Having an RV is one of the greatest things someone can own. Powering an RV while boondocking is what makes having and RV the absolute best. The ability to park in any permitted spot and have power is a wonderful feeling. Getting the best solar generator and kit for an RV on the other hand can be extremely difficult to figure out. That’s why in this article we will discuss the things to consider when getting the best solar kit for an RV.
There are many factors to look at when trying to get solar on an RV. The biggest thing to remember in doing all of this is that it’s worth it. It really is worth it. You don’t have to become a solar expert to figure out how to get solar installed on your RV. If you want to go with a 100% DIY solar kit, then it will be quite difficult. This is why it is recommended to people that they use a solar generator instead. There are a few reasons why.
Why Solar Generator over DIY Solar Kit
Building or putting together a complete DIY solar kit on an RV is incredibly daunting. Understanding volts, amps, watts and how they all work together can be quite mind-boggling. Connecting the charge controller to the batteries before the panels so you don’t short-circuit devices is a bit nerve-racking. I’m not saying it cannot be done, people do it every day. Once you understand how solar works it’s actually quite simple. But truly understanding solar seems to take forever and by the time it’s understood years have gone by.
A DIY solar kit has some basic components such as an inverter, charge controller, 12v bus bar, fuses, batteries, solar panels, battery management system (BMS), lots of wiring and a screen or monitor. Each of those items have to be connected in the right spot in the right sequence with the right cable in order to make everything work. Luckily, if the parts of the DIY solar kit are purchased from reputable companies then they will include some kind of warranty but will not be covered if you break them by accident.
This is why I prefer and always suggest a solar generator. On most systems the inverter, charge controller, 12v plugs, fuses, batteries and so on are already included in it and covered by the manufacturer warranty. The best part, it generally costs the same or in some cases is more affordable to simply get the solar generator than the DIY solar kit.
The two main advantages that a solar generator has for an RV over a DIY solar kit is that everything is already done in a package deal and has a full warranty on it. The best solar generator for an RV currently is the Titan solar generator. It has 100% everything needed to run pretty much any RV with ease.
The Best Solar Generator for an RV
In the last few years there has been a great increase in interest in solar generators. This has led to great improvements over the old options such as the Goal Zero Yeti 1250 which was riddled with many issues. New solar generators such as the Titan have come out and are designed through and through with long term RV use in mind. The Titan is made to be easily expandable with more solar and battery capacity. That takes away the need to have countless wires running back and forth as well as the worry of shorting out a battery by connecting it wrong and ruining the whole system.
The Titan is the only solar generator on the market that is designed for RV users. The reason that is, is because it’s the only solar generator that has a true 30-amp RV plug on it that can actually use the full 30 amps. There are units out there like the Inergy Apex which has an RV plug on it but can only draw a max of 12.5 amps from it. It will also only run 12.5 amps for up to 3 minutes and 30 seconds at a full 1,500w draw if it has a full battery.
The easiest way to use the Titan is to use the 30-amp RV plug on the front of the Titan and plug that directly to the RV. The Titan has a 3,000w pure sine wave inverter, a 30-amp RV plug, two sets of three 110v 15-amp plugs, four 12v DC plugs rated to 20-amps and expands to have up to 2,000w of solar input and however many Titan batteries are wanted to needed.
For example, say I was driving a 25ft travel trailer for my family of 5 and wanted to boondock. I would need to power multiple portable devices such as phones, laptops, chargers and other small devices. I would also need to run a water pump, lights, fans, TV, Wi-Fi, cell reception booster, fridge, and many other items. From time to time I would also need to run the microwave, a hair dryer and possibly even an electric cooktop. The Titan is the only solar generator capable of running all the little things and then also run one big item such as the microwave or hair dryer at the same time.
Smaller Solar Generators for RVs
Some people say that they don’t need something very big because their RV is very small. Or they say there’s only one or two people, or they don’t have large items such as microwaves, hair dryers or electric cooktops that they use. Perfect, then there’s no need for something as large as a Titan, or is there?
There are multiple solar generators such as the MAXOAK Bluetti EB150 and EB240 that are quite capable of powering RVs for long periods of time if the power usage is not extremely high. The MAXOAK Bluetti EB150 is a great size because it offers a 1,000w pure sine wave inverter that can be used until completely drained to 0% of the battery.
