Recreational Vehicles (RVs) are designed to give you the freedom of the open road. In theory you can drive anywhere the mood takes you, but often you are restricted to official camp sites because you need somewhere to plug in and recharge your batteries. Even if you use your batteries sparingly to work on-board appliances you will still find they will need recharging from time to time – usually more often than you had planned! And beware, regularly flattening a battery will shorten its life considerably. But there is now an attractive option that will give you true flexibility to go where you want, and it can be made easily and for very little money.
RVs can be fitted with generators, but these tend to be noisy and smelly. Nowadays solar panels are often fitted to provide all or most of your electrical requirements without damaging your battery, and literally anybody can put these together in their backyard. If you have a generator you can keep it as a backup – much less wearing on the ears and pocket. Keep your generator for powering the lights at your next outdoor party!
Mobile solar panels can be easily stored if foldable, and they are usually quite light and easy to move. A single 4ft x 2 ft solar panel will produce about 75 to 100 watts, which is about equal to a pair of golf cart batteries. This would probably be sufficient for a typical 24ft RV but it would depend, of course, on your own electrical needs. Most RVs use less than 400 watts. Perhaps start with a couple of solar panels, and fit some more as needed.
There are some additional things you will need if you will be driving regularly in hot climates. You will need a solar-powered battery charger with battery temperature compensation to prevent overcharging of, and damage to, your batteries. Also, solar panels on the roof of an RV can get very warm, which can affect their efficiency and can lead to voltage drops. Ensure that your solar panels have a rating of at least 17 volts to to stop this becoming a problem. These are just some things to keep in mind.
You will see a range of kits for RV solar panels on the market, but note how costly they are. We thoroughly recommend the make-it-yourself route. It is easy and fun and well within the competence of every oxygen-breathing adult, even the ham-fisted ones! And much cheaper than buying a kit.
What you will need, however, is expert advice before you start to build a solar panel, otherwise you will probably waste a lot of time and effort doing research and not necessarily doing the job properly. Don’t worry, professional advice and step-by-step instructions are readily available if you know the right source, and only cost a few bucks. We believe this is a good investment.
Author: Kieran Gracie