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Having an RV provides you with a perfect opportunity to utilize solar for your electrical needs. With solar systems getting better and more affordable, it’s no wonder that so many people are choosing this type of system for their RVs. I couldn’t imagine being without solar power in my van because it provides me with 95% of my electrical needs. It allows me to go anywhere I want to go and have the conveniences that I’m used to at home.
I do occasionally plug up to shore power when available but my solar system is my primary source of electricity.
Whether or not you need solar on your RV will depend on how you travel and the locations where you camp. It will also depend on your electrical consumption.
If you intend to only camp in RV Parks and other locations where you can plug up to shore power, solar may be a waste of money for you. However, if you like to travel and park in off-grid locations, solar will allow you to maintain the lifestyle you may be used to without having to worry about where you will find electrical power.
Below, is a list of reasons that I believe RVers will benefit from having a solar system installed in their RV. Even those who feel like they don’t need solar can still benefit from having some sort of backup solar system.
Having a combination of energy sources is always a good idea when traveling in an RV.
1. Off-Grid Living
One of the fun parts of Camping is getting off the grid and away from society! If you intend to park your RV away from the city lights and out in the boonies, you will probably want some way to have electrical power. This can be done with a gas generator but why create so much noise when you can have a solar system that can power the majority of your items?
A gas generator will usually be able to provide more power (as long as you have enough gas to run it) but they are often loud and emit exhaust fumes. Besides that, many locations do not allow generators. Unless you are running air conditioning, heating, or electric cooking appliances, a good solar system will almost always be enough. Even some solar systems are quite capable of running these high-amperage appliances.
Having both options will allow you to go off the grid for extended periods of time. The good thing about a solar generator is that you won’t have to refill it with gas. Instead, the sun will do its job and the solar panels will collect that sunlight that gets converted into electrical energy to keep your battery banks charged.
Off-grid living is amazing! It’s the part I love about traveling in my van and having a capable solar system has allowed me to enjoy my living space to the fullest. It’s a rewarding feeling to be off-grid in the woods but have electricity that runs your lights, water pump, electrical outlets, TV, etc.
2. It’s Quieter Than a Gas Generator
Gas generators can be quite loud and disturbing to others around. I have parked in places off the grid before or in Harvest Hosts locations and had to deal with others around me running generators for extended periods of time. Meanwhile, I was enjoying all of my electrical devices in my van in complete silence.
My solar system allows me to utilize electrical energy without bothering everyone around me. I can run it throughout the night without having to worry about a loud generator outside. This is handy when you are in a location that doesn’t allow generators or doesn’t allow them after a certain time.
Even if solar is not your primary electrical source in your RV, it helps to have the option for times like this. If you have a sufficient solar system that powers the essentials, you will be prepared no matter where you go. If you are in a location that does not allow gas generators, you will have no worries because you can live as normal with your backup solar system.
3. Environmentally Friendly
Harnessing electricity from sunlight allows you to utilize your electrical devices without having to worry about contributing to the environmental pollution often associated with the electrical power grid. Since you won’t be connecting to the grid when using solar, the electrical energy that you use will be from clean sources.
It’s well-known that burning fossil fuels to create electrical energy can have negative impacts on the environment. If you can use less electricity by relying on solar power, then at least you can do something beneficial for the environment.
Many campers are the type who are often concerned and want to do the best they can for nature and the environment as a whole. There are many ways to accomplish this and solar is just one of them. It’s an easy way to ensure that you are doing a good thing while still being able to enjoy the luxuries that you may be used to.
While it’s not perfect, it’s certainly a start and a way to be better about your environmental impact than you would be by plugging into the grid.
Of course, there is the problem with the solar panels, parts, plastics, and other things that have to be produced in factories. These factories often run using grid power so just by purchasing materials like this, you are still contributing to the overall problem. At least once the solar panels are installed on your RV, you won’t need to plug up anymore unless you want to and need to plug up occasionally to run items that require more electricity.
I often go through an entire trip without ever plugging into the grid. I have shore power on my van but only use it as needed. If it has been cloudy for days, I may need to plug up in order to charge my solar batteries if the sun has not been able to do the job. Other than this, I often feel good about my choice of having solar because I know that I am getting clean energy in an unlimited supply from the sun.
