Smaller RVs, like this Airstream Grand Tour, can provide some challenges when it comes to finding enough room to install all the necessary components without taking up too much of our client’s storage space. For this client, we were able to install the vast majority of their system underneath their couch (not the solar panels though), minimizing the footprint of the system. The Battery Management System we installed is removable, which can make upgrading much easier.
Our combiner box (C-Box) is custom made by AM Solar for efficiently combining solar panel output cables and sealing off a roof penetration. It’s rugged and spacious design make installation and troubleshooting very easy. It is the most efficient way to install a lot of solar with only a single penetrating hole through the roof. It has eight possible ports and can use up to 2-gauge cable, which allows for installation of larger solar arrays. We have installed as many as 16 solar panels (1600W) onto one roof using just one C-box (in 8 series pairs). It has a very small footprint for its available capacity, and it is sealed to ensure that it is completely waterproof.
We created this quick reference sheet to bring new employees up to speed on electrical fundamentals. You may also find it useful. Download the .pdf here.
The solar IV Curve
Series and Parallel Connections
With the rising real estate market, and the growing popularity of tiny homes in the last few years, RV living has taken off. RV’s are easier to get your hands on than tiny homes, and they offer more ease of travel than some tiny homes. Lots of young families and young couples are moving toward RV living as an easier way to own a home. If you’re looking for a lower cost living, investing in a solar equipped RV might be the answer. While it takes money to outfit an RV with solar panels, it will save you money in the future, and it’s worth it.
Owning an RV has become quite popular. RV ownership is at an all-time high now, with middle-aged buyers representing the largest group of owners. Other young professionals are finding that selling off their possessions and moving into a smaller space, like an RV or tiny home, can be quite liberating.
Solar Equipped RVs
What could be more liberating than the freedom of RV solar panels? If you no longer, need to hook up to power at a campground, you can realistically set up camp anywhere, as long as it’s legal to park overnight.
Some solar RV outfitters have solar RV kits that make adding solar panels to your RV quite easy. Some places like, AM Solar, even offer installation services.
While the price of living in and owning an RV is much less than owning a home, it’s even less when you factor in what solar power can save you. Using solar power to run an RV takes some getting used to, as you don’t have endless energy to use. Depending on how much energy you collect and save, you’ll have to pick and choose what sort of appliances you can use and run on a daily basis.
Some sites offer solar calculators so you know how much power you’ll need to use for certain appliances. With some appliances you can figure out how many kilowatts per hour, per year they use. With some charge converters, they come with mobile apps, that will help you monitor how much power you’re collecting throughout the day.
If you’ve been thinking about downsizing for a while, the RV life might be perfect for you. If you’re not entirely ready, try borrowing a friend’s RV or renting one to see how much you enjoy the lifestyle. If you’re ready to commit, it might be time to consider the benefits of a solar DIY RV.
What the diodes supposed to do:
Bypass diodes were designed for solar panels back when most solar arrays were constructed by feeding about a dozen series connected panels onto a grid-tied inverter. The purpose of the diodes is to improve the way a series connected array performs under partial shade conditions. When one cell or row of cells is shaded, the diode across that shaded section bypasses the underperforming cells, allowing the panel to maintain the same current as the other panels in the string. By maintaining the same current, the shaded cell(s), column(s), row(s) or panel(s) to not reduce the output current of unshaded panels.
When a section of a panel is bypassed, the panel output voltage is reduced. This is fine for series connections because the power from the unshaded cells will contribute to the total power produced, but in a parallel connection, this power would be at a voltage that would be too low to charge a battery.
Where it can go wrong:
Sometimes when a solar panel is carelessly connected to a battery bank with reverse polarity, the diodes can burn out and become dead shorts. When this happens, the open circuit voltage of the panel is reduced proportionally to how many diodes are shorted. For example, if you are only measuring about 11V on your panel you probably have half of your diodes shorted. If you are getting 0V, you have all of your diodes shorted.
Since most of our installations use parallel connected panels, and since bypass diodes don't help the performance of parallel connected panels (and since you already voided your warranty by reversing the polarity on your panel) you can repair the panel by simply clipping the diodes out.
Clipping the damaged diode(s) should restore the panel back to full voltage. Although it isn't necessary for parallel connected panels, you can buy replacement diodes and solder them back in. But, before you do this, be sure to take a picture of the open junction box so you can see the way the diodes should be installed. If the line at the end of the damaged diode is on the right side, your replacement diode better have it's line pointed to the right as well. Diodes aren't like resistors, they have polarity and can be installed backwards.
These clients came to us with an existing solar system that they wanted to expand. We were able to utilize a lot of their existing system by doing series/parallel connections on their roof, saving them some money on parts and labor. They also requested a larger battery bank. Their existing battery bay wasn’t large enough to accommodate the four additional AGM batteries we installed, so we put half of them inside the existing bay, and the other half in their coach underneath their dining room bench. The additional 300W of solar power, and the added battery capacity will allow them to dry camp for a longer period of time.
This client just text messaged me and said he has been dry camping for the last 18 days without turning on his generator. We installed 640W of solar power along with a 600Ah AGM battery bank. We set up the system with future expansion in mind, which could include another 480W of solar panels on the existing charge controller. We also incorporated a portable solar panel, which uses a separate Bluetooth capable charge controller.
These clients were already very familiar with off-grid living before they came to us. They own property that is completely off-grid, and they live there self-sufficiently. In order to take their off-grid lifestyle mobile, they came to us to have a small mobile power system installed on their Wildwood trailer. We installed 320W of solar power, a 220Ah battery bank and a 250W inverter, which is just enough DC and AC power to provide energy to meet their minimalistic needs.
