Intro to RV Solar
When we first started full time RV’ing, we heard a lot about having solar on your RV. Being RV newbies, we didn’t really understand why you would want an RV solar system or how it even worked. After a few nights of dry camping (and a dead battery a time or two), it became clear to us how valuable RV solar can be. We began researching as much as we could about RV solar to better understand how it worked and what was needed to create the right set up for us. That’s why we wanted to create today’s post and video. It’s a basic, easy to understand introduction to how an RV solar system works sharing what elements are required for a full RV solar set up, why you would want RV solar, and if we think it’s worth it or not.
An Introduction to RV Solar
Solar power has been a game changer for our lifestyle as full time RVers. Thanks to solar power, we have lived completely off the grid using free power from the sun. Without a doubt our freedom and independence has increased because of our RV solar system. We can now camp where we want, in the wild, off the grid, and unplugged.
This post will share with you our exact solar set up, which was installed in early 2018. Prices consistently change as solar technology continuously improves and evolves, our quoted prices reflect our experience at the time of installation.
Why Would You want RV Solar?
If your new to the solar energy world or new to full time RVing, it may not be super obvious why you would want RV solar to begin with. The main benefit to having solar on your rig, is the freedom and comfort it allows as you dry camp (without electrical hookups). Even if you primarily stay in RV parks, there will be a night or two as you travel that requires you to park overnight without shore power. Without an RV solar system, that often translates to extremely conservative use of lights, fans, and you’re unable to use any electrical plugs in your rig without a generator to power it.
With an RV solar system, you’re able to boondock or dry camp anywhere you please without having to run a generator to provide you with power. If there is sun, your batteries are charging, meaning you have more energy saved for use later even when the sun goes down. With the right solar set up, you never have to worry about the batteries getting charged. It just happens!
Understanding RV Solar
Pretty awesome right?
What components are needed for an rv solar kit?
Solar Panels (and solar charge controller)
There are a ton of different options for solar panels; flexible panels, Monocrystalline panels or Polycrystalline panels at all different wattages. You can learn more about the different panels and options here. While you can buy your solar panels individually (just the panel and mounting brackets alone), most RV’ers go with a full solar kit which includes the charge controller, mounting brackets, and electrical cables necessary for rooftop mounted RV solar. It’s very important to have your solar charge controller installed at the same times as your panels because the charger makes sure you don’t overcharge your batteries or do any other damage to the batteries.
Another popular option, especially for new RV’ers that only occasionally dry camp, is a portable solar panel. We love having both because it allows us to charge our batteries while we drive, but also gives us the freedom to park in partial shade, moving the 120 watt portable solar panel into sunny areas as needed. Bonus to the portable solar panel is that the charge controller is built into the panel, so you don’t have to worry about installing anything yourself.
If you’re interested in seeing our specific kit, use code RenogSolar10 to get 10% off your order from Renogy!
If you have solar panels, a battery bank to store the power, and a charge controller to protect your batteries from damage, you can go grocery shopping, a hike, or dry-camp in a national park while your batteries charge and operate your RV’s 12 volt items like lights, water pump, furnace, CO2 sensor, exhaust fans, and the refrigerator while on propane. While that offers a tremendous amount of relief knowing your batteries are charging and remaining charged without you doing anything to them, you’ll probably start to want more creature comforts that 12-volt items cannot provide; like watching TV, charging you phone/laptop, or running basic kitchen appliances like a coffee maker or blender. The inverter allows you to convert the naturally produced D/C power from the solar panels and battery bank, to A/C power which is the power we can use with everyday appliances (normal 2 prong plug).
The inverter has been a game changer for us because it allows us to comfortably dry camp, rather than “rough it”. Even when we’re dry camping we can live as if we’re connected to electricity. I can blow-dry my hair, charge my laptop, watch TV, make smoothies, listen to music, without turning on the generator. The only real difference is that we’re just a bit more mindful about how much we’re using at once.
The inverter can be a costly expense, so if you’re interested in dry camping on a smaller scale, you can get a portable inverter that allows you to plug a few items in (especially great for your laptop or cell phone), without having to have it professionally installed or do your own DIY installation like we did.
How Much does RV Solar Cost?
IS RV Solar Worth IT?
Most places we park are free (thank you Boondocker’s Welcome, Harvest Host, and our beautiful public lands), so we only spend around $350 per month on paid camping. That means we’re saving our selves around $7,600 annually, more than paying for the upfront cost to install our RV solar kit!
Do you need RV Solar to Full Time RV?
Liz & Dennis
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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