Using your laptop plugged in for 4 hours 24Ah — laptops use more power when plugged directly into the wall than they use to charge the battery. Using the vent fan for 8 hours a day 16Ah.
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Propane-powered refrigerator and gas stove for cooking. This moderately lavish lifestyle will take Ah per day. Most RV batteries can store Ah. You will need battery capacity to store at least twice as many amp-hours as you use in a day — preferably times more than you need. So a battery rated 72Ah will be able to power a 1Ah light for 72 hours, or a 12Ah water pump for 6 hours. AC electrical usage is usually measured in watt-hours Wh, usually shortened to just watts, W , and the watt-hour ratings can usually be seen on the plug casings.
Amp-hours are just watt-hours divided by the voltage, so in a 12V RV system, you can divide the watt-hour rating of your equipment by 12 to see how many amp-hours it will draw down from the battery. Your panels will need to be powerful enough to easily replace the energy you use, or your batteries will gradually run down.
As with AC equipment, divide by 12 if you want to turn their watt-hour production into amp-hours. Solar panels produce the maximum amount of power when the sun is bright and directly overhead.
Tips for Using Solar Panels to Power your RV
During summer in the southern US, you might get hours a day of ideal strong sunlight, but as little as hours a day during winter in the north. Panels will still produce power when the weather is overcast, but the amount varies — some panels will suffer only a small dip in output, while others will produce only a trickle of power on cloudy days. The general rule of thumb is to roughly match the amp-hour capacity of your batteries to the watt-hour capacity of your solar panels — so if your batteries have a combined storage of Ah, you will want panels with a total rating of around Wh.
Solar panels produce around watt hours per square metre, so there is a limitation to how much energy you can produce: For reasons of practicality, most people install a few identical small solar panels rather than one enormous one. Panels need to be positioned carefully in full sunlight to maximize their power production. Even a tiny patch of shade — for example, the shadow of a TV antenna — will make most solar panels cut off entirely. There are also portable solar panels available — the panel unfolds like a picnic table and you prop it on the ground next to your RV.
A solar panel with a rating of 12V can usually produce up to 18V in strong midday sunlight. There are a wide range of solar panels on the market and costs can vary widely. Apart from the obvious concerns — wattage and size — how can you pick a quality panel? The very best solar panel manufacturers are vertically integrated that is, they make the individual components as well as assembling the panels and invest heavily in research and development. Good solar panels are generally made by an automated assembly line, as robots can handle delicate electrical components more precisely than humans.
The longer a manufacturer has been producing solar panels, the better — look for producers who have been in business for five years or more. Do they make their own silicon chips? Do they have patents on any of their products? There are no fashions in solar panels, which means no end-of-year sale bargains: The money you spend now will save you power outages and costly repairs in the future. Above is commonly accepted theory but when I bought my panels last year I just looked at which sizes provided maximum wattage given the space I have on my roof. I went with three no brand name Watt monochristalline panels.
A charge controller is a device which prevents your batteries from being overloaded. It monitors the current power levels in the battery, and controls how much power flows down from the solar panels. Think of it like the handle on a faucet, which is used to turn off the water flow once the sink is full. The higher the amp-hour rating of your batteries, the more power can be stored.
Some RV full-timers use two 6V golf buggy batteries, which will have the same footprint as one 12V RV battery but store twice the amp-hours. How is that possible? Hooking up two electrical items in parallel means their amps are doubled, but their voltage stays the same. See the section on wiring for a bit more information about parallel and series connections. Golf buggy batteries have an amp-hour capacity of around 75Ah, so two of them connected in parallel will give you around Ah of power, with an unchanged voltage of 6V. Of course, connecting two RV batteries the same way will give the same power boost, but will take up more space.
Golf buggies batteries have a smaller footprint than RV batteries but are usually about 3in taller, so not all RVs have enough vertical space to accommodate them.
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The higher the price of a battery, the longer it will usually last. The cheapest may need replacing after a couple of years, whereas high-quality batteries will give you ten or more years of service for your initial outlay. In this case, a cheap battery might be a good temporary choice. Another surprising indicator of quality is weight. If two batteries have the same amp-hour rating, but one weighs 50lb and one weighs 60lb, then you can assume that the heavier one contains higher-quality components.
A monitor is connected close to the battery and tells you information like the current level of battery charge and the rate at which power is being used. With a monitor, you can see how well your panels are working and check that you have enough power in your batteries. An inverter is a gadget which converts DC power to AC. A common example of an inverter are the portable three-pronged power sockets you can plug into the cigarette lighter of your car, designed for charging your phone or laptop on the move. Inverters have a watt rating, which tells you the maximum power they can provide.
To find the amount of power you will need, add up the watt ratings of all the AC equipment you plan to use concurrently. To give an idea of scale, 75W is usually enough to run a inch TV. The smaller the inverter, the less power is lost. This type of inverter turns DC power into a gently rippling wave which is an exact replica of the power you would get from the mains. It is much easier to convert DC into flat steps rather than smooth waves, so modified wave inverters are much cheaper.
