Powering Your Off Grid Adventures
RV owners have a level of freedom that other travelers simply can’t achieve. You can head off grid with your luxury travel trailer and still have all the amenities of home. One of the necessities for luxurious boondocking is the ability to generate the power you need to keep your house batteries charged and your appliances running. If you can do that, you don’t have to worry about connecting to 30 amp or 50 amp shore power.
There are two primary methods of off grid power generation for RVers – generators and solar panels. Depending on where and how you want to travel, one may work better than the other for you – or you may decide to leverage both systems for the ultimate power security. Here’s a rundown of each. Which will you choose?
How Much Power Do RVers Need?
The amount of power you need to produce for your RV depends on the way you want to camp and the electronic devices that are most important to you. That means you’re need to sit down and do a little math to estimate your power needs.
Start by listing out the wattage required by your top priority electrified items. Include key RV systems like lights, outlets, water pump, and the refrigerator (note that some fridges only run on propane). If your recreational vehicle has slides, motorized awnings, or electric jacks, make sure you include them in the equation. Check with your RV manufacturer or in your owners manual for these details. Other important electronics could include a coffee pot, laptop, and the air conditioner. Once you’ve got your “must haves” list figured out, move on to medium and low priority items like perhaps the toaster, microwave, and a hair dryer. Once you’ve determined which items you need to power, add up the wattage and you’ll know how much power you’ll need!x
The final wattage number will largely depend on how your RV was built and the energy efficiency of the appliances and systems included. You can run all the systems on a Bowlus Terra Firma or Endless Highways Performance Edition with a 2,000 watt generator. You can do this because our luxury travel trailers have incredibly efficient appliances and a best in class power management system. These efficiencies also mean that you can spend up to a week off grid living off the Bowlus lithium iron house batteries before you’d even need to start generating more power.
Types of RV Generators
There are two main types of generators – open frame and inverter. Open frame generators produce a lot of electricity, but they are unbearably loud. Another challenge with open frame generators is that they produce what’s called “dirty” power that can damage the delicate electronics in your high tech RV as well as anything you might plug into an outlet. This type of generator is best used on a construction site, not your campsite.
If you’re looking for a generator for your luxury RV, you’re going to want what’s called an inverter generator. Quieter than their open frame counterparts, these generators produce a smooth, or “clean” electrical current that can safely power your RV’s systems and your personal electronic devices. They’re also more fuel efficient and have fewer moving parts so they require less maintenance.
Many Class A and Class C motorhomes and even most fifth wheels come with or are prepped for a built-in onboard inverter generator that can supply anywhere from 2,500 watts to over 5,000 watts of power. Cummins Onan RV generators are popular with many RV manufacturers. In motorhomes, it’s not uncommon for the generator to use the same fuel source as the vehicle’s engine. They’re designed so that you can’t run your generator if your fuel tank is less than a quarter full, be it gas or diesel. Alternatively, some onboard models may be hooked to your RV’s propane tank in a similar fashion. Onboard generators usually have an electric start and can be controlled from inside of the coach.
Smaller RV models tend not to have an onboard generator, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still head off grid. You just need to add a portable inverter generator to your camping gear. These compact models can go anywhere and will provide ample power for your boondocking vacation. We like the Honda EU2200i inverter generator because it’s super quiet and provides all the power a Bowlus will need.
Off Grid Power Pros and Cons
There are some pros and cons to heading off grid with a generator. On the plus side, you’ll always have power, regardless of the weather conditions. Of course, that “always” comes with an asterisk because you’ll always have power if you have fuel for the generator. And that’s one of the cons. You either need to carry additional fuel or have a plan for refueling your generator periodically.
The noise level associated with generators is another big con in our books. Even inverter models that are labeled as quiet make a racket. The best way around the noise is to not run it continuously. Once you’ve recharged your house batteries, turn off your generator to keep the peace. This will also reduce the number of times you need to replenish the fuel. It’s important to note that some state, national, and even private campgrounds limit the use of generators, so know before you go, especially if you’re booking a primitive site in a national park.
As with most RV systems, your generator will require maintenance, whether it be portable or onboard. Check the manufacturers recommendations for when you should have the oil and filters changed. This is typically based on the run time, or the number of hours that the unit has been used.
Lastly, it’s critical that your generator is well vented so that the exhaust doesn’t get into your RV. Make sure the vent for your onboard generator isn’t blocked or that your portable generator is positioned in such a way that the carbon monoxide can’t come in through a window or open vent. These emissions are dangerous.
RV Solar Power
Another great off grid power alternative is solar. Solar panels are becoming incredibly popular with campers because of their ease of use and the synergy of using nature to power your time in nature. Many RV models, including every Bowlus, come prepped for solar. For a lot of manufacturers, that means your RV is prepped for the installation of rooftop solar panels. We prefer portable solar panels because then you can park your RV in the shade while your solar panels are soaking up the rays. This makes it a lot easier to keep your RV cool in the summer because you don’t have to fight mother nature!
Pros and Cons of Solar
We love using solar to power our Bowlus because it’s quiet and it’s clean energy. Some people may be concerned about what happens when the sun isn’t shining, and that’s understandable. But technology has advanced such that today’s solar panels can still generate energy on cloudy days, they just don’t produce as much as they would on a sunny day.
All Bowlus luxury travel trailers are pre-wired for our 120 watt portable solar system. The Bowlus solar panels can generate 40-60 amp hours per day depending on the weather conditions, and you can get one or two panels depending on your needs. That’s more than enough to run the lights and all the outlets in your trailer, plus it’s enough power to run many of the appliances, including the refrigerator.
The New Kid On The Block
Portable solar generators, also known as power stations, are relatively new on the RV scene, but are something to check out if you like to boondock. Like the name implies, the power station uses small solar panels to charge a powerful lithium ion battery. You can then plug anything into the station from your toaster to your RV itself – just run your RV’s power cable to the device and you’re ready to roll – without the noise of a traditional generator. Brands like EcoFlow, Bluetti, and Jackery offer models ranging from 1,000 W up to 3,600 W.
Whether you opt for a generator, solar panels, a solar generator – or all three – you can hit the road in your RV knowing that you can generate the power you need to unlock endless off-grid camping experiences.