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.
This class A motorhome got a 640W Solar charging system with a 440Ah AGM battery bank and a 2000W pure sine inverter. In addition to powering their refrigerator, our clients will now be able to run appliances like a microwave, a blender, a coffee maker, etc. without turning on the generator.
This Airsteam owner had one of our Essential Lithium battery banks installed with a battery monitor, 2000W inverter and 500W of roof mounted solar panels. Because lithium batteries are damaged when charged at temperatures below freezing, we included one of our cold charge automatic disconnect kits. Along with the roof mounted solar, we included a 120W Zamp folding panel on its own Victron MPPT charge controller.
Renewable energy is energy that can be recreated, or energy that doesn’t harm the environment as much as fossil fuels do. There are many kinds of energy, for example solar power, that are deemed renewable, like the following:
Geothermal energy is energy that comes from the heat of the earth. It comes from heated rock and reservoirs of hot water that are miles below the earth’s surface. Geothermal plants are able to harness these naturally occurring heat sources and turn them into energy. Geothermal energy can help heat office buildings, help grow greenhouse plants, heat water, and more.
Harnessing the power of water isn’t new, as water wheels and mills have been used for decades. Now the energy of rivers is being converted into hydroelectricity. The most common example of this is a dam. Dams store water, like a reservoir, and release the water through turbines that produce electricity. Another way dams work is where a portion of a river flows through a channel with turbines, and energy is collected from the river as it flows through.
Ocean Thermal Energy
Along the same lines of harnessing the power of a river, lake or reservoir, is the power of the ocean. The ocean can produce two types of energy: thermal energy from the sun’s heat and energy from the motion of the water, tides and waves. Anything from ebbs and flows of tides, to wind-driven waves, and ocean currents can help generate power if harness properly. With most of the earth’s surface covered in water, the future is promising for hydro-related power.
Bioenergy is used to create alternate renewable energy, such as biodiesel. It can be used to create heat or electricity. It uses biomass, or organic matter, to create the energy. It does use the same amount of carbon dioxide as fossil fuels, but it helps remove an equal amount of CO2 from the atmosphere with replacement plants. It’s an ongoing process.
While wind is technically considered to be a solar-powered energy, it still falls into the renewable energy category. Wind is caused by the warming and cooling of the atmosphere. The power of the wind can be harnessed by wind turbines and converted into energy. In some farms today, windmills are still used to pump water.
There are many alternate ways of getting the energy that we need to exist. A lot of them aren’t as explored as fossil fuel energy is, but are well on their way to getting there. Solar power is just one of many alternate ways to supply energy from things like water, wind and sun, that already exist.