Is a solar powered system worth the upfront cost?

You can hardly mention boondocking without also mentioning electricity in the same sentence.

Before I started boondocking, I took electrical power for granted. When I wanted to run something that required electricity, I merely pushed a button or flipped a switch.

I never ran out–I could leave the lights on 24/7 and never receive an error message that my power was at 20% and the system would shut down in a few minutes.

Power was cheap. Supply was infinite. But when my wife and I became boondockers, that all changed. Now our power supply became limited by the number and state of our batteries. When our batteries became depleted, our electricity supply stopped–dead. No water–the pump wouldn’t run. No Radio. No TV. The electrical step wouldn’t retract. No lights to finish the last chapter of my book.

So power was now worth a lot more. More than just the cost. It was convenience also. But when
we tried to compare the costs of installing an equal system of alternative power–generator,
solar, wind–there were choices that had to be made.

Most of those choices involve expense. A simple sub-$1000 Honda generator would light out
lights and run our water pump, but not the air-conditioner, microwave, or coffee maker.
Spending more dollars for a larger generator would fix that. But there was also the noise of a
continuously running motor, having to carry cans of gasoline and having to constantly refill
after several hours of use, finding a storage place, and maintenance of its moving parts.

With a wind generator, you would frequently go for days in the summer without wind to turn its
blades, and if the wind blew at night you were subjected to the continuous rumble of the
running turbine. Maybe you would find yourself looking for windy camping areas. Not always a
desirable goal.

Solar panels are expensive. Much harder to install than plugging in a generator. Very little
output on cloudy days. Not of very much use in the Pacific Northwest, northern plains states,
or New England in the winter. And they just don’t work at night. So what’s the big deal with

This is why solar is my first choice:

* Once installed, no more to do, other than hose off debris and dirt occasionally.
* No moving parts to wear out or maintain.
* I prefer to boondock where the sun is shining, so they are always working to supplyelectricity.
* It works even when I ignore it.
* No noise–not a sound.
* Starts charging at first light, increases charge to maximum mid-day, and charges until the sun sets. In the summer that is a lot of hours.
* Stores its electricity in as many batteries as I want to install (in my case, 4 Trojan
golf cart batteries).
* I have the option of tilting them more directly toward a winter sun (that sits lower in
the sky) to produce optimum power.
* They continue to charge, though at a lower rate, on cloudy days.
* No CO2 emissions, no pollution, no noise.

Factor in the value of convenience, trouble free operation, and zero operational costs–even
when you pro-rate the hardware expense over several years–solar wins.

Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands(now available in a Kindle version), Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts, and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.


2 thoughts on “Is a solar powered system worth the upfront cost?

    1. Costs can run from a few hundred dollars to several thousand depending on the electrical appliances you have installed in your rig, how often you use these appliances, and how many of these appliances you expect to use when you are using solar power as your sole source of battery charging, i.e. when you don’t have hook-ups. Go online to one of the solar websites, such as that specializes in RV systems, for a worksheet which will lead you to the size system you need, then you can cost out that system using your specific information.

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