Motorhome ownership is at a new all-time high in Australia, and campers are going off-grid in larger numbers than ever to explore its remotest locations. However, as much as they’d love to escape the mundaneness of everyday life, taking along the conveniences of home is still an important part to many. Refrigeration, heating and being able to use our favourite smart devices can drain your motorhome’s batteries quite fast. That being said, many motorhome owners are opting for solar solutions that allow them to stay off-grid for longer, while enjoying these conveniences.
In this guide, I’ll discuss the advantages of motorhome solar solutions, and talk about all the different parts that make up a solar system.
Advantages of Solar Solutions for Motorhomes
Owning a motorhome gives you the freedom to travel and explore the most pristine, distant places in Australia, or just get away for a couple of days. Having a solar system inside your motorhome provides many ways that enhance that experience.
Just a few decades ago, most owners were limited by the availability of caravan parks and grid power. Today, off-grid systems allow you to go anywhere without depending on the grid for much longer, and travel in uncharted territories.
Additionally, many motorhome owners used portable generators to charge their batteries when off the grid. Gasoline generators and solar systems are both quite the investment, but the running costs for solar are almost non-existent compared to that of generators. Solar power solutions preserve and extend your motorhome’s battery life by up to 50%, which further reduces replacement and maintenance costs.
Running generators is also quite loud, and they can disrupt your peace and might disturb your neighbours. Moreover, generator use is simply not allowed everywhere, as they release emissions. Solar systems, on the other hand, are completely silent, and the greenest solution for power there is.
Key Parts of Solar Systems
Solar panels are probably the parts most people recognise. Choosing the right solar panels is relatively straightforward. However, choosing the right motorhome inverter or battery can be much more complicated.
Solar panels come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and types. The three types of panels you’ll find are amorphous, polycrystalline and monocrystalline. Monocrystalline are the most expensive, but most efficient ones, so you should consider getting them if you’re going to spend a lot of time off the grid. If you’re only using your motorhome a few times a year, then you might want to consider polycrystalline. Regardless of what type you choose, they can vary greatly in quality, which is why you should stick to buying from reputable manufacturers. Moreover, it’s important to place the solar panels properly, so that they can get as much sunlight as possible throughout the day.
Your batteries provide 12V DC power, but most of your appliances will require 220-240V AC power, just like your home. Converting DC power into AC power is done through a motorhome inverter. There are two types of inverters – modified and pure sine wave inverters. Modified sine wave inverters are the more affordable type, but they don’t provide as “clean” power as pure sine wave inverters. That being said, if you can afford it, always go for a pure sine wave inverter. You want to buy an inverter from a reputable manufacturer who has all the relevant safety certifications to ensure the safe operation of everything inside your motorhome.
Motorhomes use deep cycle batteries that can be regularly discharged and recharged. Deep cycle batteries are gel and AGM, with AGM batteries being more popular. Lithium-ion can also be used, but they’re the most expensive, as they’re a relatively new type.
Gel batteries are based on older technology, which is why they’re more affordable. They’re completely sealed and don’t spill, but they charge slower than other types and require the right type of charge controller.
AGM batteries are sealed and don’t spill either, but they charge much faster and are resistant to low temperatures. Again, they require the use of the right charge controller to ensure proper charging.
Lastly, there are lithium-ion batteries. These are the most high-performance and efficient batteries, but they cost the most. They require no maintenance, are lightweight and offer the longest life cycle.
Charge controllers are responsible for regulating the current and voltage from the panels to the battery, thus preventing the batteries from getting overcharged. This, in turn, will help you prolong the lifespan of your batteries, which are one of the most expensive parts of the solar system.
There are two types of solar charge controllers – PWM (Pulse Width Modulated), and MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking). MPPT charge controllers are considerably more efficient than PWM controllers, and they offer superior control. However, they are more expensive. Regardless, a quality PWM controller will be more than good for your motorhome application, so you shouldn’t stress if you can’t afford an MPPT controller.