You want to take a long trip across the country in your RV, but you’re not sure which type of power source to use, which one is better, and which one can actually provide you with the type of power you need. With solar panel vs. generator for camping, each power source option will come with its own pros and cons. For many RV owners, power needs heavily depend on the length of the trip, the devices, and appliances they regularly use, and how much time they spend in their RV.
Solar panel vs. generator for camping: There is no clear winner here since both of these power sources have their own pros and cons. Both of these power options offer quiet operation, a comparable initial cost, and can handle powering around the same amount of major and small appliances at the same time. Solar panels will not provide as much energy on cloudy days as it can on sunny days, while the inverter generator cannot be used on rainy days and runs on fuel, so ongoing fuel costs is something to consider. The only real solution here is to purchase both types of power sources in order to ensure you’re never without power, regardless of the weather conditions.
Now that you know together, both power options can provide the perfect solution if you need a power source you can rely on when you’re camping off the grid, read on to learn about the pros and cons for each power source, what type of appliances they can power, and what to expect in regard to runtime, power efficiency, and power.
Can RV Solar Panels Provide All Of the Power I’ll Need?
It’s not likely that just a few solar panels can provide the type of power you need to run all of your appliances, however, this can also depend on what devices and appliances you use. For most RV users, even the best RV solar panels cannot compete with the type of power an inverter generator can provide. This is because only two to four solar panels can fit on the roof of an RV. Obviously, this will be dependent on the size of your rig. But even a couple more solar panels can’t provide the type of power you’ll need on the road, especially if you rely on your AC throughout the night.
Many modern models of RVs come loaded with a wide variety of electrical appliances that range from dishwashers and coffee makers to fridges and ACs. Because of this, many RV owners often purchase the best camp generator that money can buy and use it to supplement their power needs.
If you have a top of the line solar panel setup, you may be able to get away without needing to rely on a generator. But if you devote two or more hours a day to driving and don’t allow the alternator to charge the battery and then run major appliances, then your solar panel system alone just won’t cut it.
In terms of price, both the RV solar panel kits and the camp generator have high initial costs, depending on their size and power capacity. The camp generator runs on fuel, which you’ll need to take into consideration if you’re on a tight budget.
A generator should also be serviced regularly. Solar panels can also require regular maintenance, especially if you’re dealing with inclement weather or windy conditions. The panels must be kept spotless, otherwise, dirt, dust, and debris can impact the panel’s ability to absorb sunlight.
What are the Advantages of a Solar Panel System?
During use, a solar panel system is noiseless, especially compared to a generator. However, the inverter generator has a reputation for its whisper-quiet operation. But despite that, the solar panel system is completely silent, while the generator will make a humming noise at a sound level of around fifty-five to sixty-five decibels, on average. So this is one advantage that the solar panels have over the generator.
Higher Energy Needs
If you normally use appliances with high energy needs, like an air conditioner, then a solar panel system may end up being a total waste of money.
The average sized RV is capable of hosting around three hundred watts of solar energy, which can produce enough energy to power a water pump, fridge, and lights. If you have more power needs than this, then a generator may be a better option, or you can add a generator in addition to your solar setup.
Over the past few years, despite the popularity of solar energy, more campers have been turning to inverter generators, thanks to their new and improved runtimes, fuel efficiency, and ease of use. They can also be more reliable since the amount of power the solar panels produce is heavily dependent on weather conditions.
Bottom line, for some setups, solar energy alone will not be enough. The amount of energy that one of these systems can produce will depend on the size of the panels and the amount of space available on the RV’s roof. So, if you have high energy needs, you’ll inevitably need to purchase an inverter generator at some point.
As we mentioned earlier, the solar panel system has to rely on sunlight in order to produce energy and this can be majorly affected by the weather. So, on cloudy days, you can’t expect the system to produce as much energy as it does on a sunny day. On average, on an overcast day, the solar panel system will experience a twenty to thirty percent dip in energy production. This may not sound like much, but it is.
Generators, on the other hand, can produce continuous power.
Really, the last thing you want is to run out of power when you’re camping off the grid. If you don’t monitor how much power your system normally produces on overcast days and on sunny days, then you can end up in the middle of nowhere, with no power.
