July 18, 2024

How Much Does RV Solar Cost?

RVWITHTITO - Cost of RV Solar
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Expect to pay around $1,500 for a very basic starter system, and up to $15,000 for an elaborate solar/lithium setup that can power your entire RV for days. Those are just equipment costs for a DIY install. Expect to pay more if hiring an installer to design and install a custom system. Why so expensive?

Most systems are heavily customized for the owner and involve much more than installing a few solar panels on the roof. The overall cost of an RV solar power system can vary considerably from one RV to the next.

Let’s make some assumptions on what a hypothetical basic, mid-sized and high-end system looks like, and then develop some ballpark estimates.

Most RVs do not come with solar installed. So let’s also assume (for the sake of this article) that we’re going to retrofit a stock RV for off-the-grid boondocking. Finally, let’s exclude any design and installation costs from our estimates and include only the cost of components.

Typical RV Solar Configurations

Solar Equipment - RVWITHTITO
Typical Off-Grid Boondocking Setup – 780 Watts Solar, Dual Charge Controllers, 3KW Hybrid Inverter, Lithium Batteries, Battery Monitor

Before we start looking at system components keep in mind that these are just ballpark estimates, and the ballpark is pretty large. Component prices and features will vary considerably.

Here’s a list of experienced RV solar installers that can help you if you’d rather not do-it-yourself

1. Basic Off-Grid Solar System

A system of this size can power basic small electronics like lights, laptops, mobile hotspot, TVs, and a cell phone booster.

  • 220 Ah of flooded deep cycle batteries
  • 200-400 watts of solar panels
  • 30 Amp MPPT Solar Charge Controller
  • 2,000 watt pure-sine inverter

Cost of components: $1,500 to $4,000

2. Typical Boondocking Off-Grid Solar System

This type of system can power small electronics plus periodic use of a microwave oven, coffee maker, hair dryer, and electric blanket.

  • 450 Ah of flooded deep cycle or lithium batteries
  • 400-600 watts of solar panels
  • 30-60 Amp MPPT Solar Charge Controller
  • 2,000 or 3,000 watt pure-sine inverter

Cost of components: $4,000 to $8,000

3. Large Power Load Off-Grid Solar System

This type of setup can power a residential refrigerator 24/7 plus other essential equipment.

  • 600-800 Ah of lithium batteries
  • 800 to 1200 watts of solar panels
  • 60 Amp MPPT Solar Charge Controller
  • 3,000-4,000 watt hybrid inverter

Cost of components: $12,000 to $18,000

You should learn enough here to begin working on a realistic budget for your solar install. Be sure to check the links at the end if you need to learn more. Let’s get started.

Besides Solar Panels, What Else Do You Need?

Solar panels alone do not make up an RV solar charging system. The three basic components of the charging system are the Battery (or battery bank) being charged, the Solar Charge Controller, and the Solar Panels.

Typical RV off-grid Electrical System Components

To learn more about the function of each component read this article.

It’s important to clarify that solar panels do not power your RV. Instead, solar panels are primarily used to recharge your RV batteries. The RV batteries are actually your main source of electricity when not powered by a shore-power cable or generator.

Prices and specifications for each component can vary significantly depending on the needs of the RV owner. System components also need to be compatible with each other. So you’ll need to consider the cost of the entire system.

Each RV Solar Installation Is Customized

There are no one-size-fits-all solar system configurations. Factory preinstalled systems are usually inadequate. For best results, your battery bank and solar panel configuration should be sized to your personal energy needs.

Estimating your energy requirements will give you a ballpark number in Amp Hours that you can use to size your battery bank. From that you can estimate the number solar panels you’ll need. Unfortunately, you won’t know what your power requirements are until you’ve used your RV for a while.

Here’s an article to help you estimate your power requirements and size your battery bank accordingly.

Powering lights, recharging portable electronics, using laptops, and watching TV will not consume a large amount of power. If you have a residential refrigerator that runs day and night, then you’re energy needs will be much higher.

How Much Power Does a Residential Refrigerator Need? On average, residential refrigerators use between 130 to 150 Amp Hours (Ah) of your battery capacity in a 24 hour period.

You’d be surprised to know that household appliances like coffee pots , microwaves and hair dryers are not a big problem for mid-sized off-grid solar/inverter systems. Yes. They draw a lot of power, but only for a few minutes per day.

You have a lot of flexibility here to make adjustments based on your comfort level and budget. Here’s an example of a mid-sized system designed by the RV owner (Roger) with lithium batteries and the maximum number of solar panels. The additional solar will allow him to recharge his batteries faster while traveling through northern climates with sub-optimal solar coverage.

RVWITHTITO - Custom RV Solar System Design
400 Ah Lithium Batteries, 1200 Watts Solar, 3000 Watt Hybrid Inverter, Bluetooth Battery Monitoring System

Should You Start With A Solar Panel Kit?

Solar panel kits are a popular option because they are more affordable and include the solar charge controller, connectors, cables and mounting hardware in one package.

I recommend buying a complete solar kit from a reputable supplier in the USA with solar installers on staff to support your DIY project. Here is a list of pre-configured DIY solar kits from one of my preferred suppliers, Current Connected, located in Idaho.

The downside of installing a DIY solar kit is that you won’t have control over what components are included. So if you’re considering a kit, be sure to research each component that’s included to ensure it has the features and specifications you want.

If you prefer to fully customize your own DIY system, then keep building your knowledge. You’re likely to end up with a higher quality expandable system if you design and customize it yourself.

What Are Your Specific Power Needs?

Here are some questions to ask yourself to better understand the limitations of your RV and how much solar you need:

  • How much space do you have on your roof for solar?
  • How much battery capacity do you consume on a daily basis?
  • Do you need to power equipment for long periods of time (residential refrigerator or CPAP)?
  • How quickly would you like to recharge your batteries each morning?
  • How abundant is the sun where you are?
  • Do you have alternate methods of recharging your batteries?

Having answers to these questions will help considerably whether planning your own install or working with an installer.

What Other Battery Charging Sources Do You Have?

Having multiple methods for recharging your batteries is a good idea. In fact, solar may not be your primary means for recharging.

In addition to solar panels, you might also

  • Use an onboard or portable generator to recharge your batteries
  • or use your engine’s alternator to recharge batteries while driving

Are you on-the-go quite a bit? If so, you may not need as much solar as you think. Alternator charging may be sufficient to keep your batteries charged up while traveling.

What to read next?

I hope this exercise gave you a better understanding of what an RV solar system might cost. Here are some additional resources to continue learning about RV solar.

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