Table of Contents Show
- What is a solar panel?
- What is it made of?
- History of solar panels
- How do they work?
- So what are the Pros and Cons of using Solar?
- Are solar panels worth it?
- Tips for Solar Shoppers
Solar is an investment. Is the cost of solar panels worth the reward? This article will break down solar, what it is, and if you can save money and headaches using the sun to power your RV and devices.
What is a solar panel?
Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic modules. These cells are mounted in a framework that creates a panel. The sun is captured and turned into energy, which is converted into electricity through a few devices until you can use it with your electric appliances.
What is it made of?
Most solar panels are made of crystalline silicon solar cells. The rest are made of thin-film cells, which are less expensive and use a photoactive layer and other layers on a flexible polyester insulator.
History of solar panels
Solar can be traced back to early history when humans used sunlight to light fires with something like a magnifying glass. In the 1950s, it was used in outer space to power radios. In 1981, the first solar-powered airplane flew across the English Channel. Even the White House has had solar panels added to create energy. Today, it is common to see solar farms and roofs covered with solar panels. It is now an accepted form of energy production.
How do they work?
It’s a very hi-tech product that creates a simple reaction that provides electricity for a home or RV. The steps are easy. First, the sun hits the panels and knocks some electrons free from atoms in the solar cells. The cells are built so that those loose electrons (electricity) follow a one-way path that flows into your batteries to store them until they are needed. An inverter converts the energy from direct current to alternating current to power your air conditioner, phone, or coffee maker. Finally, the electrons eventually flow back through the inverter, battery, and back through the negative cable to your solar cells where they attach to a positively charged atom again and wait to get knocked off by the sun and start their journey again. The whole process is better explained in the video below.
So what are the Pros and Cons of using Solar?
Cons of Solar:
- You need to have access to the sun. Trees, clouds, and other obstructions will stop your energy production dead.
- You also can’t make energy at night.
- There must be a large enough area to mount the solar panels.
- There are some toxic and hazardous materials used in the production of solar panels.
- Solar Panels are a lot more expensive than a generator for creating energy.
Pros of Solar:
- The sun is free to harness.
- Solar panels last a very long time.
- The solar systems can increase the value of what they are used on.
- Solar is more affordable than ever.
- Solar is a 100 percent clean, renewable energy source.
- No noise!
- Passive energy creation, no need to turn anything on
Are solar panels worth it?
If solar panels are worth it is completely up to you. If you are looking for a breakdown regarding only costs of solar versus generator then it will take a few years before you come close to breaking even. You can get a generator for a few hundred dollars and no installation. Solar panels require installation, charge controllers, wires, and other overhead costs.
Solar panels have so many other lifestyle benefits though that we would never be without them. For instance, the silence of boondocking without a generator is something that we absolutely love. Additionally, being able to charge our batteries passively while parked or driving while not needed to think about it is amazing. Above all, we also love not needing to find a gas station to refill our gas can every couple of days. It is up to you to decide if solar panels are worth it based on your RVing lifestyle.
Tips for Solar Shoppers
What do you need
To add a solar system to your RV, you will need to determine how much power you will need throughout the day to recharge your batteries. You will need solar panels, an inverter, a solar charge controller, batteries (we recommend Lithium-Ion batteries due to faster recharging and other benefits), and low wattage items that can decrease your power need, like LED light bulbs. For a comprehensive guide on what you need and brands available you can check out this guide, we wrote on RV Solar panels.
How long will you be using it?
Consider how long you will have your current rig. If you’re already considering upgrading to a new unit, then wait on the solar, but if you’ve just moved into the RV of your dream…consider solar.
Are solar panels worth it for the tax benefits
There are tax benefits to adding solar to your RV through the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit, which can give you a percentage return after installing a complete solar package. You can take this credit on your taxes.
The best way to clean your solar panels is with soapy water and a soft sponge, so it won’t get scratched. Similarly, you can also use ¼ cup of vinegar, ½ teaspoon liquid soap, and 2 cups of water in a spray bottle. It’s recommended to do this once a month or more to keep up efficiency.
Although not a full timer we do go out every month for a 4-5 day trip and 2x a year for 30-45
day trip. We do ~70% dry camp. About 4+ years ago I studied solar & lithium setups too long until I had paralysis by analysis. I decided to just jump in very small by adding a 100
Watt panel to just charge my 2-6v golf cart batteries. I added a small generator as I soon
discovered that we camp mostly in wooded areas and if the panels are not in direct sun or
you do not move them all the time in the direct sun; charging is limited. We rarely need or
use A/C. Fire up the generator if needed to charge the batteries, charge all the phones & laptops & use a hair dryer or microwave. I’m all in for under $1k. + a couple of dollars for gas every week. I doubt I’ve burned 4 gal in 4 years. I have since added a second panel + a small 400watt converter. Two Costco 6V batteries at ~$200 every 5 years, 2 Renogy 100W + cable & controller ~$250 + Champion Inverter/Gen ~ $450. So for ME, not being a full-timer; I can’t justify the additional cost that I see some people spending $8 -$12k. for full systems. But I do feel it was well worth what i have spent for our system…
We have a smaller 310GK Solutide. There is just the two of us and we don’t full time but we do use it as our home for four months in the winter and traveling in the summer.
I self-installed 850 watts of solar with 5 Zamp panels, Victron electronics and Battleborn storage. I went through AM SOLAR. They set me up with everything down to the cable ties. I saved a lot on the installation but if you ask was it worth it? That is a loaded question. Will i ever see a breakeven point, absolutely not. But if you consider the convenience then the answer is a big yes. We love not needing the generator boondocking at Harvest Hosts.
We have five Grape Solar 200-watt panels on our Phaeton, two Life Blue 300 amp-hr lithium batteries and a Magnum 3000 W inverter. Though the setup and installation wasn’t cheap, it was totally worth it to us. We boondock a lot and power is never a limiting factor for us. We run out of water long before power is ever an issue. Our generator also auto-starts if the charge on our batts ever gets too low, which has only happened once since we add the solar. Changing all of our lights to LED made a huge difference, too.