Generator vs Solar for RV – Which Is Better Option?

Generator vs Solar for RV – Which Is Better Option?

If you have an RV, then you are probably going to want to have some sort of power supply with it. After all, a power supply will ensure that you are able to enjoy all of those comforts that an RV is known to provide.

Of course, when it comes to power supplies, you have a plethora of options out there. In this post, I am going to be pitting an RV generator vs solar to help you to determine which one is going to be the best option for your needs.

Cost difference between the two options

Honestly, the difference isn’t that high. Well, at least when you get to the high-range generators. If you are looking for something basic, then a simple generator is probably the way to go.

Even at the low-end of the market, solar can get a little bit more expensive than generator.

On an Average you can buy a 1000 to 2000 watts generator in around $300 to $600. But, obviously the prices vary for brands and watts. There is a wide variety of generators available and vary a lot in price, check out my article on same. (Have covered various brands, watts and their prices)

Solar Prices too can vary depending on brand and how big the installation is. A smaller kit can be bought in around $500 – $600 and it can go upwards till $2000 for bigger installations.

That being said, you will probably also want to factor in how the generator is actually going to be powered. For example; in the case of a solar , you are going to need to have nothing else at your disposal.

This means that while the initial purchase may be cheap, there will be ongoing fuel purchases.

This means that, in the long run, you may actually end up spending a lot more money for something that is going to do the same job,

We will discuss the maintenance of both types of systems later on. However, at this stage, we do want to point out that it is probably going to be a whole lot cheaper to maintain a solar system. This is something that you may wish to factor into the equation.

What can they power?

Both an RV generator and a solar are going to be fine powering just about anything in your RV. The one thing you will want to ensure is that whatever option you are using, there is enough ‘power’ in the generator to ensure that you can power everything that you want in your RV. We are going to talk a little bit more about that in a short while.

Do RVs come with solar pre-installed?

Cheaper RVs will not have solar pre-installed in the vehicle. However, as you go up in price, you are more likely to find options that have solar panels included in the package price.

Although, do bear in mind, that often it is going to be far better to purchase the solar panels separately. This way you will be able to guarantee the quality that you have installed in your vehicle.

What about generators – are they pre-installed?

Most RVs are not going to come with generators installed. Generally speaking, it will only be the ‘highest end’ RVs that have any sort of generator installed.

However, even then, it is likely going to be a solar panel as opposed to your conventional generator. Basically, if you want a standard generator in your RV, it is likely that you are going to need to purchase one separately.

Installing Solar in RV – How do you go about it

We do not want to give you a complete guide to installing solar in an RV on this page. This is because there are a lot of intricacies to the set-up. Also, each and every solar system that you buy can be set-up in a different way.

What we can do, however, is give you an overview of how the components fit together. This way you will be able to understand a little bit better about how everything slots together.

The solar panels go on the roof. The more ‘power’ your system requires, the more panels you will need.The power generated by these solar panels is directed to a DC Inverter. The DC inverter converts this current into AC And the AC current is fed to a battery. Then the battery is what is connected to the power system of your RV

When you are installing solar in your RV, you will want to ensure that the solar panels are outside and as high as possible. The DC inverter and battery will need to be located inside of your vehicle. You do not want to have these exposed to the elements as this will shorten their lifespan.

Installing a generator in your RV

Installing a generator in your RV is easy. Although, we do suggest that you do not physically place it in your RV.

If you are running a generator that runs on burning fuel of any kind, then it is going to create fumes that you really, really do not want to be breathing in while you are in your RV. Keep the generator outside.

Fill it up with fuel, then connect it to the ‘power in’ slot on your RV. You may need to read the manual for your RV to find out exactly how you connect the generator up.

Power Needs in Your RV

Perhaps the best way to work out exactly how much power you need for your RV is to go through each and every appliance one by one. You can then work out the wattage of these appliances and get an RV generator or solar panel system that you are 100% sure is going to be able to power all of these.

Although, do bear in mind that not all of these appliances are going to be powered at the same time. Do you know which appliance consumes most power in RV? Its the AC and the watts consumption can vary on many factors, check out my complete guide on same.

If you want a rough guide, this is the amount of power that RV equipment tends to consume:

  • Microwave: up to 800 watts
  • Air Conditioner : Around 1100 to 1400 watts for running (depends on BTU)
  • Light bulbs – whatever wattage the bulb is
  • Water heater: around 1,500 watts
  • Iron 1,200 watts
  • Vacuum – 1,100 watts
  • Fridges – Normally about 500 watts continuous, but some can be as many as 1,500 watts!
  • Grill – up to 2,000 watts
  • Coffee maker – up to 1,000 watts
  • TV – Up to 500 watts (dependent on size)
  • Laptop – 200 watts +

Remember; these are only guidelines for the amount of power that you need. It is up to you to go through your own appliances to find out exactly how much you need.

