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Along with increased usage of solar panels in RVs and homes are the myths, misconceptions and fallacies about them. Is it true that solar panels cost tens of thousands of dollars? Is it true that solar panels are made in environmentally toxic places? Some myths even say solar energy is going to damage your camper.
These solar panel myths are everywhere, but we are going to clear the air right here. We have collected the top 18 solar power misconceptions and laid out the facts.
1. Solar Panels are Too Expensive
This is the number one thing that holds people back from going solar. They believe that solar panels cost thousands of dollars and they will never recover the cost. However, we need to distinguish between the cost of solar panels for residences and solar panels for RVs.
3kW to 8kW solar panels for homes cost around $16,000 to $41,000. The cost goes down to $6,000 to $13,000 if you install the components yourself (for 3kW to 8kW systems). This does not include the state rebates and tax credits that you will receive. Rebates and credits vary per state, but add everything up and the cost can go down by another 40%-50%.
Portable 150W to 200W solar panels for RVs cost $500 to around $1,500. With this you can power a few small appliances and some LED bulbs. If you want to run more appliances, you can get more powerful solar panels and batteries for your RV.
You should do a test and determine how much solar power you will need, but here are some guidelines to help you. Note: the cost includes the solar panels, charge controller, inverter and battery.
- 400W Solar Panel: can run all appliances except AC, microwave and the fridge. Cost: $3600-$4,600.
- 800W Solar Panel: can run all appliances and leave you with reserve power. You can use a microwave for short periods, but you can’t use a fridge or AC. Cost: $4,000-$6,000.
- 1200W Solar Panel: lets you run everything except the AC. Cost: $5,000-$6,500.
- 21,500W Solar Panel: you can run everything including an AC. However there are few, if any, systems like this that can be installed on an RV. Cost: $10,500+
As you can see, the cost really only starts to go up if you decide to run everything on solar. But if you don’t have large appliances in your RV, the cost is manageable. If you live in you RV, you’ll recover the cost of a $3,000-$4,000 system in a year or two.
2. You Only Need Solar Panels to Get Power
Solar panels are the most visible part of a solar power system, but there are three more important parts. You need them all to run electronic devices smoothly.
- Solar panel: the solar panels absorb sunlight and turn it into energy.
- Battery: the energy that solar panels produce is stored in the battery.
- Battery charge controller: the charge controller prevents batteries from overcharging as it absorbs solar energy.
- Inverter: solar energy is DC, so an inverter is required to turn that into AC before it can be used by TVs, kitchen appliances and other electronics.
This video shows how a typical solar system works.
3. Every RV Owner Should Go Solar
Adding solar power to an RV offers many benefits: free energy, can go anywhere you want and greater freedom. But it is not for everyone. If you only use your RV on the weekends, there is no point spending a couple thousand dollars on solar power as it will take a long time to recoup it.
If you use your RV regularly but spend lots of time in campgrounds, going partly solar is an option. For those times when you aren’t on a campground, you can depend on solar power.
If you live in your RV and don’t want to be tied down to RV parks, investing in a full solar power system is a good strategy. Since you’ll always be on the road you’ll make your money back quickly. From then on it’s free energy.
4. Solar Power Systems Can Run Everything
In homes it is possible, in RVs, no. As explained in #1, a fridge, microwave and AC consume too much power. If you want to use an AC, you must have another power source besides solar, or a powerful solar panel. Or you can go to an RV campground and avail of their power and amenities.
Yes you can run a lot of appliances on RV solar panels, but you’ll want a generator to run an AC or a fridge. Even then, you reduce costs because almost everything else runs on the sun’s energy.
5. Solar Panels are Made in Eco Unfriendly Procedures
According to this myth, manufacturing of solar panels use up so much energy that solar panels cannot compensate for this in its lifespan. This is false. Energy consumed during manufacturing will be exceeded by the solar panels in 4 years’ time more or less.
As for the claims that solar panel manufacturers emit pollution, these products are manufactured according to rigid standards. Solar panels also reduce carbon emissions with continuous use, another important benefit.
6. Solar Panels are Noisy
This is also false. Solar panels do not produce any sound. Neither do portable solar generators. The most you will probably hear is a slight hum from the inverter. But you’ll only notice that if the RV is quiet and you are near it. Otherwise solar power systems are silent.
That humming sound from the inverter also goes silent in the night as it doesn’t generate energy. Solar power systems are noise pollution free.
7. Solar Panels Weaken the Roofing Structure
This myth claims that solar panels will damage the roof during installation. Others say the panels will undermine the roof’s structural integrity. Both are false.
RV roofs are durable, and portable solar panels are light enough for one person to carry. Even if you add more panels, the weight will not be enough to compromise the roof. Second, railings are used in solar panel installation so the roof itself is not touched.
Solar panels can be removed during cleaning. If anything, they provide protection for the roof as it serves as a cover against the elements. The key here of course, is to make sure the roof doesn’t have any damage prior to installing a solar panel.
8. Solar Panels are Good For Daytime Use Only
This misconception stems from a lack of understanding of how solar power works. The thinking is that, “solar panels get energy from the Sun. So when the Sun goes down there’s no more power”.
