Key components of a motorhome solar installation and what it costs
If you live on the road and travel in an RV, you may have considered adding solar panels to your motorhome at one point or another. Although not always the best fit for every RV dweller, solar can be a great way to maintain a comfortable life on the road, even in the most remote areas.
What are the benefits for solar on an RV?
A solar installation on your RV can be a clean, reliable, and affordable way to ensure you’re comfortable on the road.
Solar panels for your RV can recharge your house batteries, allowing you to run appliances while on the road without needing to hook up to power. Maintaining a steady stream of power can also extend the life of the batteries in your RV since you’re not constantly drawing down power from them.
Contrary to noisy, dirty gas-powered generators, solar power is clean and virtually silent. Also because you’re harnessing the power of the sun, you don’t have to spend extra money on gas for your generator.
Having a solar installation can also expand your camping options. While you may have previously stayed in campgrounds with hook-ups or RV parks to ensure steady access to electricity, now you can take your RV off-grid into more remote areas without worrying about being left in the cold.
Solar panels are also virtually maintenance free, requiring only minimal cleaning over time. Maintenance is especially easy for portable RV solar kits and panels that aren’t mounted on the roof.
How is RV solar different than home solar?
It’s also important to clarify the main differences between how one approaches adding solar to their home and RV. Whereas home solar systems are typically designed to cover all of your home energy needs, RV solar systems are designed to maintain a steady bank of power in your batteries and provide enough power to charge a few appliances in your motorhome.
Who should invest in solar for RV?
Just like there is no one-size-fits-all-approach to living in a motorhome, not every RV dweller needs the same solar setup.
You’re a weekend warrior: If you only go out in your RV on the weekends or for short periods of time, a complete RV solar system probably doesn’t make the most financial sense. We’d recommend a smaller system, such as one of Renogy’s smaller RV kits, such as the 100 watt 12 volt solar RV kit.
You’re a boondocker: If you’re regularly camping or parking in areas without hookups for extended periods of time and don’t have access to constant electricity, a complete RV Solar system with solar panels, a batter, inverter, charge controller, and wiring can be a great investment that will pay for itself over time.
The Renogy RV solar kits, which come in varying sizes of 100 up to 400 watts, are the perfect addition to any boondocker’s rig and come equipped with key components, such as a flush mount charge controller and a cable entry housing unit.
You’re a full-timer who regularly stays at parks and campgrounds: If you live in your RV full-time and opt to stay at campgrounds or RV parks that have hook-ups, you probably don’t need a full solar installation.
We’d recommend one of Renogy’s solar power generators, such as the Lycan Powerbox generator. Durable and capable of handling up to 300 watts of solar, the Lycan can keep you going for up to 1075 watt-hours, providing support to you and your loved ones during emergencies.
How much solar will I need?
To determine what size system will best fit your needs, we recommend making a list of all the appliances and devices you plan on running.The main appliances to take into consider when addressing energy needs may include a TV, lighting, water pump, laptop, fans, microwave, and refrigerator.
We recommend using the Renogy solar panel calculator to help determine your specific needs. The Solar sizing calculator allows you to input information about your lifestyle to help you decide on your solar panel requirements. You’ll just need to know what total watts your electronics will consume, how long you plan on running the devices, your charge controller efficiency, and average sun hours per day. The solar panel calculator will then be able to tell you the minimum and recommended system size, as well as the recommended battery output.
Having an accurate understanding of your energy needs will give you a better idea of the costs and ensure you don’t under- or over-build a system.
What does it cost for a complete RV solar system?
Because of the variety of factors at play when it comes to system size and cost, complete RV solar systems can range from around $600 for the simplest, smallest set-up to upwards of $2,000 for larger installations. Adding additional panels and batteries will also increase that cost as well.
The key components of a solar RV installation are:
- Solar panels
- Charge Controllers
- Battery storage
There are a few different solar panel options available to choose from. Panels can be flexible and rigid, as well as monocrystalline or polycrystalline.
Polycrstalline vs. Monocrystalline
The process used to make polycrystalline silicon is simpler and therefore costs less. However, they are less efficient than monocrystalline panels. Monocrystalline solar panels have the highest efficiency rates and are more space-efficient than polycrystalline panels. However, they are more expensive.
Flexible vs. Rigid Panels
There are also various pros and cons to flexible and rigid solar panels. Flexible solar panels weigh less than the rigid solar panels and can be installed directly on the roof of your RV, in contrast to rigid solar panels which stick up above your roof somewhat and can be trickier to place between other components on your roof. Rigid panels, which are more durable, can also be mounted to tilt, which increases their energy production efficiency.
Rooftop-mounted vs. Folding Solar Panels
Having roof-mounted panels reduces the risk of theft when you are away from your RV. They also allow for quick and painless battery recharging, without having to fuss setting up your system every time.
Suitcase-style solar panels are incredibly convenient portable systems that allow for easy plug-and-play use without having to permanently roof-mount them onto your vehicle. Also, if you have multiple rigs, you can use those same solar panels in different applications.
Charge controllers sit between the energy source and storage and prevents overcharging of batteries by limiting the amount and rate of charge to your batteries. It also prevents battery drainage by shutting down the entire system if your stored power falls below 50 percent capacity.
Solar Kits for RVs
Renogy offers a range of RV solar kits specifically for motorhome dwellers. This is great for peace of mind and ensures you have all the right components to fit your energy needs. Options range from simple solar kits with folding suitcase panels and a charge controller to complete RV solar system kits with roof mounted panels, charge controller, cabling, cable entry housing, and a bluetooth module. These kits, which can supply between 100 and 400 watts of power, cost between $309.99 and $819.99 based on the size.
You’ll also need a way to store all the power you’re generating with your solar panels. This is where batteries come into play.
There’s a range of battery options that range in price from $100 to more than $1200, depending on the technology. Lead acid batteries are the most inexpensive option and are available at most big-box and auto stores. Absorbed glass mat batteries store 10 to 15 percent more energy than lead acid batteries and charge up to four times faster. Lithium ion batteries are the most expensive option, but also last four times longer than lead-acid batteries and weigh much less.
Inverters turn DC power produced from your solar panels and stored in your battery into AC power. An inverter is necessary to power the common appliances found in your RV, from TVs to microwaves. Inverters range from $150 to more than $350.
When you add it all up, you’re definitely looking at a decent investment. However, if installing solar on your RV or utilizing a kit means you won’t be spending money on gas for a generator or hook-up feels, the system can pay for itself over time. Plus, with decreasing costs, increased efficiency, and the ease of using RV solar kits, there’s never been a better time to add solar on your RV and go off-grid.