What’s it gonna be this winter? The desert? The beach? Are you staying put in a northern climate? Or, some mixture of all three? Where you plan to store, or even travel, during the winter can have an impact on the performance of your solar powered system. Here are some general recommendations to help the new solar user think through the options for every component of your system.
Of all the components of a solar powered system, the batteries are your biggest concern during the winter due to how sub-freezing temperatures impact their operation. You’ll want to consider if you plan to store your RV or use it during the colder months and what type of battery you use, as storage, charging and operating temperature ranges can be quite different.
Storage: Your best bet is to bring the batteries into a dry space such as a basement, or garage, that does NOT freeze during the winter and put the battery bank on a trickle charger. Alternatively, you can leave them in your RV on a trickle charger if you know that the battery won’t be exposed to sub-freezing temperatures. The trickle charger could either be a solar panel, or a wall outlet version. This basically keeps the batteries active and topped off while in storage.
Use: If you plan to use your RV during the winter, consider that each battery type has a unique minimum/maximum temperature range; it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations when you know you’ll be traveling in areas that could be outside of these temperature ranges. Keep in mind, this range refers to the battery temperature itself, not necessarily the temperature inside or outside your RV. Where you keep your batteries will make a difference on its temperature. Renogy makes a temperature sensor that works with all of their charge controllers for just this situation. You might also consider installing a thermometer on the battery itself and/or insulating the battery during the winter.
For instance, with our Renogy Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePo) battery, there is a difference between the temperature range in which it can charge (32 to 113°F) vs. the temperature range in which it can discharge or be used (-4 to 140°F). Although we tend to travel where it’s warmer, we do find ourselves traveling through areas where temperatures can drop below freezing, both day and night. If the battery has a decent charge, we can still run the lights and appliances within the discharge temperature range without a problem. But, since the battery sits on the floor tucked away in a corner of the camper, it is exposed to nearly outside temperatures, so we won’t charge until it’s above 32°F. In order to combat this issue, we insulate the battery itself with insulite foam during the winter.
Storage: Snow can be the main problem with storing your panels during the winter. If you’ve got flat panels installed on the roof of your RV and you plan to leave it outside, the snow load could become heavy enough to damage the panels. You’ll want to pay attention to how much snow accumulates on the roof, and try to keep it to a minimum. One option is to store the panels at an angle so that the snow can more easily slide off. Alternatively, you can remove the panels and store them inside if you don’t fancy the idea of climbing on top of your RV and brushing off ice and snow in a blizzard.
Use: Since panels have a much wider temperature performance range than batteries, the largest concern of using panels in the winter is snow and sun angle. For Renogy’s rigid panels, the operating temperature ranges from -40 to 176°F; and the flexible panels range from -40 to 185°F. You may want to consider altering the solar panel angle depending on where you live for both maximum sun exposure and snow meltage. If this sounds like too much hassle, just make sure you remove any heavy snow load. The black panels do a great job of self-clearing with light snow followed by a generally sunny day. More often than not, our Folding Solar Suitcase is clear of snow that has come down overnight by the time we’ve finished breakfast.
Charge Controller & Inverter
The parts of the system which are of least concern during the colder months are the charge controller and inverter, as they both have a very wide storage and operating temperature range.
For storage of both the charge controller and inverter, we recommend keeping them in range of -31 to 175°F. If you plan to use them during the winter, safe operating temperatures range between -4 to 158°F for an inverter and -31 to +113°F for a charge controller. We simply can’t imagine any human wanting to live in an RV in these types of extremes!
Pesky Rodent Issues
For those who choose to store their RV over the winter consider the pesky rodents who like to move in, mess things up, and chewing through wire insulation. If you aren’t planning to offer a cozy Air BnB to the local squirrel or mouse population, here are some helpful prevention tips. Keep in mind, that these are just preventative and not foolproof. It’s always a good idea to complete a full maintenance check before heading out in the spring.
Putting the RV or van away for the season is always a little bittersweet, but just think about the adventures you’ll be able to enjoy in the spring! Wherever you may end up this winter, we wish you happy and safe travels…and hope to see you on the road. Honk 3 times if you see happen to see Hamlet!