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Types of Power for an RV’s Electrical System

RVs use both AC and DC power to power the vehicle and the accessories used for daily living. The 12 Volt DC system runs the electrical components of the engine and battery for your RV. The 120 Volt AC system runs all the typical appliances and power outlets found in a RV. For the RV to operate on DC or AC power, the RV needs a power system in the form of a battery and hook ups to charge and operate the coach and chassis. This blog will discuss the different methods a RV or camper electrical system operates.

Shore Power

Shore power refers to RV’s being plugged into a main power grid supplied by a campground, a house or business. Shore power usually comes in two ratings, 50 Amp and 30 Amp. Generally, a larger Class A rig will be equipped with a 50 A power plug where smaller Class C’s may have either a 30 A or 50 A power plug. Class B motor homes usually are equipped with a 30 A power plug.

One must be careful when plugging into shore power at a campsite as they power poll may not have the right amperage. To help prevent this, an adapter to convert 50 Amps to 30 Amps should be purchased.

House Batteries

Most RV’s have one deep cycle battery with larger RVs generally having more than one. House batteries are used to power 12V outlets and appliances such as heat fans, carbon monoxide detectors, refrigerators and some lighting. With the advancements in technology, there are various types of batteries used in modern RVs. They are:

  • Lead-Acid (Flooded) – Constructed with lead plates in a container, the plates are immersed in a liquid electrolyte.
  • Gel (Sealed Lead-Acid) – Similar to the build of a lead-acid battery, these batteries use a gel electrolyte to house the plates, preventing spillage from the battery and allowing for more mounting positions.
  • AGM (Sealed Lead-Acid) – Absorbed Glass Mat is also like a flooded lead-acid battery in that the plates are surrounded by the electrolyte. It differs though in that the electrolyte is absorbed into the fiberglass mats which allows for a spill free option. They can also be charged up to 5x more quickly than traditional flooded lead-acid battery.
  • Lithium Ion – These batteries are the newest to the battery community but are quickly gaining favor for their improved performance over traditional lead-acid batteries. Like other batteries, Lithium has a cathode and anode, but differs in that lithium ions are moving in between the cathode and anodes in a solution of lithium salts.

House batteries need regular maintenance to prevent damage from happening to the battery, preventing the battery from holding a charge and sending you on the hunt for a replacement.

One way a battery can become damaged by is if the battery maintains too low of a charge. To prevent against damage from happening, having a battery monitor can be helpful. The battery monitor allows the user to check the state of charge on a battery and to monitor the drain a load has on the system.

Solar Energy

Over the past two decades, technological advancements have allowed solar energy to become more advanced and economical for the user. The size of the solar cells has been greatly reduced, allowing for greater energy storage. The panels work by storing the solar energy through the solar cells and converting it to direct current power that can then be used to power the RV’s electrical system. Solar systems are starting to come preinstalled on rigs however installing a kit aftermarket is the easiest option available for most users.

Generators

When a campground or access to power is not available, having a generator installed in useful to maintaining power in your RV. Many Class A’s and high-end campers come with a generator preinstalled. The generators, which are installed in a climate-controlled compartment with insulation for sound and odors, can be turned on using a switch. This allows the generator to be fueled using an on-board supply, thus burning the same fuel as the engine requires. This makes it easier to keep your fuel tanks full without having to worry about monitoring and fueling different tanks with different fuel.

Inverters/Converters

Sometimes it is necessary to convert or invert your power supply. Switching DC to AC power requires having an inverter attached to your energy management system. Inverters are best to have when you are without AC hook ups or a generator when dry docking.

Converters are used to turn AC power into DC power. Also known as chargers, a converter is used for powering or charging small devices that are unable to handle the 120 volts of a standard AC outlet.