How To Choose The Best Solar Generator For RV Use: A Comprehensive Guide
(Camp Addict does NOT accept payment from any company to review or endorse their products.)
By Marshall Wendler
Last Updated: March 23, 2023
RVers wanting to get off the grid and stay at more remote locations need a dependable power source when they cannot plug into shore power. A solar generator for RV use are a viable option for certain camping situations for those who may not want to do a sizeable electrical upgrade on their camper.
Below you'll learn what a solar RV generator is, how it works, and if it's the right off-grid power choice for you.
You'll also learn what to look for when choosing one and see our picks for the best solar RV generator based on our personal experience with them.
Whether you're a full-time RVer or like to go camping on the weekends, an RV solar-powered generator is an easy all-in-one power solution letting you enjoy the great outdoors without being tethered to the power grid.
EcoFlow Delta Max
Jackery Explorer 1500
BougeRV 1100Wh Power Station
Already know all about this subject? Just looking for the reviews? Click the button below to jump down to the product reviews.
What Is An RV Solar Generator?
An RV solar generator is a portable all-in-one power solution. It provides DC and AC power from a compact unit that can recharge via solar panels.
An RV solar generator kit includes several components. It has a powerful lithium battery pack and an inverter to create 120-volt AC power. It also has a solar charge controller to convert power from one or more solar panels to recharge the battery pack. Additionally, it includes solar panels you can deploy outside to harness sunshine and convert it into usable power for recharging the unit.
Kits come in different sizes and capacities. Smaller units power basic devices or recharge electronics. Larger ones run power-hungry devices, like small appliances and air conditioners (for a limited time).
A solar-powered RV generator is portable. It provides a ready-to-use power solution to get you off-grid and out exploring more remote locations.
These portable power solutions combine the following components into a manageable package. They eliminate the need to buy and install these items individually for a built-in solar system:
What Are The Different Types Of Generators For RVs?
There are three main types of generators used by campers, as briefly explained below:
- Built-In Generators: Most motorhomes, camper vans, and a small percentage of travel trailers have a built-in generator. Depending on the available fuel source on the recreational vehicle, built-in generators run off gasoline, diesel, or propane and usually power all 120-volt appliances, including the air conditioner.
- Portable Generators: If an RV doesn't come with a generator from the factory, you can purchase a separate portable generator. These vary in size from relatively small ones to large ones. Small ones recharge the camper's house batteries. Larger, heavy units produce enough power to run the most power-intensive appliance, including air conditioners.
- Solar Generators (the subject of this page): Solar generators are a new, quieter option to traditional fossil fuel-powered generators. They can be carried inside an RV without the fuel smells of gas generators.
Can You Power An RV With A Solar Generator?
Yes, it is possible to power an RV with a solar generator. Depending on your power usage requirements, you must select the best RV solar generator for your specific power needs.
You can plug your camper directly into a solar generator, but using it as a standalone power supply is more typical. It can charge electronic devices (via USB charging) and small appliances requiring 120-volt power.
You would need a substantial capacity solar-powered RV generator to power larger appliances such as a larger fridge or air conditioning. This isn't the primary use scenario for one of these power supplies.
What Size Solar Generator Do You Need For Your RV?
The size solar generator needed for an RV depends on your power requirements. If you just need to recharge your laptop and phone, you could get away with a smaller, less expensive one.
Suppose you need to power larger appliances such as a microwave, electric fridge, or small air conditioner. In that case, you need a solar-powered generator for RV use, capable of handling larger loads.
You can calculate what your electrical needs will be to give you a general idea of how many watts of power your camper uses.
You could also buy as large of capacity as your finances will afford so that you have room to expand your electrical needs in the future.
When shopping for a solar-powered generator for RVs, remember that the bigger the battery capacity, the heavier and larger it will be. Also, recharging will take longer as the amount of power it can store increases.
Pros & Cons Of Solar Generators For RVs
Like most equipment you purchase for the RVing lifestyle, a solar generator for camper use has pros and cons you should consider before buying.
RV Solar Generator Pros and Cons:
How To Connect A Solar Generator To An RV
The most common way to use a solar generator while RVing is to plug individual items into the power unit.
For example, you would plug your phone or laptop directly into it when they need charging or your coffee pot into the generator when it's time to make a cup of joe.
Although it is possible to connect your RV's power cord directly to a solar generator, it's important to note that solar generators aren't primarily designed for this purpose. If you connect your RV to a solar generator, you'll need a power cord adapter (LINK) that fits your RV's shore power cord and the 120-volt receptacle on the generator.
