How Much Solar do you Need?

Solar equipped RV.jpg

Outfitting your RV with solar panels can be a very freeing thing to do. It allows you to get off the beaten path. Without the need for RV hookups, you can set up camp everywhere with solar panels. But then the problem arises, how much solar do you need to run the appliances you’re used to functioning with on your RV? It’s the biggest question from new Solar equipped RV users. While it can take some time to get used to gathering power for everything you want to be able to use, we’re here to break it down for you.

The basics

What you’ll need to outfit you RV with solar panels, doesn’t differ too much from company to company. At AM Solar, the basics that they recommend are lithium batteries, an inverter, and solar panels. If you’re struggling to understand how solar power works, or how you figure out what you need it’s important to understand that the solar power you have might be assisted by a generator, or alternator, depending on how you have your system set up.

Solar power isn’t endless, you collect what you can during the day, and then use it at night or during the day. The battery is the most important part of the system because it’s what holds the power you’ve collected. The battery is there for you all the time, storing your energy. It’s important to think of your RV system as a small grid with some storage, you’ll be able to better plan for the power you need.

Solar power

The goal for solar power is to collect energy during the day, and use that energy but no more than that. The difference in solar panels for motorhomes is that you can’t sell your excess power back to the solar power company, you can only store it.

Note that you can only fill your battery to 100 percent, it doesn’t continually store energy while you’re accruing it. Once it’s full, it’s full. It’s also important to be sure not to build a RV solar energy system that’s bigger than you need it to be. Talk to your Solar RV Kit experts, and talk about how much energy you think you’ll need. Tell them what exactly you’re expecting and needing your solar panels to do for you. If you build a system too big, and you’ll never use all of the power you accrue, chances are you’ve spend money making the system too big.

Take Away

Talk to your local solar experts at AM Solar, and find out just how much power you need. If you plan to only take a shower, and run the stove or a small kitchen appliance, chances are you won’t need huge solar panels or power for a couple of small things. If you’re planning to run AC, take a shower, and cook a full dinner every night, you’ll need more capacity for more power.

Solar for Tiny Homes

The tiny home movement has officially taken hold in pop culture, with many young people turning to smaller places, and less possessions. Tiny homes are great for millennials, or young home buyers, as they’re much smaller than single family homes, and they require much less maintenance. If you’ve shed your excess possessions, and settled down in a smaller tiny home, it might be time to consider solar panels, to make your home that much more self-sufficient.

Tiny Home Solar

If you converted to a tiny home to save money, and become more financially independent, solar power might be more up your alley. If your tiny home is in a permanent location, grid-tied solar can be a better option. But that does require that you don’t intend to move your tiny home. If you’re on the move, or putting up on land that might not always be available to you, starting with off-grid solar panels is your best option.

Most motorhome solar panel kits will work for tiny homes. With your off grid solar system, you collect all of your power during the day, and store it in batteries for when you need to use it. AM Solar’s solar panels and products, have also been used to power automatic door locks and lights in public park bathrooms. These same systems can be used for tiny homes, as their equipment is suitable for tiny homes.

Solar System for Tiny Homes

As with solar equipped RVs, it can be a balance to figure out how much solar power you need to collect during the day to power how you run your tiny home. AM Solar has compiled a great system for a tiny home, that uses a cable of running lights, a refrigerator and other small appliances.

If your tiny home has a metal roof, AM Solar recommends the SF180 Solar Panel Kit, with Rocker mounts.  Having a composite roof is trickier, because the mounting hardware included in panel kits attaches to metal roofs and not composite roofs. This system is perfect for a considerable amount of power, and perfect for a tiny home or RV with a bit of roof space. It’s recommended that you get 6 panel kits, to provide appropriate amount of power you’d need for a tiny home. For multiple solar panels, you’ll also need a combiner box, to parallel connections.

Next, to keep it easy to monitor your power intake, and usage, a charge controller will come in handy. A charge controller can monitor up to 1150 watts of solar panels, and works with the roof mounted combiner boxes. This system comes with Bluetooth monitoring so that you can keep track of your power accrued on your phone. It’s important to use sealant around your mount feet, cable management and combiner boxes when they’re attached to your roof.

Then you’ll need batteries, enough to host all the power collected from the panels. AM Solar estimates about six batteries. Final step is to get an inverter kit, which adapts your power to AC needs. An inverter will help prevent any overload of power to your system.

Take Away

While outfitting your tiny home with a solar system is a financial undertaking, totaling at around $8,000, it’s a smart investment in the future. It might seem like a lot, but when you break down what you spend on power, and what you could save, it’s an investment that’s well worth it.

The Difference of a Solar RV

If you’re looking for a great way to get off of the grid, converting your RV with solar panels is the way to go. There’s lots to be learned about solar equipped RVs, how best to do it, what the benefits are. We’re here to break down what you need to know first. Here’s to the endless possibilities that a DIY Solar RV brings.

Why Solar?

What’s the difference between solar for your home and solar for your RV? Nothing really, just the size of the panel. You’ll need different equipment for each, but they still function relatively close to the same. RV panels for your home and RV still convert the sun’s light into energy to be used.

The energy is converted to electricity for your RV to run off of. When the panels collect the sunlight, it gets passed through the solar system, and creates a current. The charge controller then regulates how much current runs to the battery of your Solar RV. If you have needs for DC and AC power, a solar inverter can create both.

