Boondocking can be a great way to experience the outdoors and disconnect from the world. However, it is important for vehicle owners to have comprehensive RV electrical systems in place before hitting the road for off-grid adventurers. This type of system will include RV batteries (likely lithium ion) for energy storage and to power your necessary appliances, solar panels, a backup generator to generate additional power, and other necessities like inverters and power stations to help manage your system.
Let's look at what it takes for RV owners to build a comprehensive RV electrical system for off-grid travel.
The Basics of RV Power Systems
Having a basic understanding of much power you will need and how long it will last is crucial when building an off-grid power system. You'll also need to consider what appliances you'll use while boondocking. Larger appliances like air conditioners or refrigerators will require more power than smaller items.
Many RVers will outfit their vehicle with a refrigerator that is best for boondocking. Everchill models, for example, emphasize the importance of off-grid use and allow for solar charging when away from shore power.
Why Build A Off-Grid RV Electrical System?
There are several reasons and benefits to outfitting your RV with an additional boondocking electrical system.
The first and most obvious benefit is to have the ability to run your necessary appliances while boondocking. Off-shore power is vital if you plan on being off-grid for extended periods or in remote areas where there may not be any hookups available. Being limited to campsites or RV parks limits the world around you when owning an RV.
Another reason to consider an off-grid power system is the increased independence it can provide. In the event of a power outage, for example, you would still be able to have all the comforts of home by being self-sufficient. This added security can be crucial for those living in areas prone to bad weather or other natural disasters.
Finally, an off-grid power system can be a more economical travel method. If you can produce your own power, you'll be less reliant on shore power hookups and the associated costs. This is especially true if you have solar panels as part of your system, which can produce free power during the day.
AC Power vs. DC Power
You'll need to consider two types of power for your RV: alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC). AC power is what you typically use in your home and get from a standard shore power hookup. This type of power source is easy to use but can be less efficient since it needs to be converted to DC power for use in your RV.
DC power, on the other hand, is the type of power typically used in RVs. It is often generated by solar power and can be stored more efficiently than AC power. Inverters can be used to convert DC power to AC power when necessary, making it a versatile option for those who plan on boondocking often.
What You'll Need for your RV's Electrical System
There are a few key components that you'll need for your RV's electrical system. Each part is intricate to your electrical systems' success and longevity.
The RV batteries are the first and most important parts of any electrical system. These will store the AC power generated by your solar panels or generator and provide electrical power to your appliances when needed. When it comes to the best types of batteries for RV's deep cycle batteries are great for off-grid applications.
There are a few types of deep cycle batteries that you can use in an RV, but the most popular are lithium-ion and lead acid batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are newer to the market and offer a few advantages over lead acid batteries.
Lithium-ion batteries are much lighter than lead acid batteries, making them easier to transport and install. They also have a much higher charge cycle, meaning they can be charged and discharged more times before needing to be replaced. This is important for those who plan on doing a lot of boondocking, as you'll be relying on your batteries more often.
Lead acid batteries are still a good option for RVers, and are typically less expensive than lithium-ion batteries. They require more maintenance, however, as they must be kept topped off with water to prevent damage.
RV Solar Panels
If you want to produce electrical power for your vehicle while boondocking, solar panels are a must-have for any RV electrical system. Solar power uses the sun's energy to generate electricity, which you can store in your batteries for later.
Solar Panel Benefits
RV solar panels offer several benefits for vehicle owners. Perhaps the most obvious benefit is that they allow you to produce your power while boondocking and off shore power, which can save you money in the long run. Solar panels also require very little maintenance and can last for many years with proper care.
Another significant benefit of solar power is that it is a renewable energy source. Unlike fossil fuels, the sun is a never-ending energy source that you can use to power your homes and vehicles. This makes solar panels a more environmentally-friendly option and helps to reduce our reliance on non-renewable sources of energy.
Finally, solar panels can help increase the value of your RV. Many potential buyers will be more interested in an RV with its own solar panel system installed, as it shows that the owner took extra measures to make their vehicle more self-sufficient.
Types of Solar Panels
There are two main types of solar panels commonly used in RVs: mounted and portable.
Mounted Solar Panels
Mounted solar panels are permanently attached to your RV's roof and are usually made of multiple connected panels. This type of system is more expensive than a portable system, but it also offers more power and is less likely to be damaged in transit.
Portable Solar Panels
Portable solar panels are less expensive than mounted systems but offer less power. These panels can be set up and taken down as needed, making them a good option for those who don't want to install solar panels on their RV permanently.
Portable solar panels are also a good choice for those who plan on doing a lot of traveling, as they can be easily removed and stored away when not in use.
Solar Panel Expansion Kits
Some RVs come ready for solar power capability, and owners may want to expand on these options with expansion kits. These kits have everything you need to install and expand additional panels, including the panels themselves, the mounts, the wiring, and the charge controller.
Expansion kits are the best way for RVers to expand their solar capabilities and add additional power to their electrical system.
A backup generator is a good option for those who want a reliable power source in case of an emergency. An excellent companion for your solar panels, generators are the best option for backup power if solar isn't working as planned. Generators can be used to power your RV if the batteries run low, or if you need to use high-powered appliances that would otherwise strain your RV's electrical system.
Backup generators typically run on gasoline, but a new model, like the Elite Flex Fuel RV Generator, can be powered by both gas and propane.
A charge controller is a device used to regulate the flow of electricity from the solar panels to the batteries. This is an essential piece of equipment, as it prevents the batteries from being overcharged and damaged.
Some RV solar panel kits will come with a charge controller, but if yours doesn't, you'll need to purchase one separately.
Inverters are another essential piece of equipment for any off-grid system. They allow you to use both DC and AC appliances in your RV. Without inverters, you would be limited to using only AC appliances while boondocking or need separate electrical systems for AC and DC power.
Power stations or an RV power converter are an excellent choice for managing your recreational vehicle's DC and AC power requirements. Power centers facilitate the AC and DC power distribution and provide the flexibility necessary for your power needs.
Why are they important? Way’s power stations, for example, come with an AC/DC Smart Charger built-in to properly charge and fully maintain your battery power voltage while providing clean 12V DC power for all sensitive electrical equipment.
Lithium compatible and designed to be lightweight, power stations are easily mountable within an RV’s power center housing and help to enhance you're battery system and protect RV appliances.
No matter your needs, excellent power solutions are available that will work for you. With some research, you can find the perfect solar panels and backup generator to power your RV for off-the-grid applications. Remember, other electrical components like inverters and power stations must protect your appliances and electrical system when you're away from shore power.
If you have any questions or need help finding suitable off-grid electrical systems for your RV, feel free to contact our boondocking experts. We're always happy to help get you and your vehicle ready for the great outdoors!