Plug Your RV or Trailer Into A Solar Generator
Would you like to boondock and be able to watch TV and use your toaster or microwave, without having to run a noisy gas generator outside? This is possible because you can plug a solar generator/power station directly into your RV camper.
Run a camper on a solar generator
You can plug a camper into a solar generator, and I know this since I do it myself as I’ll talk more about down below.
Related Post: Can a solar generator run an air conditioner?
Whether it’s possible or not with a specific solar generator depends on how many watts its inverter can handle. If your 12V batteries are not full, as soon as you plug the camper into the solar generator, it’s going to start charging the 12V batteries (amongst other things plugged into your trailer outlets). This can use between 100-500 watts.
Therefore I recommend a solar generator with at least a 500W inverter, although higher is to prefer.
How I use my solar generator with my camper
My wife and I travel fulltime in a travel trailer, and our setup is a Goal Zero Yeti 1000 and 400 watts of solar panels. We boondock 95% of the time, our Yeti and solar panels cover 90% of our energy needs.
The Goal Zero Yeti 1000 is a solar generator, also known as a portable power station, that has a 100Ah lithium battery, a pure sine wave inverter, and a solar charge controller which lets me plug my solar panels directly into it.
The Yeti 1000 has an inverter that changes the 12V DC power into 120V AC power, and it powers several AC outlets on the Yeti, this is where I plug my camper in.
Goal Zero has put a 1500W/3000W surge watts pure sine wave inverter in this unit. This means that I can use electronics that use up to 1500W. Here are a couple of the things I use in my travel trailer and an estimate of how many watts they use.
- Gaming laptop – 150W
- Macbook – 60W
- Comfee 700W output microwave – 1100W
- Black+Decker 5-cup coffee maker – 650W
- George Foreman 2-serving indoor grill – 760W
- Furnace (fan) – 120W
- 32″ TV and an Apple TV – 60W
- Playstation 4 gaming console – 150W
- Tablet, phone, camera charger – 10W
- Maxxair fan in the bathroom – 20W on high
- AC fan (not cooling) – 200W
- Water heater (electric) – 1300W
- RV fridge – 300W
We don’t usually run the water heater or fridge on electric since that would drain the battery quickly, and that’s not worth it.
Since the Yeti has 1045 watt-hours to work with, I could, for example, run my gaming laptop for about six hours straight (1045/150). Note that an inverter has an efficiency rate of about 85%, so the most realistic calculation to do is 1045*0.85 and then split it with 150W (how much my gaming laptop uses every hour while I am gaming) which equals 5.9 hours.
If I have 400W of solar plugged in during the day which usually charges at 250-290W, I can use my laptop without losing any battery power.
Related Post: 5 ways to improve Goal Zero Yeti’s charging speed
In addition to my portable solar panels, I also have two Renogy 100W solar panels on top of my camper.
These panels generate about 120 amps combined on a sunny day even during the winter months, which means that my Yeti 1000 can go from empty in the morning to fully charged in the afternoon.
I’m planning on buying a power station with more battery capacity so I can store more power for cloudy days. My panels usually generate more watts than I use on sunny days, resulting in the battery being fully charged even while I am using it, wasting excess power.
Another great feature with the Yeti 1000 is the screen that tells me how many watts I am generating with my solar panels, and how many watts I am using through not only the AC outlets, but the USB ports and 12V cigarette plug found on the unit.
What the Yeti 1000 can run in my travel trailer
The Yeti runs everything in my camper, except for the AC compressor. I haven’t tried because I don’t want to trip the Yeti, but I know that a 13,500 BTU air conditioner requires more power than the Yeti can output.
It also couldn’t run my 900W microwave, but I have since gotten a Comfee 700W microwave that it runs just fine. My 700W (output watts) microwave requires about 1100 input watts to run, so it’s below the limit.
Being able to heat leftovers in the microwave when we’re boondocking without running a gas generator is awesome.