If you’re going to run a whole RV solar system off of solar power, you’re going to need an inverter. AC and DC power runs different things. AC power is for things like phone chargers, laptops, small kitchen appliances. Solar panels even send the collected energy to your battery, and it will be stored to power your RV later.

Benefits

If you want a way to enjoy your RV but be able to get off the grid, and no longer depend on a hookup, going solar is a great way to go. You’ll have to take some time to figure out just how much power you need to run everything you use in your RV. More than likely you won’t generate enough power to do everything you need to, like cook a dinner, and take a shower, and charge your laptop.

The cost of installing solar panels, can initially stop some people from investing, but in the long run going solar will save you time and money. It’s a greener way to get out and go camping.

What do you need?

If you don’t know where to start when it comes to outfitting your RV with solar panels, getting in touch with your local solar RV equipment supplier is key. They’ll help you with everything you need, and can eve handle install for you. They’ll give you a number of panels they recommend for what you’d like to be able to do with your solar power. DIY Solar RVs are a great way to get out and off the grid, without a dependence on RV hookups.

Solar Gadgets for Camping

It’s that time of year again; the weather is nice and it’s time to go camping. If you have a solar equipped RV you know the wonders of avoiding a crowded campground, and heading out off the grid with your solar RV. While equipping your RV with solar panels, can help you camp anywhere, there are still lots of fun solar gadgets that can make camping even easier. We’re here to break them down for you.

Lanterns

Having a solar lantern is essential to almost any camping trip. We all know that it gets dark out faster than we realize, and having a few lanterns on site is always helpful. Find a solar powered lantern for camping. The benefits of solar lanterns are they stay lit longer, with up to hours of light just for charging in the sun all day. Solar lanterns tend to be pretty affordable, and you can find them in a lot of different places for under $20.

Solar Charging Backpack

This is a new one to us, but seems to be extra handy. Rather than carry your gear around from camp to camp, they now have solar charging backpacks. It’s perfect for charging smaller things like a phone or ipod. If bringing your electronics along on a camping trip are a must, then this backpack is for you. Rather than lugging around heavy batteries or a docking station, this pack can charge any small devices.

Solar Shower

While we admit that the point of camping is to get off the grid, and forego some of our everyday pleasures, showering doesn’t have to be one of them. We’ve talked about solar showers in the past, and the technology has only improved. While rigging a DIY solar shower isn’t that hard, there are plenty of inexpensive solar showers to be found on the market. If you don’t have a solar equipped RV with a shower, a solar shower is the way to go.

Solar Flashlights

Having a flashlight on hand when you’re camping is essential. Flashlights come in handy any time, not just camping. This is a great solar accessory, again because it charges during the day, and you can use it for hours at night. Again, this is an affordable solar camping gadget, coming in at under $30.

Solar Cooler

Another new product using solar energy? We love it. If you’ve ever struggled with keeping your drinks and food cold on a camping trip, solar powered coolers are here to save the day. It only uses a few amps every hour, to keep your food at safe temperatures, which is less energy than most other devices use.

Go Solar

There are plenty of ways to enhance your campsite with solar equipment and gadgets. Check out a few listed here, or go find the best ones for you. If you have a solar equipped RV, using solar gadgets is only going to make camping or head out off the grid easier.

5/01/2017 - 2013 Newmar Mountain Aire, 40'

In systems with AGM batteries we like to have close to a 1:1 ratio of solar panel watts to battery bank amp-hours.  Too little solar, and your batteries won’t get up to a full charge as often as needed for healthy operation.  Not enough battery amp-hours, and your charge controller will throttle down the solar input to keep from over charging full batteries which means your panels aren’t fully being utilized.  This Class A motorhome hits the sweet spot with 1280W of solar and 1200Ah of battery capacity.  (This does not apply to lithium batteries, because lithium batteries don’t need a regular charge.  You can install as many amp-hours of lithium batteries as you can afford and it doesn’t matter how much solar you have on your roof.)

Equipment Added: 8x SF160 Solar Panel Kits 1x Roof C-Box 1x SunRunner Victron SmartSolar MPPT 150/100 System Core 8x 300Ah AGM GPL 6CTs 6V Batteries 1x BMV-702 Battery Monitor 1x BlueTooth Smart Dongle

Equipment Added:
8x SF160 Solar Panel Kits
1x Roof C-Box
1x SunRunner Victron SmartSolar MPPT 150/100 System Core
8x 300Ah AGM GPL 6CTs 6V Batteries
1x BMV-702 Battery Monitor
1x BlueTooth Smart Dongle

1200Ah of AGM Batteries

1200Ah of AGM Batteries

Bluetooth Interface

Bluetooth Interface

Charge Controller

Charge Controller

4/25/2017 – 2014 Airstream Flying Cloud, 30'

AM Solar installs a wide range of power equipment on RVs which gives us the flexibility to customize our systems to match a wide variety of customer preferences.  For example, this customer was familiar with the Bogart Engineering PWM charge controller interface and wanted it on his Airstream.  We were able to accommodate, and set him up with 400W of solar on an SC-2030 charge controller.

