We’re writing about our RV solar panels in hopes the information will help you decide whether you would like to add a system to your rig. Ours is not the perfect system, nor is it the biggest or the best, but it works well for us. Below is a very simple description of our system. The solar system supplier you choose can better explain the real nitty-gritty technical side, as well as your specific needs of a particular system.
Why do we have a solar system on our RV?
If we didn’t like boondocking and dry camping so much and only stayed in RV parks then we don’t think we’d spend the money on a solar system. If that is you then you may want to think about whether buying a solar system would be worth spending the money a decent system costs. On the other hand, if you are like us and enjoy being where there is no power available then having a solar system is a nice addition to your RV. We’ve found they really enhance our overall RVing experience.
What are the Benefits of Having a Solar System?
Most of all … we like not having to run the generator much and hearing the noise it makes. Actually, it’s a pretty quiet generator; however, it still takes away the peaceful quiet we enjoy out in nature. Also, I am sure our neighbors appreciate not hearing the noise. The only time we need to run the generator is if we are in a very hot area and need to run the air conditioning. We sometimes have to run it if we’ve had a lot of cloudy days and need to charge the batteries. But that’s about it. The solar system provides all of our power needs when not hooked up to RV park power.
Vern did the installation himself. He was a former Electrical Contractor back in the 80’s, so the installation was not too difficult for him. If you have a basic knowledge of how electricity works and are pretty good with some tools then you should be able to handle the project.
Basic Components of our RV Solar System
We’d suggest getting as many as you can afford and that you have room for on your roof. We have six 100-watt panels. Solar panels by themselves in an RV don’t run anything – they charge the batteries that run everything. Therefore, it is necessary to have enough batteries to get you through the night and run all the stuff you are planning on running in your RV. And you need enough solar panels to keep the batteries charged and ready for the next evening when the sun goes down. It is a fine balance to find the right combination of panels and batteries for your particular electrical usage.
You need a controller to regulate the variable electricity that comes out of the solar panels and transfers that power to the batteries at the proper rate so you do not overcharge or undercharge the batteries. As the sun moves through the sky the intensity will vary as to how much electricity you are getting to the panels. Also, the angle or direction of the panels toward the sun will increase or decrease the amount of electricity you are gaining from the panels. The controller keeps all this in check to maximize your system’s ability to charge those batteries.
The batteries you have are just as important as the solar panels and need to be of a quantity that is sufficient to keep up with all your electrical needs … especially at night when there is no sun and no electricity coming from the solar panels. Most RVs nowadays only come with two batteries. Two batteries for us would probably not last more than a couple of hours before we’d ‘run out of juice’ and be forced to start the generator.
We’ve built a couple of battery banks. Our second motorhome was a Rexhall Aerbus and we added a battery bank using eight 6-volt 225-amp golf cart batteries. They were the wet-cell type batteries and this system worked very well. Our Alfa See Ya motorhome came with six 6-volt 225-amp golf cart batteries from the manufacturer. We’d like to add at least two more batteries to give us a total of eight. Eight batteries and six solar panels are just about the right combination of solar panels and batteries for our usage. Of course, we’d like to add more panels, but that is not in the budget this year. Maybe if Vern is a good boy Santa will put a couple more panels under the tree for him next year.
We replaced the built-in battery charger in the Aerbus motorhome and installed a 2000-watt inverter charger that worked very well. It converted the 12-volts in the battery bank to 120-volts, which operated all the 120-volt appliances like the TVs, modems, computers, etc. Our newer Alfa motorhome came with this same inverter charger, which is made by Xantrex. It’s pretty standard for inverter/chargers for RVs. The inverter charger has a nice feature in that when it senses you are plugged into an RV park’s power it switches from inverting (converting the 12-volts coming from the batteries to 120-volts) and starts charging the batteries (converting 120-volts back to 12-volts) using the park’s power.
We installed the amperage meter that came with our solar system above the driver’s seat so we could monitor just how much electricity is coming out of the solar panels. It also tells you the state of charge on your battery bank. In our opinion, this is a ‘must have’ when you purchase your system. It is a really nice feature we enjoy. It gives us peace of mind when we look up in the middle of a hot day when the sun is shining and we notice there’s 30-amps of power coming out of the solar panels from the sun (that’s the maximum amps the controller can handle). It’s a good feeling to look down on our inverter voltage meter and see that we are using about 10-amps of electricity with what’s currently running in the RV during the day. Then we know the remaining 20-amps are going back into the batteries so they’ll be ready to run our TV and other stuff through the night.
Helpful Solar Tips
With regard to the batteries …. we chose wet-cell batteries instead of the AGM batteries because they’re much less expensive. Although, AGM batteries are better batteries and if cost weren’t a factor we’d go with them. AGM batteries don’t have any maintenance to deal with, which is really nice. If you decide on the wet-cell batteries you’ll need to fill them with water on occasion and clean them every so often. Also, we’ve found by using watermiser caps on the wet-cell batteries we hardly ever have to fill them and there’s almost never a corrosion problem. We felt like a little extra maintenance was worth the savings for us. Plus, since we went with the wet-cell batteries we were able to buy more solar panels!