What you need to know about Solar Panels in Colder Weather

Solar Panels in Snow

You’re interested in investing in solar panels for your RV, but are hesitant to commit because you want to learn more about how solar panels function in colder weather. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about solar performance and maintenance in colder weather and winter months.

When it’s Cloudy

Winter tends to be cloudier, especially in snowy areas, with the occasional flurry rolling through. The good news is, even when it’s cloudy, your solar panels are still collecting energy. If there is light, your panels are still converting it into clean energy. Solar panels don’t work with heat, they work with light. As long as there is light outside, you will be collecting energy. Solar panels actual perform better in cooler temperatures than very hot temperatures.

Because the days of winter aren’t as long as summer days, you’ll have to plan for less time collecting energy. You’ll have less hours of daylight to collect energy. Consider adjusting the angle of your panels to properly capture the sunlight, if you have an adjustable rack mount.

What if it snows

AM Solar will ensure that your solar panels are able to collect the most sunlight they can. Snow typically won’t stick to solar panels, as they’re quite smooth and snow should slide right off. Because the panels should always be facing the sun, what snow does stick should melt.

If you find that snow is piling up on your panels, you should be careful about removing it. Gently remove the bulk of the snow from the panels and your RV roof. Keep a broom or a brush on hand to clear freshly fallen snow off. If you let the snow sit and freeze onto the panels it will take longer for your panels to start collecting again. It could also damage your solar panels. Much like water melts into cracks, and then expands those cracks when it freezes, the same thing could happen to your solar panels without the proper snow care.

When it’s cold

Consider the fact that battery storage capacity is reduced in a colder climate. Fully charged batteries that are used on a frequent or daily basis, won’t freeze very easily. The temperature would have to drop to -70 degrees F or more. If a battery isn’t fully charged, it can freeze much faster, somewhere around -10 degrees F.

Talk to your local solar professionals and see what care they recommend for colder, potential snowy weather. Ask for recommendations for products, panels, rack mounts and more.

10/12/16 – 2015 Airstream Flying Cloud 25FB, 25'

A client brought in his 2015 Airstream with the following request of AM Solar:
Design an off-the-grid power system (for dry camping and boon-docking) that “runs itself” and requires as little maintenance and oversight as possible both when the trailer is being used and when it is stored.
Specifics:

  • Trailer is used for six weeks in the summer, often in shaded campgrounds, 95% of the time without electrical hookups. Stays range from 3-5 nights before moving to next location. Trailer is also used during the other three seasons typically for three-night stays.
  • Client has monitored his power usage in the trailer for the last year and a half and concluded that 40-50amp hours is the typical 24 hour energy usage.
  • Client doesn’t want to have to bring the batteries to a full charge after each use. Due to not utilizing campgrounds with electrical hook-ups, staying in shaded areas, and often driving short distances between destinations, there is often not enough time to fully recharge batteries via solar and vehicle alternator, especially in the off-season.
  • When sun is available, the client wants to utilize every watt possible from their panels to recharge the batteries as they often only travel 2-4 hours before stopping at their next destination. 
  • Client wants an option to add additional battery capacity and/or solar panels if desired for future energy needs.


To accomplish the above client goals we spec’d one of our Lithium Battery Systems, solar panels, solar charger, and battery charger.

  • Because the customer has light AC loads, we chose a 200Ah Essential Lithium Battery system. This will comfortably give them the five nights of camping desired with almost no solar panel input if they are camping under trees in the winter. If the client desires greater battery capacity in the future, this system can be expanded easily with an additional 200Ah bringing the total to 400Ah. Additionally, unlike lead-acid battery based systems, the lithium battery does not need to be recharged to 100% after each use.
  • Due to the potential for tree cover, we chose 400W of solar panels to give the client ample solar charging capacity.
  • We chose a 50A charger to maximize all available power (solar and vehicle alternator) to recharge the batteries as quickly as possible.
  • We chose a three-stage battery charger so that the client can leave the trailer plugged in when stored without having to be concerned about the batteries being charged correctly.
Equipment Added: 4x SP100W Panels 1x Roof C-Box 2x 15.5" Tilt Bar Sets 1x SunRunner Victron MPPT 30A 1x Victron MPPT Control 1x 200Ah Essential Battery Bank 1x Phoenix Charger 12/50 1x Phoenix Charger Control/Monitor