Equipment Added: 1x SP100 Solar Panel Kit 3x SF100 Solar Panel Kits 1x Roof C-Box 1x Bogart Solar Charger SC-2030

Equipment Added:
1x SP100 Solar Panel Kit
3x SF100 Solar Panel Kits
1x Roof C-Box
1x Bogart Solar Charger SC-2030

Planning panel layout

Planning panel layout

Bogart Charge Controller

Bogart Charge Controller

Inverter

Inverter

4/19/2017 2017 Airstream Classic 31'

The narrow dimensions of our SP100 solar panels make them ideal for the curved roofs of Airstreams.  Our adjustable mounting feet allow clients choose if they want the panels mounted level or following the contours of the roof.  We replaced the Airstream factory charger with a Progressive Dynamics PD9260 for more gentle treatment of the batteries, which increases their lifespan.  At 600W, this is one of the largest solar arrays we have installed on an Airstream.

Equipment Added: 6x SP100 Solar Panel Kits 1x Roof C-Box 1x Sun Runner Signature MPPT 40A System Core 1x Progressive Dynamics PD9260 Charger

Equipment Added:
6x SP100 Solar Panel Kits
1x Roof C-Box
1x Sun Runner Signature MPPT 40A System Core
1x Progressive Dynamics PD9260 Charger

600W of solar panels

600W of solar panels

System monitor

System monitor

Blue Sky 3024iL charge controller

Blue Sky 3024iL charge controller

4/7/2017 – 2016 Thor Tuscany XTE, 40’

A powerful 960W solar charging system with an 800Ah AGM battery bank and battery monitor give this motorhome energy independence.  When parked for long periods, three of the 160W solar panels can be tilted toward the south to maximize solar production.  The Magnum BMK (Battery Monitor Kit) uses a shunt to measure current and communicates battery status to the existing ME-RC50 inverter/charger monitor.  The Victron charge controller in the system core conveys solar charging status to a smart phone.  Unless these clients need to run their air conditioner for several hours, they won’t have to worry about plugging into shore power.

Equipment Added: 6x 160W Solar Panel Kits 1x Roof C-Box 1x SunRunner Signature 100A System Core 1x BlueTooth Smart Dongle 3x 19.5" Tilt Bar Sets 1x Magnum Monitor ME-BMK 4x AGM-GPL-L116 6V 400Ah Batteries

Equipment Added:
6x 160W Solar Panel Kits
1x Roof C-Box
1x SunRunner Signature 100A System Core
1x BlueTooth Smart Dongle
3x 19.5" Tilt Bar Sets
1x Magnum Monitor ME-BMK
4x AGM-GPL-L116 6V 400Ah Batteries

Victron Charge Controller

Victron Charge Controller

Existing Magnum Inverter/Charger

Existing Magnum Inverter/Charger

Magnum BMK

Magnum BMK

4/21/2017 - Triple E Regency, 28'

This client wanted an upgraded battery bank with a monitor, inverter and a solar charging system.  We installed a Magnum 1000W inverter/charger, 300Ah of AGM batteries and 320W of solar panels.  The Victron charge controller and battery monitor use Bluetooth to communicate system status to a smart phone.  This should cover fans, lights, entertainment center and a small refrigerator.  

Equipment Added: 2x SF160 Solar Panels 1x Roof C-Box 1x SunRunner Victron MPPT 50A System Core 1x BMV-702 Battery Monitor 1x Wall Box for BMV-702 2x BlueTooth Smart Dongles 2x AGM-GPL-6CTs 6V 300Ah Batteries 1x Magnum MMS1012 Inverter/Charger 1x Magnum Remote ME-RC50

Equipment Added:
2x SF160 Solar Panels
1x Roof C-Box
1x SunRunner Victron MPPT 50A System Core
1x BMV-702 Battery Monitor
1x Wall Box for BMV-702
2x BlueTooth Smart Dongles
2x AGM-GPL-6CTs 6V 300Ah Batteries
1x Magnum MMS1012 Inverter/Charger
1x Magnum Remote ME-RC50

320W of solar panels

320W of solar panels

Charge controller and inverter

Charge controller and inverter

Batteries

Batteries

4/17/2017 – 2006 Fleetwood Revolution, 41'

This client won’t be able to run their air conditioner ALL the time, but they will be able to do a couple hours per day with the 1280W solar charging kit, 3000W inverter and 600Ah lithium battery system.

Equipment Added: 8x SF160 Panel Kits 3x 19.5" Tilt Bar Sets 1x Roof C-Box 1x SunRunner Victron MPPTS 100A Core 1x 3000VA Victron MultiPlus Inverter 1x 600Ah Signature Lithium Battery Bank 2x GPL-3100T Starter Batteries

Equipment Added:
8x SF160 Panel Kits
3x 19.5" Tilt Bar Sets
1x Roof C-Box
1x SunRunner Victron MPPTS 100A Core
1x 3000VA Victron MultiPlus Inverter
1x 600Ah Signature Lithium Battery Bank
2x GPL-3100T Starter Batteries

Battery Bay

Battery Bay

Inverter, Charge Controller, Lithium Battery System, starter batteries

Inverter, Charge Controller, Lithium Battery System, starter batteries

4/21/2017 - Fleet Truck Camper

Our 100W Victron complete charger kit is ideal for small installations like this.  You can expand up to 200W and the robust, marine rated, MPPT charge controller is ideal for a wide range of applications from boats and campers to gate openers and security systems.  The Bluetooth communication dongle reports system status to a smart phone without the need to mount a meter.  If you only want one or two panels, this is the way to go.

