If you are currently shopping for a new camper van, you will notice some RVs with stickers saying “Solar Prep.” But what does RV solar prep mean? Do solar-prep RVs already have solar panels installed on their roofs?
RV solar prep is a marketing term more than anything else. A solar-prep RV does not have solar panels installed. Instead, they have solar panel connection ports installed, so it will be easier for you when you want to install solar panels. You still need to buy a solar panel system for your RV.
Best For Camper Owners
If you have ever experienced buying a motorhome or camper, you’ve seen some campers with stickers saying, “Solar Ready” or “Solar Prep.” Solar energy is beneficial for camper owners who are trying to save costs on hook-up fees.
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A traditional RV uses 30 or 50 amp of shore power and has direct current (DC) power banks. However, people who are into RV off-grid camping or those who are environmentally conscious opt-out to using shore power for their camper. In this case, they will benefit more from a solar prep RV.
RV Solar Prep Defined
When you first hear the term “solar prep,” you may think that an RV already has solar panels installed on them. But in reality, this is a marketing term that means an RV has wires ready for solar power. It does not mean that the RV already has installed solar panels. Instead, it comes with a connection port that may come in handy if you want to install solar panels on your camper.
They Don’t Have Built-In Components
Solar-prep campers do not come with solar components installed. They only have stickers that tell buyers only to get solar panels from a particular brand. It’s like a promotional strategy and partnership between an RV manufacturer and a solar panel installer. By having an intimidating sticker that tells you what solar panel brand to get, you will contact that brand once you want to add solar panels to your RV, thus bringing it sales.
Solar-ready campers have the same concept. However, they have different systems that will depend on the RV’s
- number of panels that you can install
- wiring design and size
For this reason, you must search for solar-ready RVs when you are planning to buy one. This way, you can compare your choices and find the components that will work best for your needs are demands. (source)
Types Of Connections For Solar Prep RVs
While a solar-ready RV does not mean it has solar panels installed, having the wires ready when upgrading your RV into a solar-powered camper is still beneficial. With wires prepared for solar panels, you can ensure the wiring configurations are in their proper places and are compatible with your trailer.
Moreover, there are two options when it comes to solar prep connections:
- roof ports
- sidewall cable ports
Roof ports are beneficial if you want to mount permanent solar panel systems on the roof of your camper. You may find this wiring configuration helpful if your RV has all manner of comforts. It also works best for those who spend more than just a day or two in your RV.
These roof ports are wires with one end connected to the roof while the other extends down to the RV’s battery without any connection.
Sidewall Cable Ports
Solar panel companies supply and install sidewall cable ports to RV manufacturers. A sidewall cable port is a factory-installed plug that RV owners can use to power low-voltage appliances.
However, it is essential to note that this type of solar power port cannot support high-voltage devices like electric cooktops. It only serves as a portable solar power system to ensure that your RV’s battery will not run out of power for low-voltage conveniences. (source)
The Pros And Cons Of RV Solar Prepping
Using solar power undeniably reduces energy costs. So, opting for a solar-prep RV can bring several advantages to campers who want to save money on electricity. Solar power also has environmental benefits, making it a good choice for people looking to contribute to the environment.
- You Will Not Have To Worry About Wirings
If your RV is not solar-ready, installing wirings for solar panels is both expensive and time-consuming. You may even have to hire a professional to do the job, which can be costly apart from the solar panel system you need to purchase.
On the other hand, buying a solar-ready RV means you no longer have to worry about installing the wirings. Instead, you will only buy the solar panels, an inverter, and a charge controller and install them immediately.
- Clean Energy
As mentioned, solar power has benefits to the environment. It is a clean and natural source of electricity. Unlike other energy sources, solar energy is renewable and does not produce greenhouse gases that pollute the air.
In addition, solar energy only uses less water for maintenance. So, installing solar panels reduces electricity costs and can help you lessen your water usage in terms of maintenance.
- Increased Rv Battery Life
Having solar panels installed on your camper van can increase the lifespan of your RV battery. A regular RV battery has an average lifespan of 4 to 5 years. But installing solar panels will increase the battery life by 5 to 8 years.
With this benefit, you can save a high cost on battery replacement.
- It Makes Off-Grid Camping Easier
Off-grid camping can be challenging for some as they will not have access to camping hook-ups like electricity. However, campers who want to get closer to nature still opt for this camping. Fortunately, installing solar panels to your RV allows you to enjoy your RV’s electrical conveniences even when there are no camping hook-ups on your chosen campground.
This way, you can enjoy the peace and fresh air that surrounds you without worrying when your RV will run out of battery. (source)
Solar-ready RVs have their set of disadvantages, too. Before getting a solar-ready camper, it is crucial to know what these disadvantages are so you can assess whether a solar prep RV is really for you or not.
- Solar-Prep RVs Are Expensive
Solar-ready campers cost a lot more than a regular RV. Apart from the purchasing cost, you will also need to purchase solar panels and pay installation costs. While there are cheap system options, they may not work as well as the high-quality ones.
Additionally, there are solar power system components that you need to purchase, which are:
- Inverter – a vital device that converts direct current (DC) that your solar panels will generate into alternating current (AC) electricity to power your RV appliances.
- Charge controllers – prevent your RV’s batteries from overcharging. A charge controller also regulates the current and voltage that travels from the solar panels to the RV battery.
- Recovering From The Cost Of Investment Takes Time
Installing a solar panel system is an expensive investment. And while it can reduce your camping fees significantly, it will not eliminate the camping costs. For this reason, it may take years to recoup the money you invested in the purchasing and installation costs.