Equipment Added:
4x SP100W Panels
1x Roof C-Box
2x 15.5" Tilt Bar Sets
1x SunRunner Victron MPPT 30A
1x Victron MPPT Control
1x 200Ah Essential Battery Bank
1x Phoenix Charger 12/50
1x Phoenix Charger Control/Monitor

Because the BMS on the Essential system acts on the negative side of the batteries (ground control), the negative (or chassis) from the tow vehicle with the alternator is at a slightly different voltage than the negative output of the lithium system. This creates a design challenge since shorting the negative output of the lithium system to the tow vehicle chassis would damage the BMS.  

In a van conversion or coach, the issue of having two different negatives is easily resolved by routing the output of the lithium battery through the Orion 12/12 DC converter.  The negative output of the Orion converter can then be tied to the chassis and all positives for the DC loads get re-routed to the positive output of the Orion.  If the total DC load is more than 30A, multiple Orion converters can be connected in parallel.  Inverters, or anything else that can have their negative isolated from the chassis will just connect directly to the output of the lithium battery system without going through the Orion converter.

In trailers, the issue of having two different negatives is solved differently.  In this situation, the Orion converter goes on the input side of the lithium system, thus isolating the trailer from the tow vehicle’s chassis.  When this is done, the Orion converter has to be modified so it’s output voltage is 14.2V instead of the factory 12.0V.  This is accomplished by carefully tuning a potentiometer inside the converter that is accessible when the cooling fan is removed.  This design will limit alternator charging current to 30A, but it will protect the BMS from having it’s input and output short circuited.

Victron Orion 12/12 Converter customized to 14.2V output and connected on the input to the lithium battery system

Victron Orion 12/12 Converter customized to 14.2V output and connected on the input to the lithium battery system

200Ah Lithium Battery and Solar Charge Controller

200Ah Lithium Battery and Solar Charge Controller

Essential Lithium BMS and Battery Monitor

Essential Lithium BMS and Battery Monitor

Charge Controller and Battery Monitor Displays

Charge Controller and Battery Monitor Displays

Installation Video

11/17/16 - 2000 Safari Serengeti, 38'

This customer came to us with two solar panels and a Victron inverter.  The solar panels had an incompatible Vmpp with our panels, so we had to remove them.  But, we were able to keep the inverter.  Now the customer has a 1280W solar charger.

Equipment Added: 8x 160W Solar Panels 1x Roof C-Box 4x 19.5" Tilt Bar Sets 4x Tubes Dicor Sealant 1x Bluetooth Smart Dongle 1x Victron BlueSolar MPPT 150/100 Controller

Equipment Added:
8x 160W Solar Panels
1x Roof C-Box
4x 19.5" Tilt Bar Sets
4x Tubes Dicor Sealant
1x Bluetooth Smart Dongle
1x Victron BlueSolar MPPT 150/100 Controller

Solar Charge Controller

Solar Charge Controller

Inverter

Inverter

Battery Bay

Battery Bay

11/11/16 - 2015 Winnebago Vista, 28'

This coach came to us with a complex battery management system that had to be bypassed with a network of diodes in order for the lithium battery bank to function.  It was a challenging install, but everything worked out in the end.  The customer now has a 960W solar charger with a 300Ah lithium battery bank and a 3000VA inverter.

