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Electricity in an RV with Solar Panels

Updated on January 17, 2014

Electricity in an RV with Solar Panels

Solar Panels Convert Sunlight to Electricity

Laura from Laura-n-Sasha talks about electricity in an RV with solar panels. I created the video to help others understand how we get our electricity when we are boondocking off the grid. I knew some of the theory but I did not understand it until, with Sasha’s help, I created a diagram. This diagram makes it easier to explain, understand, and teach to others.

Most people living and traveling in an RV go to campgrounds rather than installing and using solar panels. We have a toyhauler style RV that has large storage capacities for water, fuel, and a generator for energy. We wanted a quieter system and found it with solar panels creating the energy and the system that converted it to electricity.

There are three parts to our system:

  1. The Roof
  2. The Pass-Thru Storage
  3. Inside the RV

The video goes through each one to explain the total system.

Solar Panels on the top of our Roof
Solar Panels on the top of our Roof | Source
Sasha on the roof after tilling the solar panels for maximum charge.
Sasha on the roof after tilling the solar panels for maximum charge. | Source

Solar Panels on the Roof - The Why

We bought the solar panels in 2009 at AM Solar in Oregon. We had the entire system installed by them. AM Solar installed the solar panels, AGM batteries, and inverter and at the time, the cost was high but they were considered state of the art, the most bang for our buck.

There was a tax incentive: one third of the bill was a tax credit applied directly to our taxes owed. That year we went from owing taxes to getting a huge refund.

Solar Energy Review

5 out of 5 stars from 1 rating of Solar Anything

How much money do we save?

This is my opinion only, but based on our figures and expenses, we are saving money using the solar panels. We spent in November and December of 2013:

  • $711.89 for 38 nights in a campground.
  • On average per night is $18.73.
  • We boondocked 41 nights throughout 2013 and
  • would have spent (based on the average per night) $769.09 total saved.

Starting in 2014, we plan to spend more time boondocking (living without the hookups or utilities found in campgrounds) than living in a campground. We are off to a great start with the New Year, and using the solar panels is just one way of living off the grid.

We have spent a month boondocking and never going below 50% the state of charge of the electricity in our RV. We plan to spend at least another month living in the desert using our solar panel system.


What Equipment is Powered by What Energy

Solar Powered
Gasoline Powered
Propane Powered
Microwave
Long Microwave Usage
Hot Water Heater
TV
Space Heaters
Furnace
Two Laptops, iPhones
Air Conditioner
Stove-Top
Backup Hard Drives, iPad
Charging Battery Bank
Main Refrigerator
Home Stereo
Plus Solar Powered
 
Wireless Router, Camera
 
 
BlendTec Blender
 
 
Lights
 
 
Moto battery Trickle charge
 
 
Auxiliary Refrigerator
 
 
Water Pump
 
 
Fan
 
 
GPS
 
 
Fuel Station
 
 
Three Different Ways to Use Energy in Our RV

Solar Energy

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Roof System

The Roof of Laura-n-Sasha's RV
The Roof of Laura-n-Sasha's RV | Source

New Technology for Old Knowledge

We were proud of our unrivaled solar set-up when we bought our system in 2009. However, solar power technology is rapidly advancing. Cheaper and lighter materials with higher watts of 200 watts or more installed onto roofs of RVs. Companies and do it yourself folks establish large thousand watt solar panels on the roofs of home in different neighborhoods.

This technology is nothing new. President Carter put solar panels on the roof of the White House, although Reagan took them down. People in the 1970s who had solar panels were “hippies”.

People who live in the desert know that using energy from the sun helps cook their food, heat their homes and water, and provides light. The Native Americans of the Southwest used the sun to cook their food, warm their homes, and provide their light. They did not use “solar panels” but adobe houses.

Today’s people, living in the desert, employ many different tricks to utilize the power of the sun. Solar panels to give them the energy they need for the items listed above. They use the sun’s powerful rays to cook their food in solar ovens, heat their hot water in glass jars, and provide a light source by opening their shades. They control the warmth in the homes with shades and awnings to cool down the home or warm it up as needed.

The technology of solar systems allows not just desert people to use the sun, but also people in suburban areas throughout the country. Cooperatives pop up in places you would never think would exist, such as the Washington, DC area.

As we are from the metro Washington DC area, we welcome such news. Our old home in Potomac Falls, Virginia, received the midmorning to afternoon sun almost every day. If we installed solar panels, we would not need electricity from the power plant; we would have sold it back to them!

Surrounding area

From the roof
From the roof | Source

How Are We Doing?

We live in the desert, now for a full month. Our state of charge never went to 50 percent. The lowest it ever went was around 65 percent. This means that we used the energy in the batteries especially during cloudy days. When we use the propane heaters (blowing hot air takes energy) in the morning to warm the rig the state of charge dropped.

As it gets warmer and sunnier, we continually see 100 percent state of charge. Part of the reason is that we are slowly changing our lights in our rig. Incandescent (they are phasing out the 120 volt ones in a house) 12 V bulbs are the norm in an RV but now we are switching to Light-Emitting Diode (LED) lights.

Think of it this way:
incandescent lights are 30 Watts while LED lights are 2.3 Watts!

The other reason of changing to LED is the warmth of the light. These lights are cooler which means easier to handle and they do not warm up the RV. These lights will outlast our RV. That story we will tell another day.

We hope to learn more about solar panels and their systems as we head to Quartzsite, Arizona for the day and talk to the old-timers about their systems at Imperial Dam Area in California. As we learn we help others realize solar is the way to go for their electricity in an RV.

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    • Laura-n-Sasha profile image
      Author

      Laura Jevtich 3 years ago from Any Town, USA

      Took a long time to write this article as we wanted to see how it would go for a month of off the grid living. Turns out we can do it. We are pretty happy about it.

    • Laura-n-Sasha profile image
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      Laura Jevtich 3 years ago from Any Town, USA

      Already getting spammed. Why is it that spammers think they can do this?

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