Generators are loud, noisy and smelly! Plus, it can be expensive to use gas generators, which send emission fumes spewing into our atmosphere.
By Linn Smith
October 2, 2015—-A market for solarizing the RV (Recreational Vehicle) is currently growing, as more people are becoming full time RVers and spending winters in desert communities without hookups or on mountain peaks in the national forests (Boondocking). Why go solar with your RV? Generators are loud, noisy and smelly! Plus, it can be expensive to use gas generators, which send emission fumes spewing into our atmosphere. Solar is clean, requiring little maintenance, and it’s possible that it can pay for itself in the long run if you’re a full timer.
Our Solarized Scamp
Here’s an example of a simple solar system for a small trailer or pop-up. About ten years ago we created a solar set up for our little 16′ Scamp travel trailer from two solar panels. We bought the panels from a friend who owned a small business and was no longer using them. Each panel measured approximately 2′ by 4′. We hooked them together with two heavy door latches so they would fold up for storage. Battery cables were attached to the negative/positive wires which connected to the posts on the trailer battery.The result? All lights that worked off of the battery (except one flourescent that needed an electrical connection) continued to work into the night when the battery was charged by the sun. When the sun changed directions, we moved our panels around so that they were directly facing the sun.Two long metal rods were used to support the panels, leaning them back to catch the overhead sun. Ten years ago this set up was a good topic of discussion with other campers on our camping path who inquired about our “free electricity.”
Relying on the Sun’s Energy
Today, most solar panels for RV’s are laid on the roof and are unable to track the sun, but are more convenient than moving the panels around during the day to face the sun, as we did with our Scamp system. Also, regular solar panels mounted on top of an RV will lose voltage as they heat up, with temperatures above 77 degrees. So panels should be high voltage panels and mounted with space underneath to allow air to flow.
Boondocking and relying on the sun’s energy may require you to conserve electricity, as most RVs have a limited amount of battery storage, although in the future this most likely won’t be an issue. More efficient appliances might also help to conserve electricity when boondocking.
Building a Solar RV Swamp Cooler
I have a friend who built a swamp cooler for his RV. And, it works well in a semi-desert environment like Colorado. And, to go one step further, how about setting it up as a solar swamp cooler? (See website below for details).
Online Solar RV Sites
To be on the safe side, if you know nothing about wiring, I recommend hiring someone who knows the ropes, as it may be dangerous to you and your RV, if you attempt installing a solar kit without the necessary knowledge. That said, there are several good sites that will explain the technicalities of wiring your RV for solar and sites to find installers:
1. local.thesolarguide.com/RV_Solar Kits– Gives local resources in AZ that will provide advice, businesses that deal in rv solar and solar kits.
2. handybobsolar.wordpress.com– From this website you can access many links on solar rvs and descriptions of the sites.
3. jackdanmayer.com-This site is by a couple who are full time RVers. Among other information the site has a section on RV Electrical/Solar, in which they describe “various wiring techniques and electrical designs which conform to the electrical code.” If you want to hire an installer they recommend AM Solar (Greg Holder) in Springfield, OR, Palmer Energy in Florida, D&R Family RV, in Glendale, AZ or Starlight Solar in Yuma, AZ.
4. builditsolar.com-on this site you can download directions for not only building a swamp cooler for your rv, but also turning it into solar.
5. gonewiththewynns.com-with help from their Solar Guru they give you an idea of the perfect solar setup for 3 types of RVers: Basic, Medium and Heavy use.
Home Depot, also, has most of what you would need to convert your RV to solar. You can order these parts at homedepot.com: solar panels, chargers, inverters, amp charge controller, battery or everything in a kit.
Troubleshooting Your System
If your solar system doesn’t work well, it is almost always an installation issue. “Very few systems installed by RV manufacturers are done in an optimal fashion. Even dedicated solar installers often do not match components correctly or configure the system optimally. That is one reason I encourage people to implement their own systems, where they have the desire and the minimal necessary skills. Designing the system will teach you enough to ensure a good installation by others.”
So, if you have an RV, or pop-up, and you’re thinking about a cleaner, greener environment, I hope this will give you some ideas.