Equipment Added: 6x SF160 Solar Panels 1x Roof C-Box 1x SunRunner Victron MPPT 70A System Core 1x Victron MultiPlus 12/3000 Inverter/Charger 1x Victron Digital Multi Control 1x 300Ah Signature Lithium Battery System

Equipment Added:
6x SF160 Solar Panels
1x Roof C-Box
1x SunRunner Victron MPPT 70A System Core
1x Victron MultiPlus 12/3000 Inverter/Charger
1x Victron Digital Multi Control
1x 300Ah Signature Lithium Battery System

300Ah Lithium Battery System

300Ah Lithium Battery System

Inverter and charge controller

Inverter and charge controller

System Monitor

System Monitor

11/10/16 – 2016 Dodge ProMaster Cargo, 20'

This custom van conversion just got a 200W solar charging system with a 300Ah AGM battery bank and a 2000W inverter.  Running a blender or microwave will be no problem.

Equipment Added: 2x SF100 Solar Panels 2x 15.5" Tilt Bar Sets 1x Roof C-Box 1x SunRunner Signature 25MPPT/6/Pro Core (with 8ga.) 1x Tube of Sikaflex 221 2x 300Ah 6CT 6V AGM batteries 1x Victron MultiPlus 2000W Inverter 1x Victron Digital M. Control

Equipment Added:
2x SF100 Solar Panels
2x 15.5" Tilt Bar Sets
1x Roof C-Box
1x SunRunner Signature 25MPPT/6/Pro Core (with 8ga.)
1x Tube of Sikaflex 221
2x 300Ah 6CT 6V AGM batteries
1x Victron MultiPlus 2000W Inverter
1x Victron Digital M. Control

The power system is under the bed.

The power system is under the bed.

AGM Battery Bank

AGM Battery Bank

Inverter, Charge Controller and Breaker Box

Inverter, Charge Controller and Breaker Box

What you need to know about your Solar RV

Solar Power

If you’re thinking of converting your RV with solar panels, there’s a lot you need to know. While you can study up on this topic for months, there are some key things to consider, before you know if a solar-equipped RV is right for you. Here’s a list of topics to consider.

What are Solar RV panels?

Solar RV Panels are solar panels that convert the sun’s light in to electricity for you to run your RV. Sunlight hits the solar panels which creates an electric current. Solar RV’s are equipped with a charge controller which regulates how much current goes through the battery. Then the power goes through a solar inverter to change the power from DC to AC power. You need different kinds of power for different things, like AC power runs things like phone chargers, toasters, laptops, etc. Essentially the solar panels supply energy to a large battery, that you use to power your RV.

What are the benefits of going solar?

There are many benefits of going solar, but it’s not for everyone. If you’re looking to get off the grid, or want to be greener in your energy approach, solar may be perfect for you. You can take your RV practically anywhere, as long as you have sunlight to charge your battery. This allows you to explore more places, rather than always being tied to an RV campground with hookups. Outfitting your RV with solar panels can also save money. They do require an initial start up money, outfitting your RV isn’t free. But once you’ve paid to convert your RV the maintenance is relatively cheap.

How many panels do you need for your RV?

This is a trickier question. You should talk to your local renewable energy supplier, like AM Solar, to see how many panels or what sort of set up that they recommend for you and your RV. You need to figure out what panels you want, and what you’ll need them for. If you’re going to use a lot of power when you use your RV, you may need to consider different solar panels, or budget more time spent collecting power. Solar power can be limiting in that you can’t watch TV, cook dinner and take a shower with minimal energy collected. You have to budget your time with energy or look at different solar RV kits.

If you’re looking to get off the grid, or reduce your carbon footprint, solar is the way to go. You will still have to make some lifestyle changes, and get used to using solar panels, but it’s an easy and cost-effective way to go.

10/28/16 – 2015 Keystone Montana, 35.5’

This is one of our most powerful non-lithium systems.  Features include:  1600W of solar charging, going through 100A MPPT charge controller, to a 900Ah AGM battery bank which feeds a 3000VA hybrid inverter.  It’s another AM Solar mobile power plant.

