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RV Podcast Ep 231: The truth about solar power for the RV

| Updated Feb 27, 2019

This episode of the podcast looks at solar power and asks the question, has the RV industry over sold solar power? Just how effective is it? We’ll hear from an industry insider who says while solar power is certainly beneficial for RVers, it just may not deliver all that some RV manufacturers and sales people have claimed. The truth about solar will be the topic of our interview of the week, coming up in just a few minutes.

Show Notes for Episode #231 Feb 27, 2019 of The RV Podcast:


RV Podcast Ep 231: The truth about solar power for the RV 1
Our Meet and Greet at the Beach

Once again, we come to you this week from the beautiful Emerald Coast of Florida, where we are hanging out for another week or so before beginning a big trip west.
Speaking of hanging out, we want to give a big shout out to all those who came to our Meet and Greet on the Beach this past Sunday at the Gulf Island National Seashore near Navarre Beach, Florida. We had a great turn out of more than 30 RVers who showed up, a great mix of locals as well as snowbirds down here in the Sunshine State escaping that brutal winter up north.
Also this week, we are very excited to announce the publication of our latest project:
Mike & Jennifer's 7 Day RV Adventure Guide to the Michigan UP.This is the first of what will soon be a growing series of special 7-day adventure guides around various regions of North America. We have a whole list of them that will be coming,  but this first guide is of one of our absolute favorite destinations – Michigan's wild and beautiful Upper Peninsula.
This ebook is a seven day guided exploration of the Michigan UP. We provide a suggested route and itinerary, links to multiple campgrounds and boondocking spots, and the best spots to see along the way. Don’t plan your trip to the Upper Peninsula without it!  You can hit everything in seven days, do a whirlwind weekend tour, or you can take your time and explore the area over a 2+ week period. Cost is just $7, you can get more info and download instantly at


Forest River safety record skewered in local TV investigation
A local TV station serving Elkhart, Indiana has released results of a year-long investigation into RV manufacturer Forrest River, documenting a fast-paced work culture filled with alleged drug use and lax safety practices. The records show the company has been hit with $250,000 in fines by the government for safety violations, way more than other RV makers or suppliers in the area. There was no comment from the company.
Texas may see biggest wildflower display in a decade this spring 
If you are anywhere near Texas, officials are predicting the biggest wildflower bloom in a decade this spring thanks to above average rainfall. We thought the Texas bluebonnets were gorgeous last year (see our report here) and are looking forward to heading back to the state in the next few weeks.
After wolves from Banff National Park legally killed outside park's boundaries, some urge passing of buffer zones 
At least two radio-collared wolves were legally hunted on federally owned land just outside Banff National Park recently, triggering concern among some in Canada about the need to have a buffer zone surrounding national parks. The story reminded me of a similar one we shared a few weeks back about a beloved wolf legally killed just outside Yellowstone National Park recently.
Reservations to camp at bucket list Alaska's Katmai National Park to open March 2
Reservations to camp at Brooks Falls Camp in Alaska's Katmai National Park will open March 2 at 12 pm eastern and spots at the bucket list site where giant brown bears feast on salmon are expected to be booked within hours. The reservation dates are delayed this year because of the federal government shut down. To see a report we did on the famous Katmai bears and their webcams, click here.
North Carolina developer wants to open retro-style drive in movie theater with up to 75 camping spots  
Increasingly we are hearing about campground owners centering their RV parks on unique experiences, like a story we saw out of North Carolina last week. Near Graham a developer plans to open a retro 1950s style drive-in movie theater with up to 75 camp spots as soon as this summer.

This part of the podcast is brought to you by RadPower Bikes, an electric bike manufacturer offering direct to consumer pricing on powerful premium electric bikes. Now with free shipping 


 We had a listener share yet another RFV factory tour we should take this one at Tiffin Motorhomes in Alabama.

And a listener asked us about heating for the Leisure Travel Vans Wonder RTB we are currently testing out.


RV Podcast Ep 231: The truth about solar power for the RV 2
Frank Kolasinski from Advanced RV

Time now for our interview of the week segment and this one is going to bring a lot of controversy. So please listen carefully: I do believe in solar panels for an RV. I do believe they help, especially with boondocking. They especially help in offsetting parasitic drain. From your house batteries from things like the inverter and sometimes even the fridge.  But as we attend RV shows around the country, we sometimes hear over-eager salespeople oversell solar. And to be sure, some pretty outrageous claims are being made to get people to sign on the dotted line. So again… I like solar. I will always want it on whatever RV we have.

But solar is not nearly as efficient as many people think… at least the amount of solar that can be mounted atop most RVs.

To help us clear the air and get a realistic idea of what solar will do – and what it won’t –  my guest this week is Frank Kolasinski, the Customer Liaison tech for Advanced RV near Cleveland, Ohio, one of the most respected builders of custom made Sprinter RVs in all of North America.

