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Solar powered RVs are now a common sight in campgrounds and it’s to be expected. Energy from the sun is free and it allows you to live off the grid. But to get the most out of your system you should learn efficient RV solar power use. If you think you’re saving money by going solar, you’ll save even more down the road when you practice efficient energy use.
Use only essential appliances, get energy efficient products and maximize the power of your solar panels. A lot of the methods used to reduce electricity use in RVs and homes can also be applied to RVs and campers. Here are 20 tips to save on RV solar energy.
1. Get a Solar Powered Refrigerator
Refrigerators are one of the biggest energy hogs for solar or electrical power. You can either install high capacity batteries or buy a solar powered fridge. These are specially designed to work with solar power systems and won’t use up energy the way regular refrigerators do.
If you don’t want to buy a solar fridge, consider running your regular fridge on gas. Even if you have a powerful solar power system, it is worth considering this option because a fridge drains a lot of power from batteries. If you’d rather use that battery power to run other appliances, gas is definitely worth considering.
2. Invest in Lithium ion Batteries
Lithium ion batteries are considered premium compared to lead acid, but they are more efficient in storing energy. They need little maintenance and charging power is better too. Lithium batteries are lighter than lead acid and they’re safer to use as well.
You may be thinking twice because of the cost, but think of that as your initial investment. If you spend lots of time in your RV, it’s better to invest in lithium ion now as it will pay for itself in the future. With superior storage capacity, it is a more cost effective solution.
3. Go with Energy Efficient Products and Devices
Even the most powerful solar panels won’t last long against a ton of power hungry devices. Replace that old laptop with an energy efficient model. These laptops or netbooks use only 1/10th of a desktop’s power and 1/4 of a regular laptop.
This applies to TVs and kitchen appliances as well. The good news is more and more products are becoming energy efficient. Read the product label for its energy usage. If you’re in the market for a new computer then be on the lookout for these energy saving electronics and appliances..
Refrigerators, microwaves, blenders, hair dryers and large kitchen appliances consume vast amounts of energy. Even a large battery will be pushed to the limit to meet the demand. If you plan to run a fridge on solar, buy the most energy efficient model you can afford. Better yet, get a cooler or a mini fridge designed for camping.
These refrigerators can be shut off while you’re mobile, saving power. Pair this up with energy saving appliances and you’ll conserve a decent amount of power. Options include solar phone chargers, manual or solar fans, solar radios and so on. All it takes is a bit of research and you’ll find a lot of options.
4. Replace Kitchen Cookware with Camping Utilities
Camping stoves, slow cookers, coolers etc. use less power than their kitchen counterparts. These appliances are made with the camper in mind so they’re designed for practicality. You can use these in your RV to save power and also space. They’re small enough to carry around so you’ll have no trouble finding space for them in your counter top.
This is also a good time to think about how many appliances and electronic devices you really need. Do a trial run on your RV and see how many of these you can do without. You don’t want to cut back too much, just see how many are necessary. You might be surprised how many you can actually do without.
5. Switch to LED
LED lights have become the standard for a good reason: they last a long time and use much less power than older light bulbs. Just to give you an example, a 5 watt LED light is equal to a 100+ watt regular bulb. You can reduce the number of lights you use without sacrificing efficiency. If you haven’t already, replace all the lights in your RV with LED.
6. Unplug Chargers When Not in Use
A common mistake is to leave mobile phone chargers and other adapters plugged in all the time. Contrary to popular belief, these devices still consume power even when they are not being utilized. It may not be much initially, but over the course of a year it’s going to add up.
Just unplug the device when you’re done charging it. You can install an outlet or power strip so you can turn off multiple chargers and adapters at the same time. It might seem trivial but every amount matters when saving power. Note: be careful when plugging and unplugging chargers, and do so only if there are no devices attached to them.
7. Add a Central Inverter Switch
A central switch makes it easy to turn off the inverter when you’re not using it. Like chargers, an inverter uses up power as long as it is turned on. A solution to this is the power saving mode built into modern inverters. If yours doesn’t have one, add a central switch or manually turn it off. You’ll save even more power if you use the power saving mode and turn the inverter off after usage.
8. Turn Off Appliances When Not in Use
A very effective, yet often ignored advice. How many times have we left a room -in the house or an RV – with the fan on? With the lights on? With the TV running? Maybe it’s something we can take for granted if power supply is electrical. But if you’re on solar power, you cannot afford to waste energy.
Turning off appliances and devices after use is a habit you have to develop. Just keep reminding yourself to turn them off and eventually it will become second nature. There are a lot of ways to save solar power, but this is one of the most practical.
This is where being selective about the appliances you install in your RV makes sense. If you don’t have several of hem, there are fewer devices you have to remember to turn off. And don’t limit yourself to appliances: how many electronic devices do you really need? Sure your charger can work with multiple devices, but do you really have to bring them all?
