When you're planning your trip off-the-grid, the last thing you want to be doing is running out of power and stressing about finding somewhere to charge your RV. The solution is to harness the power of the sun.
Solar power has come a long way in the last 10 years and has become a must for everyone who wants to explore all the hidden valleys and beautiful remote locations New Zealand has to offer.
It can be daunting setting up your RV to harness this power, but if you read through this guide, you should understand that it is not difficult, and you'll question why you hadn't done it earlier.
Follow these steps to learn what you'll need for your system:
- Understand your requirements:
The first thing you'll need to do is to work out how much power you'll need to gather and retain to be comfortable. You will need to look at all the places in your RV where power is used, this could be anything from the fridge to the laptop charger. You will need to work out approximately how much power you will use per day in amperes (A). Most appliances have a Wattage rating and you can calculate the amperes by dividing this figure by the Voltage (V). E.g. a 60W TV on a 12V system uses approximately 5A (Wattage/Voltage = Amperes)
- What batteries will I need:
Next you will need to plan out what your battery system will look like. In order to calculate the total bank required (in amps), multiply your daily usage by two and a half. E.g. Total daily usage is 50A then we need a 125A battery (50 x 2.5 = 125). This is the number we use as you should never run your bank below 50% as this will damage the batteries and we need to allow for for any inefficiencies. However this 125A battery bank will only give us 24 hours of capacity between charging, so if you need more than that, a solar panel setup is essential.
- What panel/s will I need:
The panels are where you harness the energy of the sun, and turn it into power you can use in your RV. You will need to calculate the output of the panel to work out what you will receive. Obviously you will not receive power 24 hours of the day and typically in NZ we see a good amount of sun for only 6-8 hours every day. The simplified way to work out the output, is to divide the wattage of the panel by 4, and on average, that is the amount of amps you can expect to receive on a reasonable NZ day from that panel (eg. typically a 100W panel would provide 25A of power back into your bank). Please remember though, if you get a week of bad weather, you could potentially get very little charge at all, so need to factor this into your battery system.
- What regulator will I need:
This is based on how much output from panel/s going through your regulator per hour. It is much better to go larger than what you might need to allow for spikes and if you were to add more panels into your system at a later date.
MPPT regulators are a newer design of regulator and operate more efficiently than traditional regulators - this means more of the output from the panels going directly into your bank. We recommend only MPPT regulators are used with our flexible panels as their output is at a higher voltage and requires a more efficient regulator to make the most of the output.
- What do I need to distribute the power around:
When you are putting your solar power system together you will need to purchase the cable to connect it all together. You can never be too safe with going to a thicker cable and we recommend a minimum of 5mm cable for all solar set ups. Getting the wiring from the outside of the RV inside to your regulator can be made a lot tidier with a gland, this will ensure no weaknesses in the wire and keeps the hole waterproof. Lastly you will need to have solar cable connectors that are rated for your panels and are waterproof.
- What else do I need to know?
As with all electrical set ups, you need to try to make the system as efficient as possible in order to get the most amount of juice back into your battery bank. You also must consider the power usage of EVERY appliance and charger that is used especially when using an inverter and 230V appliances.