What Is Better: Solar Panels or Generators for Campers and Rvs?

Which is better for campers: solar panels or generators?

The question of whether to use a generator or solar panels in an RV arose, and after some research, I determined that solar panels were the best power source for my RV, with a small generator for cloudy or bad weather days.

GENERATOR COST

The price of a generator for a camper ranges from $249.99 at Walmart for the Sportsman Gasoline 4000W Portable Generator to $4,430.79 online at PPL Motorhomes.com for the RV Onan Microquiet Generator. Other RV generators could be found in that price range.

WEN 3,100-Watt Inverter Generator at Home Depot for $649.00

A-iPower 3,000/4,000 Watt Gasoline Powered Portable Generator with Manual Start from Sam’s Club (Includes Wheel Kit & Handle) $249.98

The Camping World Honda EU3000is Generator – CARB-Compliant is normally $2,329.99.

Champion Hybrid: Using digital technology, this 3500-Watt Digital Hybrid has been made 50% quieter and 20% lighter. A kit for increasing power is also available for purchase. Many customers purchase wheel kits for this generator. At Walmart, this generator is usually priced around $500.

If you’re comfortable purchasing a generator on Ebay, you might be able to find a good deal. However, if it’s pre-owned, the warranty is unlikely to transfer to you.

Several other brands are available, with most RV generators costing several hundred dollars. Some generators are self-starting and self-choking, while others are manual.

Other expenses to consider include the RV power outlet, which ranges in price from $41 to $108, a circuit breaker, which ranges in price from $3 to $20, a cord, and fuel. You might want to consider purchasing a wheel kit for some portable generators, which range in price from $30 to $70.

How do I choose from such a diverse selection? Do I want it to power my appliances or to serve as a power source for my solar panel system’s battery bank? I discovered that if I want to run the blower dryer while the air conditioner is running, I’ll need a larger generator. If I want a generator for days when the solar panels can’t work at full capacity, I need a smaller generator.

Because I can determine the size of the generator based on the watts produced (most RV generators range from 1,000 to 3,000), knowing the approximate wattage used in my RV’s appliances simplifies my decision. You’ll need to do some preliminary research to determine how many watts you’ll need to power your appliances. Remember that volts multiplied by amps equals watts. Examine the labels on your appliances and other powered items like blenders and hair dryers. You should be able to estimate the wattage required for your generator.

Check the generator’s decibel rating as well, because national parks limit noise to 60 decibels at fifty feet.

Here are a few tips to make your life a little easier: If you need more wattage, two 1,500 watt generators are easier on the back than one 3,000 watt generator. For the two, you’ll need to purchase a parallel connection cable. Second, after you’ve moved your generator, fill it with gas. By doing so, you will have lost even more weight.

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GENERATOR MAINTENANCE IS REQUIRED

Oil changes are determined by the number of hours the generator has been used. Keeping a log with an RV generator is often required to obtain this information. You should also clean or replace your air filter and keep an eye out for spark plug replacement. Fortunately, most manufacturers provide customers with maintenance guides for their generators. Some guides may require downloading from the internet. YouTube also has several videos that demonstrate how to complete these tasks. Changing the oil and air filter are typically straightforward tasks. To drain the old oil, remove the cap from the oil reservoir. Replace the cap and replace the oil with a funnel. The air filter could simply be a piece of foam that can be cleaned easily. To check and replace the spark plugs, you may need some tools on hand, such as a spark plug socket and a feeler to measure the gap.

RV Solar Energy

SOLAR PANELS’ COST

The 1590 Watt Solar With 6000 Watt Pure Sine Power Inverter Charger 120/240VAC 24VDC from The Inverter Store $6,079.28

Renogy 300W 12V Polycrystalline Off Grid Solar Panel Starter Kit with Wanderer Charger Controller Walmart charges $463.00 for this item.

Home Depot sells the Windy Nation 100-Watt Solar Panel for $108.99.

Wanderer Renogy 200 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit Amazon charges $349.99 for this item.

Solarflexion 390 Watt 12Volt RV Solar Kit $599.00, available from Solarflexion.

Solar Kit Included Items

Although components vary slightly between manufacturers, most solar kits include solar panels, a charge controller, a battery bank, and an inverter, as well as wiring and accessories to connect everything together. Renology, for example, has a kit that can be expanded in the future if desired.

There are also portable solar kits that allow you to take the panels and place them wherever you need them. This would allow you to park your RV without having to worry about adequate sunlight and obstructing shade, for example.

In solar energy systems, three types of batteries are used: lithium, flooded, and absorbed glass mat. Flooded batteries require distilled water maintenance, whereas absorbed glass mat batteries do not and are safer in an enclosed space. If money is not an issue, lithium batteries are the best option. Lithium batteries can outlast flooded or absorbed glass mat batteries by up to three times. These batteries are usually included with your solar panel kit, so double-check to see which ones are included.

The wire gauge is critical. Professionals say this is the area where they see the most mistakes made by do-it-yourselfers. To connect the solar panels to the combiner, at least 10 gauge wire is required, and heavier wire is required to connect the controller and batteries. The gauges of the wires connecting to the batteries should range from 8 to 2. If you buy a camper or RV that is already prewired, have a professional inspect it before installing your panels. Often, the gauge for your needs should be heavier, and the wiring should be replaced before you begin. A professional electrician will be able to tell you how much each wire gauge costs. The cost will also be determined by the size of your camper or RV and the amount of wiring required.

