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RV Solar: Is It Worth It?

We absolutely love living in a solar powered RV.

But as awesome as solar can be, it is NOT for everyone.

A lot of RVers seem to think that a few hundred watts of solar will magically give them absolute electrical independence (even running air conditioners!) with an investment that will pay for itself in no time at all. And we’ve run across others who regard solar with distrust – just a way for “environmentalists” to throw money down the drain while acting smug about it.

But the truth is – both extremes can be deluded about the realities of solar.

We find relatively few RVers have actually taken the time to think through the real benefits, costs, and cost savings associated with going solar to decide if investing in a solar system actually makes sense.

There is no one right answer for everyone.

But hopefully this guide can help you decide – what is right for you?

Our Solar History

Our first date - solar powered working with a million dollar view. The perfect introduction to technomadism!

Our first date – solar powered working with a million dollar view. The perfect introduction to technomadism!

Solar power actually played a big roll in the beginning of our relationship.

When Chris hit the road solo in a minuscule T@b trailer 9 years ago, the first thing he did was upgrade the electrical system with a 110W solar panel. When we met in person later that year for our epic 27 hour first date, I told him that I needed to be able to get a day’s work in, and he was able to squeeze out just enough power from the sun while boondocking that I didn’t need to cut things off early.

Who knows – if it wasn’t for that solar panel, we might not have ended up together.

When we designed our next RV together, of course we integrated in as much solar as we could fit (200W) on the roof of our tiny Oliver Travel Trailer. Our goals at the time were to be as off grid as possible, without being constrained to RV parks or hookups. We didn’t even carry a generator with us at first, so of course solar was a must.

But when we moved into our bus Zephyr four years ago, solar was not on our immediate upgrade list. Our style of travel had changed, as had our electrical needs. We instead first invested in a robust battery & inverter system that could store plenty of energy for a couple days off grid at a time, and this gave us tremendous flexibility in between stops while relying on minimal generator usage.

It wasn’t until a year ago that we at last went all in with our big solar upgrade.

For us – it made sense to wait, and we had other life priorities that we knew would keep us on the grid for a while. But now we are back to enjoying boondocking part of the year and being powered by the sun while doing it. We love our solar setup, and the increased freedom it provides us. And we’re not at all deluded that it’s necessarily saving us money right off the bat.

But that’s us.

Does solar make sense for you?

When Solar DOESN’T Make Sense

Solar is an investment.

It requires planning, substantial upfront expense, and a sizable chunk of physical roof and/or storage space devoted to the cause.

And if you’re not going to be able to take advantage of sucking power from the sun often enough, going through the effort may not be worth it.

As much as we would love all our neighbors to be dependent on solar (and thus silent) – running a generator on occasion isn’t the end of the world.

So let’s start with some scenarios where installing solar just doesn’t make sense:

  • Solar is not necessarily ideal if you only occasionally dry camp while in transit.

    Solar is not necessarily ideal if you only occasionally dry camp while in transit.

    You’ll be sticking mostly to electric hook-ups anyway.  To be honest, you can perfectly enjoy an abundant RVing lifestyle while staying in places with RV electrical hook-ups, thus having little need for solar (or even a generator). There’s a plethora of options out there ranging from traditional commercial RV parks to absolutely amazing state and national parks. If you focus on hookups and your only dry camping tends to be a night here or there while in transit (such as blacktop boondocking in a rest area or commercial parking lot), then solar probably doesn’t make a ton of sense.

  • If you are a “special event” boondocker. If the only time each year you are away from hookups is for a single week or two to attend a special event (like Burning Man or the Balloon Fiesta) – a solar system might not make sense. A week of heavy generator use once or twice a year won’t cost you much at all. Even us solar enthusiasts understand that when we choose to attend such events, there will be lots of generator noise (but please do keep it to a minimum).
  • You’ll frequently be in places with extreme climates. Especially if you’ll need air conditioning a substantial part of the year, you’re more than likely going to be best off finding a place with hook-ups. Trying to be off-grid and comfortable with just solar on roasting summer days is not fun. It takes an extreme solar & battery setup to keep up with air conditioning – whereas most generators can run an AC with ease.
  • You’ll be sticking to more populated areas. Unless you’re embarking on some urban stealth camping, the areas where off-grid boondocking spots are most plentiful don’t tend to be near cities or populated areas. The east coast and midwest have fewer options – and most campgrounds in these areas offer hook-ups. Go out west however, and the opportunities for solar boondocking and dry camping are endless.
  • You’re more of a weekend warrior than extended-time RVer. If you’ll just be going out for short trips a few times a year, the investment in extensive solar may not be worthwhile. It’s easy enough to find campgrounds with hook-ups, or to learn to live without much energy – supplementing with a generator (please get a quiet one however!) when necessary. Or you you can get a simple solar setup to meet your minimal needs, instead of investing in a larger system.
  • You’re not otherwise setup for dry camping. If you don’t have large enough waste holding tanks or don’t care to conserve other resources – then solar alone isn’t going to make extended boondocking magically feasible.

Solar is a Lifestyle Change

If you’ve gotten comfortable in your RVing lifestyle going pole-to-pole – you of course have to step back and ask yourself if you’re avoiding solar because you don’t go places you need it, or if you’re not going to those places because you don’t have solar?

It is a Catch-22 that way. Installing solar can be a complete RV lifestyle change.

Are you not going to places like these because you don't have solar?

Are you not going to places like this because you don’t have solar?

Once you have solar, you start thinking differently about the variety of places you can go. You have a new freedom where you don’t have to plan around hook-ups, and energy usage & collection becomes quiet and passive.

Here’s some of the changes that solar can create:

  • You can seek out more remote locations with amazing vistas, privacy, getting further out in nature. There’s an abundance of free dispersed camping options available on public lands, especially out west. You can go entire seasons moving between them, hardly ever hooking-up – having priceless experiences almost for free.
  • Dry camping in a developed campgrounds affords us better views & cheaper prices.

    Dry camping in a developed campground affords us better views & cheaper prices.

    There are many campgrounds that have developed campspots that don’t offer hook-ups, and staying in these campgrounds (or dry loops) will become an option for you. Often the camp areas without hookups have better views, lower prices, easier availability, and increased privacy over their hook-up alternatives.

  • You can take advantage of ‘driveway surfing’ options to stay with friends & family without worrying about plugging into their house and potentially tripping circuit breakers.
  • If you have a mechanical break-down while on the road or you need to wait in a parking lot for a while – you have magical power still flowing in that can make the wait a little less stressful.
  • If you are in a developed campground with hook-ups, and the power goes out – you can keep on ticking while your neighbors may have to resort to a generator or going without.
  • If you install solar on your roof, while in motion or parked, your house batteries are getting charged whenever there are sun’s rays are hitting your cells.

