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RV Solar System Lessons Learned

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It is a little hard to believe that it has been a full 6 months since we completed our 2625 watt RV solar power system installation! Now that we have had some time to make use of it, I would like to share how it has been working out. Click the video link below for our 6 month update on our solar power system:

Solar Panel Specs vs. Real World Numbers

One of the more difficult parts of designing this system was figuring out how much wattage we needed. We wanted enough to power an air conditioner. However, we also had to be able to recharge our batteries at the same time. So you just divide your wattage requirements by the rating of your chosen solar panel right? Not exactly.

Every solar panel has a rating, but have you ever noticed how often tilting your panels towards the sun is recommended? I kept seeing the “up to 30% more power” phrase when it came to panel tilting. Then again, I knew I didn’t want the added weight of more mounting hardware. Nor did I want to climb up on the roof and tilt each panel every time we moved. Call me lazy I guess.

As it turns out, 30% less than the panel’s rating is pretty close. We typically see a reduction of about 24%. That is an average for all 15 panels together and our roof isn’t flat, it’s kind of dome shaped. Which means for a 2625W system, we get about 2000W during the height of the day.

Running an Air Conditioner on RV Solar Power

In our first year on the road I installed EasyStarts from Microair in both AC units. These help to tame the big power surge created when the compressor inside an air conditioner starts up. Initially, I did this so I could run an AC unit on our 2200W Honda generator. It also had the added benefit of being able to run both AC units together on a 30A campground connection without tripping breakers.

See these posts for a complete parts list of what we installed: Batteries & Inverters, and Solar Panels + Controllers

Yet another reason was to be able to run both ACs off of an Inverter at some point in the future. Fast forward a few years and and they are still going strong. Any time we see 1400-1500 watts coming down from the roof means we can run an AC without drawing power from the battery bank. We even run both of them together sometimes during the height of the day. It will draw the batteries down a little so we’ll switch back to just one in the afternoon. That lets us end the day with plenty of power to get through the night. Otherwise, we can support the system with our generator if it’s just too hot.

Weather

Of course, sunny days are always best for maximum power. A partly cloudy day drops our max wattage by about 15%. Heavy cloud cover lowers it by 50-60%. Thankfully, we haven’t yet encountered multiple cloudy days while boondocking. Even with 2 cloudy days in a row we can usually make up for it on the 3rd day if it’s sunny.

Like I said in the video, tall trees are the worst. They make for a severe power reduction and, of course, they don’t move away the next day. We still love boondocking in the forest, but it requires a lot more power conservation.

Was It Worth It?

RV solar is not for everyone. You can get just as much power for a lot less money with a generator. We gave general costs of the batteries and inverters as well as the solar portion of the system in 2 separate blog posts. It wasn’t cheap, but I did save an awful lot by doing it all myself.

For us it was worth it without a doubt. It’s always on when the sun is up, it’s quiet, and requires very little maintenance. One can get used to the sound of a generator, but you don’t get to experience nature the same way.

Any questions? Please let us know in the comments so that we can answer them!


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