We use our furnace, toaster, egg cooker, George Foreman, watch TV, charge our laptops all day, vacuum, and charge all of our devices without any issues.
Do you leave your power station outside?
You could put your power station outside or in one of the storage compartments and pull the 30A/50A cable to it, but what I have done lets me keep the power station in the trailer, so I can monitor and turn on/off the outlets as I need. This also lets me use the Yeti on rainy days without me having to go outside or worry about it getting wet.
What I did was split into the 30A cable going to the 30A plug where I plug my trailer in when I need to use the gas generator or plug into a camping ground.
The plug is located in the back of my trailer, where I have a bunk bed. So I can access the inside of the plug by lifting up the bottom bunk. This is where I cut the 30A cable in half and put a 30A plug and a 30A receptacle. The 30A plug is on the cable coming from the trailer, and the receptacle is on the wire going to the 30A outlet outside. I basically added a quick disconnect between the electrical control panel in my trailer and the 30A plug.
So what I can then do is use the 15A to 30A, plug the adapter into my trailer, then run a regular AC extension cord from the adapter to my power station and plug it into one of the outlets on the Yeti.
Here is how it’s set up under my bunk bed when I have the trailer plugged into the Yeti 1000.
- The 30A receptacle, this wire goes to the 30A plug located on the outside of my camper. When I want to plug it into a gas generator or campground, I grab the adapter (3 in the image) and connect 1 and 2 together.
- The 30A plug coming from my trailer’s electrical system. 1 and 2 used to be a solid connection, but I cut into it and installed the 30A plug and 30A receptacle.
- The 15A to 30A adapter that turns the 30A plug into a regular 15A cable.
- My AC extension cord, this cord goes straight to the Yeti 1000 and is plugged into one of the outlets on the power station. Now the Yeti powers my travel trailer.
If I want to plug my camper in using the 30A outlet outside on the back of my camper, I unplug the 15A to 30A adapter and connect 1 to 2 to make the connection. Then I either plug a 30A cable into the trailer and the campground’s power grid, or I take the adapter outside and plug it into my gas generator.
What About Your Solar Panels?
We have two portable panels and two panels on our roof.
The panels on the roof are wired in parallel so we only have one positive wire and a negative one. These wires are pulled down through the refrigerator vent that’s on the roof. We did it this way because we didn’t want to drill any large holes in the camper roof.
We did have to drill two holes to get the wires to the Yeti. One from the outside and one from the inside. The one outside is behind the fridge and was easy to do after removing the fridge vent cover.
After pulling the wires through, we covered the hole with Great Stuff Gaps & Cracks foam just in case any water would get in behind the fridge.
This lets us pull the wires down underneath the fridge, which is where our furnace sits, and if you’re going to do a similar setup you might have to do it differently depending on the layout of the camper.
The second hole, inside, is just to get the wire from where the furnace is to our Yeti. We drilled a hole in the furnace cover because we didn’t have enough space to do it anywhere else.
The wires for our portable panels come in through one of our storage compartments under our bunk, so we had to drill two more holes to get those wires to the Yeti. We didn’t want to drill a hole on the side of the trailer, so we keep the 30ft MC4 cables in the storage compartment until we get to a campsite, then we pull out the panels and the wires.
We had a couple of smart mice that climbed the MC4 cables and came into the storage compartment, so, the last thing we did was to put steel wool in the holes around the wire, and that has kept the mice away.
So do you have a gas generator?
We do have a gas generator, it’s a small and quiet WEN 56200i generator. If it’s cloudy for a couple of days, we bring it out to recharge our Yeti. The Yeti comes with a 5A wall charger so you can recharge it from a regular outlet.
Goal Zero recently released a much faster 25A wall charger that you could plug into a gas generator and recharge the Yeti 1000 in four hours.
How long does a solar generator last?
It depends on how big the battery in the solar generator is, and how many watts you’re using. For example, my Yeti 1000 has 1045 watt-hours I can use. If I charge my laptop that uses 60W for an hour, I have about 985 watt-hours left to work with (1045-60).
