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Alternative Power Sources for Vanlifers When Solar Isn’t Enough

This post was updated on November 27th, 2023

Energizing Nomadic Lives Beyond Solar Panels

It seems like solar power is all the rage these days! Many people are installing panels and inverters in their homes, and the craze has spread to the RV world as well. Solar energy can be a great way to extend your camping trips, but sometimes you’ll need alternative power sources for a bit of extra energy.

Solar power is an amazing feat of technology, but it has its limits. Although it can be used to supplement your RV battery, it can’t always provide all the power that you need at your campsite. In addition, environmental factors can limit the amount of energy it can produce at any given time. Van lifers may have a particularly hard time with it due to the limited amount of roof space they have.

If you’re interested in installing solar power for your van, you can absolutely pursue that path. But this solution isn’t a perfect fit for everyone. That’s why it’s a good idea to learn about alternative power sources that you can try when solar just isn’t cutting it. We’ll explore some potential options below, so read on!

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Potential Drawbacks of Solar Power

Before we go on, it’s important to cover the pros and cons of solar power.

Many campers are happy to have this source of renewable energy at their campsite. And although it can be expensive to install, the benefits of portable solar panels are considerable. If you love boondocking, you’ll probably want a campervan that can create its own power, so solar panels are a natural choice.

But they’re not perfect either. As we just mentioned, solar panels can be an expensive investment, especially if you don’t use them very often. You also won’t be able to connect to a larger grid or sell excess power back like you could in a home.

Environmental factors can also make it hard to get your money’s worth. For instance, you can’t use your solar panels at night, and your output will be greatly reduced during overcast days. If you park in well-shaded campgrounds, you also might not be able to get access to direct sunlight.

Finally, the size of your ride can play a role as well. The smaller your van is, the less power you can get from rooftop panels. So if you’re traveling in a compact vehicle, you may need to get detached panels or accept the fact that you’ll be working with a limited amount of roof space.

Alternative Power Sources

As you can see, solar panels may not be a good fit for every traveler. Sometimes you may need something that’s more powerful or reliable! So if you need a few alternative options to explore, check out the list below.

1. Gas Generator

One of the most popular ways to generate power at a campsite is with–you guessed it–a generator! These can be solar-powered, but they’re most commonly fueled by gas. As long as you have fuel, you can produce a steady stream of electricity for your van. There are several portable generators that are popular among vanlifers, including the Generac 7154 Portable Inverter Generator.

A generator can be a great option because it’s relatively small, powerful, and easy to set up. It does have a few downsides, though. Generators are often expensive, with many models costing $500 or more. That doesn’t cover the cost of fuel either! You’ll need to travel with a few tanks of gas if you want to keep your generator running.

These items can also be noisy, and some people have trouble with frequent malfunctions or breakdowns.

2. CarGenerator

If you want the benefits of a generator while cutting out a few of the drawbacks, consider CarGenerator! This product was custom-made for vanlifers who needed to recharge the batteries while they were away from an electrical hookup.

CarGenerator draws power from your own vehicle. You just need to start up the engine and hook up the lightweight generator. After that, you can charge and operate this item without a fuss. It can provide up to 80 hours of energy at a time. With a camper van, you should be able to run all (or at least most) of your necessary systems and appliances.

This is a fascinating little unit, and it has a lot to offer RVers. If you’re interested in learning more, visit

3. Portable Battery/Power Station

It can be a real pain to fuel and hook up a generator, especially if it’s a heavy model. If you’re tired of the noise and fumes, why not switch to a good old battery? Portable batteries and power stations are ideal alternative power sources for campers who need a bit of extra power.

You’ll have to recharge these systems before use, but most of them can provide a decent amount of juice while you’re camping off-grid. One of the most popular options for campers is the Jackery Portable Power Station.

Most models can be hooked up to solar panels. They can be used to power small appliances, recharge your van battery, and keep your phones and laptops in action.

The main downside of these portable batteries is that the smaller sizes are not as powerful. You can easily drain them if you try to do too many tasks at once. They’re great for supplementing your energy usage, but they can’t always provide enough output for all your vanlife needs.

4. Portable Wind Turbines

Next, we’ve got one of the most unusual alternative power sources. Everyone is familiar with solar panels by now, but you might think that wind power isn’t viable for camping. Although it may not be very popular, you can indeed outfit your rig with a wind turbine to provide additional energy!

There are different designs in the works, but the most popular one attaches to the back of your rig and produces power while you drive. The passing air currents spin the turbine for you. If you were in a long-term campsite, you might be able to set up a larger windmill, but these smaller models are more popular among travelers.

Wind power is pretty consistent while you drive, but it can be unreliable if you park in one spot for a while. The wind may come from multiple directions, or it could be too weak to spin the turbine. But if you’re interested in clean energy solutions, you might want to think about using wind power! It can be used in conjunction with solar, batteries, generators, or any other options you might try.

Final Thoughts

Solar power has helped many campers go off-grid and reduce their carbon footprint. But sometimes, it’s not enough by itself. So if you need a bit of extra power next time you head out on a trip, consider some of the alternative power sources listed above.

If you still want to use solar power, you might want to incorporate independent solar appliances throughout your van to reduce the strain on your battery and inverter. You could even try to go electricity-free for the majority of your trip! But when you need an extra boost of power, you can always use a generator, a portable battery, or wind turbines.

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2 thoughts on “Alternative Power Sources for Vanlifers When Solar Isn’t Enough”

  1. CarGenerator sounds like a great idea, but that website SCREAMS “snake oil” even if it isn’t. Hopefully they add more technical details in the future.

    Another option, very similar to CarGenerator, is Volta Power System. I believe is very expensive, but from what I’ve learned, it’s a all-in-one solution where it provides lithium ion batteries, inverter/converter and solar charger all-in-one but the biggest thing is that it uses an alternator that charges the batteries off the engine and can provide up to 9kw depending on engine. It even starts the engine automatically if the batteries drop to a critical level. I believe a few RV manufacturers already offer it as an option, including Winnebago and American Coach. Seems that systems like that are the future of RVing.

  2. have a question regarding the square peg hole aluminum(?) which the plywood and components are being mounted to. where did you find it. i would like two myself.


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