If you’re on the fence about solar for your RV, we recommend giving some scenic boondocking or dry camping a try first. See if you even like it before investing in solar. Try conserving power and minimizing generator time as best you can to get a feel for it. Budget out your water usage, and really get to know your tank capacities.

It’s particularly helpful if you have boondocking savvy friends you can join up with for a couple days to show you the ropes. We’ve certainly enjoyed introducing friends to the lifestyle.

Will Solar Pay Off?

Of course, installing solar isn’t free. It takes an investment up front before you see any of the benefits. This means spending real dollars. And potentially lots of them, depending on what your needs are and what components you already have installed.

One of the frequent questions we field is… will the investment in solar pay off? Will you save enough in campground fees and/or generator fuel to justify the expense?

Over time, a long time, very potentially so.

We’ve created a simple spreadsheet that captures the cost analysis we’re about to walk you through with a sample setup. You’re welcome to download a copy (it’s in XLSX format) of it and play around with your own numbers.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 9.16.02 AMBy the time you invest in panels, wiring, installation, solar chargers, battery monitor, batteries and an inverter (all the basic components), you could be spending several grand to get a solar setup that meets your basic daily power needs enough to get you away from reliance on a generator or seeking hook-ups.

Let’s take a look at a fairly typical 600w solar installation (the amount we consider a great target point for most RVers to start from for extended dry camping):

And of course, you’ll need decent batteries to hold the power collected from the sun if you want to be able to use it after the sun goes down.  And an inverter if you want to utilize the power in your batteries (generally stored as 12 volt) for non 12v electronics.

You can easily add another $2000 for a good sized pure sine-wave hybrid inverter (or do smaller ones for dedicated purposes for a couple hundred bucks each), and a grand or so for some lead acid batteries if you don’t have a suitable battery bank already (and keep in mind that you will need to replace your batteries every few years).

All and all, to design this sort of system, you’re looking at an investment of around $5000 – not including installation if you don’t want to do it yourself. Most solar shops seem to be able to install such a system in a day or two – so figure on 8-12 hours of installation time if you go that route. So let’s add another grand.

For some other examples:

Keep in mind that US tax payers also qualify for a 30% tax credit on the cost of a solar install, and RVs qualify as a second home. This can make the upfront costs much more advantageous.

Start with deciding just how much solar you need to meet your needs before going out making any plans. So many folks over-estimate how much energy collection is possible with solar panels (it can vary so much by clouds, weather, time of year, your current lattitude), and under-estimate how much power they actually use.

You can do a basic energy audit by monitoring your usage for a couple days, or do an extensive component by component audit (which we definitely recommend doing at some point so you can optimize your systems – we need to re-do ours now that we’ve changed so much).

And for sure, you can go crazy with more solar, ground deploy supplemental panels, lithium batteries and high end inverters & control systems (like we have). Our 1400w (800w roof / 600w ground) solar & 500AH lithium battery installation would cost closer to $10,000, not including a lot of our own blood, sweat and tears installing many components ourselves.

For the argument of ‘will it pay off’ – let’s just go with a nice round number for $6000 for a decent fully installed setup that will meet the daily needs of most boondockers who are being energy conservative.

You can off course do it a lot cheaper, or you can spend much more. But this is a good starting point to think through the potential savings.

Remember, you can use the spreadsheet above we’ve created to play with your own numbers.

Generator Operation Math

If you’re comparing the investment of solar to the cost of operating an existing generator – obviously, $6000 at $2/gallon (a cost that is constantly fluctuating) buys a heck of a lot of generator fuel. 3000 gallons worth.

Let’s pretend you have a generator that burns about 1/2 gallon an hour (a fairly typical amount – but check the specs for your model), that means you can run your generator for 6000 hours for the cost of our sample solar installation. At moderate usage of 4 hours a day of generator time ($4/day), you’d need to be solar independent for around 1500 days to get ahead (not factoring in the cost of generator maintenance to keep things simple) .

Even if you solar camped every single day of the year (which isn’t typical), with that math, it would take over 4 years to come out ahead.

Of course, do the math for your generator’s specced fuel consumption and you actual typical usage – and don’t forget to factor in oil changes every 100 hours, and other ongoing generator maintenance.

And remember, even if you go solar, there WILL be dark and cloudy days where you might need to run the generator anyways.

No matter how you run the numbers – it is going to take a long time for solar to pull ahead of a generator, assuming that cost savings is your only goal.

However, if you don’t have a generator to begin with, you should also consider the costs of purchasing a suitable one in your personal equation. And more than likely, even if you go solar, you’ll want at least a small one on board for those cloudy days.

Our generators:

  • The Honda EU2000i is highly regarded as a super quiet small generator. We carried one with us in our travel trailer, and even converted it to run off propane. It could run the smaller A/C we had installed.
  • Onan 2500w Propane is our current generator, we selected it because it fits in a bay we have available. Combined with our battery boosting inverter, it can top up the batteries on a cloudy day or run a 15000 btu A/C if we need it longer than our solar/batteries can.

Campground Math

Let’s look at campground fees. They’re all over the map price wise. An Army Corp of Engineer or state park campsite with electric can be about $20/night. A commercial RV Park in a decent sized city might be $40/night. A monthly spot in a place you want to be could be $300-800/month – or much more.

Plenty of awesome places to stay with hook-ups.

Plenty of awesome places to stay with hook-ups.

For simplicity, before we had our solar – we were averaging $470/month in campground fees. We stayed in a wide variety of places, and mixed it up some volunteer workamping too. (We keep a monthly cost log of our expense – you’re welcome to view it.)

Now that we have solar, we don’t do 100% solar camping. Nor do we do 100% free camping.

We still pay for dry camping without hook-ups (such as the Balloon Fiesta at $25/night, or our recent stay at Cochiti Lake at $12/night). And we still take hook-up sites from time to time as well, especially if we want to run our A/C on warm days, or are traveling in areas where dry camping isn’t as common.

Our lifestyle is about variety and flexibility.

Post solar, our monthly campground expenditures seems to be averaging closer to $260/month. This is an average – some months it’s higher, some months it’s near zero.

I feel comfortable saying that solar saves us about $210 a month on average.

With that math, at a $6000 investment in solar, it would take a little over 2 years for the sample solar installation to pay off  – and it will take almost 4 years for our own solar costs to be recouped.

That’s of course only one example.

If you went from 100% high end RV resort stays to 100% free solar camping – you could save a $1000/month and pay it off in no time. But if you went from 100% volunteer camp hosting (ie. free camping) to 100% free solar camping, obviously – you’re not going to save anything but your time.

