2021 Online RTR: Basic Solar

Sat Jan 16 2021

Solar brings the promise of free, silent, and off-grid energy - but is it really that simple? Join me as I take a look at the basics of RV solar, including what makes up a solar system, the pros and cons of solar, and how to get started.

2021 Online RTR: Basic Solar
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Our Solar Journey

I'm a big believer in the notion that there's no perfect one-size-fits-all electrical system for RVers - we all have unique needs and challenges. It all just depends on how, where and when you use your RV.

It took us over a year on the road before we finally ended up with what we think is our perfect RV solar system. But your needs will likely be different! My advice is to start small and add more later on if necessary.

Our Perfect Off-Grid RV Solar System

Find out how we upgraded our RV with Lithium batteries, solar panels, an inverter and more so we could camp off-grid in comfort!

Our Perfect Off-Grid RV Solar System

When we first hit the road full-time in our RV in July 2018, we knew we were going to need power on the road. Not only did we want to avoid being stuck in RV parks by boondocking, but we would be working full-time in the RV too! So the first thing we did was a big electrical upgrade - 300Ah of Battle Born lithium batteries and a Victron MultiPlus hybrid inverter.

RV Electrical Upgrade: Part 2 – Battle Born Lithium Batteries & Victron Inverter

In Part 2 of our series on upgrading the electrical system in our RV, we're going to be jumping straight in with the biggest components - the Battle Born Lithium batteries and a new Victron MultiPlus inverter / charger . We'll also be laying the groundwork needed for installing the remainder of the system later on in the series too.

RV Electrical Upgrade: Part 2 – Battle Born Lithium Batteries & Victron Inverter

To charge the batteries, we installed a REDARC DC-to-DC charger. This clever device charges our trailer batteries from the truck using a dedicated connector that puts out about 10x as much power as the standard 7-pin connector!

REDARC BCDC1240D DC to DC Charger Review

Installing a DC to DC charger in our RV is probably the most unusual but best upgrade we've ever done!

REDARC BCDC1240D DC to DC Charger Review

We got our first solar panel in October 2018, and actually installed it while we were at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta!

Ultimate RVers Guide to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

In early October every year, Albuquerque, New Mexico plays host to the world's largest hot air balloon festival - the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF). With more than 500 balloons, the event attracts nearly 1 million visitors over the 9 days it runs. Let me walk you through how to make the most out of the event, with our ultimate guide to the balloon fiesta, written with RVers in mind.

Ultimate RVers Guide to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

I say installing, but it was pretty straightforward - it was a 100W Renogy portable solar panel! These typically come with a built-in charge controller so installing it can be as simple as connecting it directly to your battery. In our case it was a little more complex, but not much - find out why in the blog post below.

RV Solar: Part 2 - Renogy 100W Portable Solar Panel

Buying a portable solar panel can be the easiest and quickest way to get started, but there are some things you should know first.

RV Solar: Part 2 - Renogy 100W Portable Solar Panel

Over the next 3 months, the portable solar panel was enough to allow us to boondock for a few days at a time, followed by either a drive or a stay in an RV park to charge the batteries. We loved the freedom ... and we wanted more!

Just 3 months later, with some help from a few friends, we took the plunge and installed 400W of solar on the roof of our RV - using four 100W Renogy solar panels.

RV Solar: Part 3 - Installing Rooftop Solar Panels

Rooftop solar panels means effortless, free electricity whenever the sun is shining - and that lets us stay off grid for longer!

RV Solar: Part 3 - Installing Rooftop Solar Panels

It was a game changer for us! We were in the sunny Arizona desert and it was early February, so every day we were seeing more and more solar power coming in. We were flush with power! We had more power than we knew what to do with!

But that didn't last for long. Our power-conserving habits started to ebb away. We began keeping more lights on inside the RV, spending more time on our laptops or watching TV.

Furthermore, our travels led us away from the Arizona desert, out to the coast and then up into the mountains where sunny days and clear blue skies were no longer guaranteed.

Worse yet, while dry camping in a state park campground on the California coast, our portable solar panel was stolen - the cable lock cut in the middle of the night.

RV Security

Keeping your RV locked and secured is important, especially for full-time RVers like us. Here's how we do it.

RV Security

We needed more solar again! Rather than another portable panel, we decided to add more to the roof - less hassle to set up and more difficult to steal!

Season 2: National Park Adventure

Join us for Season 2 of our National Park adventure as we travel from California to Albuquerque, NM along the famous Route 66.

Season 2: National Park Adventure

Thankfully we had planned for this eventuality during our initial roof-top solar install by choosing panels that we could easily buy more of, oversizing our charge controller AND leaving space on the roof for more panels.

So, while we were dry camping in Albuquerque in May, we put two more 100W Renogy panels on the roof, bringing our total to 600W.

RV Solar: Part 4 - Adding More Capacity

Sooner or later, you may find yourself wanting to add more capacity to your RV's solar system. For us it happened sooner, but not for the reason we expected!

RV Solar: Part 4 - Adding More Capacity

We spent the summer in Colorado, where wide open vistas and long days kept us and batteries happy! A few months later, we found ourselves back in Albuquerque for the balloon fiesta again - 12 months since our last visit, but with lots more solar power this time!

We continued our journey south, and as fall turned into winter, we found ourselves in Texas. To explore Austin and San Antonio, we stayed in some RV parks where power wasn't an issue, but we were looking forward to heading back west to Arizona for winter, and decided we wanted more power!

Although we had more space on the roof, this time we decided to go for more portable power. Portable panels have the big advantage that they can be easily tilted and turned towards the sun - perfect in winter when the sun is lower in the sky.

Rather than buying another portable panel, we decided to make our own, using the same type of panel as we have on the roof. That way, if in future we ever change our mind, we can simply mount the panels on the roof instead!

DIY Portable Solar Panel

A portable folding suitcase solar panel is one of the easiest ways to get started with solar, but they can be very expensive - so we built our own for half the price!

DIY Portable Solar Panel

So in November 2019, that brought our setup to 600W on the roof plus a 200W portable panel. And as of writing this in January 2021, nothing else has changed, and we're really happy with our setup.

Our solar and electrical system has delivered the freedom we yearned for. When we first started on the road, we could manage just a few days at a time - in 2020 we set ourselves a new record with 100 days of boondocking!

100 Days of Boondocking

Yesterday marked 100 days in our RV since we last had hookups - we'll share how we did it and our top tips for boondocking off-grid.

100 Days of Boondocking

Do you have a solar journey to share? Let us know in the comments below!

Or maybe you're just starting, looking to learn from others. You'll need to find your own path on your journey, but hopefully our story can help give you some inspiration.

As always, if you have questions, drop a comment below and I'll do my best to answer!

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