RV Electric Power for Dry Camping


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RV Electric Power for Dry Camping

Sizing and Design for Solar, Battery Bank, Inverter, etc.

 

Read This Disclaimer First   I've written what I personally did, and my opinions.  Don't assume what I did was safe, and don't assume it will work for you.  Do more research, and make your own choices.  I'm not responsible for your outcomes! :-) 

 

If you haven't read Intro to Dry Camping you may want to click on it and start there first... or not.

 

How Much Electricity do you Need?

To find that answer, you need to know how much electricity you will use.  The way to accomplish this is to do an energy audit.  On the other hand, you could just learn by trial and error.  If you go camping and run out of power add more batteries and/or solar panels ;-)

 

Electrical capacity is expressed in Amp Hours.  If you use a 2 amp appliance for 5 hours that's 10 Amp Hours (make sense?).  Batteries have an Amp Hour Rating, and your battery bank is the heart of your electrical system.  So doing this energy audit is a really important step.

 

I know it may look complicated, but it's not as bad as you think. 

Doing an Energy Audit

  • Use a spreadsheet, or a legal pad and draw 4 columns.

    Column 1: List every item that uses battery power in your RV.  This includes not only DC lights, radio, etc, but also AC items that run off the inverter, like your Microwave, the TV, Desktop computer, etc.

Column 2: List the DC AMPS that this appliance draws.  There are two ways to do this.  You can actually measure the current draw, or you can use the rated current on the appliance label. 

 

Some of you will be interested in meters to make these measurements.  If you are, click here, otherwise continue reading. 

 

Using the rated current of an appliance will give you a big cushion in your calculations.  That's because ratings are always greater than the appliance actually uses on average.  (Those doing actual current measurements will need to add in a 10% cushion). 

 

Remember, we're powering those AC appliances from 12v DC batteries through the inverter, so you'll need to do a little math to convert AC amps to DC amps.   It's easy!

  • For an AC Appliance, if you know the AMPS multiply by 10.  For example:

6 Amps AC = 60 amps DC.

  • For DC or AC Appliance, either one, if you know the Watts divide by 12 and you've got AMPS. This works because "watts is watts". Volts and amps change but Watts remain the same!  For example:

60 watt AC bulb is 60/12 = 5 amps * 

10 watt DC bulb is 10/12 = 0.83 amps

 

* 5 amps @ 12VDC - powering your AC bulb through an inverter  

 

Item

DC Amps

   
Front TV (AC) 6.0    
Rear TV (DC) 4.0    
Stereo 1.5    
DirecTV Receiver 1.5    
DVD / VCR 2.0    
Laptop Computer 4.8    
Desktop Computer 8.5    
Microwave 85.0    
Fluorescent  Light 1.3    
Reading Light 2.0    
Water Pump 5.0    
Etc...      



Now that you have all that, it's time for the next step:

Column 3:  List how many hours in a 24 hour day you'll use that item. This is different for everyone. Say 1 hour for the big TV, 2 for the little one, 1.5 for the stereo, etc.  If you have more than one of an item multiply times that number, for example, you have 4 fluorescent  lights and you'll use them about 2 hours each, that's 8 hours.  See the table below.

Column 4:  Multiply column 2 (Amps) x column 3 (Hours). Now you have Amp Hours.

 

Item

DC Amps

Hours

Amp Hours (AH)

Front TV (AC) 6.0

2

12

Rear TV (DC) 4.0

2

8

Stereo 1.5

4

6

DirecTV Receiver 1.5

4

6

DVD / VCR 2.0

2

4

Laptop Computer 4.8

6

28.8

Desktop Computer 8.5

3

25.5

Microwave 85.0

. 5

42.5

Fluorescent  Lights 1.3

    8 *

10.4

Reading Light 2.0

4

8

Water Pump 5.0

. 2

1.0

Etc...  

 

 

TOTALS     152.2

* 4 lights, 2 hours each

Total up column 4, now you know how many Amp Hours (AH) you'll probably use on an average day.  Let's round it to 150 for discussion.

Conclusions from Energy Audit

 

Now that we've done our energy audit let's see what it tells us:

  • Battery Bank Size  If we want to minimize generator use, we need a battery bank capable of giving us 150 AH each day. 

    • Batteries should never be drained lower than 50% of full charge because that greatly shortens their life, so the minimum size battery bank for us is 300 AH (2x our daily usage).

    • If we don't mind running the generator more, we could get by with less battery capacity.  However, in this example four golf-cart size 6v batteries would be more than enough (420 to 440 AH).

    • What type of battery?  There are several choices and it's a fairly complex discussion.  Click here for a lot more information on batteries.  A new window will open.

     

  • Charging Systems:  We need to be able to replace 150AH of battery power each day.  We can do this with Solar, with a Generator, or with a combination of the two.

    • Solar panels only produce their maximum output at noon, with the panel pointed directly at the sun.  They also produce less output in the winter, and farther North.  For this reason, we have to consider the time of year and whether panels will be tilted to figure typical output. 

      • A 120 W panel will produce between 40 and 55 Amp Hours of power each day.  Take the value of 50, and we need to install three 120W panels if we want solar to do all our charging.

      • Even with 3 x 120W panels we'll still need to run the generator on cloudy days.

    • For generator charging a 3 stage charger rated at 50 amps should do well.

    • If you need to buy a small, efficient generator a 2000 Watt generator will power your 50 Amp charger along with a few other small items, however, you'll need to turn off the battery charger to run the microwave, hair dryer, etc.. 

     

    For a more thorough discussion of these topics:

Battery Charging and Chargers click here.

 

Solar Panels, Controllers, and Systems  Click Here

 

Portable Generators Click Here

  • Inverter Selection:  If your RV doesn't have an inverter you'll probably want to add one.  To determine how large the inverter needs to be refer to your energy audit. 

    • Decide which AC powered items you want to run with an inverter.  Then, add up column 2, DC Amps, for each item and multiply by 12.  This tells you the power requirement in Watts.  Round this up to give you a cushion, and that's the size inverter you'll need if you want to run all the AC items at the same time.

    • You can see that the microwave at 85 Amps will require 1000 Watts itself.  All the other appliances together require about 300 Watts.  So the minimum size inverter for our example is about 1500 Watts.

    • If you plan to run the microwave and other high power items from the generator instead of the inverter you can use a smaller inverter.

    You can get more detail about inverters at this link:  click here

Links

 

Here's a good resource for more advanced discussion of RV Electrical topics.  Especially if you own an HDT and 5th Wheel  or other truck/trailer combination.  Jack & Danielle Mayer's web blog.

 

Here' a link concerning shore power (electric service) in RV's.  Both 30amp and 50amp circuits are covered:  www.myrv.us/electric/index.htm

 

Continue on to Meters -- or choose another topic from the menu in the left sidebar at the top of this page.