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Our Solar Journey
I'm a big believer in the notion that there's no perfect one-size-fits-all electrical system for RVers - we all have unique needs and challenges. It all just depends on how, where and when you use your RV.
It took us over a year on the road before we finally ended up with what we think is our perfect RV solar system. But your needs will likely be different! My advice is to start small and add more later on if necessary.
When we first hit the road full-time in our RV in July 2018, we knew we were going to need power on the road. Not only did we want to avoid being stuck in RV parks by boondocking, but we would be working full-time in the RV too! So the first thing we did was a big electrical upgrade - 300Ah of Battle Born lithium batteries and a Victron MultiPlus hybrid inverter.
To charge the batteries, we installed a REDARC DC-to-DC charger. This clever device charges our trailer batteries from the truck using a dedicated connector that puts out about 10x as much power as the standard 7-pin connector!
We got our first solar panel in October 2018, and actually installed it while we were at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta!
I say installing, but it was pretty straightforward - it was a 100W Renogy portable solar panel! These typically come with a built-in charge controller so installing it can be as simple as connecting it directly to your battery. In our case it was a little more complex, but not much - find out why in the blog post below.
Over the next 3 months, the portable solar panel was enough to allow us to boondock for a few days at a time, followed by either a drive or a stay in an RV park to charge the batteries. We loved the freedom ... and we wanted more!
Just 3 months later, with some help from a few friends, we took the plunge and installed 400W of solar on the roof of our RV - using four 100W Renogy solar panels.
It was a game changer for us! We were in the sunny Arizona desert and it was early February, so every day we were seeing more and more solar power coming in. We were flush with power! We had more power than we knew what to do with!
But that didn't last for long. Our power-conserving habits started to ebb away. We began keeping more lights on inside the RV, spending more time on our laptops or watching TV.
Furthermore, our travels led us away from the Arizona desert, out to the coast and then up into the mountains where sunny days and clear blue skies were no longer guaranteed.
Worse yet, while dry camping in a state park campground on the California coast, our portable solar panel was stolen - the cable lock cut in the middle of the night.
We needed more solar again! Rather than another portable panel, we decided to add more to the roof - less hassle to set up and more difficult to steal!
Thankfully we had planned for this eventuality during our initial roof-top solar install by choosing panels that we could easily buy more of, oversizing our charge controller AND leaving space on the roof for more panels.
So, while we were dry camping in Albuquerque in May, we put two more 100W Renogy panels on the roof, bringing our total to 600W.
We spent the summer in Colorado, where wide open vistas and long days kept us and batteries happy! A few months later, we found ourselves back in Albuquerque for the balloon fiesta again - 12 months since our last visit, but with lots more solar power this time!
We continued our journey south, and as fall turned into winter, we found ourselves in Texas. To explore Austin and San Antonio, we stayed in some RV parks where power wasn't an issue, but we were looking forward to heading back west to Arizona for winter, and decided we wanted more power!
Although we had more space on the roof, this time we decided to go for more portable power. Portable panels have the big advantage that they can be easily tilted and turned towards the sun - perfect in winter when the sun is lower in the sky.
Rather than buying another portable panel, we decided to make our own, using the same type of panel as we have on the roof. That way, if in future we ever change our mind, we can simply mount the panels on the roof instead!
So in November 2019, that brought our setup to 600W on the roof plus a 200W portable panel. And as of writing this in January 2021, nothing else has changed, and we're really happy with our setup.
Our solar and electrical system has delivered the freedom we yearned for. When we first started on the road, we could manage just a few days at a time - in 2020 we set ourselves a new record with 100 days of boondocking!
Do you have a solar journey to share? Let us know in the comments below!
Or maybe you're just starting, looking to learn from others. You'll need to find your own path on your journey, but hopefully our story can help give you some inspiration.
As always, if you have questions, drop a comment below and I'll do my best to answer!