How do RVs get power?

In this article, we will answer the following question: How do RVs get power? We will explain everything there is to know about electricity autonomy in an RV: the basics of power supply, operation, and most importantly how to calculate – but also to optimize – its power consumption.

How do RVs get power?

RVs get power by using both alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC). The AC of an RV is a 120-volt system that powers your vehicle’s appliances and power outlets. The DC of an RV is a 12-volt system and it powers your vehicle’s engine and battery. 

It is also useful to know that an RVhas two batteries:

  1. The carrier battery (engine) – It is used in particular for starting the engine. It is located under the hood of the vehicle. It must be taken care of, especially when winterizing your motorhome.
  1. The auxiliary battery (living area battery) – The living area battery provides 12 volts, it is generally located under a seat. It supplies on-board equipment such as:
  • the light inside the vehicle
  • the water pump
  • The TV
  • the refrigerator (in the case of a compression model)

How to recharge an RV battery?

Your RV battery is recharged while driving thanks to the 12-volt DC system mentioned above. However, you can recharge an RV battery also by:

  • Plugging the RV into a 220-volt outlet (in a service area for example)
  • By alternative means such as solar panels, a fuel cell, or even a wind turbine. 

Note that ideally, the RV auxiliary battery should be recharged from the mains once a month minimum, for 24 to 48 hours to optimize the life of the battery charge.

What electrical autonomy do you have in an RV?

This is a difficult question to answer because electric autonomy is estimated according to consumption and the equipment on board.

You need to assess your electricity consumption, depending on your type of equipment, your lifestyle (duration of electricity consumption) and the means you have to cover these needs (capacity of the living area battery). It also depends on whether your gas cylinders supply some of your devices. The electrical consumption of the equipment is generally indicated in the instructions for use.

To calculate consumption, multiply the number of Amps by the number of hours of use.

  • general electronics: 0.4 Amps. For 24 hours, it will be a 9.6-ampere hour (Ah) (0.4 X24)
  • water pump: 0.3 A X 0.5 hours = 0.15 Ah
  • 60 watt lighting: 5 A X 5 hours = 25 Ah
  •  12-volt outlet: 0.5 A X 4 h (charging time for a mobile phone for example) = 2 Ah

For 24 hours the daily consumption is 36.75 Ah.

How to make your RV battery and power autonomy last longer?

Considering the example above, knowing that our battery has a capacity of 100 Ah, we would in theory have a little less than 72 hours of autonomy, so between 3 and 4 days. 

Be careful, however: On most batteries, except lithium ones, it is strongly recommended not to use more than 50% of its capacity (i.e. more than 50 Ah here), in order to optimize its lifespan. A deep discharge could simply make it inoperable …

If you follow the demonstration well, with a consumption of 36, 75 Ah. Our real range without driving or plugging in is more like a day and a half to two days maximum.

How RVs get power: Solar Panels and alternative energy

One of the most popular solutions to increase the energy autonomy of your RV is the installation of solar panels. It is an economical and ecological solution. No need to buy fuel or fuel you use direct sunlight. They will recharge the auxiliary battery continuously with more or less power depending on the amount of sunlight. The charging power will be stronger in summer than in winter. You will need to determine your electricity needs to buy panels capable of producing enough energy to meet your needs.

Choosing solar panels suited to your needs is essential. In order to have good performance with your solar panels, you will have to take care to maintain them and clean them. We present to you in this article how to clean your solar panels.

How RVs get power: Fuel Cells

The methanol fuel cell is a portable energy converting device that can be very useful in RVs. It is very quiet and can be stored easily. This nomadic current generator works automatically and is able to provide a large amount of energy which will make you perfectly autonomous in electricity in your van. The fuel cell is still quite expensive to buy and requires a supply of methanol.

The best-known methanol fuel cell for motorhomes is the Efoy brand battery. The Efoy brand provides products of very high quality, ecological and with a long lifespan. Their model is automated and requires no maintenance.

For more autonomy in electricity, there are fuel cells that run on gas. The operation is automatic and operates 24 hours a day so that the auxiliary battery (s) does not drop below a certain level. Charging is fast, efficient and works on any type of auxiliary battery.

The price of the VeGa system from Truma is quite high (around 6000 $) but the quality is there. The VeGa fuel cell has a power of 250 Watts, enough to cover all your electricity needs from several days to several weeks depending on your consumption.

How RVs get power: Generators

When choosing your RV gasoline generator set, take into account the following elements:

  • Tank capacity: the tank capacity determines the number of hours of use and autonomy.
  • Inverter technology: it provides a perfect and constant electric current so as not to damage your electronic devices.
  • Size and weight depend on the space available in your campervan.
  • Soundproofing: the generator set is above all an engine, for your comfort and that of your neighbours it is better to take a soundproofed generator.

The gasoline generator set works with a 4-stroke or 2-stroke engine. 4-stroke engines are the most efficient and require very little maintenance. It offers motorhome operators a reliable source of energy that works in all circumstances, even in very cold weather. When in use, the gasoline generator must be placed outside the vehicle and connected to it by a power outlet. Its price is affordable (around 1200 $ for a good quality model) and it consumes little fuel.

The solar generator set works with solar energy on the same principle as solar panels. Just deploy the solar panels and hook up your van to the generator. It is very quiet and economical because there is no need to feed it with fuel. It will provide a stable electric current for your electronic devices.

The bottom line

If you need more information on how an RV electrical system functions, how to recharge a caravan battery or how to connect your vehicle to solar power, please feel free to check our other articles on the subject or to get in contact. 

FAQ on How do RVs get power?

Will a camper furnace run without electricity?

No, a camper furnace will not run without electricity. While there are various types of camper furnaces to choose from (and we will review them all below), each type needs a source of energy in order to operate. If there is no electricity, there is no heat.

How do you recharge a caravan battery? 

The batteries are recharged automatically thanks to the energy generated by the motor. First, the main battery is charged and when it is fully charged, it sends current to the auxiliary battery.

How long does it take to recharge a trailer battery?

Recharging a battery to its full capacity can take up to 40 hours. Of course, this cooldown assumes it’s completely empty. It will also vary depending on its capacity and use. The best way to recharge the battery is via AC power.

What is a smart battery charger?

Smart battery chargers are based on the latest developments in technology and aim to simplify the task of users. Also, this type of charger analyzes the type of battery and its condition throughout the charging process.

What charge for a 12V battery?

A battery must always be charged, the charge must be stopped between 2.25 V and 2.4 V per cell. Either: Between 6.75 V and 7.2 V for a 6 V battery, and between 13.5 V and 14.4 V for a 12 V battery.