Where to start?
We are big believers that starting small now is better than starting big, later. We have found that this approach actually makes things happen, helps reduce overwhelm and keeps the budget check. When we first started with solar, our setup was simple.
Our first solar setup is outlined below. This solution gave us the ability to use all the 12v systems in the RV for as long as our fresh and grey water tanks would allow. We could charge laptops, phones and drones as much as needed and never had any issues with the tongue jack, awning or any other onboard 12v systems.
- We had two (2) six-volt Centennial Batteries.
- 120 Watt Zamp Solar Portable Solar panel
- The 600-watt inverter
Now that we’ve started… it’s time to improve
After we purchased “Grand Ginger”, our Grand Design Reflection Bunkhouse (312BHTS), we were ready for more freedom and less fatigue. We were also preparing for more dry-camping during Season 5 in Alaska.
We wanted to create “Tricia-approved dry camping”. This means that Tricia wasn’t looking for the exit button on day 2 because everything was harder. We both wanted to turn the coffee maker on in the morning start working with 100% charged laptops. We wanted to take a warm shower and didn’t want to feel like we were camping. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with camping…but we’re not going home afterward. We wanted to live the same way whether we were in an RV park, Walmart or the most beautiful BLM site in North America.
It was time to get a bigger inverter, but with a bigger inverter comes more batteries and more solar to replenish those batteries.
Below is our Lithium Solar setup with Zamp Solar, Battle Born Batteries and Victron.
The complete freedom solar setup
Here is a diagram of how everything fits together. Jared made this diagram and explains it step-by-step in the video below.
This setup gives us the freedom to stay wherever we want as long as we want. We’re already saving money by not being tethered to RV parks, but as we discussed in the video, we discovered that the biggest benefit was reducing some of the fatigue from day to day travel.
Yeah, this is a lot so why would you do it? First of all, I think it’s safe to assume that you like your rig and you plan on having for a while. If you’re already taking long trips (not necessarily fulltime, but RVing a few months per year) and don’t like RV parks, you’ll make your money back in 48 nights per year over 3 years (not considering the cost of a generator, upkeep, and fuel).
On the other hand, you might not spend that much time away from RV parks, but not everyone in the family “loves to go RVing”! This setup will be able to turn everything ON no matter where you are. We bailed on many amazing BLM (Bureau of Land Management) sites because we just didn’t want the hassle.
We’ve been hearing about the benefits of lithium from the start, but we were not experienced enough to understand. In other words, it didn’t translate. As it turns out, we’re really good at destroying batteries. As I mentioned in the video above, each time a lead acid battery goes below 50% it gets a little damaged and each time it goes to zero it losses one more heart (yeah, like a video game). When we’re dry camping, we want to cook with the lights on and use our USB outlets to charge our phones, etc. The 12v system drained our batteries to zero on several occasions. As a result, we were no longer getting our available amp hours. Not to mention, distilled water needs to be added to the batteries for each week they are not connected to shore power.
Lithium, on the other hand, is able to use the entire available amp hours. In our case 100 amp hours per battery. We don’t have to maintain (aside from minding the temperature) and they weigh half as much as lead acid. So we were able to replace our two 6v batteries (214 amp hours each ran in parallel giving us a total of 214 amp hours, but divided by 2 because we only get 50% usage = 107 amp hours) compared to our four lithium at 100 amp hours each giving us 400 amp hours… with the same total weight.
Victron Mult-plus Inverter
When Jared started doing research on this inverter, he called me up and said, “You could run a small commercial building with a few of these things!”. Victron is far ahead of other brands and we couldn’t be happier with it so far. One feature that didn’t make the video is load sharing. This means if we were connected to someone’s house with an extension cord (not enough to run the A/C) or we are in Mexico and only have 20amp available, we can set the inverter to use the available shore power and the inverter will provide the rest. The technical description is Power Assist (Hybrid) to supplement shore power.
Why is it called a Multi-plus? Because its a 3-in-1 device. It’s an inverter, switch and converter. This means fewer devices to figure out where to find space for. We read sailing reviews of people not happy with a small hum when charging. This concerned me as it was going to be installed in our forward nose compartment which is under our bed. I’m relieved that I hear nothing.
