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Are You Solar RVing Yet?

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Outdoor Living Newsletter
An RV with solar panels
Enjoy the benefits you can get from solar RVing.

Is your RV running on solar energy already? If you're not solar RVing yet, you should seriously consider installing a solar panel on the roof of your rig. Solar RVing has so many benefits that can take your RV lifestyle to a whole new level. All you need to do to reap these benefits is to invest in the right solar panel equipment that fits your energy needs while you are on the road.

The Benefits of Solar RVing

So just what are these benefits of solar RVing? Here are just a few of them.

  1. You don't have to be totally dependent on electric hookups anymore. If you've been RVing for a while now, you've probably experienced the hassle of getting a site with an electric hookup that is either faulty, prone to surges, or is not appropriate for your RV. With a solar panel system installed on your RV, you don't have to worry about electric hookups anymore. You can even travel as far as your RV's batteries can take you without needing to stop at a campground to get hooked up. Also, you'll be able to enjoy using your electrical appliances even when you're parked in a campground that doesn't have any hookups.
  2. You don't have to rely on gas-powered generators anymore. Let's face it - these gas-powered generators emit fumes that are smelly and dangerous to inhale. They are also potential fire hazards. Their noise bothers the neighbors, and that noise can mean a lot in crowded campgrounds with no privacy. On the other hand, solar panels are safe and clean. They also work silently, and you don't have to buy expensive fuel to get them running.
  3. Your power supply is free and inexhaustible since your solar panels get their power from the sun, You'll have to invest in your RV's solar panel equipment first, of course. However, you can definitely recover your investment within a couple of years, and you can enjoy free energy for years and years after that.
  4. You don't have to worry about doing maintenance work on your solar panels at all. As far as maintenance goes, your solar panels only require an occasional dusting. You can put the money you used to set aside for maintenance of your generator towards other expenses.
  5. You can earn a neat 30% tax credit. Under the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008, you become qualified to claim a 30% solar investment tax credit if you have solar panels installed on your RV anytime between January 1, 2006 and December 31, 2016. Having solar credits means fewer taxes to pay and more money in your bank account.
  6. Getting your electricity from solar panels can extend the life of your RV's batteries. Batteries need to be recharged gradually and must not be allowed to discharge beyond 25% of its capacity. Solar panel systems can provide the gradual recharging that your batteries require. They also prevent water loss and sulfation, which can shorten the life of your batteries.
  7. Helping the environment. And of course, one of the biggest benefit you will get from solar RVing is the satisfaction that you have done your share in preserving the environment. We all get to appreciate the beauty of nature in our RV road trips. Using safe and sustainable energy such as solar energy to power our way while traveling is one of the best ways to keep this beauty alive.

How to Choose the Right RV Solar Panels

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Solar Powered Solutions for your RV

As you can see, solar RVing can give you great advantages you shouldn't do without. Still, you shouldn't go rushing to buy a solar panel for your RV. Not all RV solar panels are alike, so it's important that you get one that can address your RV's energy needs perfectly.

Here are a few steps you should consider when choosing the right solar panels for your RV.

  1. Find out what your daily power consumption is. In order to get RV solar panels that will provide you with enough energy for your needs, you need to calculate just how much power you need to use up in a day. Here is how you calculate your daily power consumption:

    a. List down the amp ratings of all your appliances and devices that run on DC power. Afterwards, multiply each of these amp ratings by the number of hours you need to use the appliance or device in a day to get the amp-hours. Then, get the total amp-hours for all your DC-powered devices.

    b. List down the wattage of all your AC-powered appliances and devices. Just like how you did it with your machines that run on DC power, get the watt-hours of your AC gadgets by multiplying their wattage by the number of hours they are used in a day. Add these numbers to get your total watt-hours.

    c. Convert your total watt-hours to amp-hours by dividing the watt-hours by 12. Then, add the converted figure to the total amp-hours of your DC devices. The sum will yield your daily power consumption.

    d. You'll also need to add a little leeway for phantom loads to your daily power consumption. Phantom loads are small amounts of electricity that appliances suck up even though they were turned off.

