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A lot of people are opting for environment-friendly and cost-efficient energy solutions for their homes. One of these is going for a solar energy system, which is also the ideal energy source for those who live in motorhomes and RVs. This is because solar power can be portable, provided that you have batteries to store all the solar energy you have collected and to enable charging wherever you are.
To get the best batteries for your on-the-go solar system, you need to consider a few things like battery capacity, ease of installation, charging time, lifespan, warranty, and affordability. Take all of these together, and you’ll have an easier time finding the best batteries to suit your needs.
In this article, we will talk about all the things you need to know about portable solar batteries, including the different types to choose from, the various considerations, what makes them important, and the features to look out for. We will also give a list of recommendations for the best batteries for your on-the-go solar energy system.
How Does a Solar Energy System Work?
A solar energy system works by converting the sun’s light into electricity. The electricity created from solar energy can then be utilized in your home or exported to the power grid.
You can collect solar energy and convert it into electricity by installing solar panels on your roof. These solar panels are made up of PV or silicon photovoltaic cells, which absorb the sun rays and generate direct current electricity from them.
But because DC electricity is not suitable for your home appliances to use, it is fed into a central solar inverter where it gets converted to alternating current electricity. The AC electricity is then directed to your switchboard.
The switchboard allows the AC electricity to be transported to your home appliances. This switchboard also ensures that your home consumes solar energy first and that you only access energy from the power grid when your solar energy production is insufficient. In other words, the switchboard makes sure that you don’t use non-solar electricity when you don’t have to, and it keeps your utility bills at a minimum.
The Best Batteries for On-the-Go Solar
Here are our recommendations for the best batteries to use with our on-the-go solar system:
It’s a lightweight battery with a big capacity of 170Ah. Renogy is a renowned manufacturer and all my solar setup is made with their amazing products.
This battery is safer and more powerful than regular lead-acid batteries while needing less maintenance.
- Sealed Lead Acid (SLA) rechargeable maintenance-free battery.
- Dimensions: 7.76 inches x 5.12 inches x 7.01 inches. Listing is for the Battery and Screws only. No wire harness or mounting accessories included.
According to Solar Monsters, the Mighty Max Deep Cycle Rechargeable Battery is a smaller and more cost-effective option. Some of the benefits say that it features a spill-proof design, it is ready to mount and install, it does fine in both low and high temperatures, it has good deep discharge recovery, and it has a long service life.
This rechargeable maintenance-free battery also discharges substantially slower than a flooded battery when not in use. It can be mounted in your preferred position and can resist shocks and vibration. This battery is so lightweight that it can work great for a scooter.
- Uncompromising Quality
- Easy Upgrades
- Reliable BMS System
- Auto-balancing Function
- Real-time monitor
This comes highly recommended by Solar Monsters because it performs well. This battery is quick and easy to set up, and you can do it yourself even without any knowledge of installing it and getting it running. This Renogy battery also does not need much in terms of monitoring and maintenance.
The Bluetooth module directly incorporated in the battery allows you to monitor your battery operation status on your smartphone in real-time.
- Dimensions: 12.17 inches x 6.61 inches x 9.16 inches. Weight: 63.93 Lbs
- SLA/AGM maintenance free, spill proof battery
This is another Solar Monster recommendation. It is a solar battery that is durable with a shock-resistant shell, so if you’re on the hunt for one, this product is worth considering. It is versatile, too, because you can set it up in your preferred position, and it is very easy to install.
Aside from its impact resistance, it is also spill-proof and resistant to vibration. Plus, it does just as great in cold temperatures as it does in hot temperatures.
This battery is maintenance-free, affordable, and efficient. However, charging time can certainly be a lot better, but it still is a very reliable source of energy with low self-discharge.
Best of all, this battery is recognized for being easy to transport or carry on your vehicle.
What Is On-the-Go Solar?
Solar energy is an environment-friendly alternative to power your homes and personal electronics, camping equipment, and even medical equipment and construction tools. It is also a viable alternative to fossil fuels. And the good thing about it is that you can use solar energy even when you are not connected to your home’s power outlet.
