-Solar Panels- or Generators for Campers and RVs “What’s best” ?

What is best, solar panels or generators for campers?

The question of whether it was better to use a generator or solar panels in a motorhome arose and, after inquiring, I decided that solar panels were the best source of energy for my motorhome, with a small generator for cloudy days or bad weather.

Cost of generators
The price of a generator for a camper varies between the Sportsman Gasoline 4000W portable generator for $ 249.99 at Walmart and the RV Onan micro-silent generator for $ 4,430.79 online at PPL Motorhomes.com. Other generators for recreational vehicles can be found in this range.

3100 watt inverter generator from Home Depot WEN for 649.00

Sam’s Club A-iPower 3,000 / 4,000 watt portable gasoline generator with manual start (includes wheel kit and handle) 249.98

Camping World Honda EU3000is generator – CARB compliant, regular price $ 2,329.99.

Champion Hybrid: This digital hybrid model of 3500 watts has been made 50% quieter thanks to digital technology and its weight is reduced by 20%. A kit is also available for purchase to increase the power. Many customers buy wheel kits for this generator. The price of this generator is generally close to $ 500 at Walmart.

If you are comfortable buying a generator on Ebay, you might find a good deal. However, it is unlikely that the warranty will be transferred to you if it is a used generator.

There are several other brands, most motorhome generators being sold for several hundred dollars. Some generators are automatic start and stop, while others are manual.

The other costs to take into account are the power outlet of the motorhome, whose price varies between 41 and 108 dollars, a circuit breaker, whose price varies between 3 and 20 dollars, the cord and the fuel. You can also buy a wheel kit for some portable generators that cost between $ 30 and $ 70.

With such a wide range, how do you know which one to choose? Do I want it to power my devices or do I want it to be a power source for the battery bank of my solar panel system? I discovered that if I want to operate the hair dryer while the air conditioner is running, I will need a more powerful generator. If I want a generator for the bad weather days when the solar panels cannot operate at their maximum, I need a smaller generator.

As I can estimate the size of the generator according to the watts produced (most motorhome generators operate from 1000 to 3000 watts), my choice is a little easier if I know approximately the power used in the devices of my motorhome. To find out how many watts you need to operate your devices, you will need to do some research at the start. Remember that volts x amps = watts. Check the labels of your appliances and other electrical devices such as blenders, hair dryers, etc. This will allow you to approximately determine the power required by your generator.

Also check the generator’s decibel power, as national parks limit noise to 60 decibels at 50 feet.

Here are some tips to make your life a little easier: if you want higher power, two 1,500-watt generators are easier at the rear than a 3,000-watt generator. You will need to purchase a parallel connection cable for both. Then fill your empty generator with gas after moving it. By doing so, you will have further reduced the weight.

Maintenance required for generators
Oil changes depend on the number of hours the generator has been used. Often, with a motorhome generator, you will need to keep a journal to find out this information. You will also need to clean or replace your air filter and keep an eye on the spark plugs to replace them. Fortunately, most manufacturers provide maintenance guides for their generators to their customers. Some guides may need to be downloaded from the Internet. YouTube also has several clips that show how to do these tasks. Replacing the oil filter and the air filter is usually a simple task. Open the cap under the oil tank to drain the used oil. Replace the cap and use a funnel to replace the oil. The air filter can be simply a piece of foam that can be easily cleaned. You may need some practical tools to check and replace the spark plugs, such as a spark plug socket and a feeler to measure the gap.

Cost of solar panels
The 1590 watt solar inverter with 6000 watt charger Pure Sine Power Inverter Charger 120 / 240VAC 24VDC $ 6,079.28

Starter Kit for Renogy 300W 12V Off-Grid Polycrystalline Solar Panel with Wanderer Charger Controller $ 463.00 from Walmart

Windy Nation 100 Watt Solar Panel $ 108.99 from The Home Depot

Renogy 200 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit with Wanderer $ 349.99 from Amazon

Solarflexion 390 Watt 12Volt RV Solar Kit $ 599.00 from Solarflexion

Items included in a solar kit

Although the components may vary a little between different manufacturers, most solar kits include solar panels, a charge controller, a battery bank and an inverter with the wiring and accessories to connect them. Renology, for example, offers a kit designed to allow you to add more in the future if you wish.

There are also portable solar kits that allow you to take the panels and install them where you need them. You will be able to park your recreational vehicle without worrying about sunshine and shade, for example.

There are three types of batteries used in solar energy systems: Lithium, flooded and absorbed glass mat. Flooded batteries require maintenance with distilled water, while absorbed glass mat batteries require no maintenance and are safer in an enclosed area. If money is not a concern, lithium batteries are the best of the three. Lithium batteries last up to three times longer than flooded or absorbed glass mat batteries. These batteries are usually included in your solar panel kit, so be sure to check which ones are provided.

The size of the wires is vitally important. Professionals say that this is the area in which they see the most mistakes made by DIY enthusiasts. At least 10 gauge wire is needed to connect the solar panels to the combiner, and a heavier wire to connect the controller and batteries. The wires connecting to the batteries must be 8 to 2 gauge. If you buy a camper or recreational vehicle already pre-wired, have it checked by a professional before installing your panels. Often, the gauge for your needs should be heavier and the wiring will need to be replaced before you start. A professional electrician can tell you the cost of the different wire sizes. The cost will also depend on the size of your motorhome or caravan and the amount of wiring required.

