Many RVers and boaters use a generator that powers a battery charger or use the main engine that drives an alternator. Unfortunately, even after charging for many hours, the batteries often fail to power the electrical devices. Since my husband has worked on tug boats all his life and is presently a captain on a harbor-class tug in the greater Seattle-Tacoma area, he has personal knowledge of alternative power systems. When an RV or a boat plugs into a 120-volt AC outlet at a campground or a marina, a converter/battery charger transforms the AC into 12 volts DC so that the 12-volt devices on board work. Away from a campground or a marina, batteries supply the power to the 12-volt devices. RVs and boats have an alternator driven by the engine to recharge the batteries. Most larger RVs and a few boats have generators powering a battery charger to replenish the batteries. The two electrical systems are fundamentally the same.
If you are considering adding a solar system to your RV and are traveling in the Pacific Northwest, my husband and I would highly recommend AM Solar, Inc. in Eugene, Oregon who specializes in RV solar systems. They manufacture their own solar panels and order all other components for installation. We called and got a faxed bid from AM Solar for the specific system they recommended for the size of our RV. Dave Reuter in their sales-technical department is an expert; he recommended a 4-panel SR100-22B solar kit, a Xantrex Pro-Sine 2.0 inverter-charger, and a Xantrex XBM battery monitor. We may add additional panels at a later date. We have 4 AGM dry cell 6V 220 amp batteries (which can produce 440 amp hours).
We traveled from Seattle to Eugene during a freak snow storm and freezing weather March 9th in our brand new 31-foot Mobile Suites 5th wheel manufactured by DoubleTree RV. This is our dream RV we have always wanted. We bought a 31-footer because not all state or national parks have campsites for rigs bigger than 31 feet and we hope to see the U.S. and Canada when we retire – visiting many of these parks. We also enjoy boondocking and the lifestyle it allows. The drive to Eugene in blinding snow and high winds was very scary with cars and semi-trucks skidding off Interstate 5. We kept to the slow lane and drove very cautiously. AM Solar even recommended several RV parks in the area that are close to their shop. We made an advance registration @ Deerwood RV Park which had a pull-thru site waiting for us. Their campground was nicely landscaped with nature trails and very clean laundry and restroom facilities. They also had phone and internet services at each camp site.
The morning of March 10th we arrived at AM Solar and backed into their bay so the install team wouldn’t be out in the freezing/snowy weather. After discussing details of our new solar system, we chatted with their office manager, Kathy. She recommended some local sights and good restuarants which all turned out to be excellent. After the first day of the install, they allowed us to stay in their secure parking area and plugged us into shore power. The second day of our install was Saturday. Two of their install team agreed to work on our solar install because we had only several days for our trip to Eugene before my husband had to get back to work as a tug boat captain. They didn’t charge anything extra for working on Saturday. We stayed in touch with their progress via cell phone. After the install was completed, we returned to pick up our 5th wheel and go back to Deerwood RV Park. Then Murphy’s Law kicked in and our brake system locked up – we couldn’t drive forward but we could drive backwards. Meanwhile the AM Solar crew had gone home. We made a quick cell phone call to Dave Reuter at home and described our predicament. He said no problem – just stay another night in their parking lot and plug into their power while we try to figure out how to resolve our problems. We couldn’t use our new solar system yet because our batteries had not charged up. We called our Good Sam Emergency Roadside Service number and got in touch with several mobile RV services in the area and the local Mobile Suites dealership. Turned out our breakaway cable was too short and got caught in the 5th wheel’s hitch. We located the breakaway cable in a safer position, but the brake problems continued. Through troubleshooting other possibilities, we discovered the breakaway cable incident had shorted out our brake controller box in our truck. Within 1 hour of the mobile RV service guy arriving, we had a new brake controller box and off we went back to the RV park. We called Dave Reuter and told him everything was fixed and we were returning to Seattle. We cannot say enough nice things about how well we were treated at AM Solar. Call or email Dave Reuter for technical questions or recommended books to read up on the subject [AM Solar, Inc. 3698 Franklin Blvd. Eugene, Oregon 97403 (541) 284-1434 / www.amsolar.com
We personally feel the solar system expense up front will pay for itself very quickly when we full-time it after retirement. We are now enjoying the benefits of our new solar system. Even on a cloudy or rainy day, it is charging our batteries. We are looking forward to camping off the grid and new RV adventures.