On-the-go solar is another name for portable solar power. That means you can use the power of the sun even then you’re on-the-go. This can apply to the solar system you use for your RV or motor vehicle so you can enjoy power even while you’re on the road or when you’re camping in an area where electricity is not available.
Through this portable solar system, you get to charge your phone and laptop, watch TV, and do your laundry in a washer even if you’re in a mobile home.
When to Get On-the-Go Solar
An on-the-go solar system is the most useful and beneficial if you are one of the following:
A portable solar system is a great option for motorhome or RV owners who are off-grid for long periods. You can recharge your solar generator using a few portable panels whenever the sun is up and then use that energy to run the appliances you have in your motorhome.
With these portable panels, you don’t have to make do with noisy gas-powered generators and instead enjoy a more quiet generator that allows you to savor the peaceful natural landscapes you are traveling through.
You can use solar panels that can be mounted on a car or RV, solar generators, device-specific equipment like lanterns, and solar backpacks to make your outdoor adventure more convenient.
You can hike, follow a trail, or go canoeing on the river or lake for hours without worrying about your phone or your camera dying on you. You can also spend the night in your camper and still have some of the conveniences you enjoy at home, like a fan, TV, and heater.
You can bring a portable solar recharger the size of your smartphone. This can keep your laptops and other personal devices running even if there is no nearby electrical outlet within your school campus. This also allows you to do your research or school work just about anywhere.
Medical Device User or Operator
Certain medical equipment, including oxygen tanks, infusion pumps, and CPAP devices, can be powered by portable solar panels, solar suitcases, solar kits, and solar chargers. This would allow you to use this equipment when you’re making rescue efforts in a remote area or when you’re on a medical mission to a poor place that doesn’t have electricity or has very limited access to it.
If you love to travel, you will benefit from a solar backpack, small recharger, or portable solar panels. This keeps your phone, cameras, drone, and other electronics running even without electric power outlets. So even if you are way up high on a mountain or are on a secluded beach somewhere, you don’t have to worry about running out of battery.
You can bring solar rechargers, car chargers, airplane chargers, or personal flip chargers to keep your phone, tablet, and GPS systems powered for whenever you need them. This way, you can travel as you work or work as you travel without having to worry about being out of reach just because your devices run out of juice. People back home will always be able to contact you.
This is also beneficial if you are an off-grid contractor. You can keep your job site operational, and your workers busy even if you are in an off-grid location. You simply turn to solar generators, portable solar energy panels, or light towers to generate the power you need to operate your equipment.
Why Do You Need a Battery for Your On-the-Go Solar?
Solar batteries or battery banks are used for energy storage and are crucial to keeping your energy system running. You use it to store energy generated by your solar system for later use. If you are tied to the utility grid, a battery will give you backup power in case the grid suffers an outage. But if you are living off-grid, your solar power system will simply not work without a battery.
How Do Solar Batteries Work?
By installing a solar battery as a component of your solar system, you will be able to store extra solar energy instead of reverting it to the power grid. And if your solar panels are producing more electric energy than you need, this excess can go back into charging your battery.
On the other hand, when your solar panels are not producing electricity, such as when it’s been raining for days, you can draw from the energy you have stored in your battery whenever you need it.
Solar Batteries: Different Types
When looking for the best batteries for your on-the-go solar system, it would help if you know about the different solar batteries beforehand so that you don’t get lost in technical terms. This would also help make sure that you get the exact battery you need.
Batteries used for energy storage are usually made of lithium-ion or lead-acid. There are also saltwater batteries, which are new players in the game.
Lithium batteries are a relatively new technology, hitting the market only in the 70s. These batteries are commonly used in cellphones and laptops. They have also become popular in the renewable energy space.
Compared to lead-acid batteries, lithium batteries are more expensive, but they have a longer lifespan, there is no need for maintenance, they deliver a more efficient power usage, they have a more usable storage capacity, and there is no off-gassing or ventilation.
Lead-acid batteries can either be flooded lead-acid or sealed lead-acid batteries.
Flooded Lead-Acid Batteries
FLA batteries are one of the most commonly used types of batteries for solar power systems that are not connected to an electric service provider. And they’ve been used for the last 150 years. This battery type is very affordable and is 99-percent recyclable. What’s more, it is easy to dispose of when it has reached the end of its lifespan.