Electrical Grid Math

Metered electricity can be a wonderful thing when you need to run an AC. It will take a lot solar panels to generate the same killowatt hour of power you can buy for twelve cents!

Included electricity can be a wonderful thing when you need to run an AC. It will take a lot solar panels to generate the same killowatt hour of power!

Electricity from the grid is cheap – the national average is just 12 cents a kWh.

Some campgrounds pass the meter reading through to long-term residents, occasionally with a markup over the electric company rates.

Even at 12 cents per kWh, things like space heaters or dual roof airs can rack up a substantial monthly bill. When those are needed, finding inexpensive monthly or even nightly campground fee options make a heck of a lot of sense.

If your energy needs are that substantial – solar isn’t going to help much anyway unless you have a LOT installed.

To put things in perspective – to date, we have collected just over 500 kWh with our 800W array of roof panels over the course of the year we’ve had our current setup.

At a national average rate of 12 cents a kWh, we’ve saved a whopping $60 versus buying that amount of electricity from the grid. Oh yeah baby, we’re rolling in the savings!

But It’s Not Just About Money

For most who go solar, it’s not about saving money and the financial pay back. Yes, as you can see from the math above – in some scenarios, you can get ahead given enough time.

But for most, the savings will not be seen for years.

The true beauty of solar is the opportunities it opens up. Some of them priceless.

Here’s some of our favorite features of solar that make it absolutely worth our effort & investment:

  • Solar panels do require cleaning sometimes.. about the only maintenance.

    Solar panels do require cleaning sometimes. This is just about the only maintenance required.

    Energy Independence – We’re not crunchy granola heads by any stretch of the imagination – heck, we drive a big dirty diesel spewing bus (that we only move about 6-8k miles a year). But we do care about our planet and try to minimize the impact we have on it. Being able to avoid connecting to the electrical grid has somewhat reduced our impact. But then again, so does living in a super tiny home – we feel most RVers tend to be ahead on the carbon impact curve anyway.

    The biggest impact going solar will have however isn’t from the power you generate, it is that it forces you to be more aware of what you are using. This focus on conservation and energy efficiency can have a substantial impact that carries through even when you are plugged in to campground hookups, or move back into stationary sticks & bricks living.

  • Silent & Clean – We hate generators. While we have one, we like to pretend it doesn’t exist. We don’t like the sound of them nearby, and we don’t like the fumes. While producing solar panels may not be cleanest business around, our use of them gives us energy collection during the day without fumes and especially without sounds. We like not disturbing our neighbors when we want to indulge in a binge movie watching marathon (and we hope they appreciate that too).
  • Passive – We really love not thinking about energy too much. As long as we have access to the sun, we are collecting energy with our 800w roof installation. If we’re setting up somewhere longer term, we set out our 600w of ground deployable panels for a bit more energy abundance. We may even tilt our roof system to better aim towards the sun in the winter. We do have to occasionally clean the panels, but otherwise – they’re maintenance free. There’s no fuel to haul around, no filters to replace, or changing of oil.
  • Dry camping at an event? No problem!

    Dry camping at an event? No problem!

    Oh, The Places We Can Go – The ability to pick our campsites by how much we want to be there, not by how will we keep powered up – is so absolutely freeing. We love being able to pull in somewhere and just know we’re pretty darn self-contained. We can generate our own power, store enough water & waste for weeks – and not feel we’re lacking anything. We don’t think twice when an event we want to attend ‘only’ has dry camping (as long as we’re prepared for putting up with other people’s generators), or selecting a campsite with a better view but no hook-ups.

  • Geek Points – Hey, solar is cool. When you have solar, be prepared to answer questions and be a bit envied. There’s nothing like ending a 2-week stay somewhere and not having needed to run the generator (thank you sun!). All the while feeling absolutely abundant. With solar, you’ll be the envy of the campground while you enjoy life with a better view, no noise and potentially less nightly costs.

The Realities of Solar

Solar is not a magical pill however. You will not create an energy abundant always silent power system by just slapping a few panels on your roof.

Here’s some of the challenges of solar:

  • Research. Research. Research. Yes, you can just go buy a starter panel kit and figure out how to directly wire them into your current electrical system. And yes, you can likely score some electrons that way that keep your LED light on, and maybe your laptop & smartphone charged up. You’ll learn a lot doing this, of course. But if you want to go larger than keeping lights on, you’ll need to spend some time reading and researching. There’s lots to learn about panel specifications & types, energy usage, correct wiring, pros and cons of different equipment, parallel vs. series panel arrays, optimal battery charging, and more. We do our best to continue writing about some of these topics when we can, and there are a lot of other resources out there (see the resources at the end of this article). A well respected installer is also a great option – we list a few on our Solar Page. But be careful – some “professionally” installed RV solar systems are no better than you might be able cobble together on your own.
  • Supplemental power is sometimes really nice

    Supplemental power is sometimes really nice

    You will Overestimate your Energy Collection – So many assume that if you install 600w of panels on your roof, you’ll get darn near close to 600w of energy collected each hour of the day. Oh, how we wish this was true! The rated specification of a panel is the maximum output you are likely to ever see, and only under the most ideal perfect unicorn conditions.

    There are so many variables that impact energy collection. Let’s start with that there are generally only 5 hours of peak sun at most locations & times of year where you will harvest the bulk of power. Add a bit of overcast or a rainy day, and you’ve lost the bulk of the day’s energy opportunity. Have a little shadow on your panels from an antenna, air conditioner or tree? You could lose a lot of your collection ability too. And let’s not even talk about winter days with pesky  4pm sunsets and the darn sun being way in the southern horizon. Basically, if you’re going all out – put as much solar on your roof as you have space for.

    No matter how much you have – there will still be days that you wish you had more!

  • You will Underestimate your Needs – We do it ourselves. We figure we can get through the day with only 7 hours of computer time in super dim screen mode, cooking one meal on our electric induction hob, and turning the lights off by 10pm. But you know what? Life doesn’t follow a spreadsheet. Living within a tight power budget isn’t always easy, especially if you have a looming work deadline, or kids to entertain or heck, you just NEED to watch the next episode of Game of Thrones. If you can, pad in flexibility in your power planning. It is possible to get by on a miserly budget, but more headroom leads to less stress and more fun.
  • Pesky winter sun... tilting panels sometime are needed.

    Pesky winter sun… tilting panels sometime are needed.

    You Have To Make Some Lifestyle Changes Too – You also have to change other things in your RVing life. Reduce your energy consumption by both thinking through other changes in your RV you can make – like changing to LED light bulbs and switching appliances to 12v where you can (to reduce the need for an inverter). You’ll also need to learn to minimize your own usage of power to stay within your power budget. Turn off lights when they’re not being used, be aware of what is using energy even when you’re not actively using it, think differently about meal preparations and turn down the brightness on computer screens and TVs.

