Solar power has become increasingly popular for recreational vehicle (RV) owners as it offers an eco-friendly and efficient way to power their mobile homes. But one piece of equipment that allows you to use the sun’s power with your house hold devices is the inverter. Inverters convert the direct current (DC) energy generated by solar panels and stored in the batteries, into alternating current (AC) electricity needed to power the appliances and devices typically found in an RV.
Selecting the right inverter for your RV is just as important as selecting the proper size solar system and batteries. Factors like running wattage, surge wattage, and the types of appliances you plan to use are important in determining the appropriate inverter size.
Basics of Inverters and RV Solar
Inverters enable RV owners to use various appliances while on the road. An inverter is a device used transform, or inverter, the 12-volt battery power into 110 volts, allowing you to run household appliances like microwaves and refrigerators without needing to be plugged into the campsite’s power grid or also called shore power.
There are two common types of inverters: pure sine wave and modified sine wave. Think of a pure size wave as a clean signal and a modified sine wave as a blocky signal (can also be referred to as dirty signal). Initially, modified sine wave inverters were more popular. However, pure sine wave inverters have become increasingly important due to their ability to provide cleaner, smoother power, which is necessary for sensitive electronics.
When using devices like computers, phones, basically anything with a battery, or a device with a display to it we’d want to use a pure sine wave inverter. These devices can be considered “sensitive” to the clean or blocky sine wave. Device like a regular light bulb, electrical motors like your water pump, blenders, or other simple devices can get by with a modified sine wave inverter.
Solar panels capture sunlight and convert it into DC electricity. This power is then used to charge the RV’s batteries or run appliances directly with the help of an inverter.
Read More About RV Solar : An Introduction to Solar Power for RVs: A Beginner’s Guide | Backcountry Solar
AC (alternating current) is the type of electricity used by most household appliances, while DC (direct current) is generated by solar panels and stored in batteries. The inverter’s primary function is to convert DC electricity into AC power, enabling you to use your appliances without being connected to shore power.
When planning an RV solar system, considering the power requirements of your appliances is essential. You’ll need to determine the total electricity consumption in watts to select the right solar panels, batteries, and inverters for your needs. To calculate your daily power usage, make a list of all your electrical devices, their wattage ratings, and the estimated time you use them each day. To dive deeper into how to size your solar system for your RV read our post here: RV Solar Sizing, Three Ways to Estimate Electrical Usage
Different Types of Inverters
When it comes to using solar power for your RV, it’s important to understand the different types of inverters available. In this section, we’ll explore two main categories of inverters: Pure Sine Wave Inverters and Modified Sine Wave Inverters.
Pure Sine Wave Inverters
Pure sine wave inverters provide a smooth, clean, and efficient electrical output similar to what you would get from a traditional wall outlet. They are highly compatible with many types of appliances and sensitive electronic equipment, making them an ideal choice for powering devices in RVs, such as laptops, televisions, and microwaves.
These inverters have some advantages:
- They offer a more stable and cleaner power source, reducing the risk of damage to electronics.
- They are more energy efficient, minimizing power loss during conversion.
- They operate quietly and produce very little electrical noise.
However, pure sine wave inverters also come with a few drawbacks:
- They are typically more expensive than their modified sine wave counterparts.
- They may be bulkier and heavier, taking up more space in the RV.
Modified Sine Wave Inverters
Modified sine wave inverters are less expensive than pure sine wave inverters and are still capable of powering many appliances in an RV. However, they produce a less smooth electrical output, which may cause issues with some sensitive electronics.
The advantages of modified sine wave inverters include:
- They are generally more affordable than pure sine wave inverters.
- They are often more compact and lightweight, making them easier to install and transport.
On the other hand, these inverters also have some disadvantages:
- They may not be compatible with certain sensitive electronics, potentially causing damage or affecting performance.
- They can produce more electrical noise, which may interfere with other devices.
- They are typically less energy efficient than pure sine wave inverters.
When choosing the right inverter for your RV solar system, consider your specific power needs, budget, and the compatibility of the inverter with the electronics in your RV.
RV Solar System Components
Solar panels are the primary component of an RV solar system. They capture sunlight and convert it into electricity. There are two common types of solar panels for RVs: monocrystalline silicon and polycrystalline silicon. While both are manufactured using similar materials, they have different properties and advantages. Monocrystalline panels tend to be more efficient for their size, while polycrystalline panels are generally more affordable.
Find out if solar for your RV is right for you: Are RV Solar Panels Worth It?
The battery bank stores the energy produced by the solar panels, ensuring a steady power supply to your RV. Lithium-ion batteries are a popular choice for this purpose, as they offer longer lifetimes, faster charging times, and better performance compared to traditional lead-acid batteries. The size of your battery bank should be determined based on your RV’s energy usage and the number of days you plan to be off-grid.
We have a whole series on batteries, how to care for them, different types, how to wire them up, check out our Batter Basics Series for all these posts.
A solar charge controller is responsible for managing the flow of electricity between the solar panels and the battery bank. Its primary function is to regulate the charging process, ensuring that the batteries do not overcharge, which can lead to reduced battery life. Charge controllers come in two types: PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) and MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking). While PWM controllers are more affordable, MPPT controllers are more efficient and can better adapt to changing sunlight conditions.
Learn more about charge controllers in our Intro to Solar Charge Controllers post.
Benefits of Using Solar Inverters for RV
Inverters can also be referred to a solar inverters in some circles, but the technology and how they work is still the same. A solar inverter might have some features that are helpful when used with an RV that is equipped with solar. This could be a monitoring device, or some controls to help you control when it will turn on and off automatically. Solar Inverters convert direct current (DC) produced by solar panels into alternating current (AC), allowing you to power a wide range of appliances and devices while on the road. You’ll need to use an inverter if you want to use household appliances in your RV that is equipped with solar and batteries.