The inverter must be a pure sine wave, as opposed to a modified sine wave, if you want to operate the usual devices and televisions found in motorhomes and caravans. These devices can cost between $ 230 and $ 880 depending on the manufacturer.

Installation of solar kits by DIY enthusiasts or professionals
As more and more campers and caravans arrive already prepared for solar power these days, it’s probably best to let a professional do the work to make sure the wiring is adequate for the system you want to install. An error in this level can cause problems such as fire and electric shock.

Advantages and disadvantages of generators compared to solar panels


Can operate at full capacity, whether it is sunny or raining.

Can operate at full capacity at night, although most campgrounds require generators to be turned off at night due to noise.

Some models have reduced noise levels

Can be automatic

According to the buyer, certain generators can increase the resale value of a motorhome or caravan.

Diesel generators run longer, are more fuel efficient [/ column]


A constant need for fuel

Are heavy to lift

High noise level

Can be stolen

Should be covered by insurance

Diesel generators are believed to be harder on the environment.

Fuel for diesel generators may be more difficult to find than for gasoline generators, such as in rural areas.

The tax credit for residential renewable energy does not apply to generators [/ column].

Solar panels


Low maintenance

There are three types of solar panel systems to choose from

Solar panels add little weight to the roof if the panels do not contain glass

Without noise

No need to buy fuel

Unlikely to be stolen, unless portable

According to the buyer, may increase the resale value of a motorhome or recreational vehicle

You will save money on energy costs if you plan to use the recreational vehicle for several years

Since recreational vehicles can be considered a second home, check with your tax advisor if you are eligible for the tax credit for residential renewable energy [/ column].


The high cost of solar energy will require several years of use before the break-even point is reached or the owners will reap financial benefits. In other words, if you plan to sell your recreational vehicle in two years, you will not have had time to save energy beyond what you paid for the solar panels. The time it takes to break even with your solar package depends on the size and cost of the system installed.

Although the fact that solar panels cannot produce energy in cloudy weather is a myth, solar panels can sometimes be reduced to operating at 10-25% of their peak capacity in cloudy weather. Rainy days also affect the operation of solar panels.

There are three types of solar panels. Monocrystalline photovoltaic (PV) solar panels are the most efficient. Polycrystalline solar panels are the cheapest but less effective. Amorphous thin-film panels are the least effective. Although polycrystalline solar panels are less expensive, monocrystalline panels are more popular and less expensive to install. The costs of installing solar panels depend on the number of watts required and the number of panels. Basically, the cost of installing an RV can be anywhere from $ 500 to $ 2,000.

I had heard that primary solar houses can give extra, unused solar energy to the grid in big cities. Then, on days of low consumption, these houses can draw energy from the city according to their “credits”. However, I have not seen anything that says the same thing can be done with RVs or campgrounds. Until such a system is developed for RVs or campsites, solar panels could be viewed more as an energy source that needs to be supplemented rather than as the only source of energy for an RV or a motorhome [/ column].

Towing weight affected by solar panel systems
It is recommended to place the batteries at ground level, above the axle (s), which avoids modifying the weight of the tow ball and making the pitch worse (the front lifts or descends relative to the ‘back) and the lace.

Must be covered by insurance

The installation of a generator rarely requires the intervention of a professional, while a solar panel system is better installed by a professional.

What is the solar tax credit?
The solar tax credit is a credit that allows you to deduct from federal income tax 30% of the cost of installing a solar system. This 30% will only last until 2019. After this year, the credit will gradually decrease each year until 2022, when the solar tax credit will become a permanent credit of 10%. If you are considering switching to solar energy, it is best to do so as soon as possible if your recreational vehicle is considered a second home.

Is your motorhome a second home?
Although this information does not replace the advice of a tax professional, I have found some general guidelines for a motorhome to be considered a second home.

It must have facilities for eating, sleeping and cooking.

He must be guaranteed by his own loan – in other words, if you don’t make your payments, they come to take the vehicle (you can also deduct the interest from the mortgage of the second home). Also check these requirements with a tax specialist, although you cannot deduct interest on the towing vehicle. If the vehicle was purchased with a personal loan, it does not qualify.

Solar motorhomes and caravans
Below are some motorhomes and caravans that are prepared with solar energy. When purchasing a solar powered RV or RV, be sure to find out if the installation is for portable solar panels or permanent installation.

Jay feather

Heartland North Trail 22 FBS

Livin lite Camplite CL11FK

Northwood Manufacturing Arctic Fox 25W

Airstream base camp

If you choose to install solar panels on the roof of your motorhome or caravan, be sure to leave room so that you can walk safely between the panels.

Ultimately, it depends on both your short and long term budget and the number of years you plan to keep your trailer, depending on whether you choose generators or a solar panel system. It seems that a small generator is useful for days of bad weather, when the solar panels may not be able to operate at full capacity.

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

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