youtubeIn times of economic downturn, RV industry sales typically take a big hit. However, just the opposite happened in 2020 as a result of a strange combination of factors. In the midst of one of the worst economic crises in nearly 100 years, RV sales are skyrocketing as many people chose safer family vacations that don’t involve airplanes, airports, hotels, and rental cars. Boondocking in remote areas, far away from other campers, remains on the rise and many of these people are choosing to leave their generators at home and go completely solar. It’s been truly fantastic to see how RV solar has evolved and grown over the past few years.

Saving You Money Down the Road
If you are fortunate enough to afford an RV, you can afford to run on solar power – and it will save you a ton of money down the road. With just our small system in Hamlet, we’ve explored the continent, worked from our RV, and thrived for over 8.5 years! Solar powered systems are always scalable, so if you’re looking for something bigger, check out how these road warriors set-up their rigs.


Solar Camping in our Hamlet

And remember, if your RV is going to serve as a home or second home, check out the federal and state solar tax incentives still available to you. In many cases, the savings are so significant that you’ll wonder why anyone would pay to stay at an overpriced campground with hook-ups when you can go where you want with solar!


Solar is Scalable

Getting Your Head Around Solar
For many people, the words watts, volts, and amp hours make their heads spin. “I don’t do Physics,” we’ve heard, “my brain just shuts down.” As educators our goal is to help the scientifically challenged understand what they need to know to make smart and informed decisions about solar. Remember, knowledge is power…and in this case, it’s gathered from the sun. All you need to grasp are a few simple concepts, and leave the rest up to the engineers and technicians.

If you are brand new to solar technology, we suggest you start by watching our video below titled The 4 Things You Need for Solar as well as read our articles titled Unscrambling the Alphabet Soup of Solar Terminology and How Solar Panels Work: Breaking it Down for Beginners. These three resources will help you understand the components necessary to create a solar powered system for your RV. As we mentioned previously, our system is small because we have designed our life with energy efficiency in mind. If you want or need more power, each aspect of the system can be scaled up, or down, to meet your specific power needs.

Sizing Your System
Ok, ready to dig into some numbers? This is the main equation you need to know: Watts = Volts x Amps. Stick with us here. If you see a battery that is labeled 12V, 50Ah, this is a 12 Volt, 50 Amp hour battery. So, what are the watt hours provided by that battery? See the formula...12V x 50Ah = 600Wh! This means that you can store up to 600 Watt hours of energy in your battery, which can be used to run your RV appliances throughout the day or night. If you have a 100W solar panel connected to that battery, and you leave it in the full sun for about 6-7 hours, you will generate approximately 600W of power, enough to refill your depleted battery. If you generate more power than what your battery can store (and the sun is still shining on your panel), this excess power can be used to run your appliances directly, or stored in another battery such as a laptop, phone, power bank, or tablet.

But, how many watts do you typically use in a day? We very rarely use more than 600W, but each family and RV is different, so there is no standard answer here, even between the same model of rig. Your total watt hours depend completely on your personal situation, what type of appliances you run, how often you use them, etc. Sizing a solar powered system is like choosing the appropriate HVAC system for your house, there is no one size fits all – every house is shaped differently, located in a different climate, etc. Now that you know that Watts = Volts x Amps, this article will help you determine YOUR total daily watt hours.

Choosing Components for Your System
As you learned in the video and blog above, there are four major components to any solar powered system: panel(s), charge controller, battery(ies), and inverter. Since you’ve already learned about each component’s roll within the system, let’s move on to making some choices between different styles of each component.

#1 Panels
Solar panels come in various styles, materials, sizes, and wattages. You need to decide whether you want to install them permanently on the roof or have the option of portable and foldable – or some combination of the two. We have a hybrid system. We mounted our flexible panels on the top of our camper so that we can charge while driving, then we can add our portable when we are camped. This allows us to park our camper in the shade, and put out our solar panel in the sun. In addition, if you choose permanently mounted panels, you need to decide whether a rigid or flexible panel is best for your situation.


Installation of our Hybrid System


Flexible Solar Panels


Rigid Solar Panels

#2 Charge Controller
PWM, MPPT, 30A, 60A…what does all of this mean? As with solar panels, charge controllers come in various styles, wattage/amp sizes, etc. Renogy offers a wide range of charge controllers, each with different features depending on the type and size of system you seek to build. Making a choice between the options can be a bit confusing; this article provides a side-by-side comparison to help demystify the key differences among charge controller options.