If you’re looking to save some money and don’t need to run appliances all at the same time, Victron makes a 2,000 watt inverter.
Don’t leave this out of your setup. After everything is setup and done, this will be your only interaction with your system and the Victron BMV makes it simple. I’m usually anti phone applications, but the BMV gives me both. An easy to read gauge mounted with my Zamp Solar Charge Controller and an app to show me everything on the same screen. Surprisingly, the app is simple to use, easy to understand and always connects. I can get the exact charge levels of the batteries, how much amps I’m currently pulling and how much longer I can stay based on the current condition. This is now a new daily RV metric and I’m loving it.
Solar Charge Controller
When the solar comes off the roof, it goes directly to the solar charge controller. This managed the current and also lets you know exactly what’s coming in from the sun. The Battery Monitor lets you know what’s actually going into the batteries with the net amount. i.e.: 24amps coming in with 10amps being used = 14 amps going into the batteries. If you have a Zamp System, the solar charge controller might come with your panels. Below are a couple of options.
Running the A/C on Batteries
“Can you run the A/C on Solar” is a question we get often. And now the answer is yes, but you’ll need a couple things to make it happen. First, you’ll need a battery bank and inverter large enough to handle the load and the second is a Micro-Air Easy Start 364. As mentioned in the video, any device with the motor has an initial surge of amperage when starting. This is the usually the surge that shuts-down the invertor or stops a single generator. The Easy Start 364 softens the start-up process and makes running your A/C possible with you batteries or single generator.
To get the technical information, specs, installation instructions and more, visit MicroAir.net
*Use promo code KYD1 to get $25 off the Micro-Air Easy Start
Cables and Wire
Written by Mark Yamamoto. For more information regarding cables or to get an estimate for custom (pre-cut) cables for your install, you can email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org
For the KYD install, we used 2/0 cable which is capable of handling 330amps. The cables are called Arctic Ultraflex and will stay extremely flexible from -50C to 105C. What makes these cables better and more flexible than your standard 2/0 cable that you can get at most hardware stores? Arctic Ultraflex carries a class K stranding rating. What is a class K rating? It is a classification of the number of strands contained in a specific sized cable. Take our 2/0 cable which contains 1330 individual strands of copper.
If you were to go to a hardware store and buy a 2/0 cable, it is usually a class B rating. A class B 2/0 cable contains 19 strands. Having a lot more and smaller strands make the cables more flexible for routing and pulling the cables when you do your install.
The ring terminals were crimped on to each end of the cable is thicker than most terminal ends and it is fully tinned and sealed to help prevent corrosion. We also utilize a 6 sided or Hexagon shaped crimp to get the most uniform crimp.
Once the cables are crimped we use an extreme duty heat shrink to seal between the cable and the terminal. Why would we use this thick a heat shrink on our cables? With the thicker heat shrink, it minimizes the chances of the heat shrink loosening up over time or possibly getting worn through if something happens to rub against it. It also contains an adhesive on the inside of the heat shrink which melts during the heating process to completely seal the connection not allowing moisture, water, or acid to get into the cables and allow corrosion to start.
Why are my cables blue instead of red or black like everyone else’s cables? By going with a neutral color for the cable, this allows us to customize the cables for your individual needs. If you are hooking up your batteries in parallel, we can make your cable with black on each end for the negative connection and red on each end for the positive connection. If you are setting up your batteries in series, which would be connecting positive from one battery to the negative of the other battery, we can make the cable with one end being red for the positive and the other end being black for the negative so there is no confusion when you are connecting or disconnecting your batteries.
How does everything fit together?
Jared’s video breaks down each product listed above and shares a diagram of how everything is connected. Jared’d channel, All About RVs shares all sorts of helpful RV tips and Do-It-Yourself projects. Subscribe here.
KYD Partners & Affiliates
Not so small print: Zamp Solar & Battle Born Batteries are KYD Partners. We are not getting paid, but rather they provided the product so we can share the installation process plus a review as we use the product. We do have an affiliate relationship with Battle Born, but be assured that if for any reason, our batteries do not continue to meet our expectations, we’ll share the results and not recommend the product. The reason we enjoy working with partners is so we can explore products and solutions we might not otherwise be able to use and these companies take care of the KYD community.