This client asked us to install as much solar power as we could fit onto their roof. We installed ten 160W solar panels providing a total of 1600 Watts of solar power. This amount of solar power is an excellent match for their 800Ah lithium battery bank and will allow them to run their outlets, residential refrigerator, microwave, washer and dryer, dishwasher, fireplace, and their air conditioner without running their generator.
This client brought us an RV that was pre-wired for solar with 6-gauge cable, and a 2000W Magnum inverter. They also provided a Yakama rack that they asked us to install the solar panels on. We moved the batteries and inverter to a location better suited to maximize the efficiency of the system without compromising storage space. We installed two SF100W solar panels onto their Yakama rack using AM Solar rocker mounts along with customer provided Yakama SnapAround Roof Rack Mounting Brackets. The result is a one-of-a-kind solar installation job customized exactly how they requested, and designed to fit their specific needs.
This client’s RV was pre-wired by the manufacturer with 6-gauge cables, and an inverter. We installed 960 watts of solar power, which is more than we would recommend for 6-gauge cable, so we had to take additional steps in order to make the system as efficient as possible. With these under-sized cables, voltage would have been lost between the solar panels and the charge controller. We installed the solar panels using series/parallel connections to increase the voltage, reducing the amount of voltage drop to less than 1%, which resulted in increased system performance. This client will be able to run their residential refrigerator without using a generator or shore power.
It can be hard to estimate how much power you’ll need to run certain appliances in your solar equipped RV. But why leave it to an estimate, when you can get it down to a formula. If you’re looking for a better way to track what amount of power you’ll need, AM Solar has the solution for you.
Most appliances that you would use in an RV can be researched as to how much power they’ll need to run. If you use Google to research how much solar will be required to offset certain appliances, you’ll be golden. Most appliances can be found by their model number, and places like Home Depot should have them listed on their site. If you look at the specs of a specific appliance you should be able to figure out how much power it takes to run.
On most appliances listed you’ll find a product overview. Some sites, like Home Depot have an Energy Guide for the products, and you can find out how much power it uses per year. For example, if it says a product needs 249kWh per year, you can use AM Solar’s formula to figure out how much solar energy you’ll need to use it.
Number of Solar Panels
You’ll need to figure out how many solar panels you’ll need to generate the energy you’ll need. The first step of the formula is to take the Kilowatts hours and multiply it by 1000 watts, then divide it by 365 days. Then you divide that number by 3-Watt hours/W solar per day, you’ll have your final number.
For example: if you have an appliance that uses 249kWh per year. 249kWh x 1000W/kW / 365 days / 3Wh/W solar per day = 227W solar. Another solution is dividing by 1.095 to get the same thing.
As in all things solar, it’s going to be a rough estimate. When the weather is involved, you can never precisely predict how much power you’ll need or gather. It all depends on your area’s predisposition to sunny weather, your latitude and more.
As most know when it comes to solar, you can’t run every appliance you want to, all the time. You have to budget for what you want to use in your solar powered RV. If you think you’re always going to generate enough solar power to run a shower, use the stove, and watch a movie on your laptop, you might be mistaken. It’s important to attempt rough calculations for how much power and how many panels you’ll need. You don’t want to be planning to use more solar power than you have the capability to collect.
These clients decided to give up their traditional lifestyle, sold most of their belongings, and moved full time into their RV. They also work out of their RV now. We installed 1280 watts of solar power, which allows them to run their air conditioner, washer and dryer, microwave, and anything else they plug into their outlets without being powered by a generator or shore power (for a short period of time). They put as many solar panels on their roof as possible in order to maximize their solar power, and reduced their need to run a generator or connect to shore power.
This client had us add onto an existing setup consisting of a 2512iXL charge controller core and a set of AGMS. He now has a much more powerful solar charger and a 3000VA inverter capable of running a wide range of loads including a microwave and a coffee maker. The Bluetooth smart dongle allows monitoring of the system to take place wirelessly, with a smart phone.
If you’re new to the solar world, it make take some time getting used to solar phrases and understanding exactly what it is that they are. If you’ve just outfitted your RV with an RV Solar Panel Kit, it might be time to learn some of the terminology now. Here at AM Solar, we strive to help our customers be in control of their solar RV and all the working parts that come with solar panels. So here’s a breakdown of a few of the most common solar power terms:
AGM Battery – This battery is an absorbed glass mat battery. It’s a technology that uses plates, like in lead-acid batteries, but this battery features a fiberglass mat. This slim mat has battery acid between the plats and is packed tightly.
Charge Controller – A charge controller works as a go between for your panels and your batteries. It limits the rate and amount of power that your batteries get, to prevent them from over charging. If your batteries stored power falls below 50 percent, the charge controller shuts off the batteries to prevent draining.
Lead-Acid Batteries – This type of battery relies on a different process to store energy. Lead-acid batteries depend on the reaction between chemicals and water, and then store that energy. This process happens between plates within the battery. This type of battery costs less, because it’s mass produced for cars and other vehicles.
Lithium-Ion Batteries – This is the type of battery that we recommend at AM Solar. The chemicals in the battery function differently, using one process to store the energy and one to distribute it. The batteries continually use these two systems back and forth, which gives the battery a much longer life. These batteries are also more lightweight, which is another reason that AM Solar recommends Lithium batteries for solar.
Panel Types – At AM Solar we recommend using monocrystalline panels, which are made of silicon-based cells.
Combiner Box – This box is used to parallel connections for multiple solar panels. It helps you use multiple solar panels in one solar system. The combiner box is also a great way to add other solar panels at later times.
While it can seem like a complicated thing to understand, there’s always plenty of research and learning to be done when it comes to Solar RV kits. Talk to AM Solar and learn more about how each piece of your system works, and why it’s important. Getting a better grasp on how your solar system for RV’s works will help you better utilize your Solar equipped RV.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)