Basking in the Sun - RV Enthusiast Magazine

Basking in the Sun

by | Mar 15, 2024 | Pro Tip, RVEXPERT

Photos by Bill Gehr
When the RV is in storage and the rooftop solar system is covered, a portable solar kit will keep the batteries charged properly and ready for the next trip.
Solar panels make it possible for owners to enjoy boondocking without giving up complete self-containment and the niceties of using modern conveniences. As long as there’s sun, the battery(ies) can be conditioned to provide power for appliances and accessories — and run an inverter to provide 120-volt AC power.

That’s all fine and dandy as long as there is sun exposure — but if the RV is covered while in storage, there’s almost no chance that the battery(ies) can be maintained properly if there is no access to electricity where the rig is parked.

An acquaintance keeps his trailer covered and was frustrated that his solar system was not capable of keeping the batteries fully charged between trips, which led to sulfation, performance issues and premature battery failures. My suggestion was to utilize a portable suitcase-style solar panel system complete with charge controller, tilt brackets and a long cable with alligator clips that simply connect to the batteries. The portable panels could be set up in the right direction for full sun exposure and maintain the batteries automatically.

Renogy offers a good 100-watt foldable suitcase kit for this purpose and it includes two 50-amp mono-crystalline panels, the regulator and a long cable with alligator clips; it sells for $199.99 (on sale). Normally, the cable is connected to the battery(ies) via the alligator clips but in this case, rather than fumble with removing the battery-box strap and the lid every time the panels were put into service or stored, they were hard-wired to the batteries. The alligator clips were cut off and terminals installed to connect the wiring directly to the batteries (two 6-volt batteries wired in series). The hook-and-loop strap that came with the kit was utilized to keep the coiled-up cable secured to one of the battery cables when not in use. Now, the hook-up cable can be connected to the shorter pigtail (from the regulator) via the supplied two waterproof plugs very quickly.

the soft, padded Renogy case placed on the ground in front of an unhitched trailer in an enclosed area
A soft, padded case is designed to protect the Renogy 100-watt foldable suitcase solar panel kit. A handle built into the frame makes it easy to carry the 27-pound double-panel kit.

Attached to the back of one solar panel is the Voyager five-stage “smart” controller that’s rated at 20 amps and suitable for expanding the kit to 200 watts with the connection of additional panels. The controller can be set for flooded cell, AGM or lithium batteries. The readout on the controller can be toggled to display charge rate and a few other custom settings to suit your needs.

a hand releases one of the latches on the Renogy 100-watt foldable suitcase solar panel kit
top view of a open and flattened Renogy solar panel kit and its included parts
Once the latches are released, the panels fold flat. On the backside, the Voyager five-stage “smart” controller is attached to the panel. It can be used to set the battery type and to monitor performance. Normally, the cable and alligator clips store inside the panels, but in this case the panels were hard-wired to the batteries.
top view of a hand holding cable wire ends with ring terminals installed as a two red and black alligator clips sit to the side
The alligator clips were cut off the ends of the cable wires and ring terminals installed for connecting to the batteries.
a hand holds a wire from the Renogy solar panel case as it is connected to the trailer's battery
Rather than fumbling with removing the battery box lids every time the portable solar panels were called into the service or stored, the cable was connected to the terminals on the two 6-volt batteries that were wired in series The hook-and-loop strap that came with the kit was used to attach the coiled-up cable to one battery cable when not used and released to connect to the solar panels.

The single kit weighs 27 pounds and can be carried easily using the heavy-duty handle on the “suitcase.” A protective, soft case is designed to absorb the impact from dropping the panels or when riding in a storage compartment. Setting up the panels takes only a few minutes by simply unfolding the panels and extending the aluminum telescoping brackets, which are stout enough to keep the panels pointed properly, even in fairly strong winds.

close view of one of the legs on the inside of the Renogy solar panel case
Solid legs were unfolded to position the solar panels on the ground, pointing toward the sun. These legs make it possible to follow the sun and easily fold into the frame for storing the panels.
a hand holds two waterproof plugs that are used to connect the long cable from the batteries to the pigtail that goes into the controller on the back of the panel
Two waterproof plugs are used to connect the long cable from the batteries to the pigtail that goes into the controller on the back of the panel.
When the system was set-up, a multimeter confirmed that the two 6-volt batteries were indeed charging, even though the late afternoon sun was not directly overhead. While the panels for this project were intended to charge the batteries during storage, they can also be used as a portable system for those who don’t have rooftop solar system.
close view of the Renogy solar panel placed on the ground facing the sun
The entire process for setting up the panels only takes a few minutes. The two 50-watt mono-crystalline solar panels were well matched for keeping the two 6-volt batteries maintained while the trailer was in storage. Doing so helps prevent battery sulfation and surprises when the trailer is ready to roll.
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