This battery type is the best to get for your solar system, especially if you are looking for an affordable option. However, it needs some hands-on monitoring as well as regular maintenance. The plates of every cell in an FLA battery have to be submerged in water so they can function properly. You will need to add water every one to three months to keep these plates submerged. So it’s just right to check on them once every month.
Moreover, FLA batteries are designed to handle everyday charge cycling. But, as a result, they emit gas as a byproduct. As such, they need to be ventilated properly.
FLA batteries are also ideal for those who like to work on their system as they are affordable, and they need occasional maintenance to work smoothly.
Sealed Lead-Acid Batteries
If you do not have the capacity to perform regular maintenance work and check-ups, an SLA battery is the best battery for your solar panels.
Using SLA batteries has several advantages. For one, they are non-hazardous and spill-proof. They are self-contained, and you don’t need to refill them with water as you would FLA batteries. Because of this, SLA batteries work well for homes or properties that are not fully occupied, such as an off-grid rest house or vacation cabin that you visit only during the holidays.
SLAs are also better at dealing with temperatures. Moreover, they won’t self-discharge fast if you are away, and they stay idle for an extended period of time. There are two types of SLA batteries, absorbent glass mat or AGM and gel.
Saltwater batteries are practically newbies in the energy storage space. Unlike the other similar battery options, this particular type does not contain any heavy metals like lithium-ion and lead-acid. Instead, they use saltwater electrolytes.
Batteries that contain such heavy metals need special processes for disposal. Saltwater batteries, meanwhile, can be recycled easily. The problem is that since they are a new technology, these saltwater types are still largely untested.
Choosing the Best Batteries for Your On-the-Go Solar
When weighing your options for solar batteries, there are certain specifications that you need to consider. Knowing these criteria would allow you to sift through the specs for each product, compare these energy storage options with each other, weigh down each of their pros and cons, and match each option with your unique requirements.
These criteria include the battery’s:
- Capacity and power ratings
- Ease of installation
- Depth of discharge
- Charging time
- Lifespan or battery life
- Round-trip efficiency
- Manufacturer’s warranty
More info: Check the following guides about Solar Systems: How many solar panels do I need for my van? How to extend the life of your van solar battery system How do solar panels work on a van? (an in depth look)
Capacity and Power Ratings
A solar battery’s capacity refers to the amount of electricity it can store all in all. This is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh). Home solar batteries are mostly designed in such a way that you could stack them together, meaning you have the option to install many more batteries with your solar energy system so you can store a lot more energy and get extra capacity.
Capacity indicates how big the battery is, but it does not tell you the amount of electricity it can deliver to you at any given moment. You also have to consider the power rating of your battery. When it comes to solar batteries, the power rating is defined as the amount of electricity your battery can provide at one time. Power rating is measured in kilowatts (kW).
A battery that boasts a high capacity yet has a low power rating would also provide a low amount of electrical power, although still enough to use a few much-needed appliances for a while. A battery that is low-capacity, but whose power rating is high can power your entire home, yet for only for a limited number of hours.
Depth of Discharge
Solar batteries always have to retain some charge because of their chemical composition. Using 100 percent of their charge means shortening its useful life.
A battery’s depth of discharge refers to the amount of capacity consumed. Most battery manufacturers indicate a maximum DoD for their products’ optimal performance. To illustrate, if a 10 kWh solar battery has a 90-percent DoD, you should not consume over 9 kWh of this battery before you recharge it. So, essentially, a higher DoD entails that you can consume more of your battery’s capacity.
The round-trip efficiency of a battery is defined as the energy you can use as a percentage of the total energy it took to store it. To illustrate—if you store five kWh of electricity and can only use 4 kWh of that electricity in your battery, it has an 80-percent round-trip efficiency (expressed as 4 kWh / 5 kWh = 80%).
When you say higher round-trip efficiency, what that entails is that you get more economic value out of your solar battery. It is recommended that you look for a round-trip efficiency of around 80 percent.