With a large 1,500wh battery in the EB150 model and a 2,400wh battery in the EB240 model there’s definitely enough battery to go quite a while. Being able to input up to 400 watts of solar is one of its limiting factors. With a 1,500wh battery it would take about 4 hours to charge up if nothing is being used while it’s charging. With the 2,400wh battery it takes 6 hours to fully charge if nothing else is being used while charging. The downside to this is that items often need to be run during the day which will increase how long it takes to charge up. Also, since there are only about 5 to 6 hours a day on average to get the full 400 watts from the panels, it limits how many days the battery can get fully charged in a single day.
Units such as the Inergy Apex can only use 1,000w of power draw for about 25 minutes continuously before shutting off, but the battery is still about 40% full. The Apex has a 1,100wh battery but can also get about 400w into it (500w rating but rarely achieved). This means it will charge in about 3 hours.
Other units such as the Goal Zero Yeti 1400 Lithium can also do the trick if needed. But, it’s only worth getting it if the extra MPPT charge controller is added to it which will cost an additional $100 or so. You have to get the extra MPPT charge controller because the built-in charge controller is a PWM and will not charge very well. The PWM charge controller will put in a max of about 250 watts and the MPPT will put in a max of about 300 watts with the full number of panels connected. That makes for about 550 watts that it can make at a max. With a 1,425wh battery it can charge in as little as 3 hours or so.
How to Make Any Solar Generator Work for an RV
Of the MAXOAK Bluetti EB150/EB240, Inergy Apex, and Goal Zero Yeti 1400 only the Apex has an RV plug built into it. So how can they work with an RV without having to run extension cords everywhere? This is where a 15-amp to 30-amp RV connector is needed. The Goal Zero Yeti 1400 can draw 1,500 watts of power until it’s pretty much empty. Using the “step up” plug allows the Yeti 1400 to easily connect to any RV that has the 30 amp RV plug built in.
This plug can be used with any solar generator, but the solar generator’s limitations are still the same. For example, the Yeti 1400 will still only push out 1,500 watts of power at its max. This means it can draw up to 12.5 amps just like the Apex. But being able to connect to the RV plug makes it very easy to use with the RV. Since the Yeti 1400 only has two 120v plugs the RV plug takes away the need to have long extension cords around to run into the RV.
What About Running the Air Conditioner?
Running the A/C in an RV is one of the hardest things to do with solar. Mostly because air conditioners use a lot of power. Generally speaking, the way you calculate how many watts an A/C unit uses is by taking the BTUs and dividing it by 10. This will give you 10% of the total BTUs and as a rule of thumb that’s how many watts it uses to run continuously. For example, a 13,500 BTU A/C unit will use about 1,350 watts of power (13,500 ÷ 10 = 1,350).
Running an air conditioner of that size off of something like the Yeti 1400 means it would only run for about an hour at most. The battery of the Yeti is 1,425wh and is not expandable to have more batteries. This means 1,425-watt hours ÷ 1,350-watts = 1.05hrs of maximum run time.
This is why the Titan is such an amazing option. With a 3,000w inverter it can definitely run 1,350 watts without breaking a sweat. Since the battery is 2,000wh we know it will run for a minimum of 1.5 hours if there are no solar panels connected and only has one battery. But that’s the beauty of the Titan, the expandability. The Titan can add batteries very easily by stacking them on top of each other. No other system in the world has used technology like that. This means that there is no need to get hefty copper cables to connect the batteries together and take up lots of space. Each battery only adds about 5 inches of height to the overall Titan and weighs only 35lbs.
By adding just one battery to the Titan the A/C run time goes from 1.5 hours to 3 hours. But it’s not only expandable with its batteries, it can also expand with its solar panels. The Titan can input up to 1,000w (35-145v & 30a limit) into each of the two solar input ports. With 1 battery it is not a good idea to put more than 1,000w of panels into the Titan because the battery will charge too fast and lower its lifecycles. But when a second or more batteries are added the solar input jumps from 1,000w to 2,000w of solar panel power.