Equipment Added: 10x SF160 Solar Panels 5x 19.5" Tilt Bar Sets 20x mounting feet are Tall 3-Hole 3x Dicor Ultra for TPO Roof 1x Victron Blue Solar MPPT 150/100 system core 1x Victron Color Control GX Monitor 6x 300Ah GPL-6CT 6V AGM Batteries 1x Victron MultiPlus 3000 Inverter Charger

Equipment Added:
10x SF160 Solar Panels
5x 19.5" Tilt Bar Sets
20x mounting feet are Tall 3-Hole
3x Dicor Ultra for TPO Roof
1x Victron Blue Solar MPPT 150/100 system core
1x Victron Color Control GX Monitor
6x 300Ah GPL-6CT 6V AGM Batteries
1x Victron MultiPlus 3000 Inverter Charger

Planning panel placement

Planning panel placement

Victron Color Control GX Monitor

Victron Color Control GX Monitor

Inverter, Charge controller & Batteries

Inverter, Charge controller & Batteries

8/29/2016 - 2013 Newmar Ventana 360HP, 34'

This customer purchased a 3024DiL controller and 2x SF160 solar panels from us and did most of the installation himself. We finished the job by adding a temp sense to his controller and a new bank of AGM batteries.

Equipment Added: 4x 6V 4CT 220Ah AGM Batteries 1X Blue Sky Temp Sense 1x IPN Pro Remote Shunt Kit (minus the shunt)

Equipment Added:
4x 6V 4CT 220Ah AGM Batteries
1X Blue Sky Temp Sense
1x IPN Pro Remote Shunt Kit (minus the shunt)

AGM Batteries

AGM Batteries

Customer installed shunt

Customer installed shunt

Blue Sky Charge Controller

Blue Sky Charge Controller

8/22/2016 - 2015 Heartland Oakmont 39MLB, 42'

This rig got a very powerful AGM battery system which included 960W of solar panels with a 600Ah battery bank and a 2000W pure sine inverter.

Equipment Added: 6x SF160 Solar Panels 1x Roof C-Box 1x Victron BlueSolar MPPT 150/70 System Sore 1x Victron MPPT Control Monitor Kit 4x AGM 300Ah 12V 6CT Batteries 1x Magnum MS2012 Inverter 1x Magnum Remote ME-RC50 1x Magnum Monitor ME-BMK  

Equipment Added:
6x SF160 Solar Panels
1x Roof C-Box
1x Victron BlueSolar MPPT 150/70 System Sore
1x Victron MPPT Control Monitor Kit
4x AGM 300Ah 12V 6CT Batteries
1x Magnum MS2012 Inverter
1x Magnum Remote ME-RC50
1x Magnum Monitor ME-BMK

 

The power system

The power system

Inverter connections

Inverter connections

System controls and monitors

System controls and monitors

9/1/2016 – 2016 DRV Mobile Suites, 40'

This customer came to us wanting the best of the best and the most that could reasonably fit in their rig.  They ended up with a 960W solar charging system and a 600Ah battery bank with a 3000VA inverter.  With a system like this they can enjoy all the comforts of home, while on the road.

Equipment added: 6x SF160 Solar Panels 1x Roof C-Box 1x SunRunner Victron MPPT 70A system core 1x 600Ah Signature Lithium Battery Bank 1x Victron MultiPlus 12/3000/120-50 120V Inverter

Equipment added:
6x SF160 Solar Panels
1x Roof C-Box
1x SunRunner Victron MPPT 70A system core
1x 600Ah Signature Lithium Battery Bank
1x Victron MultiPlus 12/3000/120-50 120V Inverter

960W solar charging system

960W solar charging system

Lithium battery system, inverter, charge controller

Lithium battery system, inverter, charge controller

System monitors and controls

System monitors and controls

10/27/2016 – 1998 Dodge Xplorer 21'

This customer wanted a simple solar charging system for more independence.  The result was 400W of solar panels through an MPPT charge controller.  Depending on the weather, this system may generate about 100Ah per day.

