Solar VS Generator

RV owners often want to find a way to extend their camping time while off-grid camping (camping away from electrical hook-ups). So inevitably the question arose; which is better, a generator or solar panels?

The answer to this question is more questions. What are your camping needs? What appliances are you running? And do you use the outlets in your unit frequently?

If your answer is that you use your air-conditioning, microwave, or outlets whenever you please and plan continue doing so- a generator is SolarPower1

perfect! Generators will run high-wattage appliances and virtually anything that you want to plug into your outlets. The only thing that you have to worry about is making sure that you have enough gas!

If you can live without your air-conditioner and microwave oven, solar panels could be your answer. Solar panels are silent, maintenance free, and do not require you to carry fuel.

The main difference between solar and generators is the way they provide power. Generators directly power the 120 Volt system and supply power to all the appliances and outlets which become available while using the generator. Solar run systems run anything that is 12 Volt and some low-wattage 120 Volt appliances with an inverter, provided that there is a big enough battery bank.

Solar is basically a battery charger. So if extending your time at camp is your main focus, they are the preferred option. Generators provide large amounts of power in a short period of time, while solar provides a steady charge that will have the best chance of getting your batteries up to 100%. It’s like the tortoise and the hare; Slow and steady wins the race!

Solar panels and generators can be used together, so that they can excel at their own specific tasks. Some RV’ers find that solar does everything that they need except running the air-conditioner or other high-demand high-wattage appliances. In this case, they will run the generator in the afternoon so that when they go inside to sleep the unit is cool; and the solar will top up the batteries so that they can use the lights and low-wattage appliances throughout the evening and morning.

Now that you know the difference between solar and generators, what should you buy? Not all solar panels and generators are created equally.

Solar has come a long way in the last ten years. Panels can either come in a portable form or permanently mounted to the roof of the unit. Panel sizes that are beneficial to charging a unit are between 75 and 260+ Watts. Smaller sizes are available; however, we only recommend smaller sizes to recharge stand-alone batteries (batteries with little to no draw on them). There are many different brands of solar panels. Good quality panels will provide more power than poor quality panels. A good rule of thumb is to look at the warranty on the panel. If it is 5 years or less or the regulator warranty is less than 2 years, they are probably not good quality products.

The biggest thing to look out for when buying a generator is that it is big enough to run the highest wattage appliance that you need at it’s peak draw (microwave, air conditioning, etc). Usually the average RV’er will need 3000 Watts or more out of their generator. Next ef3000ise-remote-500x500you want to make sure that the generator is going to be easy for whomever is operating it to use. If all the operators are confident with a pull-start and using a choke in colder weather the standard models will be fine. If not, most companies offer a simple upgrade kit with a key fob to start the generator from the comfort of the unit. Finally and most importantly when buying a generator it is very important to be considerate of your neighbors. Try to buy the quietest one possible and only run it during daytime hours if people are camped nearby (Honda or Yamaha).

Either way, upgrading your power system will give you a great advantage towards new travel options and off-grid time!


Lindsey Roberts

Snowy Peaks RV


Please follow and like us: