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A solar powered RV? Here is the “HOW”…

July 1, 2013 | By | 12 Replies More
One of the “things I do” is moderate a Facebook group on “RV Life and How to Earn a Living on the Road” The group has a fairly open format where discussions often wander from earning a living to just plain ‘ol great ideas for RV’ers, and in particular how to save money on the road – which after all, we can follow Ben Franklin and probably agree that a “penny saved is a penny earned”!

 

So when Joe Ahijk posted on the topic of Solar Power in an RV, I got both curious and excited – as I want to learn more about this myself AND I know its a “hot topic” of discussion. In the following paragraphs, Joe shares his insights. I’d like you the reader to view this post as “developing article” – and the more insights shared by all, the more useful the information will become.

 

With very few edits, I have copied and pasted Joe’s words below. I have then interspersed questions that I have and invite Joe (or anyone else to answer by posting in the reply box below this post. I will review all replies and then update the post until such time we have a fairly complete description of WHAT is involved in “going solar”; HOW to go about it and COSTS one should expect to incur.

 

Sound like a plan? It will ONLY work if YOU contribute by either asking questions I may have overlooked OR adding information that I and others are asking about. Ok? Here goes…

 

Quoting Joe, “well i dont know how many people here have their RV’s solar powered..but id HIGHLY suggest it, its easy and not too painful in the wallet. We stay in IL at a craphole called Fossil Rock (more like crack rock with some of the junkies ive seen, id suggest never come here) and have been utilizing 400W in solar panels on a 30A charge contoller using 2 6V golf cart batteries and our electric bill last month was $13.00..i feel so self sufficient. if anyone is ever interested in solar powering their RV’s and have questions perhaps i can help..thanks and happy trails!!”
I then asked Joe to share more – including specifics. He replied…

 

Ok first off you’ll need 4 things..
  • solar panels
  • a charge controller
  • power inverter
  • and either golf cart batteries or marine batteries deep cycle

I found my solar panels and charge controller on ebay for under $600 bucks the batteries you can find at either walmart or a golf cart dealer/battery dealer. The process to install is mainly plug and play its about as easy as setting up any childs toy. Just be very careful when playing with electricity. I would love to go more into detail and if you’re a video watching person (visual) youtube has some excellent install videos. Your panels can easily be mounted to your roof with mounting brackets and the batteries i stored in my old generator box as my generator wasn’t there when i got my RV.

Ok, based upon the above, I’d like to ask the following: (again – YOU can reply below and ask MORE questions OR provide answers!)

1) Can you provide photos of each part of the system? (the panels, controller, inverter, and batteries) – and show via photos how it is all connected.

2) Where does it all connect to the RV’s power so you are running solar instead of power from the campgrounds power connection? Again – can photos be provided?

3) Specifically what brands/model numbers of each item did you purchase and what did they cost?

4) Do the panels HAVE to be mounted to the roof? Are there alternative approaches? How were they mounted? Does it affect travel in any way?

5) How many panels do you have? Is there a point of “diminishing returns” if one were to have more (or fewer) panels?

Joe Continues… When it comes to a good charge controller find one with MPPT technology..and you’ll also need a power inverter, i choose a 1000W modified sine inverter, but if you have the cash id go with pure sine wave inverters.

And more questions…

1) What is “MPPT” technology?

2) What is the difference in cost between a 1000w modified sine inverter and a pure sine wave inverter? What is the advantage of the pure sine wave inverter?

Joe Continues…You can run everything in your home with enough batteries and panels, I personally don’t use A/C unless its needed so my solar power is mainly used for the TV’s and computers and any other appliance, heck it even runs my fridge on a nice sunny or when i’m driving.

And more questions…

1) What part of the USA are you doing this in? I know that the farther north you are and the cloudier it is your results from solar will be less effective.

2) How much time can you run your tv, computer, microwave, etc. before the system is depleted? How long does it take to charge up?

3) How much space inside the RV have you lost as a result of adding solar?

4) Will this work equally well in a Class A, Class C, 5er, or trailer?

YouTube Preview Image

Joe’s video prompts me to wonder the following:

1) Can you do this with the 12v battery supplied by your RV manufacturer/dealer?

