RV  solar power: Is it worth it?

Out of all of the upgrades you can make on your RV, motorhome, fifth wheel, or travel trailer, very few are as controversial as RV solar power. A quality RV solar set up allows for certain freedoms like getting to park you RV in remote and beautiful boondocking spots or simply comfortably camp in a national park or BLM campground that doesn’t offer electricity. But it can come at a pretty steep price. If you’re on the fence about installing RV solar power take a look at some of the pros and cons of an RV solar set up to determine if it’s worth it for you.

What is rv solar power?

RV solar power allows your motorhome or trailer to operate off stored energy in your RV battery bank while simultaneously recharging the batteries using energy from sun (solar panels). An RV solar power setup can look vastly different depending on your personal energy needs, budget, and component sizes, but most complete solar setups will include:

Each of these components have their own job within the solar power setup, but ultimately these 4 items combined allow you to power most appliances in your RV without needing to be plugged into electricity.

Why choose RV solar power?

The main reasons people choose to install and RV solar power system is for the freedom it provides. If you enjoy:

  • dry camping (camping without electrical hookups),
  • boondocking (camping in remote areas on public lands), or
  • frequently camp in campgrounds that don’t offer electricity like national parks or older state parks.

It’s likely an RV solar power system is a worth while investment. We absolutely love being able to camp in the middle of no where and still have all of the creature comforts and modern conveniences of our RV without having to run the generator all the time or be plugged in to electricity. We can use lights freely at night, watch TV if we please, run our Maxx fans to keep ourselves and our kitties cool, make lattes with our Nespresso milk frother, or make a healthy smoothy to start off our day.

Having a solar set up on our RV means we’re no longer restricted to camping in designated campgrounds because we need electricity. Which has opened the door to some pretty amazing camping opportunities like when we camped on the beach of Lake Powell, next to a canyon in Utah, or on a mountain next to a thermal hot spring in Utah.

Drawbacks of rv solar power

Cost

While the freedom an RV solar power system offers is huge, there are drawbacks to having RV solar — the biggest of which is the cost. A full RV solar power system can run you anywhere from $3,500 – $10,000+ depending in if you have professionally installed or not and the size of the components you choose including the size of your inverter, the types of batteries you choose, or the number of solar panels you install.

We’ve installed two separate off-grid solar power systems now, first in our fifth wheel, and now in our renovated Class C RV both of which ran just under $4,000 installing them ourselves. Which is a lot of money — especially if the main benefit is to simply have a bit of freedom and choice in where you camp. However, when you compare the upfront cost to the long term savings you get camping for free (and out of RV parks), the investment can be worth it.

Let’s say you spend an average of $25 a night to camp at an RV park, state park, or national park 90 nights out of the year. That’s $2,250 worth of camping fees each year. Now that you’ve installed an RV solar power system, you’re camping for free far more frequently, reducing your total paid campground fees to just 30 nights a year which is $750. That’s an annual savings of $1,500 meaning your initial solar investment is repair in just under 3 years.

If you RV full time, you’ll recoup your initial investment in far shorter timeline. We made back our initial $4,000 in under a year saving an additional $2,500 in camping costs because of the additional free camping we did.

installation

The second big drawback to RV solar power is the complexity of installing the system. If you’re not an electrician or engineer it can feel super overwhelming and intimidating to try design and install a solar power system yourself. But it can be done. Youtube is an incredible resource that can help bridge any gaps you may have in the process of designing and installing the various components of an RV solar system.

If you aren’t up for the challenge, or simply would prefer to have a professional do it for you, you can hire a company that specializes in RV solar power installations in your area, which are becoming more and more popular as RV owners see the benefits of having solar in their rig. Professional installation is not cheap by any means. Expect to pay $2,000 – $4,000+ in addition to the cost of the components.

weather dependent

The last drawback of an RV solar power system is that it’s 100% dependent on the weather. Where you are camping, the season, and sun exposure all comes into play as to how effective the system is in running your coach as intended. I’m writing this post as a tropical storm passes over our campground in Mexico. While we have electricity in this spot, if I was relying on our solar power alone I’d be in a tough spot as we haven’t seen sunlight in nearly a week!

For this reason, we always suggest having a back up generator. Both of our RV’s came stock with a generator and we’ve been very thankful to be able to use it to supplement our energy needs when we aren’t able to get optimal sun. While it’s not required, it does give you peace of mind and furthers your opportunity for freedom in your camping location.

Lastly, if your solar panels are attached to your RV roof, you’ll want to park in the sun rather than the shade so you can maximize the energy your pulling into your batteries which means it can get hot! In winter, having your RV parked directly in the sun is great — but it’s not so great come summertime. Solar panels allow freedom as to where you camp, but can be restrictive as to where you camp once you’re at the camping spot.

when rv solar power isn’t worth it

RV solar power is not worth it for those who prefer to camp in designated campgrounds with electricity and hookups the majority of the time. If you have an energy hungry RV or rarely dry camp it’s unlikely that the benefits RV solar can offer will outweigh the cost. If you also like to switch RV’s frequently, solar may not be worth the cost for you. While it does add value to your RV or rig, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to recoup the value dollar for dollar.

Choosing the right rv solar power system

If you do decide an RV solar set up is the way to go, make sure you purchase quality equipment that suits your budget and energy needs. Don’t go cheap on any components of the RV power system. Do your homework on the various companies that are producing quality parts for an off-grid set up and build your own system or choose from a pre-made kit. In our most recent solar installation we decided to go with AIMS Power for our:

They are a reputable company who has been in the solar business for decades plus we had lots of other RV friends who had their components and had positive experiences. After three years on the road living and traveling full time, we feel confident saying that our choice to upgrade to RV solar power was a good one. We love the freedom RV solar power provides us, allowing us to camp where we want while still having the ability to live and enjoy our modern conveniences of our RV freely. While we love RV solar power, it’s not the right for choice for everyone. Weigh the pros and cons and consider who you are as a traveler before deciding to upgrade.

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Liz & Dennis

Liz & Dennis

ESRV Team

We’re two travel-loving, real estate investing, foodies exploring North America as full-time RV’ers. This blog is where we share our lessons learned, tips and tricks, and favorite places to eat, see, and RV across North America! We hope it helps you find your wanderlust, plan and prepare for RV life, and get out on the road!

 

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