Equipment Added: 1x 100W Victron Complete Charger (15A) 99-100VT15 1xTrik-L-Start Charger 98-TRIKL

Equipment Added:
1x 100W Victron Complete Charger (15A) 99-100VT15
1xTrik-L-Start Charger 98-TRIKL

Battery Compartment

Battery Compartment

Charge Controller and Bluetooth Dongle

Charge Controller and Bluetooth Dongle

High current from the solar panels is dangerous. ...or is it?

I recently had a conversation with a customer who was insistent that 50A DC flowing from the roof mount combiner box to the charge controller was dangerous. But, that isn’t at all the case when you consider the low voltage.

The Physics:

Circuit-Diagrams

Voltage is pressure, or the driving force behind electrons and Amperage is how many electrons pass through an area per second (1A = 6,241,000,000,000,000,000 electrons per second). While it is true that amperage is what kills you, in order to have high amperage passing through something with a high resistance (flesh) it needs to be driven by a high voltage.

Consider this equation: Voltage / Resistance = Amperage

In this 50A scenario with a combiner box through roof cables and a charge controller to a battery bank, you have 18V / 0.36Ω = 50A. If you get your body in the way, you add a huge resistance, lets say it is roughly 10,000Ω. This resistance causes the panels to operate at a higher point on the IV curve which drives their voltage near Vsc = 22V. Now the equation looks like 22V / (10,000Ω+0.36Ω) = 0.0022A. Suddenly we have a situation where the amperage is actually very low.

Now imagine you are getting shocked by a taser at 50,000V. Now you have 50,000V / 10,000Ω = 5A. This is dangerous.

Long Term Storage for RV Solar Power Systems

RV Solar Power System Maintenance

RV Maintenance - What an oxymoron.  Recreational Vehicles are for recreating, not something to be constantly working on.  Put those tools down and go relax!  But even while driving a car you have to pay attention to your gasoline levels, and that’s a form of vehicle maintenance.  So, by definition, everyone performs some kind of service on their primary vehicle fairly regularly. 

What about an RV?  Well, that will vary from rig to rig.  But solar charged batteries on an RV require some extra care.  Here are some maintenance suggestions along with the minimum frequency these “services” require.  After reading, see how you can fit these basic chores into your RVing lifestyle.

FYI - Calling for a tow when you’re stuck out in the woods, is also not RVing…

There are the three categories or pieces of an RV’s Solar System that may require maintenance:
Solar Panels (either mounted on the roof or portable)
Solar Charge Controller System (and the remote if installed)
Battery Bank (Flooded, AGM, GEL, or Lithium)

(Fuses and potential wire connection oxidation are also areas to check, but these items are included in one or more of the three solar categories listed above.)

Solar Panels -  Clean the solar panels as desired for optimum performance. After a hard rain, clean them. After a drive through dust or dirt, clean them. Sitting in a dry nearly wind free area - they can still get dirty from birds, plants, trees, and flowers that secrete sticky goo - clean them using water or 92% alcohol or a combination.  Infrequent cleanings won't harm the panels, but performance will suffer if dust or other debris is preventing photons from reaching silicon cells.

WARNING: Solar Panel Glass has an Anti-Reflective coating - abrasive cleaners may damage this surface.

Solar-Panels

The easiest way to check the cleanliness of your solar panels is to read your solar charge monitor and take note of any steady decline in solar electric input. Sometime during the first two days after setting up a long term camp, write down your solar activity at morning, noon and pre-dusk.  Then in a week or so, write these numbers again, comparing them to your initial readings. Keep comparing every week or so.  When the performance decreases, clean the panels and start your list all over.  

A leaf or a bird mess will create a very noticeable reduction in solar panel output.

Charge-Controller

Solar Charge Controllers require little in the way of actual elbow grease, but it is a good idea to keep an eye on them.  Every week or so (weave this into your schedule so you can officially avoid a worse chore) grab the big wires going in and out of the charge controller(s) and make sure they are tight - easy here, don’t pull anything loose.  Do not tolerate loose connections.  Either tighten them or get them tightened.  If/When you find a loose connection, fix it then make a note of it or take a picture and monitor it closely during the next couple of inspection cycles.  If the connection stays tight, good.  If it continues to loosen, then have this item inspected by a professional.  

As for corrosion, that can be an even bigger problem.  White powder on any electrical connection is cause for concern.  That powdery substance is oxidation (in iron this is called rust). This powder indicates a poor connection or a failing component in the wire run.  Once again, seek professional assistance to locate and correct this situation quickly.  Near batteries, the powder could have shades of green or blue mixed in. This is usually the remnants of evaporated battery acid.

Battery acid is a mixture of water, sulfur, and some other compounds that should be avoided.

AM Solar Lithium Battery System and Lifeline starter battery

AM Solar Lithium Battery System and Lifeline starter battery

Battery Bank Inspections come in three varieties based on which of the three types of batteries being inspected.  Flooded batteries have liquid acid sloshing around - but they can be re-filled.  GEL / AGM Batteries have their acid stabilized (it won't slosh) but can’t be re-filled.  Lithium batteries have a paste-like substance that absolutely cannot be re-filled.  Inspecting batteries is pretty straightforward and all battery types have some checks in common.