On a recent visit to the ARV factory, Frank and I had a – excuse the pun – frank discussion about the benefits of putting solar panels on your RV.

Here’s a full transcript:

Mike Wendland:           Frank, tell me the truth about solar. That's what we're going to call this interview.

Frank K:                        Okay.

Mike Wendland:           Because there has been so much claimed by many different RV manufacturers and many other proponents of it, that 600 watts of solar, I am off the grid forever. What's the sad truth about solar and the RV world?

Frank K:                        There's a few things. In our case, we have limited real estate on the top of the coach because we're building on a sprinter platform. So, there's limited spots to put solar especially once you put air conditioning on and max fans and all those kinds of things. Solar in general though, their capacity ratings that they give you when you purchase a panel can be a misnomer. Reasoning for that is, solar panels, each individual wafer cell puts out a very little power.

                                    So, what they have to do is they have to connect them in series. And what happens is, if any of those solar panels, those little wafers have the sun interrupted, they not only don't produce energy, but they'll actually mitigate energy passing through them. So, solar panels, it's shading is really a problem for solar. So typically in your RV world, what you want to do is you generally want to park under a tree and not be in the direct sunlight. So that in general really causes some complications with the solar.

Mike Wendland:           Now, I have been told by some that even like a jet contract in front of the sun can limit that capacity and enough to have a significant drop.

Frank K:                        It can, it can. And again, and when you go back to the limited amount of solar we can put on the top of the coach, that is a big deal. And if you limit by half because of clouds, con trails, branches, you're going to lose a lot of your solar.

Mike Wendland:           Now, then there's the factor of the angle of the sun. Really, am I correct that the only time you get full capacity is with a cloudless sky, and the sun directly overhead?

Frank K:                        That is correct.

Mike Wendland:           And that lasts for about a minute?

Frank K:                        Well yeah, at high noon in Arizona is your best bet to get solar. But yeah, so many of the other factors make it very difficult, and off an access from the sun, you lose a lot of the energy transfer to the solar. We don't have the ability to have solar trackers, like [crosstalk 00:03:05]-

Mike Wendland:           Which would automatically keep the panel in the right angle towards the sun. Like you see sometimes on these ground stations, you [crosstalk 00:03:12]-

Frank K:                        Correct.

Mike Wendland:           These solar farms, yeah.

Frank K:                        Exactly.

Mike Wendland:           So, at the most I've seen on like a class B is 650, 700 and that's using everything with an air conditioning mounted underneath. So typically it's 400, maybe 200 watts of solar. Does that accomplish much at all?

Frank K:                        It doesn't. Especially since we talked about the off access. The other things that come into play is that air conditioner we were talking about, if the sun's off access and the air conditioner is causing shading on a solar panel, that's another problem. So, being that tight and having that little real estate up there makes it very difficult.

Mike Wendland:           And when you say the sun off access, what that means is the sun's not directly overhead [crosstalk 00:04:05]-

Frank K:                        Right, right.

Mike Wendland:           It's off to a slight angle and there's a shadow cast. So, solar does help that little, right? I mean there's some trickle charge, or is it so negligible that we can better use that space for other things like more fans?

Frank K:                        We like to set what the objective for solar is. For us, we will generally recommend it to offset some of the parasitic charges that are in your coach from day to day. And we consider parasitic charges the inverter being on the fridge being on. And those kind of charges that are always happening through [crosstalk 00:04:46]-

Mike Wendland:           Relatively low drain.

Frank K:                        Relatively low.

Mike Wendland:           Yeah.

Frank K:                        So we can offset that. Many times, it won't even make up for all those, but it can offset it and give you a little longer runtime. In our case, we produce so much energy with our high power alternators, and high power chargers that the amount of energy you get from solar really kind of gets lost in that. Running the engine for 15 minutes will give you more energy than you could get an entire day of solar panels.

Mike Wendland:           And the other companies too are using these better inverters, or better alternators, and better charging systems. So, this is kind of an industry wide thing. I guess the bottom line, and the caution that I wanted to send to our listeners is that, when somebody just selling your solar, they're selling you kind of a short charge on your battery, not enough to really make a huge difference and, you're not going to be spending much more time off the grid because of a couple of solar panels. Is that correct?

Frank K:                        That's a fair statement. And, I can maybe extend that as everything has a cost benefit. So the cost of putting efficient solar panels, putting the individual MPPT controllers that will actually get your most efficiency out of them,

Mike Wendland:           The charge controller.

Frank K:                        The charge controller

Mike Wendland:           Between the panels and the batteries.

Frank K:                        Correct.

Mike Wendland:           Yeah.

Frank K:                        So, by the time you put all the money into that, and they have a limited lifespan, they're not good forever. And the amount of cleaning that's required, because if the panels are not pristinely cleaned all the time, you're going to lose efficiency just in that as well. So, you're traveling in this thing, there's always road dirt, there's dust. So unless you're going to meticulously clean them all the time and not be in the sun at noon, you're not going to see a lot of benefit from solar in general in my opinion.