  • It Never Fails – Your Neighbor Will Run Their Generator – Oh, how we wish there were more generator-prohibited zones for those of us who have optimized for solar.  Just because you’ve gone the extra miles to install and setup a robust solar system, that doesn’t mean the neighbors you’ll encounter on the road will have too. You’ll get all setup in your delicious spot, pour a glass of wine to enjoy with the sunset… and then hear VROOOOM as the neighbors down the road wire up a generator to watch the NFL playoffs, or run a microwave to make dinner. It is within their rights to run their generator when its not quiet hours – much to the chagrin of us solar snobs enthusiasts.

Oh well, that is why they make double pane windows and wine after all!

Further Resources:

A Few Respected Solar Info Sites:

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links on this page may be affiliate links, so, if you click on the link and make a purchase, we receive a commission. Note that all opinions are 100% our own and we only link to products we personally use and absolutely recommend! Technomadia is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

85 Comments - Still Plenty of Room for Yours!

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  1. Thank you so much for putting all of this wonderful effort into sharing how solar works for you and how it could work for us. I’ve been researching solar on and off for almost 4 years (ever since we had our first travel trailer) and LOVE the idea of disconnecting. We recently purchased a newer fifth wheel and have started to boondock occasionally. In our experience it’s the most freeing lifestyle choice. We look forward to moving more towards solar soon and will continue to reference what you’ve shared. Oh and we’ll make sure to add this as a resource on Open Road Chronicles for other full-timers too!

  2. Awesome article with informative resources. Glad I found your site.

    I’m 51 and my wife is 44. My youngest child is 8. We camp frequently but want to RV full-time once our youngest leave the nest. Boondocking is our preferred method.

  3. Cherie and Chris,
    Thank you for writing this article. I am fascinated with the idea of solar power. I know it takes a substantial investment to get started. Please tell me how often this (solar) equipment needs to be replaced. For instance, the inverter, solar battery, etc. I plan on eventually getting a small travel trailer and would try to use solar, but have a generator also. Now, will also make sure the generator I do get is quiet. : )

    • Most equipment lasts a long time – panels should last decades. Inverters, depends on the quality you go with – but they should be good for 5-10 years. Batteries, depends on the type you go with and how well you treat them (anticipate every 3-5 years for lead based ones).

  4. Excellent article. I installed 500watts on my Airstream with a 3000watt Magnum inverter and 4 Crown AGM batteries. Cost with labor about 9k. In hindsight I would forego the solar and spend those dollars on Lithium batteries. My 2000 watt Honda generator charges the batteries way faster than the solar does…especially on cloudy days which we seem to always have where we camp in North Carolina. Solar is cool to have, and I have 5KW on my house purely as an investment to generate income.

  5. Great article. Objective, understandable and to the point. I’ve thought about solar for several years and after reading your article have concluded it would not be a good investment for us. At least not based on our needs. While I would love to do away with our small Honda 2000i and enjoy the peace and quiet of the early morning and late evening, it is what keeps us going when dry camping. If anything, we will buy a small inverter and possibly add two batteries so we can compute and enjoy a movie every now and then. Thank you for doing what you do.

  6. One thing that you can do to maximize you solar panels when you are connected to shore power is to use a Grid Tie Inverter. That takes the energy from your solar panels, converts it into AC power and feeds it into your RV’s AC electrical system and into the grid.

    i have a switch. When boondocking, I set the switch to connect the solar panels to the charge controller to charge the batteries directly. When on shore power, I set the switch to connect the solar panels to the grid tie inverter, which feeds AC power into the coach and the onboard inverter/converter…which then charges the batteries.

    Either way, the batteries are being charged. And, if I’m not using a lot of power, I’m giving back electricity to whoever I’m connected to.

    • Be careful feeding power into someone else’s grid – it would be awful to injure an RV park electrician who thinks the power is cut with the power you are pushing back up the wire, so make sure your isolation system is up to code and functioning properly.

      It is potentially better to just focus on using excess solar for AC power, without grid feedback. Some inverters can be configured this way.

      Cheers!

      -Chris

  7. Thank you for your hard work. It truely shows with such a slick site. Both of your have great skills and the time you folks dedicat to the task is impressive. We do think alike and I do appresicate the wisdome and info the blog presents. As you post every camper has to do their own homework. My personal experience is more engineering and frugal. I do love solar energy, just the energy source is not too good here in eastern U.S.. Also, we park in tree shaded sites with a smaller rig. I can’t justify solar for the simple fact that a generator is still required. So, solar puts me in a position of justifying expensive auxillary equipment based on noise, fuel, and maintenance. I evaluated my power needs and discovered it’s in early morning. We go to bed when the sun goes down. Well, to cut to the chase I utilize a very quiet low power Yamaho 1kw generator. I choose this one as per my view it is a false premise to size the genertor to max need. Size the generator to average need and max utilization. This unit consumes 1c of gasoline per hour. We utilize the generator during busy times or non quiet times. One thing we do differently is to go propane and DC as much as possible. This does drastically minimize power requirments. My leanings are to:

    1.Build a quiet box for the generator

    2.Utilize a DC to DC charger from tow truck battery to RV battery. This practice keeps generator time to minimum and present an optimum charge to expensive batteries. These chargers are not that expensive anymore and charging the truck battery is almost cost free per our daily travels.

    3. Keep traditional batteries to avoid theft and cost. Even gel cell batteries are way to expensive for the benefit. Lithium has very impressive advantages, but reading your blog, I think I will let the technology mature for a while. I just fear screwing up a set of batteries.

    Also, my preference is still the travel trailer for a variety of reasons of which having an exterior acid battery is less problematic.

    Thanks for the Great Lakes circle tour info. That’s on our bucket list with a much more modest setup and just Airbnb accomadations.