Check for loose cables.  Check for corrosion (powder).  Lastly, and only with flooded batteries, check the water level. Never overfill flooded batteries and always keep the cell water levels equal.  Never let the top of the material in the cell get dry (the finned “stuff” is called the plates and that's where the reaction takes place).

Storing a solar equipped RV for long periods of time, a month or more, can cause issues, most common among these is battery damage.  Here are three common types of RV storage and what you should do to protect your equipment:

A)   Park it outdoors

  • Log all issues found or fixed before you store your solar equipped RV and write them down.
  • Turn off all the loads that can be turned off.  This includes DC loads coming directly from the battery and AC loads using the inverter or shore power.
  • Leave solar and house battery charge circuit ON and walk away.  A well designed/matched Solar System should be able to keep the batteries in operational condition so long as there are no loads left on. Loads could cause the batteries to be drawn down below the capability of your solar system.
  • If using lithium batteries, turn OFF the Lithium Master Disconnect switch to prevent current from entering or leaving the lithium battery bank.

B)   Park it inside (like a Storage Facility or Garage) and walk away

  • This is a bad idea for lead-acid, flooded, GEL or AGM batteries.  These batteries must be kept charged.  Only lithium batteries can be left for extended periods of time without being charged.
  • Log all issues found or fixed before you store your solar equipped RV and write them down.
  • Turn off all the loads that can be turned off.  This includes DC loads coming directly from the battery and AC loads using the inverter or shore power.
  • Turn OFF the Lithium Master Disconnect switch to prevent current from entering or leaving the lithium battery bank.

C)   Park it at a Fully Staffed Storage Facility where your rig will be monitored

  • Log all issues found or fixed before you store your solar equipped RV and write them down.
  • Turn off all the loads that can be turned off.  This includes DC loads coming directly from the battery and AC loads using the inverter or shore power.
  • All Flooded Lead-Acid Batteries including GEL and AGM, must have a continual “trickle” charge (about 5% of the battery’s amp hour rating) when stored (a 100 Ah Battery needs a 5A DC trickle charge). If these battery types are left unplugged and unattended, their natural, internal, self-discharge will ruin them in a matter of weeks.
  • If using lithium batteries, turn OFF the Lithium Master Disconnect switch to prevent current from entering or leaving the lithium battery bank.  Some of our clients have had their batteries ruined while in storage at a facility with a trickle charge system because the power was accidentally disconnected by someone tripping over a cable or an outage caused by a lightning storm.  Lithium batteries are expensive, don't take any chances by storing them ON.

Note: Lithium batteries have almost no internal drain.  Therefore, after turning the battery master switch to Off, they can sit for up to a year without any charge source, yet will remain fully serviceable.

(Keep in mind that this article only covers RV Solar Systems. Other components and areas of your RV may need additional or even specialized treatments.)

AM Solar’s RV Solar “Ease of Install” List

QUANTIFIABLE ISSUES that reduce the efficiency of Installing a solar system ON FACTORY RVs

DEFINE RV SOLAR -
Any Recreational Vehicle or Towed RV with Portable or Fixed Solar Panels on the roof that are wired to a Solar Charge controller that is in turn connected to the “House Battery Bank”. All electrical needs are fulfilled by the batteries, which in turn are charged by the sun.

RV Off-Grid System Clarified -
Any RV or Home not connected to the “Electrical Grid” that has the above described RV Solar installed, will also need a way to store more energy than may be available in a single day.
This means more solar panels, larger wire sizes for the added electrical generation, and a sophisticated Solar Charge Controller. Further, a bigger “House” Battery Bank will be needed
(more batteries or larger capacity units, or both). There is also a way to produce “Household Electricity” by using stored solar energy for day to day energy usage - an inverter.

Overview of RV Solar Installation Difficulty -
Given the broad range of solar components available, the “System Options” one can chose in addition to the varying layout and design differences (even within a range of similar RVs) - it is tough to say what “a normal Solar Installation” is.
For this list, we shall imagine a roof filled with solar panels, the largest wire sizes we can use (bigger wire is more difficult to handle and install), a sophisticated Solar RV Battery Charger that safely manages the batteries’ condition (with a remote monitor needing extra time and wire to install), a “full sized” inverter (to change the DC energy of solar and batteries into the AC “household” energy to operate “appliances”) and an electrical interface that will manage the engine alternator and battery of the RV to “charge” the RV House Battery Bank while traveling.

The list:

1 - Navion / View

2 - Lazy Daze

3 - Basic/Bare Van or Towable Camper

4 - Fifth Wheel Towable

5 - Class A or C with no Slide Outs

6 - Fifth Wheel / Class A Toy Hauler

7 - Airstream (easier wire routing, but more difficult roof work)

8 - Class A or C with Slide Outs (easier roof work, but more difficult wire routing)

9 - Roadtrek

10 - Newmar or Monaco

1. Navion (and view)

  • Winnebago’s nearly identical twins
  • Class C - MB Chassis -
  • Unified Chassis Component Locations
  • Roof has room for “full size” solar panels
  • Similar Floor Plans - convenient wire runs

These RVs aren’t easy because they offer zero challenges, they are easy because they are pretty much all the same. So that’s good for “production” type work.

They are also the easiest for the DIY-er (compared to all other Factory Built RVs). There is lots of room on the roof for several “full sized” solar panels.

