By Cheri Sicard
“Better” is a subjective word. So when it comes down to deciding between RV inverter generators and solar power it will depend on which makes more sense for your rig and the way that you like to RV.
And who says you need to choose just one or the other?
Personally, I have a portable power station that I can charge with solar, house power, or while driving. It meets most of my needs most of the time. But I still intend to add an inverter generator for the rare days when I need the A/C.
In the video below, Duane, a certified RV inspector from the RV Inspection and Care YouTube channel is here to help you get the answers so that you can best fulfill your boondocking power needs.
In the video below, he explains what inverter generators are and examines the pros and cons of RV inverter generators versus solar power.
About inverter generators for RVs
If you are not familiar with these, there is a whole lot to like about them over traditional generators:
- They are far less noisy
- They are far smaller in size
- They are far more fuel efficient because instead of running at full force the entire time they are on, the inverter generator self-adjusts to the demands being placed on it
Pros and cons
#1 Cost: While inverter generators are more expensive than traditional generators, they are FAR less expensive than professionally installing solar in your RV. You might spend $4,000 to $5,000 on solar. On the other hand, an inverter generator that can run everything in your RV including the air conditioner can be had for under $1,000.
This video is three years old, so prices have probably gone up. Nonetheless, the generator will cost far less. Of course, it will need fuel, which solar does not, but that much money can buy a lot of fuel.
#2 Capability: Inverter generators can run very high-wattage appliances, such as air conditioners or microwave ovens. This is an area where solar power struggles as it is not really designed to power high-wattage items.
#3 Simplicity: Plug in your RV and start the generator and you are good to go!
#4 Works in all weather: You can use these in all kinds of weather. You can expect your solar power output to drop by 75 percent or more on cloudy or rainy days.
#5 Produces clean power: Even if you work with sensitive electronics, they are safe with the clear power put out with an inverter generator.
#1 Noise: Yes, inverter generators are far quieter than traditional generators, but they still make some noise. They are not the loud, obnoxious, noise-polluting machines like you see at construction sites. But an inverter generator puts out about 55 to 60 decibels of noise. That’s not huge. You can stand next to the generator and still hold a conversation. However, some people are bothered by the constant steady background noise. Solar power, on the other hand, is silent.
#2 Weight: Duane says if you are going to buy an inverter generator that can run the air conditioner in your RV, expect to add about 100 lbs. to your cargo carrying weight.
#3 Place to store it: You need to figure out in advance where you can store and transport the generator (this is where I am having issues). Some people use the back of their tow vehicle, others a cargo bay. Everyone’s circumstances are different, but no matter what yours is, you need to figure this out before buying one.
# 4 Fuel: Inverter generators run on gas, or propane, or in the case of dual fuel inverter generators, either. But the bottom line is, you will need to carry fuel to power your inverter generator. You will also need a way to safely store that flammable fuel. This is not an issue if you run off of your RV’s propane tanks, but can be if you are carrying gallons of gasoline.
#5 Regular maintenance: Because these generators have motors, they will need regular maintenance. Duane says that most people can do this job themselves. It’s not a lot and it’s not difficult, but it is a task that needs to be done. At times your inverter generator may need repairs. By contrast, once you set up a solar generating system, Duane says that is almost maintenance-free and will last for years and years.
More about inverter generators
Once he covers the pros and cons, Duane goes on to give us more information about them.
Duane says that for years now Honda and Yamaha have been producing the industry standard for high-quality inverter generators, and they are still good choices. However, in recent years they have gotten some competition. And competition is always good for the consumer.
What size inverter generator you will need will depend on your needs.
If all you need to do is recharge your RV’s house batteries, you can get away with a far smaller generator than you need to run an A/C unit. Duane says for this task, a 200-watt inverter generator will serve you well.
However, if you are going to run air conditioning, you are going to need at least 3,000 watts (and possibly more).
Duane goes on to discuss another unique inverter generator property, the ability to connect them together. Some people, rather than buying one huge and heavy generator, are opting for two smaller ones and hooking them together in order to produce more power. Brilliant!
Check it out, because most (but not all) inverter generators can be connected together with a parallel cable. So if you had two 2,000-watt generators, you could join them together for a 4,000-watt capacity. This can save on weight if you only need the extra generator at times, say in the heat of summer but not at other times of the year when you can leave it at home.
Be sure to watch the video as Duane closes out with how to practically use both portable solar power and inverter generators together for the best of both worlds.
Check out the latest inverter generator deals on Amazon.
The Inverter generator article is interesting. There is one thing that should be made known to any prospective users. After looking over the specifications on the linked Amazon site, every one I saw is a 30 AMP unit. No 50 AMP units to be found. So great for 30 AMP RVs only. Oh, there was a 240 Volt unit (not split phase that I could tell) that had two 120 Volt/20 AMP receptacles. So, as always, buyer beware.
We try (emphasis on try) to not boondock camp where we’re going to need a/c. I’ve equipped our trailer with 700 watts of solar on the roof, two lithium 100 amp-hour batteries, an MPPT solar controller, a pure sine wave inverter, and a way to plug ourselves into ‘ourselves’ and get 120v out of all our 120v plugs. Rain or shine, we have plenty of power. No a/c of course. If we screw up and go someplace too hot – my bad and we sweat. 🙁
The main concern is where do you camp? In the south you need A/C, you either have a generator or you swelter. No solar system is going to supply your electrical needs 20 hours per day. And your battery bank would be ginormous and super expensive. I have a 4500W generator that supplies all our needs and runs 24 hours on less than 3 gallons of gas. When there’s little or no need for electricity it idles.