  8. While I love watching the tiny house shows/ seeing the cleaver designs, I my opinion you just can’t beat the value/ livability & storage of RVs. We have cruised 2 years on a sailboat in Caribbean & Chesapeake Bay area, and now 4 months on RV trek to a long list of Nat’l Parks/ Monuments. With ‘slides’ the transformation from road width 8′ max to 11′ or 14′ wide in the living space is remarkable! Plus most RVs also have a slide to also make the bedroom area even more livable. RV oriented people who plan to move once in a while and stay put for months/ years at a time seem to like the 5th wheel type that you pull with a pick-up, disconnect and use pickup as daily round about driving. Those like us… always moving often tend towards a motor coach, either a class A (bus like) or Class C (sort of a van type front with kids bed area designed over cab… both have their own engine and maybe a little easier if constantly on the go. Most modern RVs (post 2004) are designed with a ‘basement’ which results in A LOT of useful storage (outside chairs, BBQ, seasonal clothes, files, … But back to your basic question, is a possible other factor… as much as I hate to admit to it, there seems to be a stigma about people who decide to live longterm/ or park an RV longterm in non-RV Park locations. RVers, even thou many are millionaires, retirees living very well. Indeed, we have never met a RV ‘low lifer’ on our trek so far. Tiny house people seem to be viewed instead as independent/ artsy, …
    and as a result it’s harder to place a RV long term (outside an RV Park) than a tiny house… although both usually have local ordnances abt where/ how long they are ‘welcome’. At least on TV shows, most tiny houses are about $70k. You could by a very very nice 3-4 yrs 5th wheel or motor coach for that and by our personal experience, we found and purchased a very nice 2004 class A with all the bells and whistles with only 1,200 miles (double wide refrig/ freezer, washer/ dryer, 2nd half bath, generator, satellite dish, gas stove/ oven, double kitchen sink, queen bed, lots of storage,… Whatvever you decide… enjoy!

  9. Thank you so much for all the information. I’m trying to decide what to do with myself. At the moment I have been on the fence between a RV and a tiny house. I hope to have a decision soon as to what direction I should take .
    Elizabeth

  10. Hey, Cherie- thanks for all this great information! I have a generator. I don’t have the money (or, let’s be honest- commitment), or holding tanks to do a full solar setup like you. That said, I would like to just do enough to power my laptop with some headroom for cloudy days.

    I’m fine with a little self-contained system- even something from Amazon or that I need to put together myself. Do you have any recommendations? I couldn’t readily find something here. Bonus if I can plug it into my batteries without too much fuss. It would be nice to top them off if I can. Maybe some detail about Chris’ first system?

    • Don’t have any specific recommends, as we’ve not utilized any ourselves. Plenty of options out there for kits that come pre-packaged, recommend just reading reviews.

      Chris’ original system was cobbled together and rather antiquated by today’s standards, I wouldn’t suggest following it as a guideline.

    • Solar Blvd is making up some more 160watt portable systems they sell for a couple of hundred bucks. You need an extension, and a way to connect to your batteries, but it’s a nice complete unit for a fraction of the cost of the other guys. My write-up on setting it up is here: http://www.irv2.com/forums/f56/help-me-with-200-400-watt-rv-system-309225-3.html#post3301544

      Very happy with it’s performance, and it’s easy to place the panels where they catch the most sun, unlike mounted panels that may get shaded or are not tilted to lower sun angles.

      Also consider the ZAMP products, highly rated and all finished units ready to use. Quite expensive for what you get however.

      Your laptop has a battery that should power it for most of a day’s use unless you’re on it all day. If it doesn’t hold a charge any longer then get a new one. They’re not so expensive these days.And you could have a spare – most laptops the battery is very easily changed out. You should also be able to recharge it off your coach batteries – use solar or generator to recharge those. If you don’t have a modern smart-charger 12v converter consider a Progressive-Dymanics or IOTA unit – they work REALLY well and will run from shore power or generator.

  11. Great article.. I am converting my Roadtrek to solar. What type of refrigerator do you have..Engel? do you use propane.– Dometic?. I am trying to go 100% solar but.. whew.. difficult!!!!

  12. Your math is flawed . generators charge batteries way quicker than solar panels. With our setup we can camp for 4 days ( 2 in cold weather) between charges on our 2000 watt Honda. The full charge takes about 1/2 an hour in the after noon. travel to the next camping spot charge the batteries so a summer trip of 10 days at 3 or 4 different spots uses less than 1/3rd gallon of gas. I am a vet and camp in National parks for free and have 1/2 price camping in the National forest and WA senior pass for $ 10.00. per night full hookups.
    You system would never pay of for me. Thanks for your article maybe you net one will be on waste disposal while dry camping.

    Thanks
    Nigel

    • That math isn’t flawed.. it all depends on how you use your energy. The math works for us, and you have to run the numbers for yourself to determine your own balance. And like we said, it’s not always just about financial pay off for some of us.

      For us, we can only dump 100AH into our battery bank off a generator due to the limitations on our charger (and lead batteries can’t take that much anyway). It would take 4 hours to top up our 500AH LFP bank from a 20% DoD. No way we want to listen to a generator that long if we can avoid it:)

      We do have articles on waste tanks.. check out our entire boondocking series at https://www.technomadia.com/boondocking .

    • There are so many problems with this it’s almost not worth replying to…but here is some food for thought.
      1. A honda generator is not the answer to everyone’s RV 110v needs. All modern motorhomes have a built in generator to run roof AC and provide 110v power to the coach anyway.
      2. Your honda generator nor any built-in charger run off 110 will charge 100 or 200 amp-hours to lead-acid batteries in a half hour – that is impossible – they would blowup.
      3. Driving to the ‘next spot’ doesn’t even come close to charging a bank of house batteries, unless you’re talking about one group-27 deep cycle. We are simply not all on the same page here. Not even close.
      4. Very few of our national parks in the SW have 110, and any that do cost a lot more than $10. Most full hook-ups RV parks in this region charge from $35 to $70 per night. The $10 ones are too small to even fit a regular motorhome into anyway.

      I summary, your math is so flawed as to be useless. But good luck out there with your setup.

  13. Hey Cherie and Chris… such GREAT info… i’m currently getting 2 / 280w = 560w panels, Samlex 1500w inverter, 2 / VMAX 235 AH deep cycled maintenance free batteries, being installed by my sons who are licensed electricians who specialize in solar. It’s been a bit of a learning curve for them with the 12 volt system, generator, and 110 system meshing together along with all of the other required safety items so I don’t blow anything up, they really are helping their ol’ Mom out.

    Been full timing for 17 months, 12 of those months as a volunteer with the USFWS and a rv site. This system will open up so much more and I’ll not feel the “need” for shore power. This life only gets better and better. Oh yeah I’m only in a 24 foot Minnie Winnie and travel with my dog. I have gone as long as 17 days on my holding tanks but think with certain conservation measures I can push it to 3 weeks. Thanks a lot for your great blog and info I’ve been a lurker for years…

  14. Been enjoying your many posts and technical articles. We will finally be entering the RV world next April when we pick up a newly ordered Arctic Fox. I am pouring over your articles now to figure out if the factory solar will give me the “freedom of choice” you describe. I don’t think it will. Also really appreciated your video explaining the different clubs and associations.

    Thank you for all your honest, and thorough posts. Took you out to lunch.

