Understanding Solar Power & Battery Systems for Travel Trailers
Understanding the power systems in your RV is essential in trailer ownership, and fun. Jam-packed campsites with long waitlists have inspired many to go off-grid camping and truly Escape. Enhanced solar power and battery systems are essential for this style of camping, but can be confusing. Unsure where to start? No problem. We’ll teach you about all the different power systems in your trailer.
There are a number of different terms we’ll discuss in our power overview, let’s quickly sum them up.
There are 3 variables when it comes to powering your RV, Voltage (Volts), Current (Amps), and Power (Watts)
Power systems can be explained in terms of water. Voltage is the water pressure and current is the rate of flow. You can think of watts like the amount of water power needed to turn a waterwheel. We won’t discuss Watts much here, but it will become more important as you go further into your off-grid escapades.
We can eliminate a couple of these variables when it comes to a travel trailer.
For Voltage, there are two distinct voltages at play. 12V/DC (Direct Current) comes from the batteries, this powers the lights, fans, and DC-compatible appliances. 120V/AC (Alternating Current) is the voltage that runs your house. This is supplied from shore power and will run 120V outlets and other AC-compatible appliances.
So, the remaining variables are Amps (particularly Amp Hours) and Watts.
We know what an Amp is, but what is an Ah (Amp Hour)? An Ah is a unit for energy storage. Imagine that we have a light which pulls 1A, if we have a battery with a capacity of 100Ah, we can run the light for 100 Hours. If a different light pulled 2A, with the same battery you could run the light for 50 Hours. A typical Lithium Battery has 100Ah.
Understanding Power Inputs
Now that we’ve outlined the different aspects of power in your RV, let’s discuss the inputs. There are three distinct power inputs to power your RV.
● Shore Power
○ This is the most common form of power source for a travel trailer. Shore power is electricity that comes from an outlet, most often a 30A plug at a campsite. However, with a 120V Adapter you can also plug into a 120V outlet (with limited use to the 15A current supplied by 120V Outlets).
○ The Shore Power Cord supplies the trailer with 120V Power. From there, the power goes to the Converter & Distribution Centre. This will send 120V power to compatible appliances and convert to 12V for those that accept 12V.
● Solar Panels
○ The power of the sun, harnessed in your batteries. Solar Panels (in conjunction with a Solar Controller) will passively take sunlight and convert it to 12V/DC, stored in your batteries.
● Vehicle Power
○ A 7-Pin connection is essential for towing a travel trailer. This connection unifies your trailer and tow vehicle. This connection provides information to the brake/signal lights as well as the brakes themselves, and also provides power to the batteries. The alternator in your vehicle (while driving) sends power through the 7-Pin connector to charge your batteries.
How a Solar Panel System for Your Travel Trailer Works
You don’t need to be a scientist to understand solar power, in fact, it can be quite simple.
First, a common misconception is that solar power directly powers your trailer. Instead, the panels provide electricity to the batteries for storage and later use.
Here’s how the typical solar system functions:
● The Solar Panel
○ Solar panels always take in power, 24/7. However, the amount they receive is affected by cloud/tree cover, time of day, and other factors. Therefore, a variable amount of power is transferred from the panel to the next stop in the system, the solar charge controller.
● Solar Charge Controller.
● The solar charge controller regulates the power from the panels. It will step down the voltage to an acceptable level for the batteries (an unregulated voltage can cause battery issues/damage. The Victron MPPT Charge Controller (which Escape supplies) can connect to your phone/tablet through Bluetooth so that you can gain insight into your power collection.
● The batteries store power from the 3 power inputs discussed earlier.
○ There are two distinct types of batteries Lead-Acid Batteries and Lithium batteries.
○ Lead Acid batteries are in the large majority of RVs, they can discharge to 50% of their available capacity (any lower can cause damage to the battery). Additionally, they need to be topped off with water every so often.
○ Lithium batteries have become increasingly popular in both the RV industry and around the world. They tout massive benefits over their Lead-Acid counterpart:
■ Charge faster
■ Can discharge to a much lower relative charge (can go as low as 0% but we would recommend no more than 30% as this maximizes the cycles the battery can go through)
■ Dry-cell, don’t need to be topped off with water
■ Better power density, so they weigh less for the amount of power they store.
■ More reliable power draw.
● 12V Power Distribution
○ The distribution centre then sends the 12V DC to power your travel trailer’s electronics (12V Outlets, fans, lights, etc).
The following diagram outlines the power flow we’ve just outlined, and the entire power flow throughout your RV.
Monitoring Power Consumption
Good weather is never guaranteed. Thus, you’ll want to track how much power you have stored, how much you’re using, and how long the batteries can sustain that use.
For this, you will want a Victron smart battery monitor. This device measures the incoming/outgoing power from the batteries. Through its Bluetooth Connection you can monitor the draw from the batteries, and how long you can last at that consumption.
Powering Your 120V Outlets Off the Grid
As mentioned, the batteries supply 12V power. But what if you want to run a microwave, hair drier, or a TV? These appliances (and a ton of others) run off 120V Power. Since the batteries only supply 12V, you’ll need an inverter. The inverter pulls power from the batteries and converts it from 12V DC to 120V AC to power your 120V outlets.
Solar Power: The Power to Light Up Your Escape Anywhere
With a solar power system connected to your Escape trailer, you can truly get away from it all. Whether you’re knocking locales off your RV Bucket List, such as sunny South Florida to the picturesque Smoky Mountains, the ability to disconnect from the grid grants you the power to live life on your own terms without roughing it.
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