If a 13,500 BTU air conditioner needs to be run all day long, it’s possible with the Titan and no other solar generator. The Titan+ 1500 kits come with 2 batteries and 1,500 watts in solar panels. We know that the batteries alone without any solar panels can run the A/C for about 3 hours. If the draw coming off the Titan is 1,350-watts but the panels are making 1,500-watts then there’s a surplus of 150-watts coming off the panels (1,500-watts from panels – 1,350-watts being drained = 150-watts surplus). This means that the extra 150 watts will go to the batteries to charge. For an A/C unit that large running non-stop all day long the Titan will barely be charging since most of the power is going to the A/C.
Adding 500 more watts in solar panels to the array ensures that the Titan can run the A/C unit all day long while still putting about 650 watts into the batteries. You may be asking “But solar panels rarely create as much power as they are rated for so how can I truly get 2,000-watts of power from the panels?” That is another beauty of the Titan. The Titan will only allow up to 1,000-watts of power to go through each solar input port in order to protect the batteries. But its input rating is actually 35-145 volts and 30 amps.
It is recommended to put groups of panels together that total 500-watts of output power. This could be two 250-watt panels, five 100-watt panels or any combination that makes 500 watts total. Then each set of 500 watts will be linked together in a Series/Parallel connection. I will use five 100-watt panels as the example. If I have one set of five panels totaling 500 watts connected in series, the voltage will be about 106 volts and 6 amps. When a second set of five panels is connected in parallel to the first set the voltage will stay 106 volts but the amps will go up to 12 amps total. This is where most people get lost, and that’s okay.
When panels are connected in series the voltage increases and the amps stay the same. When panels are connected in parallel the voltage stays the same and the amps increase. Since we are using a series/parallel connection both will increase according to the size of each solar panel set/array.
Each set of 500 watts is 106v and 6a. If 3 of them are put together the voltage is still 106 volts and the amperage would be 18 amps. With 3 sets of 500 watts it would be at 1,500 watts of power. The limit on the Titan (35-145v & 30a) is still not exceeded since my total volts is 106v and the total amps is 18a. This means I could easily put 1,500w of solar panels into each solar input port for a total of 3,000w and it would not hurt the Titan in any way. It will still only input 2,000 watts total (1,000w into each port) even though the panels are making more than 2,000w total.
What this means is that the Titan can be easily and safely “over paneled” and it won’t hurt it as long as it’s within the 35-145v and 30a limit. But it will guarantee that I can make 1,000w per solar input port. And since I can put a full 1,000w of solar into each input I can truly make 2,000w of power. Over-paneling will also increase how many hours a day I can get a full charge from my panels since there are more panels being exposed to sunlight during the day outside of prime solar production hours.
Where Do I Put All the Solar Panels?
It’s great that the Titan can handle so much power and could truly run a large RV A/C unit all day long. But where do all those panels go if they don’t all fit on my roof? A solar panel stand or ground mount will be needed to expand to more panels effectively. Not everyone will need that many panels as previously discussed. But if you don’t have enough room on the roof of the RV and you want to make more power there’s got to be a better way than placing all the panels on the ground? There is!
A portable and easy to set up solar panel stand can be easily stored and carried in the RV in many places. This video shows exactly how the stand is made and how to do it very affordably.
Using flexible solar panels makes this very easy since they only weigh about 4 or 5 pounds each. The stand and panels are so light that the entire stand with the panels on it can be easily moved around during the day for more sun exposure. This is why it’s beneficial to get a complete Titan kit because the panels that are in the kits are the absolute highest quality available. Over 90% of solar panels on the market don’t make anything close to what their advertised power production is.
Using an Easy Start Device
It is always a good idea to use an RV Easy Start Device installed in your RV. This connects to items such as air conditioners that have a really high surge when they turn on. Rather than the large surge hitting all at once it gradually pushes into it which makes it easier to start large items on smaller generators.
There are guides online on how to do it yourself which is the cheapest way to have them installed. With these kinds of things, I generally prefer to pay a shop to have it installed since it doesn’t cost very much to do so. It also makes sure that it’s installed properly.
Using an A/C easy start device makes it so that smaller A/C units such as 8,000 BTU units can be run off of smaller gas or solar generators like the Bluetti or Yeti. It’s important to remember that this will not lower the continuous running watts of the A/C. It only helps with the initial surge.
What Type of Batteries is Best for a Solar RV Kit?
When it comes to using batteries and solar for RVs there are many factors to look at. Those factors are upfront cost, long term costs, maintenance, lifecycles, depth of charge, amp-hours and so on.
