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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
This client scheduled a troubleshoot because his old Heliotrope PV controller wasn't functioning very well. He had suspected it had gotten damaged by moisture. After an inspection, our techs determined it was time for an upgrade. He went with a Victron Blue Solar MPPT 100/30 charge controller and bluetooth monitoring. It was a pretty straightforward swap out.
We frequently get calls from prospective customers who are interested in adding solar to their factory pre-wired RVs. To their dismay, utilizing a factory pre-wire is not usually as simple as they would expect. Many times, in order to achieve customers’ dry camping goals, the factory pre-wire must be modified or completely thrown out. Often we find factory setups are not designed to support even modest energy consumer needs. Regretfully, there are three major factors holding RV dealerships back from having sufficient solar pre-wires: cost, quality, and technical knowledge.
Cost: The RV industry manufacturers represent over a billion dollars in general sales every year. Looking at that number across the entire industry, you can understand why it would be cost prohibitive to make big changes in areas that are not considered critical. So despite years of advancements in solar technology, the RV industry has not kept up with solar industry standards, keeping changes to a minimum.
Quality: Along the lines of cost, turning a profit is also a key consideration for RV manufacturers. Price, more often than quality, dictates the systems provided in solar pre-wires. To keep costs down, the factory will frequently use smaller gauge wires on their ‘solar ready’ installations. Also, judging by the way we have seen wires routed, the runs weren’t designed based on optimal panel or charge controller placement or length of runs to the battery banks. The routing is likely based on keeping labor costs down. So both the products and installation techniques are chosen with little regard to quality or value in performance.
Technical Knowledge: RV manufacturers are experts in their field of RVs; however, they are amateurs in the area of solar. By standardizing solar pre-wires, factory workers are able follow the same, simple schematic to route wires, but when it comes to making informed decisions based on line losses or energy consumption, they fall short. Leaving their customers looking for answers on travel forums which will inevitably lead them to the experts in RV solar.
Fortunately, the RV solar experts at AM Solar have heard the cry of RV owners who want to take advantage of solar pre-wires and they have devised a solution. With the right equipment and some creative wiring, we can maximize those small, less efficient factory pre-wires.
This rig came to us with a factory solar pre-wire that was completely inadequate for the client’s power requirements. We replaced the pre-wire with a much thicker set of 4ga cables and we replaced the factory PWM charge controller with a 40A MPPT controller. Now the rig has 480W of solar, a new 300Ah battery bank and an advanced three stage charger.
It is surprising that after being in the RV solar installation business for as long as we have that we still make regular discoveries regarding odd factoring wiring/components or cable routing challenges. Despite these obstacles we are still able to deliver. This client for example, with five 160W solar panels will now be able run a residential refrigerator and power an entertainment center. The Tri-Metric monitor will allow them to view battery status down to the amp-hour and the Bluetooth dongle will send solar charging system data to a smart phone.
With a 640W solar charging system, this client can now run a residential refrigerator, lights and some TV usage from energy captured by the solar panels. As a part of the system core that we regularly install, the client will also be able to monitor their battery bank and determine remaining charge to the Amp-hour.
Roadtreks and other van conversions make up a large percentage of the RV install side of our business. The client got a 300W solar charging system which can feed about 75Ah/day onto the 220Ah AGM battery bank via a Blue Sky MPPT charge controller. To keep the starter battery topped off, we also included a Trik-L-Start, which lets a small amount of current flow from the house battery bank.
We recommend four 160W solar panels when running a residential refrigerator, but sometimes you can get away with three if you aren’t running many other loads and you camp in sunny areas. With the Magnum hybrid inverter, this client can draw power from shore power and the battery bank at the same time. This makes a lot of sense when connected to a 15A source and you want to run large loads like air conditioners.
This client got a 640W Solar charging system with a 2000W inverter/charger. A system like this is capable of running a residential refrigerator, microwave and blender. Because a 70A charge controller was used, this system can be expanded in the future with the addition of two more 160W solar panels.
If you’ve ever thought about RV solar panel installation, a solar RV kit can be a great way to go. One kit comes with everything you need for your RV to be solar powered. We break down with a kit comes with and what everything is for.
The solar panel kit
The solar panel kit itself comes with solar panels, the size of which depends on the kit, and what you intend to use your solar power for. Most kits will come with a mount set, so you can physically mount the panels onto your RV. A harness is a tool that helps run the cables between the combiner box and the controller, and from there to the batteries. With most kits, you’ll receive cables that you’ll need to hook everything up.
Most kits will come with a charge controller. You might need to add on some monitoring equipment, as all kits might not include monitoring equipment. Charge controllers are used for regulating your solar power output, to deliver more of a current to the battery bank.
Some kits come with a great feature for monitoring power, like a Bluetooth compatible dongle system. It’s a system that can be synced with your smartphone via Bluetooth, to help you monitor your solar power input on your cell phone.
This is a smaller box that houses the cables running from your solar panels. This box monitors your solar panel output, and seals the cables off from roof penetration.
Most kits also come with a form of sealant, one that the company recommends. Most solar panel installation companies will use a form of sealant to seal around the solar panel mounts, the cable management, combiner boxes, and anything else on the roof.
Most solar kits will feature everything you need to run your solar RV. There are always customization's you can make to collect more power or run different things. But the kits will help you put the power you collect into a battery bank. Some systems will recommend an upgrade to a lithium battery bank, as there are added benefits to lithium batteries. Kits with monitoring systems that can you can access with your phone, make the monitoring of power collected a lot easier.
If you’re willing to invest in upgrades, you may be able to collect more power and run different appliances. Talk to your local solar RV outfitter and see what’s possible for you.
Converting your RV with solar panels can be a great way to get off the grid. There are things you need to know about your DIY solar RV and there is endless studying that can be done, but we’re here to let you know what you should consider first. Learn if a solar RV is just what you’re looking for.
What’s the difference?
The only major difference between solar panels for your home and solar panels for RV is the size. They still function relatively the same. RV Panels used for solar still convert the sun’s light into energy or electricity for your RV to run off of. Sunlight gets passed through your solar panels, which creates a current. This current flows to the charge controller, and that regulates how much current runs through the battery of your solar-powered RV system. Depending on what kind of power you need, DC or AC, the power then can get run through a solar inverter.
If you plan to run your whole RV off of solar power, you’ll definitely need an inverter. AC power runs things like chargers, laptops, small kitchen appliances like toasters, etc. Your solar panels will send the energy collected to a battery, that will store the power you need to power your RV.
What do you need?
Learning about exactly what you need to go solar can be tricky. Talk to your local solar RV equipment supplier about what you’ll need to do it. See how many panels they’d recommend for what you’d like to be able to do with your RV. You might need more panels for what you want to do, or you may just need to budget more time to collect energy.
If you’re looking for a greener way to power your RV, solar is probably the best choice for you. You can get off the grid with a solar equipped RV, and no longer depend on hook-ups in a campground. It takes some time and power management to figure out how much power you need to run your RV, and you have to use your power sparingly. For example, you probably won’t generate enough power to cook dinner, take a shower, and watch TV, but you may collect enough to do two of those things.
If the only thing stopping you is the cost of an initial outfitting with solar panels, you should consider how much money solar panels could save you in the long run.
If you want a greener way to go camping or are looking for a better way to live off the grid, check out what a solar RV can do for you. You will have to adjust your lifestyle to going solar, but it’s a great way to free yourself from campground hookups and get off the grid.
We recently had a customer who was installing his own lithium system trip over one of the M8 cables on the lithium battery and rip the end off. These diagrams show the pinout on those cables if a repair is necessary.