RV Solar Power

RV Solar 3

Understanding Solar

Before we decide if we want to install a Solar System on our RV’s, we should first understand what it is and how it works. Solar Power is a lot more than just a Panel on the roof of our RV’s. There are electronic switches, gauges, chargers, batteries, and an inverter to add to the actual Panel that catches the Sun’s Rays. A system like this could be costly depending on your needs. Due to the popularity of Solar for RV’s there are a lot more qualified Distributors and Installers than there used to be. I would highly recommend talking to a qualified professional before purchasing and installing a system. It can be very confusing and it is easy to get less or more than you really need. To understand how it works we must first accept that Solar Panels capture energy from the Sun. That energy is passed by wire to a Controller Box which collects the power from the Panels. The Controller Box then feeds the Solar Charge Controller which limits the power and safely feeds and charges the batteries. The Controller can also feed any DC power on your Rig while you are collecting Power from the Panels. Your batteries feed your Pure Sine Inverter which can be hooked up to your AC fuse box or parts of it. This will give you regular household current as long as your batteries are charged. There are many, many options for how much power you collect, how much power your batteries will store, and how much power you wish to supply to your Rig.

Confused yet?

Well there are other choices. If you only want to watch a bit of TV or keep your Laptop charged all day you could go with a portable Solar unit that just sits in the sun outside and can be moved around if necessary. These all in one system’s are great for RVers who only demand a very small amount of power for their needs. Recharging your electronics can wear down your House Batteries pretty quickly and using factory installed DC plugs on older RV’s could even drain your Engine’s power supply if your engine is not running. If your RV use is just driving and Camping where there is AC or Residential power to plug into then you really don’t need Solar power. Plugging your RV in should keep your battery charger going and your batteries charged. It will also allow you to use all your AC power plugs and electronics that require residential power. I have an on board Generator with my Rig and I use it a couple times a day to charge my batteries, if I am not driving. Starting your engine will charge your batteries as well but not very fast at idle. Going for a drive will charge them quicker if you need them in a hurry.
You should have two battery banks in your RV. One is a regular engine starting battery. This battery is the same as a car or truck battery and releases a lot of power all at once to take the load of your starter cranking over your engine. You may have another of these batteries, if you have a large on board generator. One is for starting the RV engine and the other is dedicated to the Generator engine. There is also a battery or battery bank to run your House, which is your interior lights and other functions running on DC battery power. These are usually larger storage batteries which supply power on a slower much longer draining basis. You can tie one or two or more batteries together in a sequence to increase amp hours and supply power over a longer period of time while you are parked and not plugged in. As you use your RV more and more you can decide what your needs are and better understand the options available to you for your RV use.

Using an Inverter

I own a large Diesel Pusher RV and I rarely stay in one place very long. I love to drive around and explore wherever I am, so I rarely stay anywhere more than one night. Where I live it is very easy to boondock every night in a rest area, Truck Stop, or back road somewhere. The possibilities to just park overnight for free seem endless on our travels. I may stay in a campground when my Black and Grey tanks are full and I need water. If it costs $20 – $40.00 to dump my tanks and fill up with water at a Campground then I might as well spend an extra $10 – $20.00 to spend the night to plug in, dump and fill my tank with water. That will also allow me to use my Washer/Dryer and Appliances I usually turn my Generator on to use. I will do this about once a week or as needed. There is usually just my wife, myself and the Dog on trips so the tanks don’t fill or empty too fast for us. We have two starting batteries and three very large house batteries tied together, in sequence, to make one very large storage battery. That battery bank is then fed to a large 3,000 watt pure sine inverter/charger. The Inverter converts the DC current in the batteries to AC residential power. This system is then hooked into my fuse box and supplies power to all my DC wall plugs and DC powered lighting. I do not have a Solar System to charge my batteries so I use my generator to charge them up if they get low. The fact that we seem to travel every day keeps our batteries charged from the RV engine’s alternator as we travel. We both use C-PAP machines when we sleep so we usually have to use the generator in the morning to make coffee and toast then we are back on the road and the batteries all get topped up until we stop again. This system works for us and our current situation but may not if we decide to Boondock in one place for longer periods of time.

Do I Need Solar Power?

