SOLAR PANELS AND GENERATORS
Do you need solar panels, or more of them, to keep your house batteries fully charged? Is carrying a generator a better alternative?
To answer these questions, you first need to decide what type of motor caravanner you are. If you just get away occassionally for the weekend, and don't watch much TV, or mostly stay in campsites, you'll need less battery storage, and maybe no solar panels. If you are on the road permanently, or for months at a time, use computers as well as the TV, and like to freedom camp for 2 or 3 days at each location, then you'll clearly need much more battery capacity, solar panels, and maybe even a generator. This is even more true if you use an inverter to run the microwave, toaster, washing machine, or hair dryer.
We've travelled around Europe in a rented motorhome which only had a single 200AH lead-acid battery and no solar panels. It worked fine for us as we were driving most days, didn't have a TV, and often stayed at campsites.
In New Zealand, we can travel all through the year, mostly freedom camping, and can be running two laptop computers late at night, the TV, or a printer (through an inverter). We have a single 200AH lithium battery and 500 watts of solar panels, which is more than enough during the summer, but only just keeps us going in the winter.
You have to decide where you fit between these two extremes. You might want to get advice from one of the expert RV Electrical service companies in your area.
If you mostly stay in campsites, don't use much power in the evenings, drive from one location to another and only stay the one night, then you might not need solar panels. For everyone else, it's well worth discussing with a profesional how much solar power you need to keep your batteries safely recharged.
The panels themselves are relatively inexpensive. However, fitting them to your motorhome or caravan can become expensive, especially if you need to have special mounting brackets made. You will also need a suitable controller and gauge for monitoring you power usage and battery status.
Remember that days are shorter in winter, and the sun is lower on the horizon, making your solar panels less effective. If you plan to be on the road during this time, then you also need to take this into account.
Generators are another alternative for recharging batteries, or providing 230v for running more power hungary devices. They can be a good solution if you don't have a lot of room for solar panels, and especially if you're travelling over winter.
The are noisy, and some locations have restrictions on when you can use them, since they can be annoying to other motor caravanners nearby. However, when there's no sun, and you can't plug in to 230v, nothing else will do!
If you think this will be a good solution for you, it's worth spending a bit extra for the quietest one you can find.
It's really worth getting your house batteries and recharging systems well matched to your needs. There is nothing more frustrating than to wonder why your TV has just behaving strangely while a long way from home, only to discover that your batteries are nearly flat, and may need to be replaced. We've been there, and it's not much fun.
Get advice from a reputable supplier of motorhome electrical services and make the decisions that are right for you.