Mike Wendland:           Well, that's why you're the expert on our program today. And I thank you very much for sharing that.

Frank K:                        It's a pleasure.

The interview of the week is brought to you by, where every new or motorhome is delivered to the customer free, anywhere in the country Sunshine State RVs will be at the Ocala, FL RV show Thursday through Sunday. They will have 10 new Roadtreks for sale, all at killer deals and all with new six year warranties.


RV Podcast Ep 231: The truth about solar power for the RV 3
Patti and Tom Burkett

By Tom & Patti Burkett 
US 60 runs through a lot of open county in Arizona, but it's far from empty.   For a while it follows the Mogollon Rim, the south edge of the Colorado plateau.  Altitudes here run a mile high or more, and canyon vistas alternate with high mountain meadows.  This is the home of the legendary Mogollon Monster, whose origin is told in a variety of stories.  Reporters, researchers, natives and visitors report a seven-foot-tall apelike creature covered with white or black hair, protecting its kills from curious hikers.

Driving this road, you pass through the White Mountain Apache reservation, and close to the town of Fort Apache.  Turn off.  It's worth the detour.  The fort began in 1870, and was named as a token of friendship to the tribes it was built to protect.  From the beginning, the reservation was ill-suited to the people forced to locate there, and discontent grew as settlers encroached and government support waned.  Eventually the area became the focus of the Apache War that ended with the capture of Geronimo in 1886.  The fort remained active until 1924, when its buildings were turned over to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Theodore Roosevelt boarding school was opened at that time, using facilities at the fort.  It first served Navajo youth, but soon became a center for education of the Apache tribe.  It continues to operate as a boarding school today, hosting youth from all over the 2600 square mile White River Reservation.  It is noted for its music and pre-engineering programs.  Education for these young people continues at Whiteriver High School and Pioneer College, though many graduates attend other state and national universities.

The grounds of the fort itself offer a look into military culture in the 1800s.  At the center of the housing row is a large brick house that was built for the fort's commander.  Next door is an officers' club.  Flanking this are lesser stone structures that housed junior officers and, beyond these, even simpler homes for those of lesser rank.  There's also a barracks where the native scouts and enlisted soldiers lived.  Many of these buildings have been converted to administrative uses and are open to the casual visitor.  One houses a gift shop and small café.  We enjoyed a bowl of soup for lunch, sitting on the front veranda of the building.

RV Podcast Ep 231: The truth about solar power for the RV 4Also on the grounds is the Cultural Center and Museum for the White River Apache nation.  In its circular display area, you might begin at the center by sitting down to listen to native stories, both history and cultural tales, told by tribal elders.  Moving outward you'll encounter stories of the ways the tribe utilizes the natural resources of the area, along with beautiful examples of handicrafts, textiles, and traditional arts.  Tucked in a corner is a small gift shop, stocked mostly with items native visitors might need rather than tourist trinkets.

A few miles down the road, and included in the admission price for the Cultural Center, is the Kinishba pueblo, a well-preserved structure from the Western pueblo period.  This National Historic Landmark is made up of over six hundred rooms surrounding a central plaza.  About a hundred of the rooms have been restored through the efforts of the tribal council and University of Arizona archaeologists.  Be sure to have your ticket from the Cultural Center when you visit, as the site is patrolled to discourage vandalism and artifact poaching.

Reservation land varies from fertile river valley farming areas to high mountain lakes.  The tribe is known for its restoration of the endangered Apache trout, for which you may fish, and for the hunting of truly spectacular bull elk.  There's a nice state park with full-hookup campsites at Fool Hollow Lake nearby.  You can camp right on the lake or the river.  If you prefer a less developed environment, the tribe offers dispersed camping in many locations on the reservation for eight dollars a night or $175 a month.  Payments can be made online. 

Spend some time visiting this country.  Take in the restful scenery.  Explore the ruins and rock art of bygone residents.  Talk with some of the Apache natives about their twenty-first century plans and aspirations.  

This part of the podcast is brought to you by Harvest Hosts a network of farms, wineries, museums and attractions where RVers can stay overnight, for free.

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And remember, you can appear in future episodes. Ask a question or voice your comments about RV topics by clicking the Leave Voicemail tab on the right side of this page here at You can then use the microphone on your computer to record your words.

Presently, we are serving as brand ambassadors for Leisure Travel Vans and driving a coach provided free for our use. All opinions expressed about that coach honestly reflects our own personal appraisal, good and bad, and Leisure Travel Vans does not control our content, writing, videos, podcasts or newsletter reports in any way. In addition to the coach, Leisure assists us in some expenses related to our travel

Mike Wendland

Published on 2019-02-27

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

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