There is plenty of room in the “basement” (under floor storage accessed from the outside). This is where additional batteries can be installed, larger solar charge controllers and inverters can be housed without intrusion into the “house” and without losing too much outside storage.

Lots of “voids” in the walls can accommodate “hidden wire runs”, and several locations will house a Solar Charger “Remote” or “Monitor”.

Very little drilling though walls and floors is required. When enough time is spent by a RV Solar DIY in planning and “dry fitting” components, the number of drilled holes can be significantly reduced.

 

2. Lazy Daze

  • A single product company
  • Only builds this RV
  • Class C - Ford Chassis
  • Universal Chassis Component Locations
  • Roof has room for “full size” solar panels
  • Only two Floor Plans - convenient wire runs

Lazy Daze has been building this motorhome for years. The advantages are many and obvious. Resale value is high (they all look alike). The Ford Truck Chassis that is used changes little from year to year. The body of the “coach” also hasn't changed since the first models.

For production work this is even easier than a View / Navion, but that’s where those benefits end. A DIY installation will be easier than on most RVs, but not as simple as the “Winnies”.

The roof offers sizable real estate, so a number of solar panels will easily fit. Tilting panels to take advantage of the low winter sun is also a plus. The roof is also easier to “navigate” because of the room.

A well thought out plan for the placement of all the solar, supportive equipment and wire runs will be time well spent (and time a DIYer will regain during the actual install). There are several places to install extra / upgraded batteries and the type of battery (flooded, AGM or Lithium) will also factor in to the location. Something will have to go in order to accommodate all this extra equipment - storage. This also needs to figure in to the layout and time allotments.

Again, the Ford Chassis affords ample room for the wire runs needed to include supportive engine alternator charging of the house batteries.

3. Basic/Bare Van or Towable Camper

  • Ease = Owner’s Flexibility
  • Empty Shell
  • Unknown Layout
  • What other parts will be installed
  • Wire runs open or hidden
  • Plans for Roof Vents & Antennae
  • Air Conditioning add on?
  • Potential convenient wire runs

A blank canvas.

Some artists “freeze up” over a blank sheet. At least you can “get to everything”. Yes, but…

This solar RV panel installation requires even more planning than a finished rig because all the finish parts have yet to be installed. Many times the finished “camper” is an afterthought.

In a production situation and unless the owner knows exactly where all the “other stuff” will go, the job becomes very straight forward. This rarely happens.

The key to this type of installation is to include and plan for the interaction of all the parts and pieces the now empty rig will eventually contain.

To the unwitting this can become a very bad trap…

4. Fifth Wheel Towable

  • A Towed Rig
  • Requires a Tow Vehicle
  • May have Slide Outs
  • ALL Have a “Generator Room”
  • Lots of Room for Components and equipment

Towed behind (in the bed of) a Pick-Up Truck, these rigs have a lot of room for everything -
solar panels on the roof, components can be placed in a number of areas and the walls are thick enough for serious wire runs.

This will be the first rig in the list to actually have some degree of difficulty inherent in its design. Still a bit easier than a Class A or Large Class C without “Slide Outs”, the main challenge is in adding supportive engine alternator charging of the house batteries.

Production installations can be relatively smooth because of the limited design of these rigs. As form usually follows function there aren't too many variations on this theme. So once again, rote installations eventually reduce time spent.

DIYers most likely will find all the challenges this style RV offers. Very careful planning and a
“hands on” inspection of where everything will go is what is required on this rig.

5. Class A or C with No Slide Outs

  • First of the Actual RVs on List
  • Usually Lots of Roof Space
  • No moving walls or appliances
  • Room for Components and equipment
  • Engine Available for Support Charging of House Batteries

Our “first” true RV (by connotation). Nothing is like any other in this category. Once more, the efficiency of production installations become more routine with the route of numbers.

DIYers- do not get sucked into this class of rig until you have carefully plotted your course of action. These jobs look easy at first (and can be) if you remember to plan it all out (cardboard cut outs and product boxes are typical for these jobs).

Try to not get caught discovering the need to re-plan a wire run or component placement part way into one of these “full boat installs” (meaning solar and Inverter and supportive charging). Look for “hollow” spots in the walls and voids behind panels that could aid in your install.

Know this - no matter how tough you think this is - there are five others more difficult.

6. Fifth Wheel/Class A Toy Hauler

  • Class A (front engine) OR
  • A Towed Rig
  • (Requires a Tow Vehicle)
  • Usually has Slide Outs
  • Limited Outside / Under Storage
  • Little Room for Components and equipment

Be it a Class A with a gasoline front engine or a Fifth Wheel towed by a truck, these rigs are difficult.

With a wide-open area in the back for a garage, you'd think there would be plenty of extra room. Not so. Much of the support “stuff” that goes with “Toys” that are hauled is included in/on the rig. Like a dedicated gas tank for fueling the toys. A helmet shelf and riding suit locker take up space. Some even have a dedicated wash down area that also occupies otherwise valuable solar system space.

The theme continues from the previous five - Plan, plan plan.

Thin walls that keep weight down offer little room for wire runs. The undercarriage is also usually beefed up or otherwise filled up, making that space unusable.

Concluding - Production Installs and RV Solar DIYs alike are going to be a challenge. What always seems to throw everyone off – all that space!  That’s the real problem - no hidden space!