Step 1: Determine power requirements
However, sensitive equipment will only work with pure sine wave — some computers, stereo equipment, and oddly electric toothbrushes can be temperamental when confronted with a modified sine wave. Wiring your solar system carefully can make your system work more efficiently, providing you with a power boost. Electricity can flow more easily through a thicker cable, in the same way that water can flow more easily through a wider pipe.
Most RVs are fitted with standard gauge wire, which is just about the thinnest you can get away with, to save weight and cost. Trading in for thicker wire can seriously improve the performance of your solar panel system. There are two ways to connect electrical equipment together — in series and in parallel. In parallel, positive is connected to positive and negative to negative — if you look at parallel connections on a wiring diagram, they look like the rungs of a ladder. When batteries or panels are wired in parallel, their amps are added while their volts stay the same.
RV Solar Panel Installation Guide - RV Solar Power
When they are wired in series, their volts are added, while their amps stay the same. Parallel wiring is considered more reliable. That can happen with your solar panels if they are connected in series. If you have two panels connected in series, then both panels will stop if you cover a small area of just one. There will always be some inevitable power loss from the wires, so using shorter lengths of wiring can help maximize power. This means keeping your panels, battery, charge controller, and inverter close to each other so you use less wire to connect them.
There are two ways to get your solar equipment: Most beginners choose to buy solar kits. Some sellers will also include the cost of installation in their kit prices. Buying your equipment individually means your solar system can be customized. Some kits include only the big equipment charge controller, panels, battery, inverter , whereas others include everything you need, like wire and mounting feet for the panels. Most people buy their solar equipment online, though there are a handful of showrooms.
Good websites will always have a contact phone number, so you can discuss your options before making your online purchase. For unbiased advice on what kit or equipment to choose, talk to other RV solar users as well as professionals, and check specialist websites. It is possible to install everything yourself, but you will need to prepare thoroughly and proceed with extreme caution, because you will be working with currents high enough to be potentially deadly.
When seeking a professional installer, look for someone who has experience of specifically working with RV solar panels, not just hooking up generators. The best way to find them is by word of mouth. Since we wanted to be able to close the storage bay door and did not have a small access door to the outside, we added a Zamp outlet which is specifically for RV solar systems.
The only thing left to do was to run the wires and hook up the system. First, we spliced some ten-gauge wire to the Zamp outlet and hooked up these two wires to the charge controller. Next, we ran the two wires, with the ring connectors on one end, to the coach batteries. We used plastic grommets in these holes so the metal would not tear into the wire insulation during travel and short out the system.
For added protection, we also added silicone after the wires were run through the grommets. Finally, we hooked the wire to the batteries using the ring connectors, and hooked the other end of the wires to the charge controllers. Once we understood what our electrical requirements were, our biggest challenge was not how to design the system, but specific to our motorhome, where to locate the charge controller and how to run the wires. Four to six hours of sunshine is all it takes to fully charge our coach battery bank.
Since we had just traded in our older Winnebago for a new Winnebago Sunstar XL, it was the perfect time to go solar! Want more detailed information on solar? There is a wealth of information available. In fact, so much, that it can be overwhelming. Start by checking out the following companies for products and information:. Many of the items required to complete this project are also available from Amazon and Ebay. We did not receive any compensation from these vendors for this article.
Comments on this site are moderated for appropriateness and relevance. While differences in opinion, questions and other constructive comments are welcome, we will not be posting offensive, argumentative or unrelated comments. If you have a service, parts or product related question, please contact us to reach out to Winnebago Industries staff directly. Just did my Winne 27pe and love it! Okay, i am not a complete dunce but. How do I calculate the power requirements amps of my RV? You show the parallel and series wiring systems then tell use the MPPT charge controller which will only accept the parallel wiring.
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Then why show the series? In the wiring diagram the two black boxes on the positive side I presume are fuses. I could probably do this but I feel I need more specifics on the wiring diagrams.
How to Add a Portable Solar Cell System to Your RV | WinnebagoLife
If author leaves his campsite with portable solar panels out they will be stolen. Excellent article we live in a Itasca Solei full time and have been thinking of solar as an alternative to running our generator. The generator Onan is very quiet but we object to the smell. Also with the cost coming down on lithium batteries would replacing the AGM batteries with lithium help with the amount of panels needed?
Go Power is another, good, high quality company. It works great and comes with a sturdy storage case. There are a few differences between flat and curved solar panels aside from their shape. Curved panels are lighter, while flat panels are more durable. Essentially, though, it comes down to budget—curved panels are the more expensive option. No matter the size of your solar system, it will require a battery. The battery packs the real strength when collecting energy from the sun. Many suggest installing a battery large enough that you could survive for days without having to recharge, just in case you hit a bad batch of days.
Again, ask your dealership to direct you to the best option for your energy needs. A solar charge controller prevents you from overcharging your batteries because it controls the power moving from the panels themselves to your battery storage. You have your solar panels and your batteries—how do you make your appliances run?