How much does it cost to install solar panels on an RV? We’ll dive into details, but the short answer is it depends on your solar panels and power system and whether you do a DIY solar install or pay someone to do it, but it’s often worth the freedom you gain to be out in nature off-grid.
The real question people want to know: Is RV solar affordable? It can be, if you choose a smaller system and install it yourself. But true off-grid capabilities usually require a significant investment upfront, which will pay off for years to come.
Is the Cost to Install RV Solar Panels Worth It?
The minimum cost of RV solar panel installation if you do it yourself, choose an affordable starter kit between 200 and 400 watts, and use budget lead acid batteries such as Costco’s lead acid golfcart batteries is around $1,500. This is counting 500 for the panel and charge controller kit, 300 for the batteries, and 2-500 for an inverter. We are also leaving a bit of wiggle room for additional accessories such as fuses and wiring lengths that you may need to buy depending on your RV and how you’re wiring it.
If you travel in your RV frequently or are a full timer and want to be able to boondock, the costs of adding solar panels to your motorhome are probably worth it. You’ll save money compared to having to pay for RV parks and campgrounds, and you can have all of the comforts of home while out in the wild with nature. If this is you, you’ll probably want to go with a bigger kit than the one mentioned above. A full timer solar kit is more likely in the 3000-7000 range if you’re installing it yourself. You can expect a hefty solar system which can run everything including air conditioning to cost around 10,000 to have it installed for you.
If you’re just a weekender who wants to be off grid for a day or two at a time, the cost of a very small solar system probably makes the most sense for you, if at all. After all, if money were no object, you might not be reading this article!
RV Solar Panel Systems Example Costs
The cost of your system will depend heavily on how big it is (in terms of your solar watts and battery amp hours) and what components you choose.
If you go with a budget starter solar kit such as the WindyNation 200 Watt Solar Panel Kit, you’ll pay about $500 plus the cost of the inverter and the batteries you choose, which can run from a couple hundred dollars with Costco golfcart batteries to $1800 for 200AH of lithium ion batteries. We believe this is a great system to start with, because you can also add panels later.
Eco-Worthy has a 400 watt starter kit for approximately $575, which is another great starting option.
Before you can decide how big you want your solar charging system to be, you need to understand what type of energy needs you have. A 400 watt system With lead acid batteries can run basic items like fans, lights, and laptop computers on a limited bases, but a 1200 watt system with a lithium battery bank can obviously run many more appliances like a hair dryer, electric refrigerator, or microwave oven. A good rule of thumb is to calculate your minimum energy usage before investing in an RV solar setup.
What are the expensive components of an RV solar system?
There is actually more to a solar powered RV than just the solar panels, which is why installing solar on an RV really adds up in pricing.
For a complete system which will charge your batteries off of solar panels, you’ll need:
1. Solar panels
2. A charge controller
3. A battery bank – lithium batteries are the best, but most expensive
4. An inverter to convert dc power to ac power – we recommend pure since wave instead of modified
5. Wiring and hardware to tie it all together
An optional component is a battery monitoring system to monitor the actual charge of your battery instead of the voltage. Adding a battery monitor is recommended, but not necessary. The popular Victor battery monitors run around $200.
The options when setting up your system are endless – you can choose flexible or glass panels, roof mounted or portable panels, PWM or MPPT charge controllers, lithium, lead acid, or AGM batteries, and wiring to tie it all together.
If you’re doing a DIY solar install and just starting out, we really recommend starting with a kit like the ones from Renogy or Windynation, because they come with all of the parts, great instructions, and great support. This make it very easy to understand how to install solar from the start, and the kits are also very cost effective. You only have to supply the batteries.
Benefits of Installing RV Solar Panels
There are a ton of benefits to having an RV powered by solar energy. Once your RV is off-grid and solar-powered, you can camp almost anywhere you want without worrying about electricity. Endless camping options are a boondockers’ dream!
You can run lights, appliances, and fans all without being hooked up, and all while continuing to charge your house batteries during the day when the sun is out, and maybe even use your AC if your power system is big enough.
Solar power is completely silent, so you can enjoy the sounds around you instead of listening to the noise of a generator. You can also save money used for your gas generator since you’ll be using it less often. As a nice side effect, you’ll reduce your carbon emissions.
Once your solar panels are installed, they don’t need much maintenance, if you choose a roof installation. You simply need to wipe them off every once in a while to be sure dust and debris aren’t blocking the sun’s rays.
Paying to install solar panels on your RV roof is an eco-friendly, safe, long-term way to stay powered wherever your camping adventures take you!
RV Solar Costs FAQ
How much do RV solar panels cost?
Most are a little over $1 per watt. Any panels under $1 per watt are a great deal. Some brands like Zamp have a significantly higher cost, but they are also known to be higher quality.
How do you install solar panels on an RV?
What are the best types of solar panels to buy?
It depends on whether you want to mount your panels to your roof, or if you want portable solar panels. If you have a solar ready RV, you’ll probably go with portable solar panels. If you want to mount them to your roof, you’ll probably get a regular tempered glass set of panels from Amazon or a solar warehouse near you. Yes, you can buy solar panels from residential solar warehouses at a great cost savings. Just make sure you have the space on your motorhome roof and that you are prepared to install them with your own wiring and hardware!
How much solar do you need to run an RV air conditioner?
That is something that depends on the size of your air conditioner, but you can check out our full post about it here.
Now that you know how much it costs to install solar panels on an RV, will you be attempting to do it yourself? Do you already have a solar system, and enjoy the freedom in camping that it gives you? How many watts do you have, and what are you able to run? We want to know! Comment below.