I really don’t think you need to invest in Solar power for your RV unless you Boondock a lot. If you are going to RV Campgrounds, you are plugged in and that power is all you will need. I like to travel so I seldom stay anywhere for longer than one night so leaving and driving will charge my batteries or turning on my generator to run my coffee maker or toaster is not costly enough to justify the cost of a Solar System.
It is up to you to figure out if your needs require and justify the cost of a whole Solar System with the cost of installation, as opposed to the cost of running your generator with an Inverter and some good Battle Born Lithium House Batteries. Check out the cost of this option, especially if you already have a Generator on board. You can always add a Solar System later if you find this idea insufficient for your needs. It is better to invest a little at a time to see, then to invest to ton of money on the whole system and find out its not what you really needed. Good luck with whatever you decide. I hope you found this Post helpful.


  1. Leann Posted on December 16, 2019 at 8:59 pm

    My father in law just bought a sprinter van and has been driving it up and down the Pacific coast. He is very interested in solar power and living off the grid. In the conclusion of your article, you recommend investing just a little at a time versus doing everything all at once. Can you elaborate on how you would recommend starting out assuming the power need would be average? 

    1. Dick Wright Posted on December 17, 2019 at 7:35 pm

      Hi Leann…Thank you for your questions about RV Power.

      .In a Sprinter Van I would start with a bank of Lithium House batteries, an inverter, and a charger. A small Generator or household current would be needed to charge the batteries. Driving will charge then as well but you would need to upgrade the alternator to a heavy duty model. Its not a big job. You could start with one battery and then add on as you understand your needs more. Once you start to enjoy household current you may want to add solar so that you have every way of enjoying power covered. I hope this helps you out. If you have any more questions, just ask.

  2. Phil Posted on December 16, 2019 at 9:03 pm

    How old is your RV?  Would not the age of an RV also has a lot to do with the AC/ DC needs and supplies

    In what situation would you suggest someone definitely purchase a Solar Power Unit that fits on top?

    I like the idea of the portable Solar power smaller unit to charge  a phone or laptop.

    When I buy my RV, which is my dream, I will buy one of those portable Solar units.

    1. Dick Wright Posted on December 17, 2019 at 7:20 pm

      Phil…. Thank you for the great questions. My RV is 20 yrs old but is in pretty good shape. I consider it to be fairly up to date with AC/DC because it came from the factory with a large generator. If my generator is on then I have all the amenities of an RV Park Plug in. If I am not running the generator my inverter takes over the AC load and will handle up to 3,000 watts.

      We are thinking of going to the Arizona Desert for 3 months in the winter. We want to Boondock and stay for free where ever we end up. If we like a place we may stay for a week or so. This is when a Solar System would be great. We could still use the generator for back-up but hope the Solar would supply our batteries with enough power to keep our electrics running all the time.

      A lot of people have portable Solar for charging electronics. These units are not strong enough to run too much though. Advances in electronics are happening rapidly so I am sure that these units will get better and better.

  3. KingAndrea Posted on December 16, 2019 at 9:13 pm

    Its really interesting and appealing to read across this wonderful article, I love the fact that you explore a lot and you make the best out of wherever you are, I’d love to do that too but what can I do, I’m married with kids, i obviously can’t leave them,lol. Regarding RV solar power, if someone decides to install one, like how much does it cost? 

    1. Dick Wright Posted on December 17, 2019 at 7:04 pm

      Hey there King….We always took the kids with us when they were off school and bring the Grandkids whenever we can now. Kids love it. I have checked out solar systems from $1000.00 to $5000.00 depending on the Amp Hours and amount of batteries you want to purchase. I have heard of people spending $500 to $1000.00 each for batteries. Mind you they come with a 10 year warrantee.

  4. Feji ben Posted on December 16, 2019 at 9:18 pm

    Hello there thanks for this awesome article it would really be of great help to the public as it has been of help me.i do use solar as my major source of power in my house and it one of the best if not the best because it noiseless and also it doesn’t realse carbon dioxide emissions.but I have never used it on a RV.i would like to know would there be enough space to install the inverter and the batteries

    1. Dick Wright Posted on December 17, 2019 at 6:57 pm

      Thank you for the awesome review of my Post. You can always make room for more batteries and an inverter for the convenience of more power. There is always room under a bed or the bottom of a cupboard as long as you can put in a vent. Most RV’s now seem to have added space for upgrades.

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