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If you plan on running the typical appliances and televisions found in campers and RVs, the inverter should be pure sine wave rather than modified sine wave. Depending on the manufacturer, these can range from $230 to $880.

DIY OR PROFESSIONAL SOLAR KIT INSTALLATION

While more campers and RVs are being built with solar panels these days, it is probably best to hire a professional to ensure that the wiring is adequate for the system you want to install. Failure to perform this step correctly can result in problems such as fire and electric shock.

THE BENEFITS AND DISADVANTAGES OF GENERATORS VS. SOLAR PANELS

Generators

  • Can work at maximum capacity whether it is sunny or raining.
  • Can operate at maximum capacity at night, though most campgrounds require generators to be turned off at night due to noise.
  • Noise levels have been reduced in some models.
  • It is possible to automate
  • Certain generators may increase the resale value of a camper or motorhome depending on the buyer.
  • Diesel generators will last longer and use less fuel.
  • Fuel is always in short supply.
  • Are difficult to lift
  • High level of noise
  • It is possible that it will be stolen.
  • Insurance should cover this.
  • Diesel generators are thought to be more environmentally damaging.
  • Diesel generator fuel can be more difficult to come by than gasoline generator fuel, especially in rural areas.
  • Generators are not eligible for the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit.

 

Solar Panels

  • Little upkeep is required.
  • There are three types of solar panel systems to choose from.
  • Solar panels with no glass add little weight to the roof.
  • Noiseless
  • There is no need to purchase fuel.
  • Unless portable, it is unlikely to be stolen.
  • Depending on the buyer, a camper or RV’s resale value may increase.
  • If you intend to use the RV for several years, you will save money on energy costs.
  • Because RVs can be considered second homes, consult with your tax advisor to see if you are eligible for the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit.
  • The solar panel system should be installed by a professional.

The high cost of solar energy will necessitate several years of use before owners can recoup their investment or reap financial benefits. In other words, if you intend to sell your RV in two years, you will not have had time to reap any energy savings beyond the cost of the solar panels. The length of time it takes to break even on your solar package is determined by the size and cost of the system installed.

Although it is a myth that solar panels cannot produce power on cloudy days, solar panels can operate at 10%-25% of their peak capacity on cloudy days. Rainy days have an impact on how well solar panels work.

Solar panels are classified into three types. The most efficient solar panels are monocrystalline photovoltaic (PV). Polycrystalline solar panels are the least expensive but also the least efficient. Amorphous Thin Film panels have the lowest efficiency. Despite the fact that polycrystalline solar panels are less expensive, monocrystalline panels are more popular and require less installation. The cost of installing solar panels is determined by the number of panels and the number of watts required. Installation for an RV can range between $500 and $2000.

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I had heard that primary solar homes can provide extra solar power to the grid that is not used in large cities. On low-power days, these homes can use their ‘credits’ to draw power from the city. I didn’t see anything indicating that the same could be done with RVs or campgrounds. Until such a system is developed for RVs or campgrounds, solar panels may be viewed as a supplement to rather than the sole energy source for an RV or camper.

IMPACT OF SOLAR PANEL SYSTEMS ON TOW WEIGHT

It is recommended that the batteries be installed above the axle(s) to avoid changing the tow ball weight and worsening pitching (the front lifts or descends in relation to the back) and yawing.

Insurance should cover this.

TRADEOFFS

A professional is rarely needed to set up a generator, whereas a solar panel system is best installed by a professional.

WHAT EXACTLY IS THE SOLAR TAX CREDIT?

The Solar Tax Credit is a credit that allows you to deduct 30% of the cost of going solar from your federal income taxes. This 30% will only be available until 2019. After that year, the credit will gradually decrease each year until 2022, when it will become a permanent 10% credit. If your RV is considered a second home, going solar sooner rather than later is recommended.

DO YOU HAVE A SECOND HOME IN YOUR RV?

Although this information is not intended to replace professional tax advice, I discovered some general guidelines for an RV to be considered a second home.

Facilities for eating, sleeping, and cooking are required.

It must be secured on its own loan—that is, if you fail to make payments, they will come and take the RV. (Incidentally, you can also deduct interest on the second home’s mortgage. Check with a tax professional about those requirements as well (though you won’t be able to deduct interest from the tow vehicle). The RV will not qualify if it was purchased with a personal loan.

RVS AND CAMPERS WITH SOLAR POWER

Some solar-ready campers and RVs are shown below. When looking for a solar-ready camper or RV, find out whether the setup is for portable solar panels or a permanent installation.

  • Jay Feather
  • Heartland North Trail 22 FBS
  • Livin lite Camplite CL11FK
  • Northwood Manufacturing Arctic Fox 25W
  • Airstream Basecamp

If you decide to install solar panels on the roof of your camper or RV, make sure there is enough space between the panels for you to walk safely.

Ultimately, whether you choose generators or a solar panel system depends on your short- and long-term budget, as well as how long you intend to keep your RV. It appears that a small generator is useful for days when the solar panels may not be able to work optimally.

Even if you don’t keep your RV long enough for the solar panel system to pay for itself, its resale value will most likely rise with the right buyer.


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