    Minnesota Steve

  15. Thank you so much Cherie for sharing all your hard work with everyone, your detailed science/economy breakdown of solar power vs. gas generator was illuminating. I hope to become a boondocker soon

  16. Absolutely love the break down of cost to benefit ratio! I came across some of your youtube videos when I was searching for information on going solar. With the information I collected through your blog and your videos, I can say with some level of confidence, that a complete solar system is not for me. I will however, buy a portable kit to augment power to some of our external comforts.

    Thanks again for posting such an informative blog!

    Rich Colon
    Florida

    Hoping to shrink my footprint

    • I just ordered a 160w folding portable panel set that will fit in a side compartment – $179. We’ll see how it does and how often it gets used. If it works out well then will probably put some more of them on the roof.
      I haven’t gotten delivery yet, but a local company to us sells all over the country and their prices are very good – in some cases well under a dollar per watt. No affiliation, just a potential great source for components: http://www.solar-blvd.com

  17. And then you can save a lot of money by letting go of the inverter and just using 12V everywhere. Most of the stuff you plug into AC gets converted back to around 12V DC anyway (laptop, phone charger, TV etc.) As far as the amount of Wp required, you could do a lot with much less than 600W. In the summer I’m fully independent with a 120W panel and an 90Ah battery. We even managed 3 days off grid and stationary (no alternator to recharge) in February in south/mid Norway (while constantly having to clear the snow off the roof). Granted, that scenario won’t work if you spend all day working in the van and watch TV all night long. Just saying a lot is possible if you’re willing to compromise on a few things.

    • Absolutely you can – if you want to go that route and aren’t dependent on electric. But for us, we run a lot off 110 – like our desktop computers, air conditioner, microwave, convection oven, induction cooktop (we’re an all electric coach). And yes, we run all this stuff off battery/solar regularly while boondocking.

  18. Enjoyed it.
    Fortunately panel costs keep dropping to where you can almost get them for a buck a watt.
    I’m torn between a couple of hundred watts of portable, or installing them on the roof. We have plenty of space up top, or to store, and as weekenders and more than half the time plugged in, a portable array seems to make the most sense. I’m about this close to pulling the trigger on a couple of 100 watt-ers and a basic charge controller – can be done now for about $300. We get by fine on a pair of GC batts, so our power usage is pretty reasonable.

    Many of the ‘systems’ out there are way over priced. Same for home-solar – they want some $5 to $8 per watt to install when parts cost is under $2. I keep telling them – installed for $2.50/watt and I’m ready to sign. I get that deer-in-the-headlights look. 🙂

    Thanks!

  19. WOW!!! Terrific article! Solar power has been on my ‘bucket list’ to investigate for our future motorhome. Thank you for one of the most insightful and well written articles that is easy to understand. I always look forward to your video blogs and articles. Happy Trails!!

  20. A simply outstanding article! The pros and cons are spot on and have so much more impact when they come from the voice of experience. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Excellent article. I would however add that many RVers may already have a (2000w) inverter/charger w/ built-in battery monitor & existing big battery capacity. So if ‘up grading’/ adding solar to reduce noise/ Gen run time, your ‘rate of return’ worksheet ends up with most of the big cost items going to zero (already have it) and the cost drops to just $1200 + the $350 solar charge controller… about five times less capital = about 5 times faster break even time.
    I’m in this category and planing on adding roof solar before leaving for western Nat’l Park bucket list tour with BLM dry camping breaks. I can’t fully power our needs from this solar addition but it will stretch time between/ length of noisy generator run time to keep batteries up.

    As a longtime sailboat cruiser, I was shocked to realize RV dual energy refrig consumes 400w because of its design to use the same absorption technology/ hardware necessary for propane operation. Wow! That’s 40a at 12v DC into the inverter. Most dual power refrigs in boating industry use 120 AC/ or 12v DC (or direct engine) and the 12v DC is only at 3-4a because they use the much more efficient compressor/ refrigerant method of cooling.

    Nudging the RV industry to offer better tri-energy refrig options would be a big boost to those wanting to dry camp w/ solar. 12vdc at 4a is easy… 40a is pretty impractical. Bob

  22. Could a Tesla Powerwall possibly fit into this equation? Would it be adequate to replace the battery bank? I’m a noob here.

  23. We are in the process of purchasing an RV and trying to sort out the power system options between makes and models. Your article was the clearest, most concise summary of the solar option and its practical consequnces I have read. My sincerest thanks. What a thorough and well-written article.

  24. Love my Mobile Internet Handbook you guys wrote. How about for a next pub the solar setup for the wanta-be-boondockers. You have put enough into research and sources vs alternate set-ups ect. Would be a good read and I have reserved a spot on my shelf already. My file drawer is looking ridiculous already.

    • Hah.. sure.. with all the free time we have 🙂 Nah, probably won’t be us putting that book out. We’re keeping way too busy as with the mobile internet suite of services. But thanks for the vote of confidence.

  25. Thank you for taking the time and effort to put this article together. I was under the misconception of how much usage I could expect, with an eye towards meeting future consumption. I knew I had some learning to do- I just didn’t know how much, till now.

  26. Love your blogs and hope you two return. I somewhat understand solar but the one thing I don’t understand and nobody mentions is how big of a battery bank do you need?

  27. Awesome write up! I’m bookmarking this for future reference in case we ever decide to go completely solar. For now, we’re happy with our solar panel that recharges our battery and our quiet little Honda generator, which we run only about an hour a day (just enough to recharge our laptops, phones, and camera batteries). We can comfortably go without hookups a week at a time — our LED lights and Mr. Buddy propane heater make it possible. But we never expect to run our microwave or watch television, so it works for us. 🙂

  28. Another awesome piece on solar from you two! This winter I plan to run 450AH of 6v AGM’s and a small genny. If all goes well with our winter travels then I’ll add solar next summer. Still trying to figure out why the panels sold for RV’s are 100w/12v when grid-tie 240w/24v seem like a better deal even with the need for an MPPT controller. I’ll install a Trimetric 2030 so I can monitor usage this winter though.

    • As far as value per watt – the bigger residential panels are hard to beat.

      “RV Panels” tend to be a bit more ruggedly built, and they are warrantied live up to the rigors of constant earthquake conditions. But a lot of people have installed residential panels on RVs too with great success.

      In our case – the primary driver was physical size and what would look best on our rather unique roof. But we wired the panels in series / parallel so we are actually running 37V input into our MPPT controller.

      Sounds like you are on the right track to build a great system. Cheers!

      – Chris

  29. awesome article, great insights and thanks for the lessons learned! I’m hoping to get a portable setup so I can park under the trees when boondocking, I’ll be checking back on this article quite a few times until I get my shopping list nailed down. Thanks!

