My Ultimate RV Electrical System

Click Devices on Drawing for Details
Click on a component on drawing for more info for that device

General Information
Do you "dry camp", "boondock", "WallyMart", camp in unimproved national forest campgrounds, layover at rest areas, or simply need to keep your RV batteries charged while in storage?  Consider an RV solar electric system. 

When we bought our first travel trailer, I planned on charging the camper battery by connecting to the tow vehicle and running the engine. After some research, I found that this process does not work well because of voltage drop in the tow vehicle and camper wiring, and also because of the chemical properties of lead acid batteries when charged from a automotive alternator.  Another option is to carry a portable gasoline generator or install permanently mounted RV generator. While generators provide adequate power to run all of the RV appliances, they can be noisy, expensive, need fuel, and require periodic maintenance.

If your camping habits are modest, an RV Solar System may work for you. A solar electric system for an RV is totally quiet, light weight, requires no operator attention, and requires no maintenance (other than periodic battery maintenance, which you should be doing anyway). The picture above is an example of a typical solar electric system in a motor home. A towable camper would not have the vehicle alternator, and the generator and/or inverter is optional.

An RV solar electric system can be very simple, consisting of a small solar panel connected directly to the RV battery, provide a few amp-hours per day, and cost less than $100.  More sophisticated systems may consist of multiple solar panels, generating enough power to run a microwave, and cost thousands of dollars.

The system I have installed in my 5th wheel camper consists of the components shown below, generates 40 - 60 amp-hours per day, and cost about $2000.  With this system, we have enough power to dry camp in the summer indefinitely, while running modest lighting, stereo, water pump, an hour or two of TV, and so on. Spring and fall camping require more modest power usage as less sun is available to charge the batteries, and the furnace runs more because of the colder temperatures. Winter camping with only solar power is not practical for more than one night. We use an Onan 3600 LP generator to supply 115 VAC power when solar power is insufficient to meet our energy demands.

The Solar Panels
solar panel
Kyocera KC-120 Solar Panel (two installed)
The Charge Controller

ProStar 15M(with meter) by MorningStar
Product Data Sheet (PFD File)
Operator's Manual

The 12 VDC to 115 VAC Inverter
RS-400 True Sine Wave Inverter
Inverter FAQ
Inverter Selection
Xantrex Website

The Batteries
T-105 Battery
Trojan T-105 6 Volt Deep Cycle Battery (two required)
Trojan Deep Cycle Batteries About Deep Cycle Batteries
Battery Terms Battery Maintenance

Battery Monitor

Trimetric TM-2020 Battery Monitor

Deltec 100 Amp Shunt
The TriMetric battery monitors are designed to assist in battery care, conservation and system maintenance of battery powered systems that use storage batteries with system voltage from 12-48 volts. They provide the user with information on battery "volts", "amps" and "amp-hours" and the newest version also provides "battery percent full" information, based on measuring the amp-hours removed from the battery system. Reliability, accuracy and simplicity are key product objectives. The TriMetric requires an external 100 or 500 amp shunt to measure amps and amp-hours. The meter readout may be located hundreds of feet away from batteries and is usually connected to the shunt with a 4 wire cable. 

Because my solar controller is located near the battery compartment, I have added a 2nd 100 amp shunt to measure the solar charge current independently of the batter charge/discharge current.  A momentary push button swith mounted on the faceplate of the battery monitor allows switching between battery current and solar charge current.

Progressive Dynamics INTELI-POWER
9200 Series Electronic Power Converter
Converter The Progressive Dynamics 9200 Series INTELI-POWER converter provides safe, reliable, filtered DC power to all Recreational Vehicle 12-Volt lighting and appliance circuits, and also safely recharges and maintains the RV battery while connected to 115 vac external power or generator.

Pendant The built in Charge Wizard is a microprocessor-controller that constantly monitors the RV battery voltage to determine if the battery requires a quick recharge, is fully charged and being used, or is fully charged and is in storage. The Charge Wizard then selects one of three charging voltages: 14.4, 13.6, or 13.2; and one of four operating modes (Boost, Normal, Storage or Equalize) to properly re-charge or maintain the battery.

The Converter Status Remote Pendant PD92201 is designed to plug into the standard accessory port on all models of the Inteli-Power 9200 Series Converters. The Converter Status Remote Pendant shows the charger/converter operating mode and allows for manual mode selection.

Onan Microquiet 3600 LP Generator
generator The Onan Microquiet 3600 LP generator provides 115 vac power when there is insufficient solar power available to meet our electrical demands, including running the A/C and M/W at the same time.  With the addition of this generator, and the winter insulation package of the Arctic Fox camper, we are now prepared to camp without hookups almost anywhere at any time of the year.

The SurgeGuard surge protector (right) provides a two-minute time delay before power is applied to RV, allowing the generator be stabalize before loading it.

More Generators

SurgeGurad Built-In Model 34520
Surge Guard
  • Rated 120 volts 30 amps
  • Protects RV from faulty power
  • Easy Installation inside RV compartment, hard wired
  • Multi-Mode Surge Protection
  • Reverse Polarity, dangerous current on ground wire, pedestal mis-wire caution indicator lights
  • High and low voltage protection
  • Two-minute time delay on power-up