A Solar-Powered Journey to Off-Grid Camping Freedom
How Winnebago Brave owners added their own solar setup.

By: Meghan Thompson & Candice Delgado

We’re Candice and Meghan, best friends with a shared sense of adventure who embarked on a journey in August 2019 to enjoy the freedom of the open road. Our story began like many RVers, binge-watching YouTube videos and dreaming of the endless possibilities of life on the road. Fueled by wanderlust and a shared sense of adventure, we got a 2016 Winnebago Brave 26a (the retro edition) to explore in.

Little did we know that what started as a six-month experiment would blossom into a long-term travel lifestyle, filled with unforgettable moments, (now-hilarious) mishaps, and lifelong friendships. (See more of our travels on Instagram: @minihousebigliving.)

However, some adjustments were needed to make traveling and working from an RV possible for us.

Why We Decided to Add Solar Power to Our Motorhome

As the pandemic swept across the globe, finding open campgrounds became a bit of a game of chance, pushing us to adapt and innovate. We found ourselves boondocking or dry camping more so than ever before. With remote work (virtual webinars and meetings) as both of our full-time jobs, maintaining power for laptops and internet connection was non-negotiable while traveling in our RV. 

So, should we run the generator for hours on end, buy a few battery stations, or was there a better alternative?

Enter the quest for solar power. Overwhelmed with a dizzying array of options and daunted by the price tags, we found ourselves at a crossroads. We saw some RVers add 2,000 watts of solar panels, multiple batteries in the storage compartments, and spend thousands doing so. However, we were not in a place to make this happen. 

But as wise friends often do, a fellow RVer changed everything with simple advice: "Just take the first step." And so, we did. 

Note: If you are also in the market for solar gear, GoLife Perks members can save 10% on EcoFlow products, which include industry-defining portable power stations, solar technology, and various smart devices.

How We Got Started Adding Solar Power

Starting with a 200-watt, free-standing portable solar panel to charge our two lead-acid batteries and two small 300-watt inverters, we dipped our toes into the world of off-grid RV camping. The panel kept our batteries charged during sunny days and the inverters provided power for our computers and internet hotspots (this was life before Starlink). 

However, when the sun went down, the batteries quickly died and the inverters weren’t sizable enough to power larger appliances (for example: think midday snack in the microwave or the space heater on a particularly cold day). The portable panel was a fantastic start, but also meant there was quite a bit of repositioning throughout the day and the possibility of theft.

Upgrading our Solar Setup with Lithium Batteries & Other Gear

So, as any true adventurer knows, the journey doesn't end with the first step. We dreamed of more – RV life powered by the sun, with most of the comforts of home at our fingertips. We dove into countless hours of research, scouring blogs and reviews, and consulting with experts to chart our next move. (The Winnebago Golife Community groups can be a great resource!)

Our quest for the perfect setup led to Renogy, where we customized a solar package to fit our needs. The first major upgrade involved switching from lead-acid to lithium batteries! This was a game-changer, extending our power autonomy from hours to days, and wishing we had taken this step when we initially bought the RV. 

Next, we added four 100-watt solar panels, a 30-amp PWM (pulse with modulation) charge controller, and a hefty 3,000-watt pure sine inverter plus charger combo. This transformed our rig into a self-sustaining powerhouse. Thanks to AM Solar's online guidance, we accomplished the solar panel installation without drilling a single hole in the fiberglass roof.

With the help of fellow RVers and a bit of DIY spirit, we set the plan in motion. Due to the various electrical components, safety was a top priority. As such, we sent the wiring diagrams we had drawn up to the Renogy engineers, to an electrical engineer, and to a YouTuber who had done a similar install. (Winnebago has great resources for owners, including wiring diagrams.)

All were incredibly helpful and gave several suggestions or tips on where to buy various wiring and where to place all of the fuses and breakers. The most challenging part of the install was unwiring the stock converter and rewiring the inverter charger. We chose a combo inverter charger because this meant we wouldn’t have to flip breakers on or off depending on which, the converter or the inverter, we were using. (The inverter charger is a one-stop shop that charges the batteries and provides power to the rig through either shore or battery power.)

Final Thoughts on Adding Solar to Our RV

Some might question the modest size of our solar setup or why a PWM (pulse with modulation) instead of a MPPT (maximum power point tracking) charge controller, but given our budget and needs, it's been just right. With the ability to run our microwave, electric kettle, and even a space heater, we've added creature comforts like second computer monitors without breaking a sweat. 

The only thing missing? Extended air conditioner usage. However, that is easily remedied with a brief generator burst or moving to a campground if the heat is unbearable.

As for what lies ahead, the possibilities are endless. More panels for quicker recharges, extra batteries for prolonged A/C bliss, or perhaps a switch to a more efficient charge controller – all on the table for future upgrades. And let's not forget the dream of a composting toilet, because what's an off-grid adventure without a touch of sustainability?

As the sun sets on another day of RV life, our Winnebago Brave stands as a symbol of adventure and unlimited possibilities, now powered by the energy of the sun!


Comments on this post are moderated, so they will not appear instantly. All relevant questions and helpful notes are welcome! If you have a service inquiry or question related to your RV, please reach out to the customer care team directly using the phone numbers or contact form on this page .

User commented on May 3, 2024 5:50 AM
User commented on May 4, 2024 1:58 AM
Awesome article you guys. We're finally dipping our toes into solar. It's a hard journey sometimes. But we love off grid living. Thanks for all the advice over the years.
User commented on May 5, 2024 7:35 AM
Great info! Are there solar adapted electric composting toilets with a reasonable energy usage? Because that is a dream. It makes a perfect eco-friendly set up. Thanks for the info and would the model details of the items you referenced. Happy Camping!