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If you are new to the idea of solar for your RV, you are probably finding hundreds of videos, blog posts and solar installers out there. Where do you begin? From all the discussions, it seems it can be as complicated & expensive as you'd like, or it could even be simple!
For generating and using solar power, RVillagers report that at least five components are needed: Solar panel(s), a charge controller, batteries, a battery monitor and an inverter.
A simple solar diagram
The illustration below is a simplified diagram of the basic parts (not meant to be an actual wiring diagram).
There are many ways you can have solar for your RV: with simple, less expensive portable setups, permanent high-power setups—and everything in between! RVillagers discuss various options they've used.
The portable solar setup
Some RVillagers report that they started out with an inexpensive "solar suitcase"—which is a free-standing solar panel (or two panels) with fold-out legs, and has a built-in charge controller and cables that connect directly to the house battery (or batteries).
If it consists of two panels, it usually folds in half for storage, and has carrying handles. These kits can range from $150-$350 or more. Assuming you have a functional house battery (or two), all that's needed is to add an inverter to plug electronics into, and (optionally) a way to monitor the battery usage. Here are some search results for solar suitcases.
You can't run an air conditioner or microwave with a small system like this, but it can easily power computers, electronics, TVs and household gadgets. One of the advantages of portable panels (besides the price and ease of setup) is being able to park your RV in the shade while putting the panels out in the sun.
Rooftop solar: larger systems, more power
RVillagers who are full-timers, boondockers and seasonal snowbirds, and who enjoy extended time without hookups, say they need more power—which means more panels to collect the energy, and more batteries to store it.
Rooftop panels are more convenient and can be charging the batteries all day, everywhere you go—while driving down the road, or parked in a store parking lot. (Obviously, portable panels can't be pulled out and set up in those circumstances.)
A fixed-rooftop solar system consists of high-capacity solar panels, a more sophisticated charge controller (connected to an app that monitors the charging), deep-cycle or lithium batteries, and a higher-wattage inverter. (See more on the components below.)
The size of the system you’ll need is completely based on how you live in your RV. Everyone’s needs are very different, one size does not fit all. There are lots of debates on this! Get in on the discussions and talk to other solar users, they will be more than happy to share their tips and recommendations for equipment, and installers, etc.
Related post: The RVillagers Guide to Boondocking.
Tip from the community:
Unless you are a hard-core do-it-yourself-er, a professional electrician (or a rocket scientist), it's probably best to pay a solar installer to get it done properly. They have business reputations to uphold—so if you have an issue, you can get it resolved. (If you did the install yourself, who will you go to for repairs?)
Diving into the discussions, there are innumerable opinions about types and configurations for panels, charge controllers, batteries and inverters—and the technology changes every year. Fortunately, everything keeps improving and getting less expensive! Each situation may be a little different, so it’s best to do your research. Here's a little basic information about the components that RVillagers have found and are talking about:Solar panels
For the curious: How do solar panels work?
RVillagers discuss whether to mix solar panels.
There are different types of charge controllers, and people have their favorites.
Learn more about solar charge controller basics.
RVillagers talk about charge controllers.
AGM? 6-volt golf cart batteries? Lithium? Learn more about battery types and deep-cycle batteries.
RVillagers compare notes on batteries.
RVillagers say "keep an eye on the discharge level of your batteries!" Running them down below 50% will shorten their lifespan. There are many different types of battery monitors, and members have their favorites. Here are some example battery monitors.Inverters
RVillagers are talking about how necessary a pure sine wave inverter is for use with sensitive electronics like computers, TVs and many modern household gadgets. There are many brands and sizes to choose from. Learn more about inverters and sine waves.
Tip from the community:
When doing your research, make sure the information you are reading, or watching in videos, is current. Even if it the setup was great six years ago, you may not want to spend your money on older technology today.
RVillagers share their thoughts about the benefits of solar
These points come up often in the groups:
- You're always observing quiet hours: If you're used to having to hurry up & finish watching that movie to turn off the generator by the respectful 10PM "quiet time," even a modest solar system will allow you to watch TV as late as you want; and then start your coffee maker really early in the morning—without waking up the neighbors!
- Save on weight and space: There is no need to carry extra fuel for a generator (or possibly even the generator itself).
- Freedom: You'll be able to generate energy wherever you are, and not be dependent on finding an RV park or campground with hookups. This can also be useful in areas experiencing power outages.
- Enjoy the outdoors: You can relax and really enjoy the quiet and the fresh air of your natural surroundings.
- Save money: A solar system will actually will pay for itself quickly, with the ability to "dry-camp" in places that are usually free, or very low-cost.
Learn from other RVillagers and voice your opinion in the solar groups on RVillage. Have you done a solar installation or want to? Join these RVillage groups to ask questions and learn!
- Solar and Alternative Energy for RVs
- Boondocking with Solar
Disclaimer: The information gathered here is compiled from the posts and opinions of RVillagers, and not of RVillage itself. RVillage assumes no responsibility for any inaccuracies or omissions.
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