Generators are different in the sense that there’s no real guesswork regarding how much energy they can produce and for how long. You’ll have to bring along plenty of fuel, but if you know how to calculate the power needs of all your appliances and devices, you can easily bring along enough fuel to keep your generators running for several days.
RV Solar Panel Advantages and Disadvantages
RV solar panels can provide the type of power you’re looking for if you don’t run many high energy appliances, but if you do, you’ll find that it lacks the type of power you need in a twenty-four hour period, especially if you drive during the day. Below you’ll find a list of the pros and cons for this power source option.
- Environmentally friendly
- Easy installation
- Low maintenance needs
- Can provide adequate power for one major appliance or three to four smaller appliances or devices
- Cannot handle running more than one large appliance
- Energy production depends heavily on the weather
- Panels must be wiped down regularly to ensure the panels are able to efficiently absorb sunlight
Camp Generator Advantages and Disadvantages
The camp generator, also known as the inverter generator, can be used as a more reliable power source since a cloudy day will not affect the generator’s ability to provide power like it can with solar panel systems. However, the generator is not without its drawbacks. Below you’ll find a list of the major pros and cons for this type of power source.
- Reliable power
- Many models offer long runtimes of six to twelve hours
- Reasonable initial cost
- Low maintenance needs
- Can power one major appliance and three small devices at the same time
- Quiet-running operation
- Environmentally friendly
- Ongoing fuel costs
- Cannot be used in the rain
- Cannot run more than one major appliance at a time
The Right Energy Setup for Camping Out
If you’re planning a long camping trip with the family, and need to heavily rely on power to run a TV, fridge, AC, and water pump, then you’ll need a solar panel setup that contains at least three one hundred and fifty-watt panels. We recommend the WindyNation solar panel kit. In addition to this kit, you should also bring along an inverter generator, like the Westinghouse WH2200iXLT Super Quiet Portable Inverter Generator, which offers a better than average runtime and has a reputation as being one of the most fuel-efficient generators on the market.
A combination of both power sources can be utilized to meet your energy needs when you’re camping out in the backcountry.
You can rely more so on the solar panels during sunny days, which will save you on high fuel costs that come with regular generator use. However, you may run into problems with both types of power options on rainy days since you cannot safely operate a generator in the rain and a solar panel system will not absorb as much energy on overcast days. The only solution here is to conserve solar power energy if rain is in the forecast.
To learn more about inverter generator safety and use during inclement weather, click here to read our article on how to protect RV solar panels in hail.
Do You Need a Generator with Solar Panels?
This can depend on your power needs and what types of appliances you need to power. If you have smaller appliances that don’t consume a lot of energy, then you should be fine with solar panels only. However, if your rig is equipped with a lot of energy demanding appliances such as air conditioners, then a generator can handle the job much better than a solar panel system alone. Additionally, a generator can also come in handy on overcast days when the solar panels are unable to produce as much energy as they can on sunny days.
Are Inverter Generators Quieter than Conventional Generators?
Yes! The inverter generator is made out of special housing materials that are designed to minimize the amount of sound they produce. Some also come equipped with special mufflers that can lower their noise during operation, even further. Conventional generators are not allowed at campsites, while the inverter generator is since most modern models of portable generators have a decibel rating around fifty-five to sixty-two. This is equivalent to the noise of a quiet conversation. Pretty impressive, right?
Can I Use My Solar Panel System During the Winter?
You can. Just keep in mind that the solar panels will not work as well on overcast days like they do on sunny days. If you’re camping out in a sunny part of the country, then you may not experience any type of dip in performance. But if you’re traveling through a part of the country that deals with rough winter conditions then you will need to conserve energy or purchase a camp generator in anticipation of this loss of energy.
How Many Solar Panels Does My RV Need?
How many solar panels you can use on your RV is based on the available space you have to work with on the roof of the RV. So, before you buy, measure the roof of your rig and pay close attention to the solar panel spec sheet. Most RVs can handle two to four solar panels. And, as you know, the more solar panels you have on your rig, the more power.
Solar panel vs. generator for camping: There is no clear winner here. Each power source possesses features the other does not, such as the ability to provide power on a rainy day, or low maintenance needs. You won’t be able to use your generator when it rains and you can’t rely solely on an RV solar panel system when it’s cloudy. But together, these power sources can handle many of the appliances that are found in modern rigs and can provide energy in most types of weather conditions.