How Big Generator you need

The best option is to make a list of all of the appliances you will need to run at once e.g. your fridge, air conditioning etc. this will be your base wattage. On top of this, you will want to consider the other appliances you will be running at the same time (albeit for short periods). For example; your oven may not need to run at the same time as your TV or coffee maker.

If you do this, then you will get a rough idea for how much power you need for your RV. Always try to get a little bit more than you actually need. This will prevent power surges.

Some of you may think this isn’t as simple as calculating the watts consumption for all the appliances. Hang on and read my previous article on all the details about choosing the right size generator for different RV types (It is indeed tricky to get the right size generator)

How much solar power do you need for your RV?

You will need to go through all of your appliances to find out exactly how much solar power you need in your RV. Look at the wattages of the ‘main appliances’ and then add them up. You can then add a good few thousand watts on top of these to ensure that you are covered for every eventuality.

Maintenance comparison between solar and generator

With solar panels, there is going to be very little in the way of maintenanc.e You may need to swap the battery out on occasion but, for the most part, the solar panels are just going to ‘work’.

On the other hand, dealing with a generator is going to be a whole different beast. They need to be regularly cleaned. The cleaning schedule can be quite intense too. This is before you factor in the fact that you may need to regularly change out certain parts to ensure that your generator can continue to run in prime condition.

All of what you need to do will be detailed in the manual that you get included with your generator set-up, but some people are going to find it a little bit too much work when they just want to relax while in their RV.

Longevity – solar vs generator in RV

Obviously, how long everything is going to be lasting is dependent on a multitude of different factors. Generally speaking, a good solar panel set-up can last you a good decade or so.

Some of the best systems on the market are rated to last a couple of decades. Although, you may need to change the battery out in that time frame.

When it comes to a standard RV generator, then you may find that you get around 5-10 years usage out of it before you need to change it. Although some of the cheapest options out there may last a couple of years before replacement.

When it comes to RV generator v solar, no matter what option you go for, we suggest that you always find the best you can afford. This is the only way to guarantee that you are going to be getting something that lasts a long time.

Reliability comparison between them

Both options are going to be fairly reliable. However, in our experience, solar panels tend to break down a whole lot less. When somebody makes the claim that solar panels are going to last you for 20-years, then the chances are pretty slim that they are going to last for this long. There are very few moving parts in a solar set-up.

In fact, the only thing that is prone to going will be the battery that is being charged by the solar panels.

However, if you purchase a quality set-up (or your RV has it installed), then this is something that you are probably not going to need to worry about all that much. The system is going to work perfectly for you.

That being said, even standard generators have very little that could go wrong with them. Assuming that you use the right fuel for your generator, and you have actually purchased a quality unit from a reputable vendor, then you are going to have a generator that will last you a decent amount of time and give you the minimum amount of aggravation.

Whats the Source to power them Up

Obviously, the solar generator is going to be powered by the sun. Generators will run on some sort of gas. We won’t go into the wealth of options here. However, you are going to need to have a gas for your RV generator (this could be diesel, natural gas, propane or standard gas).

Dependent on where you are traveling to in your RV, a lot of these options may be a bit difficult to get hold of.

This is why many people will opt for solar generators. No matter where you go, you are always going to have access to those UV rays, albeit in different ‘quantities’ dependent on where you are and the time of day.

Do you still need a generator if you have solar power in your RV?

We would suggest that you do. Although, if you have a solar system in place, then having a small generator is going to be sufficient. This is because there may be some times that the solar panel system is not pulling in all of the energy that you need.

This means that you may want a small generator to keep certain appliances up and running.

That being said, you probably won’t need to use it all that much. However, it is nice to have it ‘there’ if you do.

Always opt for something small.

Since you already have a set-up in place, you probably do not want to have a massive generator taking up a ton of space in your RV if you are barely ever going to be using it, right?

Can you run a generator on solar in your RV?

There are some generators that will run on solar! Not many, and the options on the market can be quite costly, but if you want something that is a bit more portable and you do not wish to have it permanently wired into your RV system, then this may be something that you will want to consider.

The systems will work in pretty much the same way, the only difference is that it becomes a whole lot easier to unplug it from your RV set-up if you need to do so.

Conclusion – Which Option is Better?

So, now we have pitted RV generator v solar, what do we feel is the best option? Well, in the vast majority of cases, we would lean towards solar power. It is much, much easier to use. It is much cleaner for the environment, and if you have the right set-up, it is going to be easy to maintain and will barely take up any space in your RV.

Of course, classic generators will always have their use, particularly if you are sticking to a budget and if you do not have high power consumption needs, but if you can, you should always look into solar power first. You really are going to enjoy having this type of power on your RV. There is nothing better than not having to constantly refill fuel.

G. Yoganand

A RV enthusiast who spends countless hours researching and learning various things related to RV camping. He believes in spending time doing Outdoor activities.
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