Monday, September 28, 2015

Power to the RV people

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:

My husband wants to spend a couple grand on a solar panel system for our fifth-wheel. He complains every time our lights go dim while dry camping. We had to leave Big Bend National Park early because we were out of battery power. It was cold and we had to run the furnace every morning. The furnace fan seems to suck a lot of juice from our batteries.

I argue that we can buy a lot of full hookups for two grand. He is not listening. He is too busy studying the solar system. I tell him he has stars in his eyes.

Do you think I am being unreasonable, frugal or cheap?

--Powerless in El Paso

Dear Powerless:

It really depends on how often you dry camp. You can easily pay for a system in a year if you dry camp the majority of the time. Because so many RVs now have solar, many parks will have a reduced rate if you do not want to plug in. Some Arizona State Parks will reduce the rate and lock the electrical box if you opt out of the electric.

Yes, the furnace fan is a power hog. Another option would be to install a catalytic heater such as an Olympian Wave. They put out a very nice radiant heat without the need for a fan. You can recess mount it or use a long hose with a disconnect to enable you to move it around.

I am solar biased, but it really depends on how you use your RV. If you seldom dry camp, solar is probably a waste of money.

You will start to see more manufacturers offering a solar option. They need little maintenance, give you quiet, continuous power, and as Elon Musk recently said, "We have this handy fusion reactor in the sky, called the Sun."

Another point to be made is the fact that many RVs now come standard with a generator that people put few hours on. For the same money you can put on a very efficient solar system. If you can live with the 12v power that is generated, it will not be necessary to spend another thousand or so for an expensive inverter. You can buy small inverters (400 watt) that are capable of running a coffee grinder, recharge computers or power an electric razor.

You can easily add up your energy needs and see if it is a good investment, a fun project or a worthwhile convenience. You are not going to run an electric heater or refrigerator from a small RV solar array. They have their limitations.

I can tell you from experience that once you can live within the means of a 300 watt system it will set you free.

LED lights can also be a good, long-term investment that will extend your Big Bend, out of the way stay.

And don’t forget CONSERVATION, it gives “power to the people.”

--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink


jean said...

Great column, Doc! (er...Dick).... Power to the people from the sun is the best answer for our world, too. At least as long as the solar generating orb holds out ............Jean

MrTommy said...

We've been RV'ing for 20+ years. 18 of them with solar panels on the roof of our TT. Bought a new TT two years ago and upgraded to larger panels (three 125 watt panels). Always feeding into golf cart batteries. We boondock most of the time and these panels make multi-week stays easy. I don't believe solar is the answer to home power needs, but it sure makes RV'ing trouble and worry free.

Unknown said...

I also use the solar panel to keep the coach batteries charged during the winter and trickle charge the engine battery. I don't cover the RV which would defeat the panel's support. Since I get snow, I need to uncover the panel after a snowfall but that is the only maintenance needed while the RV is stored in my driveway.

Anonymous said...

Why bother with solar.....especially if you will be boondocking where there isn't a lot of sun. With our older Sunnybrook travel trailer when battery replacement time came around, we bought an upgrade size 8D glass mat battery....which is easily fully charged with our trusty Honda 2000 generator and a compatible battery charger: problem solved. We can have a fully charged large battery in ANY conditions...without the huge cost of solar.

SolarSteve said...

Huge cost of solar? Solar panels today cost less than $1 per watt. In 2010, when I put 600 watts on my new coach house, the price was just under $5 per watt. And the panels are still warrantied 20 to 25 years. What else does that?

Ron said...

Gave me some good ansewers as Iam going to get a new coach and want to put as many large panels as I can get on it. Most all the new coach's are full electric.Good backup.. Happy Trails

Busyretirees said...

How do these panels hold up to a hail storm?

MrTommy said...

We've been in a couple hail storms, but not the golf ball sized ones, so if that's what you're asking, I don't know. Our old panels on our first trailer were glass, but the ones we have now are some sort of 'plastic' feeling material.

Joe said...

I installed two 100 watt paniles got the off e-bay everything for $250.00 They will but out 9 1/2 amps if batterys are down They work great