Are you interested in solar for your RV? Join the discussions on RVillage in Solar and Alternative Energy for RVs and other groups to share and learn from other RVillagers. Attending the RVillage Spirit of the Road Rally 2020? Learn about RV Electricity at the Master Classes there.

If you are new to the idea of solar, you are probably finding hundreds of videos, blog posts and solar installers out there. Where do you begin? From all the discussions, it seems it can be as complicated & expensive as you'd like, or it could even be simple!

The basics

For generating and using solar power, RVillagers report that at least five components are needed: Solar panel(s), a charge controller, batter(ies), a battery monitor and an inverter.

A simple solar diagram
The illustration below, provided by an RVillager, is a simplified diagram of the basic parts (not meant to be an actual wiring diagram).

There are many ways you can have solar for your RV: with simple, less expensive portable setups, permanent high-power setups - and everything in between! This discussion thread in a solar group on RVillage talks about various options people have used.

The portable solar setup

Some RVillagers report that they started out with an inexpensive "solar suitcase" — which is a free-standing solar panel (or two panels) with fold-out legs, that has a built-in charge controller and cables that connect directly to the house battery (or batteries). If it consists of two panels, it usually folds in half for storage, and has carrying handles. They are saying that these kits can range from $150-$350 or more. Assuming you have a functional house battery, all that's needed is to add an inverter to plug electronics into, and a way to monitor the battery usage. Here's a search on solar suitcases.

Most folks report that they can't run an air conditioner or microwave with a small system like this, but can easily power computers, electronics, TVs and household gadgets. It's said that one of the advantages of portable panels (besides the price and ease of setup) is being able to park your rig in the shade while putting the panels out in the sun.

Rooftop solar: larger systems, more power

RVillagers who are full-timers, boondockers and seasonal snowbirds, and who enjoy extended time without hookups, say they need more power — which means more panels to collect the energy, and more batteries to store it. Rooftop panels are more convenient, where they will be out of the way, and charging the batteries all day — like while driving down the road, or parked in a store parking lot. (Obviously, portable panels can't be pulled out & setup in those circumstances.)

From the discussions, a fixed rooftop solar setup consists of high-capacity solar panels, a more sophisticated charge controller (connected to an app that monitors the charging), deep-cycle or lithium batteries, and a higher-wattage (pure sine wave) inverter. (See more on the components below.)

The size of the system you’ll need is completely based on how you live in your RV. Everyone’s needs are very different, one size does not fit all. There is lots of debate on this! Get in on the discussions and talk to other solar users, they will be more than happy to share their tips and recommendations for equipment & installers, etc.

Join the discussion in the RVillage solar groups:
Solar and Alternative Energy for RVs, Boondocking with Solar, and more!
Also, learn more about RV Electricity at the RVillage Rally: Spirit of the Road 2020 Master Classes.

Tip from the community:
Unless you are a hard-core do-it-yourself-er, professional electrician (or a rocket scientist), it's probably best to pay a solar installer to just get it done. They have reputations to uphold, so if you have an issue, you can (almost always) get it resolved. If you did the install, who do you go to for repairs?

The components

Diving into the discussions, there are innumerable opinions about types and configurations for panels, charge controllers, batteries and inverters — and the technology changes every year. Fortunately, it seems that everything keeps improving, and getting less expensive! Each situation may be a little different, so it’s best to do your research. Here is some basic information about the components found out there on the web and in the groups:

Solar panels
For the curious: How do solar panels work?,
and an RVillage solar group discussion on whether to mix solar panels.

Charge Controllers
There are different types of charge controllers, and people have their favorites. Learn more about Solar charge controller basics.
Here's an RVillage solar group discussion on charge controllers.

AGM? 6-volt golf cart batteries? Lithium? Learn more about battery types, and here's an RVillage solar group discussion on batteries.

You will want to keep an eye on the discharge level of your batteries. Running them down below 50% will shorten their lifespan. There are many different types of battery monitors, and people have their favorites. Here are some example battery monitors.

RVillagers are talking about how necessary a pure sine wave inverter is for use with sensitive electronics like computers, TVs and many modern household gadgets. There are many brands and sizes to choose from. Learn more about inverters and sine waves.

Tip from the community:
When doing your research, make sure the information you are reading or watching in videos is current. Even if it the setup was great six years ago, you may not want to spend your money on older technology today.

RVillagers share their thoughts about the benefits of solar

These points come up time and again in groups:

  • You're always observing quiet hours: When dry-camping in a state park or near other campers, if you're used to having to hurry up & finish watching that movie to turn off the generator by the respectful 10PM "quiet time" — even a modest solar system will allow you to watch TV as late as you want, and then start your coffee maker really early in the morning — without waking up the neighbors!
  • Save on weight and space: There is no need to carry extra fuel for a generator, or possibly even the generator itself.
  • Freedom: You'll be able to generate energy wherever you are, and not be dependent on hooking up to the grid. This is especially useful in places experiencing power outages.
  • Enjoy the outdoors: You can relax and really enjoy the quiet & fresh air of your natural surroundings.
  • Save money: A solar system will actually will pay for itself quickly with the ability to "dry-camp" in places that are usually free, or very low-cost.

This is a hot topic with lots of questions to be asked and answered. Learn from other RVillagers and voice your opinion in the solar groups on RVillage. Have you done a solar installation or want to? Join the group discussions in Solar and Alternative Energy for RVs, Boondocking with Solar, and others!

Learn more about RV Electricity at the RVillage Rally: Spirit of the Road 2020 Master Classes.

Not a member of RVillage yet? Join the community today. It's FREE.

Disclaimer: The information gathered here is compiled from the posts and opinions of RVillagers, and not RVillage itself.