Your battery’s cycle involves charging and draining. However, its ability to keep a charge is going to decrease little by little the more you use it. Solar batteries are, therefore, much like your cellular phone’s battery. You charge your mobile phone every night so you can use it during the day. But the older your phone gets, you will observe that the battery is no longer holding the same amount of charge it used to when it was just new.
Your battery’s lifespan will depend on what type of battery it is, its size, and its brand name. The range for a solar battery’s useful lifespan is generally between five and 15 years. If you install a battery for your solar system today, you will likely be required to replace it at least once, so it matches the 25 to 30-year longevity of your PV system.
But just as solar panels’ lifespan has significantly increased in the past decade, people can expect that solar batteries will follow suit, considering that the market for energy storage solutions continues to grow.
Regular and proper maintenance work can also affect your solar battery’s lifespan significantly. Solar batteries are also affected by temperature, so protecting your battery from the sun’s scorching heat or the freezing temperatures can also increase its useful life. You can try solutions like earth-sheltered enclosures, as well as quality maintenance efforts to ensure that your solar battery will last as long as it could.
Make sure to pay attention to the rating indicated on the packaging because the longer you want your battery to last, the pricier it will be.
Batteries have a warranty, which guarantees a specified number of years for its useful life or number of cycles. And because your battery’s performance declines over time, many battery manufacturers will also guarantee that their products keep a certain capacity all throughout the warranty. Thus, how long your solar battery will last depends on the manufacturer and brand, and the capacity can be expected to dwindle over time.
Ease of Installation
While installing solar batteries is not exactly a Herculean task, this also isn’t something you would want to deal with if you have no previous experience working on a solar power system. So if you haven’t installed one before, it is best to get help from a professional. However, there are also batteries that are rather easy to put up, like the lithium-ion ones.
A battery’s affordability is relative, and it will largely depend on your budget. The cost of the battery may also be a reflection of its quality. The pricier or more expensive it is, the longer it will last, and the better you can expect it to perform.
For instance, a lithium-ion may cost multiple times more than a lead-acid battery, yet it’s also more resilient, is easier to set up, requires much less maintenance, and boasts better performance in almost every other way.
Many different manufacturers are developing, producing, marketing, and selling solar battery products. These manufacturers even belong to different industries, from tech startups to automotive companies.
However, while a major car manufacturer is expanding to cater to the energy storage market and while they have had a long history of manufacturing products, they may not come up with the most state-of-the-art and cutting-edge battery technology.
So it doesn’t necessarily follow that a well-known company from another industry would make the best battery. In the same manner, a startup company won’t be able to manufacture superior-quality batteries.
It does not matter if you pick a battery that has been manufactured by a progressive startup or a renowned name with a long history. It should all depend on your life priorities. Evaluate the warranties that are associated with the battery products they are offering. This can guide you more so that you could make up your mind and make a decision.
However, without a battery, portable solar systems are practically useless. The battery serves as a storage unit for whatever energy you collect from the sun while you’re on the road or camping in an off-grid location. As such, you also need to get one of the best and highly recommended batteries for on-the-go solar to make sure you can get what you require from your energy system.
Here are some of my favorite van build tools:
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful as you build your own campervan. Here are some tools that I use daily while living on the road that made my life easier. I hope you’ll also find them as useful as me. These are affiliate links, so if you do decide to purchase any of them, I’ll earn a commission.
But in all honesty, these are the exact tools that I use and recommend to everyone, even my closest friends and family.
Electricity: When I first started my van life journey, I was using the Renogy 200W RV Kit, and I’ve recently upgraded my setup to the Renogy 400W RV Kit. I’m fully autonomous regarding power now, thanks to this upgrade. I don’t know why I didn’t choose this option from the beginning.
Quick Fixes: Whenever I need to fix something inside my van, I use my multitool from Victorinox. It’s compact and comes with a leather pouch that lets you store it wherever you want. Whenever I need more tools, I get my Cartmann toolset out.
Power tools: If you’re converting a van, you’ll need some serious tools for the building process. I can assure you, good power tools can make a huge difference. You’ll save time and avoid a lot of frustration while having some professional-looking final results. I personally went big with the full combo set from Dewalt.
To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations about van build, check out this resource that I made for you!