Charge Controller

#3 Deep Cycle Batteries
Deep cycle batteries look similar to car batteries, but function quite differently. In contrast to car batteries which provide short bursts of energy, deep cycle batteries are designed to provide sustained energy over a longer period of time. The house batteries in your RV should be of the deep cycle variety. And, you probably guessed it, just like the other components there are a myriad of different types of deep cycle batteries which vary widely in price. The four types of solar deep cycle batteries are Flooded Lead Acid, Gel, AGM, and Lithium, and each style comes in different voltages and amperages. Check out this article for a cost-benefit analysis of these four types of deep cycle batteries. Spoiler alert: Lithium will save you a chunk of change in the long run if you can afford the upfront investment!


Lithium Battery Installation

Another consideration at this stage is to decide how you would like to monitor the charge on your battery or battery bank. There are some static options and remote options, both have their pros and cons. We love our Bluetooth module so that we can use our smartphone to monitor the wattage coming in from our solar panel as well as the charge on our battery, but if you really like to nerd out with numbers, a battery monitor may be the best way to go.


BT-1 App in Action

#4 Inverter
Do you remember the role of the inverter from the video at the beginning of this article? It is the component that converts DC power to AC power, allowing you to charge or run anything that has a standard household plug. As with all of these components, you will need to purchase an inverter based on some factors which are specific to your rig, how much power you will draw at any given time, your total watt hours, etc. This article includes some key things to consider when sizing the inverter for your system.


Inverter

Installing Your System
Renogy components are designed to work seamlessly with each other and are manufactured with the DIYer in mind. They also have friendly staff on hand and downloadable diagrams to help walk you through the installation process. If you consider yourself handy and have a couple of weekends available, you should have no problem doing your own installation, even if electrical installations are new to you. Check out this 10 question quiz to see if you are up for the challenge!


For the Do It Yourselfers

We’ve compiled some “best of” blogs, videos, and diagrams into one handy article for the DIYer. And, if your RV is already listed as “solar ready,” be sure to take a look at this video and article before adding any panels to your rig. Note: If you find yourself needing to reverse the polarity of your “solar ready” plug, you can skip the steps in the video and just use this adaptor.


Our Solar Component Set Up

If we have inspired you to go solar, we invite you to use our affiliate link and promo code “canlife” to get a 10% discount on your order from Renogy. It could literally save you hundreds of dollars! And, always feel free to contact us if you have further questions or leave comments below. We always love to hear from our readers.

Editor's Note: You can learn more about Shari & Hutch's full-time, solar-powered adventures on their website at freedominacan.com. Or, follow them on FacebookInstagram, and YouTube as “Freedom in a Can, LLC.” 

Shari and Hutch
Author: Shari and HutchEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
In 2012, Shari Galiardi & David Hutchison left behind careers and a comfortable home in North Carolina to travel with the vintage camper trailer they lovingly restored, outfitted with solar, and named "Hamlet." What began as a short break from careers and responsibility quickly turned into a love affair with roadlife. They have parlayed their higher education backgrounds, desire for life-long learning, and thirst for adventure travel into writing, photography, video production, and public speaking gigs from coast to coast. Known to their friends as simply Shari & Hutch, you can learn more about their full-time, solar-powered adventures on their website at freedominacan.com.

Comments   

0 #2 David E Hutchison 2021-05-14 03:14
Quoting Larry Heyert:
I want to get solar for my Class C RV; but, I'm not at all handy. I live outside Seattle and I'd like to find a reputable person/company for solar installation. I've identified a few companies with great customer ratings; but, they are all booked for the next 4 - 6 months. Other installers get terrible ratings, enough said. Any suggestions on how to find a good installer and not having to wait for months to proceed? Thanks.


Hey Larry, we know of of just one mobile installer that might be able to help you out. They did a great job with an install on a friend's rig. Last that we knew they were in Colorado. The company is Sol Seekers Solar, email

Best of luck. Shari & Hutch
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0 #1 Larry Heyert 2021-05-04 00:24
I want to get solar for my Class C RV; but, I'm not at all handy. I live outside Seattle and I'd like to find a reputable person/company for solar installation. I've identified a few companies with great customer ratings; but, they are all booked for the next 4 - 6 months. Other installers get terrible ratings, enough said. Any suggestions on how to find a good installer and not having to wait for months to proceed? Thanks.
Quote

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