  2. Calculate the battery bank capacity you'll need. To keep your RV batteries running smoothly and extend their expected lifespan, you need to make sure that their discharge never goes beyond 25% of their total capacity. So, your RV batteries should have a total capacity that is four times the amount of your daily power consumption including phantom loads. For example, if your daily power consumption is 50 amps, your battery bank capacity should be 200 amps.
  3. Compute your RV solar panel wattage. Your RV's solar panel wattage will determine just how much output in watts you will need from your solar panels to keep your RV batteries charging continuously. It's a fact that the sun doesn't always shine in the sky. The amount of sunlight you can harvest using your solar panels will be greatly reduced on cloudy days and rainy days. Also, your required RV solar panel wattage depends on where in the world you are located. In the US, the closer you are to the south, the lower wattage you will need. On the other hand, the closer you are to the north, the more wattage you will require. So for example, the South sees plenty of sunshine. Therefore 1 watt of solar panel output for every 1 amp-hour of battery capacity is recommended. For cloudy areas or if you're as far North as Alaska, 1.5 watts of solar panel output for every 1 amp-hour of battery capacity is recommended.
  4. Check the RV solar panel's specifications before you buy it. You need to pay particular attention to the solar panel's watt rating, peak power in amps and in volts, and tolerance.

    a. The solar panel's watt rating should correspond to your daily power consumption.

    b. The peak power in amps measures the total amount of power in amps that your solar panel will produce when there is full sunlight. You need this spec so you can buy a properly corresponding solar charge controller.

    c. The peak power in volts gives you the total amount of power in volts that the solar panel provides in full sunlight. This spec is important for determining the efficiency of your solar panel. The higher this number is, the more efficient the solar panel is.

    d. Tolerance refers to power loss in the solar panel. For example, if a 100-watt panel has 10% tolerance, it only actually produces 90 watts of power. The lower the percentage of tolerance the panel has, the better its performance is.

How to Control Your Solar Power Voltage

The amount of solar energy that is available for your RV solar panels to harness depends on a number of factors - whether it's full sunshine out there, if your RV is parked on a shady spot, among others. Still, the voltage output of your solar panels should be just right for your needs. You'll need to be able to regulate this voltage output using a solar charge controller.

A solar charge controller will do two things for your RV solar panel system. One, it helps you ensure that your solar panels will produce enough power for your needs. Two, it prevents your solar panels from leeching power from your batteries at night when there is no sunlight

You can't buy just any solar charge controller, though. For one, you have to ensure that its amp rating is 25% higher than the amp peak power of your RV solar panel equipment. This will ensure that you'll have enough power for your daily energy consumption without wasting a lot of the harvested solar energy.

Another point you have to consider when purchasing a solar charge controller is how it will work with your batteries. It is recommended that you get a solar charge controller that has:

  1. Multistage charging and pulse width modulation. This will allow your RV batteries to charge in phases. Charging in phases in turn lets your batteries power up faster and more completely as well as prevents them from overcharging.
  2. Adjustable voltage set point. A solar charge controller with this feature will allow you to adjust the charge voltage to the type of batteries you have in your RV - whether it's AGM, flooded lead acid, or gel.
  3. Battery temperature compensation. Your batteries' charging is largely affected by temperature. If it's too hot, your batteries may overcharge. If it's too cold, your batteries may not charge up to full capacity. If your solar charge controller can compensate for battery temperature, it will automatically adjust charging based on your batteries' temperature.
  4. Maximum power point tracking. Sometimes, when your battery voltage is low and your solar panels are cool, you'll need to boost your batteries' charging or speed up the process. A solar charge controller with maximum power point tracking will help you do that.

You'll also need to ensure that your solar charge controller has an on/off switch as well as a dry camping switch. An on/off switch will allow you to stop charging your RV batteries with energy from the solar panel without disconnecting the two. The dry camping switch, on the other hand, will let you hook up your RV back to the regular power grid. It will also let you charge your batteries as part of their maintenance when you take your RV into and out of storage.

Other Ways to Maximize Your RV Solar Panels Efficiency

There are other ways to improve the efficiency of your RV solar panels. One is to install your solar panels on L-bars so you can tilt them to the south when necessary. Tilting them to the south will get your solar panels harvesting as much sunlight as possible. This especially helps in winter when the sun is lower to the south in the sky.

Installing your solar panels on L-bars will also allow you to take your location into consideration when harvesting sunlight. As mentioned earlier, the further north you go, the less sunlight your solar panels will get. By tilting your solar panels at a certain angle to the south, you'll ensure that your panels will receive as much sunlight as possible. To calculate the angle by which you should tilt your solar panels, you should get the latitude of your location, multiply the latitude by 0.89, and then add 24 degrees to the resulting figure. You can easily Google your location's latitude.

Additionally, you will be able to protect your solar panels from costly wind damage if you fit them on L-bars. When the wind is too strong, you can lay your solar panels flat against your RV's roof.

Another way you can increase the efficiency of your RV solar panels is by giving thought to the layout of your RV's interior before you put up your solar panels. When you have a solar panel on your RV, you will need to park your rig so that your solar panel tilts to the south. So you won't waste your harnessed solar energy, it will help a lot if your appliances are situated on the cooler side of your RV (the side facing north) where they won't get a lot of heat from direct sunlight.

You really should consider powering your RV using solar energy. There are so many advantages including saving time and money. You will also get that good, fuzzy feeling that comes from knowing you have done your part in saving the environment.

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