- Solar-prep RVs Are Complicated
Simply hearing the words “solar ready” can already be intimidating. However, what is even more complex is when you see the solar wirings of the RV, regardless if they are roof or sidewall cable ports. Additionally, learning what the wirings are for and how electricity works can be complex.
But every solar prep RV owner must understand how a solar panel system works, no matter how complicated. (source)
How Many Solar Panels Can You Install On An RV?
There is no denying that a solar prep RV is beneficial for campers, especially to those who like camping off-grid. However, it is vital to note that solar prepping your camper van will not entirely solve the electricity problems in your RV. There is a limitation to using solar panels when camping.
Many of the solar prep RVs you will find on the market today can only accommodate a limited number of solar panels. The reason is that manufacturers usually use small wirings of the solar prep. As a result, the system can only handle little electricity.
Can You Replace The Wires On Solar Prep System?
Unfortunately, you cannot replace the wires used for the solar prep system. You will have to make do with whatever the manufacturer installed in your RV and use solar panels that are compatible with the wire size.
Moreover, the limited number of solar panels can be an issue if you want to have off-grid camping. Your solar panels will not be able to generate enough electricity to keep the appliances inside the RV running. And while you can modify the wires used for your solar-ready RV, the process can be expensive and require much work.
Fortunately, you can solve this dilemma by running a high-voltage solar panel system. It is possible if you will:
- install multiple solar panels in series
- use higher voltage solar panels
Either way, you will also need to use a high-voltage MPPT charge controller (source)
Factors To Consider When Getting A Solar-Ready RV
Now that you know the answer to “what does RV solar prep means,” you will be able to decide whether or not you want to purchase a solar-ready RV. If you do, here are the factors that you need to consider before making a purchase:
- The Number Of Solar Panels You Need
Knowing how many solar panels your camper van needs depends on your energy consumption, the amount of sunshine the panels receive, and the efficiency of your solar panels.
You can determine the number of solar panels you need for your RV by calculating your average energy consumption daily. To do the calculation, list the appliances you use during camping, how often you use them, and how much power they need to operate.
To determine how much energy your entire RV requires daily, you must multiply each appliance’s voltage requirement by the amount of time you use each appliance.
Once you have the total energy required for your RV, you next need to determine how much electricity your solar panel system produces. You can do this by counting how many solar panels you have and adding the total energy they can make when they receive a good amount of sunlight daily.
- Cost Of Purchase And Solar Panel Installation
As mentioned, the actual solar panel system does not come installed on a solar-ready RV. Instead, only the wires come set up on the camper van when you purchase it. So, apart from the cost of the RV itself, you also need to consider how much you will need to spend on buying the solar panels and the cost of installing them.
You must prepare more than just the RV’s cost when purchasing a solar-ready camper van.
- Maintenance Cost
So you now have an RV equipped with a solar panel system. But the money you need to spend on your solar panel system does not stop there. There is still a minimal maintenance cost that you need to pay from time to time to ensure that your solar panel system stays in excellent condition.
Fortunately, solar panel systems do not require much maintenance, and they can reduce the amount you spend on your RV, making them an excellent investment regardless of the initial price you need to pay. (source)
What Appliances Can An RV Solar Panel System Power?
Installing solar panels on your RV allows you to keep things running even when no electrical hook-ups are available on your campground. But apart from keeping the lights on, you may be thinking about what other appliances you can power using solar panels. The answer depends on how much power your solar panel system can generate.
For instance, if your system only generates low electricity, it can only supply power to low-voltage appliances like your lights and a microwave. On the other hand, solar panel systems that generate high electricity can run your air conditioner and other high-voltage and long-running conveniences.
How Many Types Of Solar Panels For Camper Vans Are There?
There are three solar panel types that you can install on your RV, each of which has a different level of durability and efficiency.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
This type of solar panel is the most efficient out of all the solar panel types. It can generate high amounts of electricity in a short period, making it great for large camper vans with many appliances inside.
However, this efficiency comes with an expensive price tag. But if you like going camping for more than just a long weekend, monocrystalline solar panels can be a fantastic addition to your RV.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Polycrystalline panels are a little less efficient than the first solar panel type. But they are still highly durable for RVs that use low-voltage electricity.
Amorphous Solar Panels
This solar panel type is new to the market. It is not yet as good as its older counterparts, but manufacturers will surely improve this solar panel to be an excellent option for solar-prep RVs. Still, amorphous solar panels are a good choice if you want bendable and easy-to-install solar panels. (source)
Is Solar-Ready RVs Worth The Investment?
Solar-ready camper vans are not cheap, so you want to ensure that it is a worthy investment when you purchase one. Considering the answer to “what does RV solar prep means,” you may be wondering if buying a solar-ready camper will provide you with benefits.
Knowing whether or not a solar-ready RV is worth the money depends on you. You need to ask yourself about your camper’s electricity needs, how often you go camping, and how much time you have access to electrical hookups, among other things. Your answers to these questions will help you figure out whether you need a solar-ready RV or not.
If you spend most of your time in campgrounds where electrical hook-ups are always available, you may not gain many benefits from getting a solar-ready RV. The same goes if you only go camping a few times a year, as it will take years before you can recoup the upfront cost of a solar-ready RV and solar panel installation.
On the other hand, a solar-prep RV is beneficial for campers who like traveling to remote areas often.
Summing Things Up
What does RV solar prep mean? It is a term that tells campers that the RV they want to buy already has wirings and connection ports for solar panel installation. Solar-ready RVs do not have solar panels installed in them. Instead, they are ready for the system installation, so you will not have to hire a professional to set up the wires and connection ports.
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