True, solar panels cannot absorb the sun’s energy during the night. But during the day, the panels accumulate more than enough energy to last throughout the night. The extra energy is stored in the battery. When the sun goes down, the battery taps into the stored energy. The next day, you can charge the depleted battery while the solar panel absorbs sunlight.
9. Solar Panels are Useless in Cold Climates
This is also false. Solar power relies on the sun’s energy, not the temperature. As long as the sun is there, solar panels can and will absorb that energy. If you have a good sized solar system in your RV, you’ll also have ample reserve during the summer months so when winter comes there is sufficient power available.
10. Solar Panel Prices Will Go Down More, So Don’t Buy Now
During the 1970s, the solar cost per watt in the US was $75. Today it is around $1.50. Why not wait a few more years when the price gets really cheap?
True, solar panel costs continue to go down due to demand and increased efficiency. But it isn’t going to go down as much as it used to. In time we may see a consolidation of prices, so now is the right time to purchase a solar panel for your RV. The same thing can be said for homes, as tax rebates and incentives are available everywhere.
11. Solar Panels Make RVs and Houses Look Bad
There was a time when solar panels were something of an oddity, but that is no longer the case. More and more RVs are installing solar power so it’s become commonplace. Aside from the usual gray, solar panel cells also now come in blue so it is more aesthetically pleasing.
12. Solar Panels Cost Too Much to Maintain
Not true at all. Solar panels usually have 20-25 year warranties, which says something about their quality. Second, very little maintenance is needed. A good cleaning down every now and then is all that is required. Actually a good rain shower is all that is needed to remove dirt and debris.
A lot of solar power kits have indicator displays that keep track of the solar panel’s performance. If you notice a dip, it probably means the solar arrays need some cleaning. But aside from a good wash, that’s all the maintenance needed.
13. Unused Energy Stored in the Battery Causes Damage
Solar batteries are designed to store surplus energy produced by solar panels. This won’t cause any damage as long as the battery is working properly. Solar batteries -whether it is lithium ion, lead acid or AGM – will not store more energy than it is capable of handling.
One possible problem may occur if the battery overcharges, which is why you need a battery charge controller. Your solar kit should come with a controller so the current voltage is optimized.
Lithium ion and lead acid batteries are the most widely used and they are both designed to store power without suffering any damage. As solar batteries become more advanced, you’ll be able to save extra power without cause for worry.
14. Solar Panels Won’t Work Without a Sun Tracker Device
Another common misconception is you must install a sun tracking device to get the best results from your solar panels. Sun trackers are not necessary. All you have to do is install the solar panel on the roof. When you park your RV, avoid the shade. Just position the RV where the sun is at its most intense and the panels will do the rest.
If you see a sun tracker device online, skip it. Your solar panel will run fine without it. If you find yourself needing more power, add another set of panels. Whatever gains you may get from using a sun tracker is minuscule and not worth the price.
15. Solar Panels Lower the Value of an RV
This myth stems from the belief that solar powered RVs are aesthetically unappealing. Actually, the value of an RV is probably going to increase if it is solar equipped. More and more RVers are going solar, and even those that aren’t will be happy to know that the RV is equipped in case they decide to use solar energy.
Price appreciation is a benefit that often goes unnoticed. Not everyone wants to learn how to install a solar panel or pay someone to do it. By having an RV with a built in solar panel, it becomes a more attractive option for buyers.
16. Solar Panels Can Run Without Batteries
You can run solar panels without a battery but it does not make sense. The battery serves as the storage system, so without it you won’t be able to save any solar energy. Portable solar chargers don’t necessarily need a battery (though it may have one) since they’re used to charge mobile devices, but for RVs, a battery is essential.
17. Solar Panels are Difficult to Install
If you have some DIY experience, installation should not pose any problems. The nice thing about solar panels is they are scalable. You can start with a basic 100W solar panel for your RV. Once you’ve hooked that up to your battery and inverter, you’ll feel more comfortable adding other components.
Installing solar panels for home use is more complex as there is a larger area to cover, but you can learn how to install the panels. However, residential solar power systems often require professional installation to simplify and expedite the process..
18. You Can No Longer Use Other Power Sources When You Go Solar
That is not true at all. In fact, the majority of RV owners today use a combination of solar, electrical and / or gas. While it is possible to use solar 100%, it only makes sense if you live in your RV and you really want to eliminate your carbon footprint.
As pointed out earlier, microwaves, refrigerators and AC systems consume a lot of power, way too much for a standard sized solar panel. You need thousands of watts to run all those appliances at an enormous cost. So it’s better to just use gas or electricity to run power hungry appliances like a fridge, and leave the rest to run on solar.
There is no problem with using different power sources for an RV. In fact many recommend it as you have greater versatility when faced with different situations.
A lot of the myths we explained above are still held by many, but hopefully they will disappear as solar panel use becomes more common. Armed with knowledge you can now decide whether to go full solar, a hybrid solar / electricity or wait for a while longer. The important thing is you’re better informed and confident you will make the right decision. .