Boondocking in your RV, sometimes referred to as dry camping or going off the grid, entails camping without the use of outside hookups and shore power. There are a number of aspects to consider if you choose this type of travel. One of the most important things to keep in mind is having sufficient electrical power and battery charge, which includes using generators or RV solar panels. Using a generator is certainly a useful way to do this, however they can be noisy and may require maintenance to run properly. For a different method, solar panels provide a quiet, renewable energy source that needs little to no maintenance.
Using solar panels efficiently and correctly is crucial to getting the best performance from them. A common rookie mistake is buying an inadequate solar system based on price and finding it will not handle the load you truly require. RV solar panels can be expensive, so do your homework and purchase a system that is properly sized for your needs. Here are several things to keep in mind:
How many amp hours of battery charge you need – Deep cycle batteries are rated by amp hours, but that does not mean a battery can provide full power capacity for that entire amount of time. Half of the available amp hours is about the maximum you’ll be able use. Say you had a 100 amp hour rated battery. That battery can really only provide you with about 50 usable amp hours before the voltage falls too low to power appliances and electrical devices. It is also detrimental to the battery if you continue to discharge it below 50% of its capacity. The battery’s available voltage decreases as power is drained from it. A 12 volt battery fully charged will have an initial voltage of 12.6 V and it drops off from there as the battery is discharged. These factors come into play when figuring how long it will take an RV solar panel to charge the battery. If you had a solar panel that provided 2 amps per hour of charging, it would take about 25 hours to fully charge a 100 amp hour battery that was discharged to that 50% level. Factoring in the amount of daylight, and it would take several days to fully charge. You don’t want to run the risk of draining the battery further if the solar panel isn’t able to keep up with charging it during the day.
The amount of available sunlight – RV solar panels typically need to be in direct sunlight to provide the best performance. Some can be used without direct sunlight, however they will not be able to provide the full amount of energy. The time it takes to charge the battery can fluctuate depending on the amount of sun and the angle in which the light hits the panel. Things such as the surrounding environment, time of year, or current weather conditions can all have an effect. Obviously the hours of daylight are greatly reduced in the winter compared to the summer. The area you are traveling to will also come into play. The closer you are to the equator, the earlier the sun will set, compared to places farther away. The sun going below the trees or a mountain range will also have an effect on the solar panel’s usefulness. For RV solar panels to have the most efficient operation, you’ll need to take advantage of as much sun as possible. It’s important to make sure you have enough power once it gets dark, or to see you through overcast days. Since this can sometimes be hard to predict, you may need to consider supplementing your power supply with a generator when the weather or environment is not ideal.
Mounting style – RV solar panels are portable or permanently mounted. Permanently mounted solar panels can be convenient in the sense that once they’re on your RV’s roof, you won’t have to think about storing them or re-positioning them. However portable solar panels bring several advantages. They can be angled easily, so you can take full advantage of whatever sunlight you have. They are also typically easier to set up than permanent systems. Portable systems such as the Go Power GP-PSK-40 and the Zamp Solar ZS-80-P are also foldable for easy storage No matter which version you choose, remember that they can be made susceptible to damage from weather and other elements.
What you plan on operating – Having to run something like an air conditioner or heater is going to eat up a lot more power than simply using the lights or a small appliance. The same can be said if you want to watch TV or use electricity for a longer period of time. More wattage in a solar panel will allow you to operate more devices or higher powered devices, but you still need to keep energy use in mind.
Solar panels can be beneficial not only for boondocking, but even if you typically use shore power while camping. For instance, a solar panel can be of use in the event of a power outage. When implementing a solar panel system, be sure you have a charge controller such as the Nature Power 8 amp Charge Controller, so you don’t run the risk of overcharging your battery.