7. Airstream

  • A Towed Rig
  • Requires a Tow Vehicle
  • Never has Slide Outs
  • All Have a “Soft Roof”
  • Limited Room for Components and equipment
  • Wire routes straight forward

The biggest challenge for an Airstream (and there are quite a few challenges) -
the “Soft Drop In” roof. To keep intrusions into the living space with Air Conditioners and Fans and hanging lights, Airstream has a “new” roof. The thing is kind of hollow in that it carries overhead vents for the HVAV as well as flush mount lighting besides.

Special mounting hardware and sealing systems have been developed in order to safely and non-destructively mount solar panels on the roof (semi permanently). RV Solar DIYers should track these mount systems down and just use them. The time and monies involved in re-inventing this could leave you with leaks.

Wire runs become obvious once the initial inspection begins. Removing a few panels and other components will reveal some great places for components and wire runs.

Plan. Plan. Plan. Then inspect by taking things off and apart. Then “test fit”. Finally -
install the system.

8. Class A or C with Slide Outs

  • Roof Space Limited
  • Moving walls and appliances
  • Restricted Room
  • Some Areas unusable
  • Engine Available for Support Charging of House Batteries

Big Challenge here. No two of these are alike, yet they share similar difficulties - the walls move. Called “Slides” or “Slide Outs” these mini rooms are stored inside the main body while traveling, then, once parked, the rooms are electrically “Slid” out and thereby increasing the living spaces.

Does your rig have a bathroom in a slide? If so, flexible plumbing and moving electrical wires are a real issue. Or how about a kitchen that slides?  Moving propane lines too?

The walls may be able to accommodate wire runs, but those runs may stop to make room for a moving wall. Much more planning is needed inside these “slide out” rigs.

The roofs are also problematic because of the slides that may limit mounting options for solar panels. This category of RVs has earned it’s #8 place on the difficulty list.

9. Roadtrek

  • Roof Space very Limited
  • Very Restricted Room
  • Some Areas unusable
  • Engine Available for Support Charging of House Batteries

Big Challenge here.

No space- Anywhere. On the roof? No. In the walls? What walls? Under the rig? What, with the spare? No.

Are you sensing a theme? This is why we consider this brand (and type) of RV to be next to the most difficult RVs into which a full solar system can be installed.

Again, yes, it is possible to load this rig up so that two people could “live” off grid - but. You may also need to redefine “off-grid”.

This job will take at least twice as long as a Slide Out Class A or C.

Planning is paramount. Period.

10. Newmar or Monaco

  • Roof Populated w/Air
  • Moving walls and appliances
  • Restricted Space Inside and on Roof
  • Some Areas unusable
  • Engine Available for Support Charging of House Batteries
  • Expensive Vehicles

The high-end coaches are a problem. Yes, the cost of the rig is a consideration, but the real issues are electrical. Sure, accessing the voids takes great care and skill, but once opened the areas are available. You can cover the interior with mover blankets and you’re safe, but it’s all about the electrics.

The roofs on these types of rigs are usually populated with Satellite Dishes, multiple Air Conditioners, “smart” vents and booster antennas. This limits where and how many solar panels can be installed.

Further, trying to interface with some very sophisticated electrical systems that can be sealed up for proprietary matters, is a real-time consumer.

A full system solar RV install on a typical Class C with slides will average one week. With the same facilities and technicians, this rigs average is two to three weeks.

By Ray Monigold

4/13/2017 - 2014 Scamp

When our installation schedule permits, we occasionally take on small solar trouble shooting projects.  This client came to us with an old solar charging system that wasn’t working properly (Not one of our jobs) and asked us what we could do to make it work.  We remounted the solar panel, changed out his cabling and connected his charge controller.  A system this size will maintain his batteries when the trailer isn’t in use.

Equipment Added: 1x 35mm Mount Set 1/4 tube of dicor 15.5' 10/2 2 10-12 ga butt splices 6" 3/4" black heat shrink 2 10-12ga ring lugs w/ heat shrink

Equipment Added:
1x 35mm Mount Set
1/4 tube of dicor
15.5' 10/2
2 10-12 ga butt splices
6" 3/4" black heat shrink
2 10-12ga ring lugs w/ heat shrink

4/12/2017 - 2016 Itasca Navion 24J, 24'

This client needed a small solar charging system for DC loads and battery maintenance with a battery monitor to help them regulate energy consumption.  What they got was a solar panel kit consisting of two of our SF100 solar panels connected in parallel with our roof mount combiner box.  To reduce DC line losses, heavy 6ga wire was routed from the combiner box to the MPPT charge controller and then to the battery bank.  Between the most negative battery and all negative connections, we installed a shunt to measure current.  The shunt and the charge controller communicate with the Blue Sky IPN Pro monitor to give full system status with Amp-hour precision.

Equipment added: 2x SF100 Solar Panel Kits 1x SunRunner Signature MPPT 25A System Core 1x Roof C-Box 1x Tilt Bar Set 15.5"

Equipment added:
2x SF100 Solar Panel Kits
1x SunRunner Signature MPPT 25A System Core
1x Roof C-Box
1x Tilt Bar Set 15.5"

200W Solar Kit

200W Solar Kit

Blue Sky 2512iX HV Charge Controller

Blue Sky 2512iX HV Charge Controller

Blue Sky IPN Pro Remote

Blue Sky IPN Pro Remote

Thinking of going solar?

