RV Solar Guide For Dummies
Using an RV to explore the country and just having fun is an extremely good idea. It allows you to unwind, collect your thoughts and you also get to reconnect with nature, which is always very exciting and fun. However, the only issue is that you do need an energy source to help you spend less during such a long trip. And that’s why installing an RV Solar system does help a lot. It delivers outstanding benefits and the return on investment can be nothing short of extraordinary. But how can you add an RV Solar system to your vehicle? Let’s find out!
How do solar panels work?
You will be using regular solar panels, but their size will be smaller because they are suitable for RV mounting. That being said, these use a very thin silicone layer in order to convert the sun energy into electricity. One thing to note is that they are not powering your equipment directly, they are charging a battery basically. The solar rig you want to use will charge and discharge. The solar panels will charge your battery with help from a charge controller that regulates the entire current flow. And then the inverter will convert the DC power into the AC format.
How much power do you need in your RV?
It’s important to note that this all depends on your lifestyle for the most part. You should calculate how much energy you use on a daily basis before you select the right solar panels. If you’re not accustomed with this type of stuff, you can search online for the amp-hour ratings for just about any item you want to use. The benefit here is that you can download worksheets too as that will help you calculate the necessary amount.
For the most part, a single solar panel and 1-2 batteries will usually be enough for a frugal lifestyle. You can use this system to power your water pump and it will help with your lighting too. But if you want to have a computer, microwave or a TV, then you will need 2 panels and maybe 3-4 batteries in total. Ideally you want to have as much power as possible. However if you’re the type of person that wants to get away from it all with their RV, then you might not require a lot of power anyways. Yet it can still be helpful to have 2 panels and multiple batteries, just in case you do need that extra juice to bring in the support and value you need.
Selecting the right RV Solar panels
There are multiple types of solar panels and the costs vary quite a bit too. So you have to wonder, how can you actually pick the best panel that suits your needs? For the most part the best solar panel manufacturers tend to be vertically integrated and they invest a lot of money in development and research. You should work with a reputable solar panel manufacturer, checking reviews will be just as helpful. The more information you have, the easier it will be to acquire the results you want and it’s definitely something you have to take into consideration.
What is a charge controller and why do you need it?
If you want an RV Solar system, you do require a charge controller too. This is a device that was created specifically to prevent batteries from facing overload. The device will monitor power levels in the battery. It also controls the amount of power that flows from all your solar panels. You can compare it to a faucet that you use to turn off the water flow when your sink is full. While having a charge controller makes a lot of sense, a lot of people just ignore this and they end up having to deal with battery issues. So yes, even if the charge controller might seem like money thrown out there, it’s actually very well worth the effort and you do need to check it out.
In case of batteries, you will be ok with using golf buggy batteries. They have 75 Ah, so if you connect two of them you will get 120 Ah and the voltage is 6V. A lot of people go for lithium batteries, but the reality is that AGM batteries are just as good. However, the AGM batteries don’t like to be drained for more than 50% of their capacity, which means you will end up getting more value from a lower Ah lithium battery than a very high Ah AGM battery. You just need to fully understand the system and how it works. But it can be very well worth it if you handle everything adequately and with the right approach.
How to size and choose the right inverter?
The inverter is used to convert 12V power from batteries to the 110V power needed by your electrical devices. A lot of people will be ok with a 2000W inverter. You can go with more, or you can go with less. The idea is to just figure out what you need to do and how you can tackle everything the right way. It can totally be worth the effort, and the return on investment will be huge here. Getting a pure sine wave inverter is a good option if you want a reliable and durable inverter.You will need a battery isolator too because this one combines the battery bank and your starting battery. It can easily be changed via the alternator.
One of the main challenges when it comes to wires is that you always end up not finding the right type of wire, so you have to be careful here. A thing to note is that electricity flows a lot easier via a thicker cable. Most RVs have a 10 gauge wire. But if you want the best value and quality you may want to go with a 6 or 4 gauge wire. It still works great and it will help connect the inverter and battery without faults and issues.