How To Charge A Portable Solar Generator
Most portable solar generators have three ways to recharge:
- Portable Solar Panels: A solar-powered generator recharges by portable solar panels plugged directly into the generator. You can plug in as many watts of panels as the generator can support (800+ watts in some cases), and the built-in solar charge controller will convert the sun's rays into battery charging power. The more wattage of panels you have, the faster the generator recharges. Solar panels are generally optional, though most manufacturers offer bundles, including the power supply and solar panels.
- Wall Charger (120-volt outlet): Generally, the quickest method of recharging is using a 120-volt outlet as you find in your house. This is only practical if those outlets are available, but you're out of luck if you are in the middle of the boonies.
- Car Charger: A 12-volt car outlet (cigarette lighter style outlet) can be used for recharging. However, this method charges slowly, so be prepared to wait many hours to recharge larger solar generators. You will want to do this only while your vehicle runs, so the battery isn't discharged.
A note on using 12-volt car outlets to charge - My camper van has 500 watts of solar on the roof to recharge the house batteries. I don't have an inverter in my van's electrical system, so I am currently using an RV solar generator for my 120-volt power needs. I recharge the generator by plugging it into a 12-volt outlet during the day supplied by solar power. I'm getting the benefits of solar this way, and I don't have to use portable panels.
Is A Solar Generator For An RV Worth It?
A solar generator can be handy to an RV owner, but this depends on power needs and usage patterns. Here's what to consider when determining if a solar generator is worth it:
What To Look For When Shopping For A Portable Power Station
A solar generator is an easy way to up your camper's electrical game, but buying one can be overwhelming with so many options available. Below we discuss some features you should consider when shopping for a portable solar generator for RV use.
Battery capacity is the amount of energy the solar generator's battery can store and is typically measured in watt-hours (Wh) or kilowatt hours (kWh). A higher battery capacity means the portable power station can be used for longer periods before needing a recharge.
When considering battery capacity, consider your specific power needs and how you plan to use the solar generator.
The more items you want to power (or recharge), the larger battery you should consider.
Remember that the larger the battery, the heavier the overall unit. The cost also increases with battery capacity.
Most (if not all) current solar generators use lithium-ion batteries as this type of battery chemistry has some critical advantages over older battery technology, including:
While there are many types of lithium-ion batteries there are just a couple that are most widely used in RV solar generators:
Inverter Rating & Type
Inverters convert the battery energy (DC power) into 120-volt electricity (AC power). Consider a few things when shopping for the best RV solar generator to fit your power requirements, including what power rating it has, as well as what type of AC power it produces.
Inverters are rated to produce a certain amount of watts of AC power. There are generally two ratings: Continuous and Surge.
Choose a solar generator capable of producing the amount of power (watts) that the 120-volt appliances you plan on using require, including being able to handle any startup surges.
This wattage requirement is either stamped on the appliance (product data area) or in the user manual.
Solar generators use two main types of inverters (how the electricity is actually converted from DC to AC power):
When choosing a solar generator, consider both the inverter type and its capacity to handle the power required by the devices you plan to use. Now that you have a basic understanding of inverters, you can accurately evaluate the specifications of the various options.
The speed at which a solar generator charges depends on the battery capacity and the recharging method. Obviously, the larger the battery, the longer it takes to recharge. How different recharging methods impact the recharge time might not be so obvious.
The time it takes to recharge a solar generator completely can range from a few hours to over a day, depending on the abovementioned factors.
Some solar generators quickly recharge when plugged into a wall outlet, while others can take several hours using the same power source.
When camping off-grid, relying on solar panels to recharge your portable power supply may be your only choice.
However, it's crucial to note that it could take more than a day to completely charge a modestly-sized solar generator unless you have several hundred watts of solar panels.
Keep in mind that weather conditions, as well as the angle and placement of solar panels, impact charging times when using solar panels. Solar panels should be positioned at a 90-degree angle to the sun in direct sunlight (without any cloud cover) for optimal efficiency.
Number & Type of Ports
Consider the availability of power output ports when deciding on an RV solar generator.
The most common ports found on solar generators include USB-A and USB-C ports, AC outlets, and DC outlets.
USB ports are typically used to charge small electronic devices like phones, tablets, and cameras.
AC outlets supply 120-volt power from the inverter and are used to power larger devices such as laptops, TVs, and kitchen appliances.
DC ports (typically 12 volts) are used to power devices that operate on DC power, such as car refrigerators and air pumps.
