With the return of summer comes the return of Recreational Vehicles, or RVs, from their winter homes in the South. Nicknamed “road whales,” most of those homes on wheels have a bad reputation as gas guzzlers, but some of them are saving energy once they’re parked.
Solar systems mean the RVs don’t plug in to use electricity. Instead, they get some of their power from the sun. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Cari Noga reports:
With the return of summer comes the return of recreational
vehicles – RVs – from their winter homes in the South. Nicknamed
“road whales,” most of those homes on wheels have a bad reputation as
gas guzzlers. But some of them are saving energy once they’re parked.
Solar systems mean the RVs don’t plug in to use electricity. Instead,
they get some of their power from the sun. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Cari Noga reports:
Michigan RV owners, Bruce and Yvonne Banninger, take all the comforts of home along when they hit the road. Their big RV has a flat screen TV, surround sound, and even an electric bread maker. But they don’t have to hook up to power at an RV park, or start up a portable generator. To run all those appliances from the remote places they like to park, the Banningers rely on three solar panels mounted on the roof of their RV. Bruce Banninger says he wouldn’t want to motor home without the panels.
“We do a lot of boondocking, they call it, or not being plugged in. We like to just park out along a stream or a lot of places like that and you need power, and I don’t like running the generator all the time. And so the solar panels pretty much take care of it. On a sunny day.”
The Banningers have had solar since they got their first RV in 1992. Bruce Banninger says the fairly low cost, lack of maintenance, and the environmental benefit are the biggest reasons why RV owners like solar.
“I figure that for every panel that we have – solar panel – we can save running the generator one hour a day. And so when you figure out long term, that’s quite a savings. And you’re not burning a non-replaceable fuel. The sun, hopefully, will shine a long time yet.”
The Banningers have relied on their solar panels everywhere from California to the Everglades and on up into Canada. They found most U.S. National Parks don’t have electrical hookups, making solar pretty handy there.
“There’s something neat about being able to park out anywhere, and have all the power you need. It’s a good feeling; you’re self-sufficient.”
There’s not a lot of data on how many RVs use solar panels. But solar suppliers and RV manufacturers agree that it’s an option more RV-ers are choosing these days. The independent Michigan supplier who sold Banninger his panels has seen it. John Heis says most of his work is on homes, but people in his line of work in the South can earn a living just off the RV market.
“There’s a quite a market there to be done with RV people, certain parts of the United States where RV-ers live year-round, there are people that do make a living doing just that.”
Besides small dealers like Heis, large companies are finding a niche in RV solar too. Randy Bourne works at ICP Solar, a Canadian company that makes mobile solar products, like panels for RVs and boats. He says RVs are the company’s biggest market.
“Business has at least doubled over the past three to four years.”
Bourne says both consumers and manufacturers are demanding solar. One Oregon manufacturer, Monaco Coach, now offers a solar panel standard on its top-of-the-line model. Solar panels are optional on other Monaco models. They all come pre-wired so solar can be added later.
On RVs, solar panels charge the batteries that support the typical electrical systems. As RVs get bigger and more elaborate, new kinds of appliances and alarm and safety systems require power even when not in use. Randy Bourne says solar’s perfect for that.
“Solar and batteries go hand in hand. What the solar panels are doing now is putting in a small trickle charge to keep that battery well-maintained for a longer period of time.”
Cost depends on the extent of the system. Banninger estimated it cost him two thousand dollars for the panels and controller he installed five years ago. Today, Bourne says basic one-hundred watt panels cost between seven-hundred and nine-hundred dollars installed. That’s a relatively inexpensive option to add to high-end RVs, which can carry a price tag well into six figures.
RVs still use a tremendous amount of fuel going down the highway, but more and more, RVs are using the sun’s energy once parked, and some owners think in the long run, the solar-powered RV ends up using a lot less than driving from hotel to hotel. And the Banningers say that once they’re boondocked in the desert, with their solar panels catching the sun’s free rays, life is good.
For the GLRC, I’m Cari Noga.