One of the primary benefits of using solar power for RVs is the ability to enjoy an off-grid lifestyle or “boondocking”. Boondocking involves camping and traveling without relying on campsite amenities such as shore power connections. This allows for more flexibility in choosing your campsite and enjoying the serenity of nature. By harnessing the power of RV solar panels, you can keep your batteries charged and run essential appliances without depending on a campsite’s electrical hookups.
Another advantage of employing solar inverters for RV is the significant energy savings compared to traditional shore power. By generating and using your own solar power, you can reduce your reliance on shore power connections, cutting down on electricity costs. In addition, solar power is a clean and renewable energy source, making it an eco-friendly choice for powering your RV.
As solar inverters convert DC power generated by solar panels into usable AC power, they ensure a silent and fuel-efficient operation. With no need for a noisy generator, solar-powered RVs can offer a peaceful environment for both their inhabitants and surrounding neighbors. This is especially advantageous in remote areas where the natural environment’s tranquility can be savored fully.
Choosing the Right Inverter for Your Needs
When selecting the right inverter for your RV solar system, you’ll want to consider various factors, such as power rating and features from different brands like Go Power! and Renogy. Doing so ensures that the inverter can accommodate all your appliances and run smoothly.
First, determine the total power requirements of your RV by calculating the combined wattage of all devices you’ll use simultaneously. You can start by making a list of these appliances and their respective wattages. Then, add a 20% safety margin to the total wattage to account for any unexpected power surges or appliances upgrades. For example, if you have determined that you need 3000 watts of running powern (constant running power) and 4000 watts of surge power, you will likely be happy with an inverter of 5000 watts in size.
Next, decide whether a pure sine wave inverter or a modified square wave inverter is best for your setup. Pure sine wave inverters provide cleaner power, making them ideal for sensitive electronics. In contrast, modified square wave inverters are more affordable and suitable for less sensitive appliances. Some RV inverter manufacturers offer both types for you to choose from.
It’s also a great idea to compare different brands and models to find the ideal RV power inverter for your needs. When comparing options, keep in mind factors such as efficiency, size, price, and customer reviews. Top industry brands like Go Power! and Renogy offer a range of high-quality inverters, so be sure to explore their offerings and find the one that suits your specific requirements.
Lastly, don’t hesitate to look out for sales or promotional deals on RV inverters. You might be able to snag an excellent deal on the perfect inverter by simply keeping an eye out for discounts.
Safety and Maintenance
When it comes to using inverters for RV solar power, safety and maintenance should be a top priority. Inverters are responsible for converting the power from your RV’s solar panels into usable electricity for appliances like air conditioners, televisions, and more. It is essential to take proper care of the inverter to avoid any potential hazards and ensure smooth operation.
When installing an inverter, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and recommendations. Proper installation will help prevent potential issues, such as electrical shorts, overheating, or incorrect wattage calculations. It is also crucial to keep the inverter in a well-ventilated area, away from direct sunlight, and propane sources to reduce the risk of overheating or combustion.
As part of the maintenance routine, it is essential to regularly check the inverter’s fuses and connections. This will help ensure that the inverter is functioning correctly and safely. Replace any damaged or blown fuses immediately and ensure that all connections are secure and free from corrosion. In addition, it is a good idea to periodically test the inverter’s output voltage to verify that it is within the recommended range.
Taking the necessary steps to ensure safety and maintain the inverter not only helps protect your investment but also ensures that you can rely on your RV solar power system when you need it most.
Frequently Asked Questions
What size inverter do I need for my RV solar setup?
The size of the inverter you need for your RV solar system will depend on the total wattage of the devices and appliances you plan to use. Add up the watts for all your devices, and choose an inverter that can handle at least that total wattage. For example, a small RV might only require a 1,000-watt inverter, while a larger RV with more appliances may need a 3,000-watt inverter.
Which is the best RV inverter brand?
There are many reputable brands that manufacture RV inverters, such as Renogy, Xantrex, and AIMS Power. The best brand for you will depend on factors such as your budget, preferences, and specific needs. It’s advisable to read customer reviews and compare features to make an informed decision.
How do I install an inverter in my RV solar system?
Installing an inverter in your RV solar system requires connecting it to your batteries and the AC distribution panel in your RV. This typically involves mounting the inverter, connecting the battery cables, and connecting the AC output using an appropriate inverter transfer switch. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation, and if you’re unsure about the process, consult a professional.
Do I need an inverter for my RV solar panels?
An inverter is needed if you want to use your RV’s solar panels to power AC appliances and devices. Solar panels produce DC (direct current) power, and most household appliances require AC (alternating current) power. An inverter converts the DC power from the solar panels to AC power for use in your RV.
What’s the difference between a regular inverter and a solar inverter charger?
A regular inverter only converts DC power to AC power, while a solar inverter charger has additional features. Solar inverter chargers not only convert power, but they also come with a built-in battery charger and an integrated solar charge controller. This helps manage the charging process, ensuring that your batteries are charged efficiently and safely.
Can I use a 50 amp inverter for my RV solar system?
Yes, you can use a 50 amp inverter for your RV solar system if it matches your RV’s power requirements. The amperage level of your inverter will depend on the total wattage you need, and you should select an inverter with a higher amperage level if your RV requires more power. Always check your RV’s electrical system requirements and consult a professional if you’re unsure about the correct amperage level.