Deciding to go solar allows us to go off grid more often or boondock where we don’t have to pay for campgrounds. The upside, we can save a ton of money. The downside...we have to be extremely mindful of the resources we use. Ideally most people think of solar as a holy grail to solve all their electrical needs without having to pay for electric at a campground but this myth could not be farther from the truth. We have learned a ton not only on the installation of the solar, which we did all ourselves, but also from our dry run tests and our real off grid experiences.
Solar in itself can be a wonderful thing...IF the conditions are perfect, which they almost never are. Now before you go and think we are being completely negative on this whole solar setup let me explain. If you want to do solar so you can save money and camp practically anywhere you want to...which is AWESOME, but solar itself on an RV wont always power everything you want and getting to know your setup, what it can do with all the variables like weather, wire run distances, wire sizing, etc… is extremely important. First things first, know something about electricity, AC and DC both. Not understanding this concept will put you at a great disadvantage when it comes to figuring out the run times for your battery bank and appliances you want to use, i.e. lights, refrigerator, radio, toaster oven, furnace (heater fan), etc….
Secondly, research, research, research. I cannot stress enough to research the type of setup you are looking to do. For example, figure out the things you want to run while using your solar setup and battery bank. You will need to properly size this dependent upon what you are wanting to use. Running an Air Conditioner would not be a realistic type of appliance to run off grid with solar and a battery bank unless you have a HUGE battery bank storage and a very large solar array to charge that bad boy back up. Your AC is going to draw a TON of power...and while it is possible to run your AC on the solar setup, your typical Rv setup is not going to run it for more than 5 minutes to 1 hour.
Lastly, figure out your layout. All Rv’s are different and as we found our roof is rounded and a rectangle solar panel does not do well to lay sideways on a rounded roof. Our Rv is long so it can accommodate safely up to 12 solar panels OR about 1200 watts of solar. We only installed 6 panels (600 watts) but this is all we need at the present time. We can always upgrade in the future. Wiring is also a factor because you want your lines run as short a distance as possible to reduce the amount of resistance your electricity is having to face running the distance. Also, make sure your battery bank and your inverter are close in proximity. I was told by the Solar Professionals out there that 2 to 3 feet should be MAX for your length from the battery to the inverter.
Oh, almost forgot...make sure your using the right batteries! We decided to use two 6 volt AGM 225aH (amp hour) Golf Cart deep cycle batteries. I tied them together in series to make 12 volts to match the RV 12 volt system. These batteries give us the greatest bang for our buck and allow us to run our fridge, furnace, lights, radio, charge our laptops, phones and water pump for about 12 – 18 hours without any solar charging. The nice thing is the solar charges our batteries quite nicely during the day providing you point the solar panels towards the sun as best you can and hope its not a cloudy day. :-)
While its not a perfect solution it has worked very well so far for us and we have gotten to figure the ins and outs of what to do and not to do during the day when your running off grid with only the sun to power your RV. Coming soon will be some video links and pictures on this blog post explaining our setup and what it looks like so check back in the next couple days to see them. If anyone has questions about our setup please visit us on Facebook under MapShocked...see you on the road!