4. It’s Easy To Install
With today’s solar systems, they are easier to install than they ever have been before. You can purchase complete kits that will get you up and running in no time. If you are converting a van, planning a solar system in your build is as easy as deciding what type you want, how much you will need, and designing the space for it to fit in.
If you go with a portable unit as I have, the job is even easier. All of the hard work is already done for you and all you will need to do is connect the solar panels and any electrical devices that you want to run on the system. You can look at my post here about how I installed my electrical system using a Goal Zero portable solar generator.
Even more complex systems can be easy to install but do require careful consideration. If you have a super high-power solar system designed to run large appliances, air conditioners, etc., it’s best to have a professional install it.
5. It Gives You Complete Freedom
Traveling in an RV is the ultimate freedom lifestyle. You can go anywhere you want and find a place to park no matter where you are. Having a solar system adds the benefit of having one less worry. Rather than being concerned with parking somewhere where shore power is available, you will have the freedom in knowing you can set up camp anywhere.
Even if you only have a backup solar system, you will be able to enjoy electricity without being dead in the water as some might be.
Types of Solar Systems for RVs
If you are looking to install solar on your RV, there are a few different routes that you can go. Let’s look at the two most popular options below.
Permanently Installed Solar System
The first type of solar system and the most efficient and powerful is going to be a system that is customized for your needs. With this type of system, you can customize the number of solar panels and wattage, inverter size, charge controller, and battery capacity. This allows you to design your system so it meets the needs of everything that you will need to run within your RV.
If you have appliances or an induction cooktop or something that uses a lot of electrical power, you would want to design a system that is more powerful than just a standard system.
You can also customize your battery configuration. Many people choose deep cycle batteries but lithium is the clear winner when you are designing a system for maximum power. They can store more energy and take up less space. Building a solar system like this takes some planning to figure it all out. Unless you are an expert or experienced with these types of systems, you may find yourself overwhelmed when trying to piece together all the parts you need to build a safe system.
Kits are your friend if you choose to go this route. A novice can install a full-fledged solar system like the Renogy RV Solar Kit. You simply add batteries to the kit and you are up and running. these are great for people who want to maximize the power that they harnessing from the sun and have the technical skills and understanding to get the job done.
Portable Solar System
Another popular type of solar system is a portable unit. These come in all shapes and sizes and can be good for those who have minimal electrical needs but they can also work great for those who consume higher amounts of electricity. They are perfect for those who don’t want to be bothered with designing their own system from scratch.
It’s a safer alternative to doing it all yourself since portable units have already been designed and built by engineers and are capable of delivering a safe user experience. All you need to do is connect a solar panel or multiple solar panels to it and you are in business.
In the end, a portable system contains the same working parts as a permanently installed system. The difference is that the product will be in a self-contained package that contains the essential parts to make it all work. This self-contained package includes the charge controller and batteries and generally has the outlets such as 120 V AC and USB ports as well as 12 V connections.
It can be carried from place to place and used wherever you need it most. I have a portable unit in my van and it’s installed and runs all of the electronic devices throughout my van. However, I can easily take it out of my van and use it in other locations as needed. It comes in handy for when I need some additional electrical power around my house where extension cords won’t reach.
Portable units also come in handy during power outages. We have had multiple power outages at our house and our portable solar generator allowed us to keep on running the essentials for many hours.
Not everyone is fully sold on solar power. There are some who absolutely despise it while others, such as me, love it! To each their own!
Once you have experienced a properly functioning solar system that powers all of your devices and maintains full charge most of the time on sunny days, it’s hard not to love it.
You just never have to worry about having electrical power since it is always there. Having a solar system in your RV just makes sense. It’s the perfect location for such a system and allows you to travel around while maintaining some semblance of normalcy while you are out and about.
Whether you choose to go all out and install a massive DIY solar system or stick with a portable type of system doesn’t matter. Each person’s needs will be different and you will need to determine this before you get started. If you just need to supplement your shore power usage with some type of solar power when you are not able to plug into shore power, a small solar system will get you through.
If you are set on having solar run everything that you ever need in your RV, you will need to do some planning and create a system designed to deliver the amps that all of your devices will need.