  30. I like the breakdown. For me it is about adopting the lifestyle and not the overall expense and investment, although that is extremely important. I’m just starting out and have found this full-time thing a blast and a challenge but the experience of boondocking in places that I never dreamed of with renewable energy and no noise from a generator is what I was striving for from the beginning. My solar system is only 100 watts with a Tracer MPPT 40 Amp controller but I am going to expand it when I get some electrical issues out of the way first. Thank you for the insight that this blog gives me and everyone else, I only found your site a couple of weeks ago and am grateful for it. I hope you are enjoying my home state and I like the fact that the picture is from cloudy Cochiti and hope you guys enjoy The Butte even if the weather is going to be less than ideal. I’m at La Posa already and the storm is rolling through here right now. I hope to meet you two at the convergence in January and until then I hope you have safe travels.

  31. I’ve had my 450 W of solar for 3.5 years, and 260 Ah LiFePO4 for over 1.5. In the 3.5 years, I’ve gotten over 1100 Kwh from my solar. Due to the more efficent charging and no need to get up to 100% regularly, LiFePO4 are much better for using with solar. No regrets on either for me.

  32. I love an article like this that gives perspective, I have a certain amount of electric savvy, and picked up some equipment on the cheap to cobble together for added energy, it helps keep my dometic frigerator running. But I recognize that I’m still more of a driveway and grid sucking van troll (it IS great to live in the SW with a plethora of bright days). As I’m transitioning into a full timer you’ve given me a lot to think about, not so much in WHERE I’ll put my money, but what order of investments is most beneficial.

  33. This was a wonderfully comprehensive article – thank you! I am in the planning stage of converting a cargo trailer and want to include solar in the mix, so am in full research mode and ths article included a lot of considerations and information I haven’t seen before; the will you/won’t you benefit from solar especially, as I had always assumed there was no question about getting a solar setup. Gotta have it!

    One thing that shocked me was the price of the inverter in your spreadsheet. I’ve always thought the big cost was going to be serious batteries and panels, and panel prices are going down, but two grand for an inverter? Yikes! I guess I’ve been missing that one, and need to keep in research mode for a while.

    This article has made a serious dent in my solar ignorance, which feels wonderful, so thanks again for this and all your other rving resources and info. Cheers!

    • Thank you Kathy.. so glad it helped fill in some blanks for you.

      There are cheaper inverters with less features on the market. We based the sample one on a 3000w pure sign hybrid/boosting inverter – which would be on the higher end. We definitely do recommend at least a pure sign wave inverter for most RVers so they don’t have to worry about what they are using with it. The size will depend upon your particular energy needs (our 3000w is sized to run a single A/C if needed, or a microwave) and we love hybrid/battery boosting for lots of flexibility. Of course, some are able to design completely around 12v, and not need much of an inverter at all.

      If you’re going for ‘serious’ batteries, be sure to thoroughly research the right inverter for you to utilize that battery capacity.

  34. For us, it’s about the batteries.

    The thing I find most discouraging about our own solar setup is the generator (or actually the batteries). Like you, we dislike running the genny, but with our modest solar system, we are lucky to go three days without using it. Our storage is 225Ah with two GC2 (lead acid) batteries along with an Onan 5500 watt model generator, typical of many class A motorhomes. Additional batteries would help, but a problem remains – charging the batteries 100%.

    Charging to around 70-80% goes pretty well, but topping off lead acid batteries takes time. And running a large capacity generator to top off a few batteries is extremely inefficient. I understand even the best Lithium technology has this problem, albeit to a lesser extent – “NEW LITHIUM-ION BATTERY CAN BE RECHARGED TO 70% IN 2 MINUTES”.

    Until we get small, lightweight, deep-cycle batteries that charge 100% in two minutes, my solution is to limit our boondocking to 10 days max, which happens to be our tank capacity. Then find a site with hookups to fully charge the batteries, dump tanks, take on water, and do laundry.

    Uh, maybe, for us, it’s about the tanks.

    • We’ve been running lithium batteries for the past 4+ years, and they’re awesome. They bulk charge all the way up, and don’t have that final slow absorption phase that lead acid does (which is why that phase takes so long). We consider them ideal for solar, as lithium don’t need to get to a full charge to maintain their health. We can’t charge up to 70% in 2-minutes (more a function of our charger, than the batteries themselves), but they’ll take what we can deliver.

      More info about lithium for RV use: https://www.technomadia.com/lithium

      But 10-days ain’t too shabby for one location… we’re usually ready to move on by then anyway 🙂

  35. Curious?… On a sunny day what is the maximum total KW you can pull down on your 800W panels without tilting? (~5 hours at 800w = 4,000… but this is theoretical)… What is your real life experience?…

    Also do you really think the tilting make a huge difference?… They look cool on the roof but getting up there to tilt and worrying about the wind kicking up in the night?… And also I think its highway robbery for the manufacturer to charge over +$100 for a panel tilt kit… (with your 8 panels you have close to a $1,000 invested in about $50 worth of sheetmetal)… Couldn’t that money be better spent on more panels if you have the rooftop real estate or on a ground system to supplement the roof system…

    And lastly I would recommend that anyone starting out buy a solar charge controller with capacity for adding more panels… just about every blog I have read starts out with a small setup and then they add more panels which required buying a second larger controller or an additional controller…

    Oh and thanks for a great article! 😉

    • In the winter months, it actually does make a significant difference to tilt to capture those few hours of sunlight. Chris has a post planned showing it with the various measurements we took last winter. And, our tilt kits came from AMSolar, just $35/panel ($140 in total – we can only tilt 4 at a time given the angles they are mounted to our curved roof). Not sure where you are getting your $100 numbers from. We have the max number of panels we can install on our roof, plus we do have a ground deploy setup.

      In all honestly, we try to avoid tilting – it is risky to be up on the roof. But, the option is there if we need that extra oomph of power. We mainly did it last winter for the measurements.

      And there are advantages to a second controller. We specifically went this route – one for the roof, and one for the ground deploy that can run at higher voltage for a longer wire run so the panels can be much further away (such as if we want to park in the shade.) Again, another post coming 🙂

      • AM Solar requires their $35 tilt bar be used in conjunction with their $80 rocker mount foot set… total cost $115 a panel… vs say a basic Z mount bracket (no tilt ability) $12.99 per panel from Renogy Solar…

      • As we were installing onto a curved roof, we had to use the rocker mount foot sets anyway. So for us, it was just the addition of the tilt bars to add the ability.

  36. That was a great review of solar. Nice to see a balanced review of the good and the bad on the subject too. One thing I didn’t see in your analysis/spreadsheet is the tax credit for the install. I remember when I did mine in 2011 it was significant. I believe it is still available (subject to change based on the current government initiatives on renewable resources)

    • Actually.. the tax credit it is mentioned in the article, and is on the downloadable spreadsheet. 🙂 And of course, only available to US taxpayers (the tax credit, not the spreadsheet).

