground.
They are usually DIYers and use their RV often. Most boondockers love to customize and tweak and get the highest value out of everything. For this group, solar panels are a green option that is worth the cost.
Solar panels truly shine in these conditions. Once the installation is complete they require little maintenance. The more sunlight they see, the more electricity they generate – and less money spent on generator fuel.
Full-time RV dwellers are those people who bounce from campground to campground, living in their motorhome. They may do this for cross-country trips that last months or full-time with no permanent residence.
They love the mobile life. Full-timers are fans of nature, but prefer to stick to the known factor of campgrounds over boondocking it. Campground fees almost always include shore power – meaning a full time RV dweller usually won’t benefit from solar panels.
If a campground’s shore power is down, a generator is usually a cheaper solution than solar panels. Their value comes from constant use – if they aren’t used, they lose value.
Solar panels are a green, cost-effective power solution. Once installed, they generate constant power when exposed to sunlight. They require minimal maintenance after installation, and can last decades if treated right.
Solar panels work best together with a full power system, including house batteries and a generator. They derive most of their value in savings on other power solutions, such as generator fuel or campground fees.
Portable kits that can charge your 12-volt house batteries start at around $140. A full RV Solar Panel installation starts at around $600, though the price is based on power needs and can vary widely.
If you’re a full time boondocker, solar panels are a worthwhile investment. But if you primarily use your RV at campgrounds, the cost isn’t worth it.