The number and type of ports vary significantly between different solar generators. Some models may only have one or two USB ports, while others may have multiple USB ports, AC outlets, and DC outlets.
All the solar-powered RV generators we recommend offer a nice selection of power ports.
It's essential to consider the types of devices you plan to power with the generator and ensure that it has the necessary ports for your needs.
Display Showing Power Status
The best solar generators for RV use have a display screen that shows crucial information such as battery level, power output, and charging status.
More advanced units even have smartphone apps for monitoring conditions more precisely, turning on and off various power outputs, and fine-tuning settings.
Some have full-color displays, while others offer monochrome information readings. At the very least, all will have the essential information you need to use your solar generator successfully.
Weight & Size
Depending on the size of your recreational vehicle, you may be more sensitive to the size of a particular solar generator.
If you live in a cramped teardrop trailer or short camper van, you won't have space for a large power supply.
As previously stated, the more battery capacity (and therefore the ability to power larger devices for longer) a portable power station has, the larger the physical size it will be. Weight also increases with battery capacity.
If you constantly move the solar generator around to use it, you will want the smallest unit possible that can still power all your devices. If you can keep the unit in one place, then size and weight may be less of a consideration.
The largest solar generator we recommend weighs just under 50 pounds and measures roughly 20 x 10 x 12 inches. Not overly huge and heavy, but it still can be cumbersome if you are constantly shuffling it from place to place.
Therefore, it's essential to balance the need for a power supply that provides sufficient electricity with the need for portability and storage.
In general, solar generators with lower power output and battery capacity will be less expensive than models with higher power output and battery capacity.
Additionally, the type and quality of the solar panels used affect the price of the solar generator, with higher-quality panels generally being more expensive.
While it's tempting to choose the cheapest option available, it is important to consider the long-term value of a solar generator. Cheaper models may have lower-quality components that are more likely to fail or may not provide sufficient power to meet your needs.
On the other hand, more expensive models may come with additional features or higher-quality components that can provide greater value in the long run.
Another factor to consider is the frequency of your portable power supply usage. Suppose you live full-time in your camper and regularly need a reliable power source. In that case, you can justify a larger and higher-quality model compared to someone who uses it occasionally for camping trips.
Pass-through charging allows a solar generator to be charged while simultaneously powering other devices.
Pass-through charging allows the generator to function as a power source while being charged.
Pass-through charging is a relatively common feature on solar generators, but it's important to note that not all generators support this feature. Additionally, some manufacturers state that pass-through charging reduces battery life.
Expandability refers to both the ability to add additional battery capacity and being able to add more solar recharging capability.
With some RV solar generators (such as the EcoFlow Delta Max), you can buy additional batteries to double or even triple the standard battery capacity.
This allows you to upgrade your electrical power system without buying a new solar generator.
Every solar generator has a maximum capacity for solar panel input wattage, and some models can handle a relatively high total solar wattage.
To determine the optimal solar wattage for your needs, you can begin with a small solar panel, typically 100-200 watts, and gauge its effectiveness in charging the battery. If more power is required, you can increase the solar wattage accordingly.
Solar Generator Reviews
We thoroughly reviewed three of the best solar generators for RV enthusiasts and provide an accurate and unbiased assessment of their capabilities to provide power for camping trips.
As recreational vehicles are becoming increasingly popular for long-term travel and weekend getaways, a reliable and sustainable power source is crucial.
A solar generator can provide a convenient and eco-friendly solution to meet your power needs while on the road.
Our solar generator reviews cover the key features and pros and cons of each generator to help you choose the best option for your RV lifestyle.
Full Disclosure: All three manufacturers sent us a solar generator to test and evaluate. As with all products we agree to test, we are under no obligation to write a glowing review for a product just because it was given to us. If we like a product and think it's a good fit for our audience, we will discuss it on Camp Addict. If we don't like the product, you will never hear about it from us.
EcoFlow Delta Max
The EcoFlow Delta Max portable power station with a 2016Wh battery capacity can handle most appliances you would take on the road. You can expand capacity to 6kWh with optional additional batteries.
It has 15 power outlets total, including six AC outlets, two USB-C ports, and four USB-A ports for charging devices, and it can fully recharge in as little as 1.8 hours using an AC wall outlet.
The Delta Max's rugged and portable design, intuitive control panel, and fast charging time make it an ideal choice for off-grid living and your mobile lifestyle.
Jackery Explorer 1500
The Jackery Explorer 1500 is a portable power station with a 1534Wh battery capacity to power most appliances you would take on the road.
