Can You Run an RV on Solar Power?


Sometimes, you will find yourself at a campground that only has 20 amp service or you love to dry camp. This has some people wondering if it’s worth adding solar panels to their RV for electricity. But, can you run an RV on solar power?

I did some research, and this is what I found out:

Solar panels cannot run everything in an RV without an additional power source. A typical RV solar system will produce 4000 watts of energy per day which is enough to operate lights, TVs, and small appliances, but not a refrigerator, heater, or air conditioner.

But that’s not all there is to know about running your RV on solar power.

After all, the size of your RV, how you use it, and how many solar panels you add can affect that. But it might make sense to add a bank of panels in your yard if you plan to keep it parked and don’t have 50 amp service.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to add solar panels to your RV, what it costs, and how much power you can get from solar panels.

Just keep reading!

Is Solar on RV worth it?

Most RV owners will not find the benefits of adding solar panels outweigh the costs, as solar power for an RV can cost as much as $5,000 or greater, and will not be enough to power everything in an RV.

The cost of solar power equipment has come down significantly over the years, but it is still a hefty investment. You can even purchase kits that have most, if not all, of the equipment you need. This makes purchasing the equipment easy.

But in terms of the panels, inverter, controller, and batteries, you can expect to spend a minimum of a few thousand dollars.

The benefit, though, is that you have power anywhere, even if you stay at a site where there are only 20 amp hookups or if you are an avid boondocker.

If you primarily stay at campgrounds, your best bet is to stick with a generator or purchase an adapter for those 20 amp hookups.

But if you are a boondocker, solar is a must-have. Even boondocking, you need power to charge your phone, watch TV, make coffee in the morning, and run the HVAC.

Motorhomes have a chassis battery and a coach battery.

The chassis battery provides power to start the engine, while the coach battery provides power to operate non-engine electrical accessories, such as interior lighting.

To read more about the differences between the coach battery and the chassis battery, check out this recent article.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

How many solar panels do I need to run an RV?

Between one and three 100-watt panels is appropriate for a small travel trailer and can generate up to 1,500 watts of power per day. Larger RVs will likely need up to 8 panels to generate approximately 4000 watts of power per day.

Because you can’t sell back power to the electric company, you don’t want to generate excess. Also, solar panels are expensive and heavy. So you want to get as few solar panels as possible and generate just enough electricity to get the job done.

Smaller 30-amp RVs will need fewer panels than, say, a Class A motorhome.

It also depends on how much electricity you intend to use. If you just want it to power small appliances, you’ll need fewer panels. If you want to power everything, including your HVAC system, you’ll need much more.

An RV solar calculator like this one is a good way to get an idea of how much solar power you’ll need for your RV. Just answer a few questions about the size of your RV, how many batteries you have, and the appliances you run.

It’ll give you some options and tell you how many batteries can power your system. It’ll also give you an estimate of your daily and weekly amp draw.

Solar panels will allow you to use your outlets while driving. But a generator can do that too.

To read more about whether outlets work in an RV while driving, check out this recent article. After all, power in an RV can be confusing! Chassis battery, coach battery, inverter, converter, and generators! What does it all mean?

Just click the link to read it on my site.

How much does it cost to put solar on an RV?

An 800-watt system can run all of your small appliances and will cost under $6,000, but it still won’t be enough to run your air conditioner or fridge. a 400-watt system will cost less than $5,000, including all of the installation components.

If you don’t plan on running your fridge, microwave, or air conditioner, either of those will get the job done. But you’ll still need a generator to run your fridge and air conditioner.

You may be able to run your microwave, but usage will be limited. So with this kind of system, you’ll still need a generator if you want to run your fridge or air conditioner.

For about the same price as an 800-watt system, a 1,200-watt system will allow you to run your fridge. You still won’t be able to run your air conditioning.

So the best bang for your buck, if you don’t need to run your air conditioning, would be a 1,200-watt system. If you travel to cooler places or simply don’t intend on running your AC, this would be a good option for you.

If you want to go completely solar and don’t want to run a generator but want to run your air conditioning, you would need to produce 21,500 watts per day. This isn’t easy to do because you’ll run out of room on your roof.

But if you do find a way to do it, expect to spend upwards of $10,000, if not more.

Encountering electrical issues while you are camping is frustrating. If your RV outlets aren’t working, it’s likely due to a tripped GFCI outlet or the inverter being off when not connected to shore or generator power.

To read more about why your RV outlets might not be working, check out this recent article. I get into all the different things to troubleshoot including the 1 thing all new RV’ers forget to check.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

What does it mean when an RV is solar-ready?

A “solar ready” RV means that an RV came pre-wired for solar panels and the electrical system. That makes it easier to add the equipment later. But it doesn’t come with any solar components.

That “solar ready” sticker on your new RV means that a solar panel company paid for their proprietary solar panel plug to be installed on your RV during the manufacturing process.

It’ll also come with directions to only use their solar panels. Of course, that is what it says. They want you to purchase panels from them.

You can purchase panels from the company.

You can purchase a solar system that doesn’t use the plug at all, or you can find a way to make the plug work with the panels you want to use.

If you don’t want to shop around, you can certainly use that and purchase a kit from the same solar company.

For example, if your RV is “Zamp Solar Ready,” your RV comes pre-wired with either a 3-port roof cap, a single port roof cap, or a side-wall port. Each port is wired slightly differently. It may be fully wired, or it may be wired just from the roof to the batteries.

So, if your RV came with a Zamp Solar side-wall port, all you would need to do is pick one of their portable solar kits and plug it in. Then, you’re good to go.

This is a great, convenient option.

But if your RV came with an only-solar-port roof cap, you’d need to purchase a controller, and a roof mount expansion kit. You’d still have to mount your panels, wire the charge controller up, and then plug it into the roof cap.

In this instance, it would just be better to price shop and purchase whatever brand/unit you want.

Did I answer everything you wanted to know about whether you can run your RV on solar power?

Just like everything, there are pros and cons when it comes to solar power.

Solar power is expensive and requires a good amount of equipment. But in exchange, you get the freedom to camp just about anywhere.

If you want to run your air conditioning, you will still need a generator. Or travel north to avoid using it at all.


Photo which requires attribution:

Flexible Solar Panels Mounted by RVWithTito.com is licensed under CC2.0 and was cropped, edited, and had a text overlay added

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Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell travels on and off with his 3 daughters in a Newmar Baystar Class A Motorhome. He writes extensively on both RVs, campgrounds, parenting on the road tips, remote learning & schooling, and much more!

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