Spring is here and summer is growing closer and closer. It’s getting close to the time when you take the covers off your RV and start planning your first road or camping trip. If you’ve ever thought about outfitting your RV with a solar panel kit, now is the perfect time to do so. Get your RV ready for endless summer trips, and head off the grid with new solar panels. Learn about why you should go solar here.

Benefits

There are many benefits to having a solar equipped RV. While solar can be harder to understand, we’re here to break it down for you. Outfitting your RV comes with a price tag, but it’s one that you should consider as an investment. While there is some cost associated with going solar, it’s cost that will pay for itself if you give it time.

If you’re looking for a way to upgrade your RV and add value, going solar is the best way to go. Adding solar panels to your RV makes it more attractive to potential buyers.

Get Out of Dodge      

If the sound of campground generators is starting to annoy you, it may be time for you to go off the grid, and with solar panel kits you can do just that. All solar panels require is energy from the sun. They’re cleaner than running a generator for long periods of time.

With solar panel kits and a little planning you’ll never need a campground hookup again, which enables you to truly get off the grid. When you’re not dependent on RV hookups, you can drive anywhere and set up camp, just make sure you’re within the law to park there overnight.

If you’re hitting the road, you won’t have to worry about driving all day just to reach the next campground location. With a solar-powered RV you can set up camp anywhere. The other added benefit to solar power is that it’s much easier to maintain than a generator, and generates much less noise. With a basic solar panel package, you’ll have one or more panels that generate currents, using the sun’s rays, and this charges your batteries.

Outfitting your RV with solar panels does require some planning on your part. If you’re relying only on solar power to run your RV, you’ll have to budget for your energy use. You can’t expect to run a microwave, tv and shower all with minimal solar power collected. There are different tools you can use to determine how much power you’ll need to collect to do the things you need in your RV. If you’re committed to running your RV mostly off solar power, you simply have to plan for what you need, and collect enough energy to do so.

 

 

Solar Panel Kits for Boats

We don’t just do RVs.  We have created a solar panel kit specifically for charging batteries on boats.  This kit comes with a 50W solar panel, marine rated charge controller and wire harness.  This is ideal for electric trolling motors, downriggers or simply maintaining the starter battery.  The 50W solar panel will produce about 12 amp-hours per day in summer weather.

50W Boat Battery Charger
100W Boat Battery Charger

50W Boat Charger Kit

50W Boat Charger Kit

Mounting hardware is not included

Mounting hardware is not included

A proud customer brought his boat by to show off the kit.

A proud customer brought his boat by to show off the kit.

Lithium Batteries Explained

In the world of solar equipped RVs, Lithium batteries are the batteries of choice. What is it that makes them the preferred battery of solar battery banks and more? We’re here to explain how they work and why we choose them.

Price

Lithium batteries used to cost an arm and a leg. They used to fall under what we could consider technology of the future. The age of lithium has arrived. Now they’re easy to find and affordable. They’re even getting close to the price of lead acid batteries.

Charge

Lithium batteries are also smaller and lighter, which make them much more desired when it comes to outfitting an RV with a solar charging system. Lithium batteries are also known for delivering more power for a longer duration of time. While lead batteries drop voltage as their battery power gets lower, lithium batteries deliver a consistent level of stored power. Lithium batteries are also known for being able to sit longer than lead acid batteries, which is ideal for a solar RV. If you’re not using your solar RV for portions of the year, it’s better to find a battery that won’t deteriorate if left to sit for a month or two.

Solar RVs

In our solar RV’s we do like to use a battery management system, so that the lithium batteries don’t get over charged or completely discharged. They tend to have a longer lifespan in our RV’s if this system is installed. With lithium batteries weighing in lower that lead acid batteries, they’re perfect for use in solar powered RV’s. They don’t need regular full charges, and they require less maintenance. With a higher current output, they provide more usable capacity.

We do offer two different set ups for our lithium battery banks. The sizes directly depend on how much use you plan for your solar equipped RV. If you’re planning to run several appliances, like air conditioning, it might be best to set up your RV with a bigger capacity battery bank. If you’re only planning on using solar power for smaller necessities, than the smaller set up would probably work better for you.

3/30/2017 - Arctic Fox Cab Over Camper

We get several Cab Over Camper projects each year.  This particular camper will have ample power for a variety of DC loads.  The 320W solar charger will keep the 220Ah AGM battery bank healthy for many years.

Equipment Added: 2x  SF160 Solar Panel Kits (320W) 1x Roof C-Box 1x SunRunner Signature MPPT 25A System Core 1x 19.5" Tilt Bar Set 2x AGM GPL 4CT 12V 220Ah Batteries 1x PD9200 Wizard Pendant Charger

Equipment Added:
2x  SF160 Solar Panel Kits (320W)
1x Roof C-Box
1x SunRunner Signature MPPT 25A System Core
1x 19.5" Tilt Bar Set
2x AGM GPL 4CT 12V 220Ah Batteries
1x PD9200 Wizard Pendant Charger

SF160 Solar Panels

SF160 Solar Panels

Blue Sky 2512iX-HV Charge Controller

Blue Sky 2512iX-HV Charge Controller

Lifeline AGM Batteries

Lifeline AGM Batteries