9. How Dependent are You on Solar Power?
Are you going to use solar power exclusively on your RV? Or will you run solar on small appliances and let the power hungry units like a fridge, microwave and AC run on electricity? Before you set up a solar power system, decide how much of it will depend on solar or electrical power,
If you want to go full solar, prepare a list of every appliance and device you will use. Conduct a trial run to determiner how many watts you consume in a typical day. This will tell you what size your solar system (the panels and battery) have to be.
If you completely replace electricity with solar, you’ll need to invest in a good size system. It will be expensive at first but you will get the savings down the road. Even if you decide to go 50/50 with electricity, the savings will still be substantial.
10. Protect the Water Lines
Water lines in campers are vulnerable in the winter. Just cover them in insulation or piping wrap and that should do the trick. What you just did is save up on gas use (or electricity if you use it) without sacrificing its performance and efficiency. Inspect these lines every now and then to make sure the piping or insulation is still in place.
11. Take Advantage of the Sun
Park your RV so the solar panels receive the maximum amount of sunlight. In the northern hemisphere that means facing north, while in the southern hemisphere that means face south. Do not place your camper near shade as that obstructs light.
By parking your RV for optimum sun exposure, you also maximize the amount of light that gets inside. You can use natural light instead of sunlight to save on light bulbs during the morning and early afternoon. During the cold season and cloudy days, the right RV solar panel positioning is important.
During hot summer days it’s the opposite. Once the panels have stored enough energy, look for some shade to park. This cools down your RV and lessens usage of fans or AC systems.
12. Go Outside
Is it too hot inside your RV? Forget about the fan or AC, just step outside and savor the fresh air. Want to read a book? Set up your awning, pull up a chair and read. Want to cool down some more? You can always go to natural locations and take a dip in fresh water.
Living in an RV is fun, but don’t forget to spend some time outside. Get out every now and then especially when the sun is out. Take advantage of your mobile home to enjoy the different scenery, all the while you save on solar energy.
13. Use Other Environment Friendly Energy Sources
There is no need to limit your renewable source to solar You can use wood or biofuel briquettes, eco-friendly water heaters, camping utensils and cutlery, and other green products. A lot of new appliances and utilities run on solar / alternative energy so it’s just a matter of finding the right one.
14. Use Other Lighting Solutions
We already stated how efficient LED light bulbs are, but why stop there? If you’re backpacking or just want to conserve even more power, use candles. Or battery powered flashlights. You can also buy handheld solar lights or lanterns. Just remember to be careful when handling candles inside or outside your RV.
15. Get an Energy Efficient Bed
A lot of energy is used during winter just to keep beds warm, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many winter beds designed to keep you warm during those cold days. These beds have ratings that enunciate what temperatures they can keep you warm. Simply get one that rates well for the cold temperature you expect, and you won’t waste any more energy for the heater.
16. Vents Management
Ventilation is a must during the summer, but it’s the opposite during winter. Cut back on energy wastage by sealing up the vents during the cold season. You might be shocked at how much cold air gets through those vents, and the colder it is, the more energy your solar power has to expend to keep your RV warm.
Clean the vents regularly too. That will ensure proper ventilation when you need it during summer. This is also true for the rest of your RV. Dust, debris and dirt can mess up even solar batteries.
17. Skirt Your RV
Skirting an RV can prevent heat loss through the floor. Most of the attention is focused on doors and windows, but flooring can be a culprit too. You’ll notice the difference when there’s a gust and the living compartment gets cold. With skirting this can be lessened.
18. Thermal Blinds / Glazing
Thermal blinds can offset heat loss. On its own these won’t do much, but combined with insulation the savings will be substantial. For added heat loss protection, add double glazing to doors and windows. New RVs already have double glazing, but older units don’t. If you’re holding back because of the cost, think of how much it will cost if heat goes through the windows and doors.
19. Insulation is Important
New RVs have insulation built in so no need to install any. Older RVs may have insulation too, but you should replace them with something more efficient and eco-friendly. Wool, hemp, fiber or recycled materials are among the options available.
Where you store insulation is just as important. Put some at the rear of the storage area and where cables and piping cross into the main area. Basically you should install insulation everywhere you expect to incur heat loss.
20. Inspect Windows and Doors
All attempts to save solar energy won’t be effective if there are holes, cracks or leaks. Set aside time to inspect the doors and windows of your RV. Check every nook and cranny and seal any cracks. Heat loss is going to cost you a lot if not taken care of, so give yourself time to ensure your RV is in good shape. Only if you have done these and it’s still cold should you buy a new heater.
Solar efficiency is essential to getting the most out of your system. By learning how to save on RV solar power use, you’ll not only maximize your dollar savings, but you’ll also get the best possible performance form your solar power system. The time it takes to learn how to save on solar energy is quick, but the savings will be long term..