Solar In An RV

If you have a photovoltaic array (solar panels) and do not have a mechanism to store that power, you’re doing it wrong.

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve seen that a home has PV panels with a grid tie-in, but haven’t a means to cache the collected energy in the ultimate eventuality that the grid goes down.

And it will.

“Oh, we have great power here…” It will go out. Everything between the generation point and your breaker panel can be disrupted.

And it will.

It absolutely can go down for several days.

“Oh, but I have a generator!”

Maintenance? Fresh fuel? Do you test it regularly? Hearing protection? There’s far more to consider than just buying the cheapest construction-grade generator on sale at Harbor Depot or Home Freight.

In RV-life, there are a few things that we can do to minimize our dependence upon grid power. During cloudy or inclimate weather or at night when you haven’t grid power available[1], how do you ensure that convenience? How will things run?

To make sure you’re leveraging the installed PV array, add a battery between the Charge Controller and the Inverter. Same goes for residential solar installs!

In an RV, it would look something like this:

[Note: Yes, there are some challenges where the inverter itself is concerned. This is just a general idea.]


Some parts are built-in: the electrical panel, battery charger, the battery(ies), the interconnect to draw power for 12VDC loads.

  • Step 1: Add batteries
  • Step 2: Add an inverter to convert the 12vDC over to 120vAC for household loads
  • Step 3: Add PV panels and a suitable charge controller
  • Step 427: Surge-protector, generator and transfer switch

There are a few things that are mandatory in here and some are built-in. Some are optional. In fact, I think we could easily argue that if you scale the PV panels and their charge controller appropriately for the average loads, then the generator and its transfer switch are entirely unneeded.

If you have one — great! Sell it or give it away. Yes, really.

In a residential install, it’s not much different — I’ll have to see about sketching out an equivalent diagram.

You don’t need to add all of this stuff in one go. With the exception of the PV panels and their solar charge controller, you can insert parts when they come available. And the really handy thing — for RVs anyway — is that many of these components are quick bolt-on or plug-in applications.

[1] And, no, I don’t mean just plug in an insanely noisy, 9KW, construction-grade, rattle-trap generator. Do everyone around you a favor and spend more (yes, really) to acquire an actual quiet generator. Or, even better, just focus on growing the entirely silent, renewable, sustainable, maintenance-free PV solution.

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