Deep cycle AGM batteries are often considered because they are affordable. This is great with saving money upfront, but they actually cost more than Lithium batteries in long term costs. Also, AGM batteries can only be drained down to 50% before needing to be recharged. This means that only half of the battery capacity in amp-hours can actually be used. Typically, AGM batteries will have about 300 to 500 cycles before they need to be looked at for getting replaced. AGM batteries are never my recommendation unless you don’t go RVing very much. But if you don’t go out often, then a “float charger” needs to be added to them so they don’t go bad sitting in the RV.
Lithium-Ion batteries are a great option because they are lightweight and very powerful. They can drain all the way down to 0% and can have anywhere from 500 to 2,000 cycles before they reach 80% efficiency. They are 100% maintenance free and in long term costs are more affordable than AGM batteries. I personally have never heard of anyone having any issues with fires with lithium-ion batteries. The only way they really have issues is if they get damaged and then wet. Water on lithium-ion cells causes fire. If they are staying dry and protected, they are very safe to use.
Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePo4) batteries are the best way to go for RVing. They weigh more than lithium-ion batteries but have all the same characteristics of being able to drain to 0%, cheaper in the long run, 100% maintenance free and so on. The one big factor that makes LiFePo4 batteries better than lithium-ion is that they are typically rated for 3,000 to 5,000 cycles. This means they will essentially never have to be replaced in your lifetime and will remain strong for decades.
The downside to lithium-ion and LiFePo4 batteries is they do no charge well below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping them warm but not hot is a good idea.
The best part about this is that the Titan is offered with lithium-ion batteries as well as LiFePo4 batteries. Whichever one suits your situation better you can select and use with ease. The LiFePo4 batteries cost more, are larger and weigh more but have more cycles. The Lithium-ion batteries are rated to a true 2,000 cycle count, weigh less, cost less and are not as tall. Just use whichever better suits your RV.
What Solar Panels Should I Get?
The best solar panels to use on your Titan solar generator or other solar generator depends on your needs. It is typically recommended that if you need to set up panels on an “as needed” basis, then the flexible solar panels are a good option because they are lightweight and easy to move. If solar panels are going to be permanently mounted, then it is recommended to go with rigid frame solar panels. The RV Titan solar generators kits have both options of flexible and rigid panels to suit each person and their situation.
100-watt solar panels are most often recommended. A single 200-watt solar panel takes up almost the exact same amount of space as two 100-watt solar panels. Essentially no space is saved by using a larger wattage solar panel. What is increased is the weight and its ability to fly away in the wind, both are not good. This is why I recommend the 100-watt solar panels. The 100-watt solar panels are light enough to manage very easily and won’t fly out of hands or off the roof as easily as the larger solar panels. It is always important to use high-quality solar panel mounting brackets that are properly secured.
DIY Solar Kit or Solar Generator
In the end, it’s up to each RV’er to decide if they want to go through the process of putting in a DIY solar RV kit or use a solar generator. I have worked with both. I find the Titan solar generator to be the absolute easiest and pain-free way to get solar on any RV.
When comparing pricing on the Titan vs a similar-sized DIY kit the Titan was almost always about the same price or slightly cheaper. To get a DIY solar RV kit that is about the same as a Titan costs about $2,600 just for the inverter, batteries and charge controllers as seen here:
1x 3,000w Pure Since Wave Inverter (≈$325)
2x LiFePo4 Battery BattleBorn (≈949/ea)
2x Battery cabling (≈$25/ea)
2x MPPT Charge Controller 1,000w (≈170/ea)
That is the cost before also having to get other essential components such as the 12v Bus Bar, fuses, more cabling, 30-amp RV plug and all the other necessary pieces. After acquiring all the necessary pieces, it will end up costing the same or more than a Titan. Then all the work/labor of installing it has to be accounted for.
The biggest worry is making mistakes. Unless you know how to do solar or have electrical experience it will be a foreign language. This is why it makes so much sense to simply use a Titan. Put it in the RV, plug into the 30-amp RV plug, connect solar panels to the Titan and it’s done. That’s all there is to it. Nothing more. It’s that simple. And with a 2-year warranty on the Titan, there’s no worry of it having any issues because it’s fully covered.