7 Key Tips before Using a Solar Panel System to Power an RV

Solar panels are touted as an excellent way to power your RV on or off the grid. However, this requires more than unrolling a solar panel and plugging in our RV.

Here are 7 tips for using solar panels to power an RV


Tip 01: Start Small

Start with a single solar panel or small array of them to charge your cell phone. Learn how to set up the solar panels, monitor power production and wire everything together.

Once you’re comfortable with that, you can add solar panels with a sense of how much power they’ll generate in your case and how much power you need.

Tip 02: Have a Good Battery

It isn’t what you make, it is what you keep. This saying is popularly applied to money, but it applies to energy, too. No matter how big the solar panels, you need a battery that can collect the energy or the power goes to waste.

Furthermore, you need a battery that can collect all of the energy you’re generating and reliably release it when required. You should have a good battery that can manage three to four days without a recharge, since you cannot guarantee you’ll get solar power every day.

The batteries should be reliable and safe. Value features like valves for releasing excess hydrogen or never having to add water.

Tip 3: Remember to Consider Compatibility

Remember that solar powers produce direct current energy. This can recharge house batteries, but you’ll need a converter to power alternating current appliances via solar power.

You should consider getting an inverter that allows you to charge DC batteries, power DC devices like tools and water pumps, AC appliances, and ideally, can provide high quality power for recharging sensitive electronics.

That last category typically requires having an inverter built into the battery or the controller.

Tip 4: When You Go Big, Get a Controller

Controllers have a number of benefits. They can collect power from an array of solar panels and convert it into a single, steady stream of power. They typically have good safety features built in, so they can prevent your battery from overcharging.

 They may provide downstream protection via thermal and electrical fuses, as well. And don’t assume that your smart battery will negate the need for a controller.

Tip 5: Understand Your Operating Limits

Solar panels, batteries, inverters and controllers all work together when you can power your RV via solar system. That is, until any one of these components goes down. Understand your operating limits so that you don’t try to run the setup when it will not work.

For example, you should never try to charge a battery that is frozen. At what temperature does your battery freeze? Solar panels and inverters may not work if the weather is too hot. Don’t try to run a controller or solar panels that are burning up unless you want to risk sparks and a fire.

In other cases, high humidity can create electrical problems.

At the same time, you should understand the voltage and amperage limits of your electrical system. How much power can you safely send downstream before you’ll burn out a fuse in any of the devices?

Tip 6: Know When It Won’t Work

There’s no point setting up your best solar panels when the weather is too overcast to generate power. It is a waste of time and effort to set up solar panels when you’re parked under a shady tree or in a ravine. 

Know when the solar panels won’t work so that you don’t waste time and energy trying to generate solar power.

Also understand when you’ll need to engage in maintenance of the solar panels. When do you need to clean them for them to work? It is obvious when you need to scrape snow off, but how much dust can you let accumulate before it won’t work?

Tip 7: Have and Use a Battery Monitor

Though you may have solar panels to recharge your battery, you cannot assume that this is enough. Incorrect attach the cables, put connectors on dirty posts, or let the battery lose too much water, and you won’t be charging it at the rate you expect.

This means you need to have a battery monitor tracking the energy stored in the batteries. This is essential if you’re trying to power equipment while charging the battery via solar panels.

In a worst-case scenario, you could be drawing power from both the solar panels and the battery to run your laptop or electric heater. A battery monitor tells you when the batteries aren’t getting enough power to recharge or losing energy because of demand or discharge.

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Summery 

Solar panels can allow you to enjoy lights and technology while camping in the wilderness or simply parked in an RV spot without shore power.

Follow our tips to avoid the problems that cause many to abandon or avoid solar power altogether.


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