RT31 Roadtreking Podcast: What RVers Need to Know About Solar Power

More and more RVers are seeking ways to get away from everything, off the grid, boondocking far away from crowds and commercial campgrounds. That's why solar power is such a hot item these days for RVers.

In this episode of the Roadtreking RV Podcast, we talk to Campskunk, our resident fulltimer, who shares his extensive experience with solar power, helping us understand the many benefits of solar and just what it can do for you.

Here are the full shownotes for this week's episode:

rvsuperbag photo

This is the king size RV Superbag we use

First, we handled a series of calls from our podcast audience:

  • Alexis has a small leak in her two year old RV that has tiny pinhole in steel part of the sink. We urge her to take to a service center. May be a leak from the drain that beads up on the sink. At any rate, it should be repairable and under warranty.
  • Dave asks how much water can we take with us boondocking and how much grey and black water storage we have. We share the answers with our Roadtrek CS Adventurous XL: Fresh water capacity – 33 gallons; Black holding tank 10 gallons and Gray holding tank 21 galllons
  • Peter, who is about to be a fulltime RVer. He wanted an RV with a standalone shower. He asks how do you make people work in a Class B with a wet bath. We share our experience.
  • Debbie wants to retire early and be a fulltimer. She shares her love of the mountains and the west. She leaves a very encouraging message as she shares her love of the RV lifestyle
  • Julie asks how we set up and store our bedding at night, whether we leave it up all day or whether we take it up and down each time. We shared what we use, the RV SuperBag. We like them so much we have a king sized one and two singles. Here's a video Jennifer did a while back about the RV Superbag. If you want more info, contact Maureen Prentiss in the Parts and Service Department at at Leisure Time RV in Winter Garden, FL. We noticed that they sell them when we visited there a few weeks ago.

RV News of the Week

Two stories this week about stolen RVs:

Traveling Tech: Apps that let you text and make voice calls free

I share three apps that let you text and make calls with no carrier charges – http://pcmike.com/free-texting-and-voice-calling-apps/

Interview: What you need to know about solar power for your RV

manzano2

Campskunk's New Mexico campsite

Jennifer and I have been using solar since 2012. But to really dig into the topic, I connected with Roadtreking Reporter and fulltime RVer Campskunk, who has been extensively using solar power in his Class B RV for the past six years. Campskunk was up in the mountains somewhere in the Cibola National Forest near Manzano,  New Mexico (the picture to the left of his campsite). We covered just about every question you could ask about solar, including:

  • How solar panels work
  • How you can be energy independent with solar?
  • What to look for in selecting solar panels?
  • How many solar panels you need?
  • How solar works even on cloudy days
  • How solar panels should be installed
  • Why flexible, plastic panels that glue to the roof man not be such a good idea
  • Can solar panels withstand hail?
  • How much does solar cost?
  • Is it best to install yourself or have someone else put it in?
  • How do you clean and maintain solar panels?
  • How Roadtrek is offering a special deal for April 2015 to customers who buy a new unit and want solar. Here's a letter from Roadtrek President Jim Hammill describing it – http://www.roadtrek.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Spring-2015-Message-from-Jim-Hammill-Completed-Version-4.pdf
  • A good place to get solar installed on older RVs is amsolar.com

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  • Jeff

    Great discussion on solar power for RV’s. Solar is growing rapidly in the RV industry and is a huge benefit for RV’er who wants more control and more freedom.

    However, more info can be shared in regards to MPPT and PWM solar charge controllers. It’s not generally the case that MPPT is the best option for RV’ers or all off grid solar systems. In smaller solar systems having a MPPT controller over a PWM controller doesn’t render any great difference in results when size appropriately.

    In addition, MPPT controllers can cost much more than a PWM and in some cases more than a solar panel itself. One has to ask if simply adding another panel to the system would work better as compared to using an MPPT controller.

    It is true that MPPT controllers are more efficient than PWM but this efficiency is not a steady constant in regards to solar production or battery charging. This increase from MPPT controllers in efficiency happens when solar panels are at a low temp (panels are at greatest efficiency when cold) and your battery voltage is very low (bulk charging).

    Bulk charging happens to the battery up to 80% full and after 80% the battery amperage is tapered off till full. More power from the MPPT doesn’t really play to a battery strength when the amperage is controlled and tapered off.

    Since it’s the best practice to only draw down RV batteries down to 50% before recharging them the benefit of MPPT controllers is thus lowered as the controller doesn’t always utilize this extra efficiency for charging purposes.

    The biggest benefit you will see from an MPPT controller is if you have a solar system that is 400 watts and greater – even between 400 and 600 watts the advantage between the two controllers is minimized with a properly size battery. Any solar system below 400 watts with a properly sized battery and calculating the difference between MPPT and PWM is very small.

    Consider the cost of a MPPT controller when working with smaller RV solar systems. The two technologies are similar and the benefits might not reflect the added cost.

    *******
    As far as finding a competent installer you hit the head on the nail. Find someone that knows what they are doing. We create solar kits to be installed on RV’s and provide in-depth technical help for our dealers. Our kits are designed with proper components for efficiency and longevity. If interested check us out – http://www.zampsolar.com

    Jeff Taylor
    Zamp Solar

  • Jack Dunnigan

    Thank you very much for the focus on solar power and being independent from the grid. We are sailors looking to add RV’ing to our portfolio. On the boat, we have used a very successful solar installation and will do the same in an RV. One point that you did not discuss is the difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. The monocrystalline are a bit more expensive, but much more efficient, and give you many more watts for the same footprint. We use about 85 amp hours per day (mostly from our refrigerator), and one 320-watt monocrystalline panel meets those needs.

    Thanks for all the great information! We’ll be out there soon!

  • Bryan

    Getting a bit commercial … I suppose it helps pay the bills. But its no longer a hobby.