The inverter that changes 12V DC to 120V AC is not 100% efficient, so when you use the AC outlets on a solar generator you should expect about 85% to be the energy you can use in the end.
Related Post: Use third-party solar panels with a Goal Zero Yeti
If you want to figure out how much power your RV camper, or electronics use, you can plug it into an outlet through a Kill A Watt which will tell you exactly how many watts the device is drawing. Note that the Kill A Watt meter can only handle up to 1800W.
How do you plug in an RV camper to a regular 15A outlet?
If you would like to connect your camper to a solar powered generator from the outside, you can use adapters.
If you plug your camper into a gas generator, you could put the Kill A Watt mentioned above between the connection to figure out exactly how many watts you’re using as it is, so you know how strong the inverter in a solar generator needs to be to fit your needs. Again, be aware that the Kill A Watt has a wattage limit (max 1800W).
Remember that just because you can plug in a 30A cable with an adapter does not mean that the outlet it’s plugged into will be able to output 30A. How much power you’ll be able to draw through the outlet will depend on the source, which in this case is the inverter in the power station.
Will the solar generator charge the camper batteries?
Yes, since plugging a camper into a solar generator is just like plugging it into an outlet in your garage (in the converter/charger’s mind), the trailer batteries are going to start charging the second you plug it in.
The downside with this (in my case) was that it kept trickle charging the batteries even though they were fully charged. So when the charger started charging my batteries it used 2-300W, then when it had fully charged my batteries it still used 30-80W.
It started to bug me how much electricity was wasted during the day, so I had to come up with a solution.
My solution was to install another 100W solar panel on the top of my camper that is wired directly to my camper batteries. Now that panel charges my batteries, and my solar generator usually outputs less than 20W when nothing else is being used, even though it’s plugged into the trailer.
By doing this, I can turn on the ports in the morning as the sun comes up, and leave them turned on until the sun goes down.
If your solar generator has a lot of battery capacity and solar panels connected to it, this likely won’t be an issue. Or if you don’t use a lot of electricity, you can just leave it on and let the charger do its thing.
The reason I had to find a solution is that my wife and I work all day on our computers and we can’t let electricity go to waste, especially on cloudy days.
What is the best solar generator for RVs?
If you’re considering a solar generator for your camper, I recommend one that has at least a 1000W inverter. Then you would be able to run everything in your RV except for the microwave and the air conditioner.
I recommend the Ecoflow Delta which has an 1800W pure sine wave inverter that powers six AC outlets. 1800W is as powerful as an actual 15A household outlet, so you might even be able to power the microwave in your camper depending on what else is running at the same time.
The Ecoflow Delta is equipped with a great MPPT solar charge controller that can handle up to 400W of solar input. It can also recharge from 0 to 80% in one hour.
It has a 1260 watt-hour battery capacity, four USB A ports, two UBC C ports, and a regulated 12V output. The screen shows input/output watts, battery percentage/bars, and time to empty/full.
Ecoflow includes an MC4 to XT60 adapter with the purchase, which means that it’s compatible with a lot of solar panels straight out of the box.
These can output up to 2000W, handle a lot of solar input, and have more battery capacity than the Ecoflow Deta.
What size solar generator do I need?
The easiest way to answer this question is by writing down each device and how many watts it uses. You can read on the device or its charger how many watts it uses, or use a Kill A Watt that will tell you exactly.
So if your computer uses 60 watts, and you want to use that for 5 hours a day, you’re going to need at least a 300Wh battery (60*5). Since inverters aren’t 100% efficient when changing DC power to AC power (usually around 85% efficient), it’s a good idea to overestimate your power needs.
Do this kind of calculation with all of the devices you intend to use, and you’ll get a better understanding of how many watt-hours you use and what size solar generator you’re going to need.
Related Post: Can a Yeti 400 power a TV?
How many watts each device uses is also relevant because the solar generator has an inverter that has to be able to run that device.
If you have any questions please leave a comment down below.