Three of the four SP100 Solar Panels

Three of the four SP100 Solar Panels

Solar Master Switch

Solar Master Switch

Blue Sky IPN Pro Remote

Blue Sky IPN Pro Remote

9/26/2016 - 2015 Tiffin Phaeton, 40'

These customers came to us looking for a solar charging system and battery monitor that would be compatible with a future lithium upgrade.  We got them 1280W of 160W panels going through a Victron 100A charge controller and a BMV-702 battery monitor with Victron Color Control GX display.

Equipment Added: 8x SF160 Solar Panels 1x Roof C-Box 1x SunRunner Victron MPPT 100A System Core 1x Victron BMV-702 Battery Monitor Kit 1x Victron Color Control Monitor

Equipment Added:
8x SF160 Solar Panels
1x Roof C-Box
1x SunRunner Victron MPPT 100A System Core
1x Victron BMV-702 Battery Monitor Kit
1x Victron Color Control Monitor

Victron Charge Controller

Victron Charge Controller

System Monitors

System Monitors

Existing batteries, soon to be replaced with Lithium

Existing batteries, soon to be replaced with Lithium

10/07/2016 - 2012 Monaco Vesta, 35'

This Class A motorhome got a powerful 700W solar charging system and a battery monitor that communicates via Bluetooth with a smart phone.

System Planning

System Planning

Solar Panels

Solar Panels

Victron System Core

Victron System Core

10/6/2016 - 2008 Glendale Titanium, 34'

This 5th wheel got a 640W solar charging system with a 40A MPPT system core, a 2000W pure sine inverter and a 220Ah AGM Battery Bank.  With a system like this they will be able run appliances like blenders and microwaves without a generator or shore power connection.

Glendale-Titanium
Glendale-Titanium-Front
Four 160W Solar Panels

Four 160W Solar Panels

Combiner Box

Combiner Box

Battery Bay

Battery Bay

10/21/2016 - 2009 Fleetwood Bounder, 39'

This rig had a simple solar charging system installed.  With 480W they should be able to keep their batteries topped off while running a refrigerator and lights.

Three 160W Solar Panels

Three 160W Solar Panels

Combiner Box with the option for a fourth panel to be added later

Combiner Box with the option for a fourth panel to be added later

Blue Sky IPN Pro remote to monitor the system

Blue Sky IPN Pro remote to monitor the system

How Much Time Does it Take to Produce Solar Energy

Solar Energy

If you’re interested in retrofitting your RV to be solar-powered, you probably have questions as to how everything works and how long it’ll take to charge your batteries that you need to run your RV. The answer is varied depending on what appliances you want to run or use in your RV and how long you want to use them for. Here’s a breakdown of how it all works.

A solar panel takes the energy from the sun and converts it into power that you can use. The energy gets converted into DC battery power to charge your RV’s batteries. Think of it as a battery charger that works only when the sun is out. There are two different kinds of power, DC, which is direct current, and AC, which is alternating power. DC power runs different kinds of RV appliances like water pumps and lights, and AC power runs things like a TV, kitchen appliances or a hair dryer.

If you want to know how long you need to use your solar panels to collect energy to run your shower, your stove and watch an hour of TV you might need to use a power calculator tool. They’re easy enough to find online. The fact is how much power you need depends on many factors; how large your battery bank is and how many amps you plan to use per hour.

You also need to understand a few basic power concepts like amps, watts and volts. Amps are the amount of energy, and volts is like a regulation to how much energy is used. Volts can be compared to a controlled release system. Amps is the amount of energy and volts is how much is used how fast. Watts are what you get when you multiply the amps by the volts.

Most solar kits for RVs include inverters, battery chargers, fuse blocks, transfer switches and more so that you can easily get your RV set up for solar power. A solar regulator can also be important as it can prevent the solar panel from over charging your batteries. Inverters are needed if you want to convert your DC power to AC power.

So how much time do you need to collect energy to run your RV on solar power? The answer is a complicated one. It depends on how much energy you plan to use, what type of energy it requires, does it need to be converted to AC and how long you need the energy for. You need to budget the energy you collect. You need to decide if cooking dinner, taking a shower or watching TV is a better use of the solar power you’ve collected.