It has three AC outlets, one 12-volt DC outlet, and three USB ports, making it a versatile power solution for off-grid living and camping.
The Jackery 1500 is slower to recharge than our top pick and isn’t expandable if you need additional battery capacity.
BougeRV 1100Wh Power Station
Our top budget pick is the BougeRV 1100Wh portable power station because it offers impressive performance, affordability, and versatility.
With its 1100Wh battery capacity and a variety of 120-volt and 12-volt power outputs, the BougeRV power station can power all your electronic devices and small appliances for a decent amount of time.
Although the BougeRV power station may not have as many features as our other picks, it performs well and is significantly more affordable.
Purchase directly from BougeRV and get an additional 50% off your 1100Wh lithium power station purchase. Use the coupon code below on the BougeRV website (button below).
Get 50% Off Using Our Coupon Code: CA50
You get 50% off of the BougeRV 1100Wh power station purchase.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Solar Powered Generators Noisy?
Solar-powered generators are known for their silence, unlike traditional gas-powered generators. However, they may produce some cooling fan noise during recharging or when they provide high amounts of power.
Can A Solar Generator Run An RV Air Conditioner?
Running an RV air conditioner with a solar generator is possible, but it will depend on the capacity and specifications of both the generator and the air conditioner.
Air conditioners are high-power devices that require a lot of electricity to operate, and therefore, you would need a solar generator with both a high inverter power rating and plenty of battery capacity.
I successfully ran my camper van's air conditioning (a standard RV air conditioner with built-in soft start capability by plugging my van's shore power cord into an EcoFlow Delta Max. But, the display was showing only an hour of run time.
So is it practical to run an RV air conditioner from a solar generator? Not in most cases.
Can I Plug My RV Into My Solar Generator?
Yes, you can plug your RV into a solar generator if the power supply has a sufficiently large inverter to provide the necessary power. You may need to use the correct adapter between your shore power cable and the generator.
Before I upgraded to lithium house batteries, I tested this by plugging my camper van into an EcoFlow Delta Max to recharge the lead-acid batteries.
However, it's important to note that the solar generator may not be able to power your rig's air conditioner or other high-powered appliances. Instead, it's generally more practical to only plug in the specific items you want to power rather than the entire RV.
How Many Years Will A Solar Generator Last?
The lifespan of a solar generator is usually measured in battery cycles, which refers to the number of times it can be discharged and recharged, which is different from measuring its lifespan in years.
Manufacturers typically state the number of cycles a battery can endure while still retaining at least 80% of its overall capacity. The exact number of cycles will vary depending on the lithium-ion battery chemistry used, ranging from less than 1,000 to over 3,000 cycles.
What Size Solar Generator Should I Get?
When determining the size (battery capacity) you will need in a solar generator, you will have to figure out how much power (watt hours or amp hours) you will use daily. Yes, you will have to do math. Ugh!
Jackery has an article on how to size a solar generator.
Or you can buy the largest capacity generator your budget (and space) will accommodate and call it a day. Yeah, if only money were no object.
RV solar generators offer a convenient and eco-friendly solution for powering your recreational vehicle while off-grid. With their ability to harness the sun's power, they provide a reliable source of electricity without relying on noisy and smelly gas generators.
Solar generators are highly portable and user-friendly, making them an appealing choice for RVers who want to enjoy modern comforts while exploring remote areas.
They offer a convenient solution that avoids requiring a complete overhaul of the rig's electrical system.
However, it's important to note that not all RV solar generators are created equal. When choosing a solar generator, consider factors such as its capacity, charging time, and available power ports.
RV solar generators represent a promising alternative to traditional power sources. With their many benefits, they will continue gaining popularity among RVers who prioritize sustainability, convenience, and freedom while on the road.
Author: Marshall Wendler
As the co-founder of Camp Addict, Marshall Wendler is a seasoned expert in the world of RVing, with years of hands-on experience living the full-time RV life in his travel trailer. From 2014 to 2020, Marshall learned the ins and outs of the lifestyle and has enjoyed sharing his knowledge and expertise with others. After a brief hiatus as a part-time RVer in 2021 and 2022, Marshall is back on the road full-time, embracing the vanlife and all the exciting possibilities it brings. He particularly enjoys the freedom and flexibility of boondocking and is excited to share his technical insights with the Camp Addict community. Whether you're a seasoned pro or new to the RV world, Marshall has valuable insights and information to share, and is here to help you navigate the exciting world of RVing with confidence and ease.