  37. Fabulous article! We purposely set out to put together a “starter” DIY solar setup as cheap as possible and were able to do so for under a thousand dollars–thanks in part to lots of great posts we found here. 🙂 It’s been 4 months since we’ve had to plug in, so we’re pretty pleased. Our best tip for others trying to go the thrifty route is that Renogy reps will negotiate prices if you purchase on eBay. 😉

  38. One other thing that is a major consideration in the purchase of solar is the government 30% rebate for installing solar. This was supposed to end 12/31/2015 but according to AM Solar it has been extended. I’m not sure for how long. I have confirmed with my accountant this program is available & your RV is eligible. AM Solar also confirmed the same thing

    • Yes yes.. indeed. Great point, and definitely adds to the savings. It’s a tax credit, so you don’t even have to itemize to claim it. AM Solar has it listed as through 2016 right now.

  39. Here is another reason where solar does not fully benefit. If you are a daily tourer as we are in a Class B camper van you can re-charge your batteries rather quickly. We will re-charge our batteries in a typical overnight boondock stay in less than 40 minutes or 20 miles on the road at highway speed. Once charged solar in ideal conditions on the road unimpeded by trees will be of no benefit. We have a rather large battery bank (800ah lithium ion) and a second under hood alternator that charges at a rate over 200 amps. We did spend some time parked in the Quartzsite desert but that was in February and the sun angle was rather low and the days so short. In the summer when the sun angle is high we seek northwoods tree shade. Even if staying put in one campground, Class B camper vanners will often recharge by daily driving in going to a trailhead or sightseeing, or going to a store or restaurant. Solar is not making a lot of sense or impact even though we have 420 watts of panel.

    • Wow.. 420w of panels, 800AH of LFP and a 200 amp charging alternator on a Class B is impressive!! Well done.

      And indeed, this is exactly what we did for our first 3 years in the bus. We charged underway off our alternator, and had battery capacity to keep us happy for a day or two for shorter stays. We weren’t doing much extended boondocking back then.

  40. We installed 630 watts on our roof two years ago. Since we had everything except the panels and controller, we got into it for $1500. A great deal on new old stock panels on Craigs and a top controller. We did the install ourselves. Otherwise, we couldn’t see the cost effectiveness. We are all electric and when we are in the sun, it cuts our generator use in half. We are energy hogs, so the generator went for 3 hours a day to a little over one hour a day. Another consideration, if you like parking under trees in the shade, like we do, forget the solar. We also, are keeping our eyes out for some panels to through out on the ground.

  41. Nice cost analysis, but you missed including in the cost side of a generator, the value or cost of the generator as my rv does not have a generator. So for my starting point, I had to factor in the initial cost of the generator as part of the comparison. I believe that you should do the same on your spread sheet as the cost is there, whether the generator is new new or a replacement. In using the cost of a generator, it was easy to decide on solar as “quiet” has great value.

    • That is a good point, and for those who need to consider that – they should definitely add that line item for their personal analysis (that’s why we provided the spreadsheet, you can modify it however you need to for your own personal setup). But it’s not one that everyone will need to consider in their analysis, many RVs do come with them (especially motorhomes).

      For these purposes however, we’re comparing the cost of solar to operating a generator. Many who go solar will likely want at least a small generator for those cloudy days anyway.

  42. Great information as usual. We love our solar because it revitalized our fulltime experience. After two years on the road wiyh no inverter at all we were burnt out on RV Parks and being limited on where we could go. Many of our friends were having convergences in dry camping areas and, of course, posting photos of amazing views. So we finally took the plunge. Our only regret is that we didn’t do it sooner.

    BTW…where we’re at right now would have cost us $800-$900 per month (yep, that’s the monthly rates) but we’re boondocking on a blog readers private property for free! We just earned back a significant portion of our investment in just 6 weeks. 🙂

  43. Hi
    Woow,you guys amazing, outstanding report, I do have 600watts solar panels, 4 6volts golf cart battery’s, using lot’s of power every day,/tv,micro,computer, etc/,my solution for rainy days…..1000 watts honda generator, it’s take less than a gallon for 6-8 hours, about 2-4 hr is enough for a full charge,but I’m so jealous for your lithium battery setup, thats my next I’ve st mentioned
    Thnx
    Keep on RV-ing)

  44. Good information! For the time being, any solar set-up I go with will likely be limited more by the available battery power I have than by my energy needs. Our battery compartment is very small and only holds a couple of batteries. (We have two six-volt batteries with 225 amp hours, and I’m not sure where we could fit others without some serious modifications.) Because of that, I’m looking at something like the Renogy 400-watt kit with the MPPT controller. If I wire them together in series, the controller can handle up to 800-watts, so I could add more panels down the line before I would have to upgrade the 40-amp included controller. Because I may want to take the system with us when we upgrade to another rig, I plan to cobble the panels into a ground set-up that I can fold up and store for travel (panels hinged together in pairs).

    We tend not to use a ton of energy when we are out, and we have a generator for those times we might need a boost or need to run AC. We’ve changed out many of our lights to LED, and our stove and refrigerator run off propane, so I think such a set-up could work well enough for us to at least get a taste of the solar life. (We have a 600-watt inverter wired in to power the entertainment center – TV, DVD, receiver.) I’d welcome any thoughts or additional advice.

    • It sounds like you are putting together a great system, and are well aware of the limitations.

      With your heating, fridge, and cooking covered by propane – you should be very well equipped once you upgrade to 800W down the road.

      – Chris

    • “I’m looking at something like the Renogy 400-watt kit with the MPPT controller. If I wire them together in series, the controller can handle up to 800-watts”

      One comment. You say you are getting 400 watts of panels and the Renogy controller, but if you wire panels in series you can then go to 800 watts in future. I don’t know what controller model you are planning on, but I just wondered if it might be sized to a limit of around 400 watts, and you might be assuming you can double up the panelage as related to the controller simply by putting them in series (since the amps will be halved on the input side if you do series/parallel with pairs of panels). However, if the controller is limited to 400 watts because of it’s output capacity (say 25-30 amps or so), then this might not work, because you have to consider the controller *output* in amps (at 12 volts) (so there’s no “free lunch” on controller size necessarily).

      In other words, 400 watts of panels in parallel at say, 17 volts is putting in around 24 amps (ideally) and the controller is then putting out just a bit more than that. 800 watts of panels (series/parallel) at 34 volts is also only putting in around 24 amps (ideally), but presuming your batteries are 12-volters, the controller would be putting out 48 amps (ideally, or maybe a bit more through MPPT magic).

      If I’ve misunderstood your implication, and it’s all fine, then please just ignore!

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