2) Were there any leaking issues when you drilled the roof? Is it a rubber roof?

3) Joe, you said in your video you’re running about 340w of solar panels on the roof and you want to run 1000w… yet most of the space on your roof seems to be dedicated already. How will you increase your wattage then by 200%?

By the way- Joe, I gotta say, you’ve already provided a wealth of information! And…as Joe notes in his own video, additional insights from others are MOST welcome! Again – use the “reply to” below.

YouTube Preview Image

Certainly this video IS inspiring – a $6 electric bill!

So, now its in YOUR hands – got insights? Share ’em (use the reply box below); got questions? ask away and it will help others to “complete” this post and make it HIGHLY valuable to all!

 

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Category: RV Solar Power - Going off the Grid

About the Author ()

Alan Sills is a full-time RV'er and has been since 2011. A science educator at heart, Alan has realized that its important to maintain an income stream while "on the road". He writes about RV life, RV issues, and living an entrepreneurial lifestyle.

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  1. Ernie Garrett says:

    I’m looking at self-contained solar generators that weigh about 80 pounds. My thought is to mount the panels on the roof and simply run a cable into the self-contained generator inside the RV. This way I could run my computer, light, and a fan or electric blanket off of it indefinitely while using the gas generator for other things as I need it.

    Of course, I have no clue how feasible or unfeasible this is, but it seems like it would be pretty easy to do.

    • rvacrossamerica says:

      Thanks for contributing to this effort Ernie! I will infuse your comments into the article.

  2. Sandy Scholwinski says:

    I’ve looked into this. It is my understanding that it will only power a few things (as what Joe runs). As for air conditioning, etc. it just doesn’t work that well. I have also looked into wind power, but haven’t seen anything that will work with the RV yet. I have a Class A with 3 air conditioners and when we are in Texas or the South (east or west) we need the air on. Is there anything out there that will accommodate a big rig and make it energy efficient. I have been researching this for about 2 years and haven’t come up with any solutions yet.

    • rvacrossamerica says:

      Great questions Sandy – lets see if our growing community has some insights. By the way – there is a link posted above to a “RV Across America” google plus group – i’d like to invite all to join – it offers some features not found in facebook groups.

  3. Roger Edington says:

    #1. Is there a Yahoo or Facebook group that is doing this for vintage motorhomes or trailers?

    #2. I have heard that scientists are working on a paint-able solar film. Have you heard of it?

    #3. What would be some good supplier for the materials?

  4. Mig Whitt says:

    Great info. When I have some money I will look into this.

  5. Coleen says:

    We’re big believers in solar. We figured our system saved us enough in campground fees the first year to pay for itself. Besides the money saving, we like the independence, knowing we don’t need to be tied to shore power. Our solar system doesn’t have the maintenance issues that generators have, which is also nice.

    Let’s see, in regards to some of your questins:

    We bought our system from RV Solar Electric is Arizona. I strongly recommend them.

    We did not have any problems with leaks.

    We started with a reasonable sized system and added on, because we could get by with what we had, but since we are RVers, not campers, we wanted to be comfortable, not scraping.

    We use Interstate deep cycle batteries. Group 27, I think.

    Panels don’t need to be on the roof, but it is an easy place to put them. We don’t bother with tilting them. They do not interfere with travel.

    We don’t run our AC off solar, except for maybe a short time to cut humidity.

    We bought our panels used in 1991 and they still work fine.

    We are also still using the same modified sine-wave inverter that we bought then.

    A word of advice: Make sure the wiring you use in the installation is heavy enough. We used welding cable.

    • rvacrossamerica says:

      Thanks so much for your contribution! Hopefully others will chime in over time. Regarding your batteries – are they 6v or 12v? How many are you using?
      I concur that air conditioning is not vital (at least where I am), but what about TV and Microwave and refrigerator? Can they be run on solar? If so, for how long?

      Who did the install? How involved (hours) was it?

  6. When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get several emails
    with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me
    from that service? Appreciate it!

    • rvacrossamerica says:

      Does the email you receive have an “opt out” option? Hmmm… I have no idea of what is happening here.

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