Can Massive RV’s Be Green On The Road?

I’m not gonna lie, this is one of my favorite subjects to talk about, because my dream one day is to live in an RV and travel the country full time. It’s an ambitious goal of mine, but I am determined to do it. However, that’s not what this post is about. I want to talk about how RV’s can turn into hybrid or electric vehicles. Sounds like a good idea? Let me explain.

There are many different types of RV vehicles out there. There are Class A (big RVs), B(Small to midsize), and C (small to midsize) vehicles, which are basically one structure, the driver cab is contained within the RV. There are also campers, which require a towing vehicle and are usually light in weight. The last common type of RV’s out there are fifth wheels, which is my personal choice, which requires a truck to tow it. The fifth wheel does not have a driver cab as it is attached to the bed of the truck.

All right, so how are we going to turn these different kinds of RV’s into hybrid or electric vehicles? Well, the first one is going to obvious: putting solar panels on the roof. There’s actually quite a few RVers who are already doing it, and doing it quite well if I may add. Bigger solar panel setups can be found with longer RV’s because of the space on top of the roof. But even most RV’s are at least 20 feet in length. One of the biggest advantages of installing solar panels on an RV instead of a vehicle is that most RV roofs are flat or almost flat. That makes for a much easier installation. However, there are flexible solar panels out there for those RV’s that don’t have a flat roof (such as an Airstream).

So now let’s take my dream RV. At this moment (which of course is subject to change), I have my eyes on a 44 foot long fifth wheel. I plan on towing it with a heavy duty truck (right now leaning on the Ford F450, because clearly if I’m living in an RV then I’m doing all right financially and could easily afford that lol). That truck consumes a ton of fuel, and emits quite a bit of  CO₂ gasses. Truck owners would not be happy with me trying to turn a truck into a quieter fuel efficient machine, and if your one of those truck owners, you may not want to read the rest of this post lol 🙂

Anyway, with that 44 foot long fifth wheel, most of the roof space is flat, less the air conditioners and at the beginning of the fifth wheel. So that gives us about 42 feet to work with. Now depending on what kind of solar setup I could put on the roof, the total number of panels would be around 10 to 15, depending on the size. With that kind of a system, I could easily have a total of at least 1 kwh (kilowatt hour), probably closer to 2 for the entire setup, which is extremely impressive. Of course 2 kwh would be the maximum it could generate, but that would mean a full sun would be required. And I do plan on driving through and camping in Arizona quite a bit, so that will certainly work in my favor.

If I can get 1 kwh of continuous power generation while driving down the freeway, that would be amazing for one, and that could power an electric motor in real time. With a truck as massive as the Ford F450 that I want, it is unlikely it could be completely electrified because of its towing requirements (though Tesla is creating a tractor trailer cab that can tow quite a bit, so you never know). The truck would also have to endure some crazy steep elevation changes (especially in mountain ranges like the Rockies or the Appalachians). So it would likely have to be in a hybrid configuration.

Having an electric motor powered by solar panels would not help uphill gas mileage very much if at all. However, on the flat stretches of road it could tremendously help with gas mileage. To my knowledge, this, a heavy duty truck hybrid has never been attempted or hasn’t made it commercially available (Correct me if I’m wrong).  With a strong electric motor and a high capacity battery, I predict that the truck would get between 30 to 35 miles per gallon on the highway. Another benefit to the hybrid is switching over to battery at stoplights. The battery would have to be a pretty decent size to be able to power the truck even when it’s stopped at a red light or stop sign. And since the gasoline motor is also large and needs a lot of power, the electric motor would have to be pretty strong so the truck could accelerate and not blow out the engine from have to stop/start all the time.

Ok, that’s great and all that, but what about shorter RV’s that don’t have the ability to have the monster setup of solar panels that I want? They can still benefit too with the right setup. If a hybrid car/truck solution isn’t feasible, then the solar panels can still charge the batteries inside the RV while the RV is in motion. That’s still a benefit because when the RV eventually parks and uses electricity for appliances and other electronics, then less gas would be required since the batteries would be charged up. This is a setup that some RVers are already doing and it’s smart. So it wouldn’t cut any CO₂ emissions from the roadway, but it would decrease emissions because the batteries could be used for a longer period of time. So there still would be some benefit to using solar panels on the roof of an RV.

Now this part doesn’t actually have to do with transportation per se, but I’m going to bring it up anyway. I also plan on buying some small wind turbines (1500W) to attach to my future RV in additional to solar power (and yes I’m gonna have a massive battery bank lol). I also plan on doing a lot of dry camping (or boon-docking, meaning not hooking up to electric/water/sewage). I’m going to do my best to consume as little gasoline via the generator and propane as much as I can. These wind turbines aren’t cheap, as the can run anywhere from 1 to 3 thousand dollars. And the wind needs to be blowing too and that can be a challenge. However, if more RVers would adapt wind turbines combined with solar, the consumption of gasoline would go down, and in that way there wouldn’t be as much CO₂ being emitted.

Main Blog Image Courtesy of Lakeshore RV.

Brian Cole

I'm Brian and I'm the founder of TransportationOfTomorrow.com. I have a strong passion for fixing America's transportation infrastructure problem and traffic flow issues. I ultimately want to see the American economy grow as far as it will go, create massive amounts of jobs, and in that way help the quality of how people live.

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