Should you have a battery monitor?
As you can imagine this is up to you for the most part. But it does make sense to have a good battery monitor installed if you can. This will help you figure out how much time you have remaining, how much power you can get and a plethora of other great info. It might take a little bit of time to find the right battery monitor, but thankfully there are many of these online and they come with their own installation options. So you can get some amazing results with this without that much of a hassle.
Is it a good idea to buy an RV solar kit?
The short answer is yes. While you can acquire all the necessary pieces individually, it’s hard to do that on your own. And the reality of it all is that some of the pieces might not even work well with one another. Which is why getting a kit actually makes a lot of sense. The kit has all those tools you need and so much more. You will notice that some companies actually include installation in the overall price. Not all of them do that, and installation added to these kits can ramp up the price quite a bit. But it’s still something you want to think about as the return on investment can be more than ok in the end.
If you do go for a kit, do make sure that the kit has all the stuff you need. Some kits only have the inverter, battery, panels and charge controllers. However you want a complete kit that also has wire and mounting feet for the panels and even some accessories. The more stuff you have, the better it will be. Granted, there are obvious challenges when it comes to stuff like this. Yet if you buy a very comprehensive kit things will be a whole lot easier. And that’s exactly what really makes this kind of stuff so cool and interesting!
Of course, if you have the right knowledge you can go ahead and customize your RV solar kit when you buy it. Some companies allow you to do that and it will help quite a bit if you want to make things simpler and more convenient.
Fit the solar panels at a slight angle
The challenge when you install RV solar panels is that there can be standing water. So the best thing you can do right now is to fit these as a slight angle to prevent any dirt buildup and water accumulation. Once you put these at a slight angle, the water will fall off and you will be able to keep the unit functioning exactly the way you want to.
If you have tilting panels, make sure that you angle them towards the sun. Connect the panels to the battery, then add in the inverter and the charge controller. Make sure that you prevent any problems and double check everything just to be safe. Most of the time the RV solar system will work really well if you acquire a kit. Yes, the DIY solutions might need more tinkering than you want to at times, but they can still deliver the value and quality you need, and that’s what really matters the most.
Think about ways you can save power
It might not seem like much at first, but you do need to consider some ways to save power. One thing to keep in mind that is that everything that heats up or cools down uses a lot of energy. And that means you need to findsome tools that use alternate sources of energy. There are fridges that run on propane and you can also go with camping gas stoves to save energy.
Some people have a mini cooler for their RV made out of terracotta flower pots and that keeps their beverages and food cold. That being said, you still need a proper generator for emergencies just to be safe, but the results on their own can be nothing shortof amazing.
You do want to turn off any piece of equipment that you’re not using. Having a good attention to detail and knowing how to conserve the energy is a very good idea. It’s certainly a bit tricky to begin with, but the return on investment can actually be interesting to say the least.
Is it feasible to install and use an RV solar system?
That will depend on what lifestyle you have and how much you use the RV for. A lot of people want this type of system because they go in the wilderness for a few days or more and they want to rely on natural systems, not man-made ones. And in this case it does help you quite a bit. You have plenty of power for your utensils and even some special things like a TV for example. But at the same time you still have to conserve some energy as the RV solar system might not be able to deliver as much power as you want.
It’s still a good idea to focus on finding the right RV solar system and adapting it to your own needs. It’s certainly rewarding to create and use a good solar system for your RV. But if you go the DIY route it can be very time-consuming and challenging. On the other hand, you will learn a lot about electrical systems, what to do and what to avoid.
We believe that it’s very rewarding to invest in a proper RV solar system. This is worth it especially if you use your RV very often and you go to remote locations or outside towns/villages. Of course, it’s also worth it if you just want to be independent and not rely on energy acquired from various sources. Ideally you want to go with a RV solar kit, but if you want to create it on your own you can do that as well. There’s also an option to hire someone to install that system for you, so try to consider that as well!