RV & Marine Inverters
RV & Marine Inverters
Solar panels on their own produce direct current (DC). It can be used to power the lights or a fridge, but most appliances, like laptops, TV, microwaves etc. require alternating current (AC). If you plan to use solar energy for these devices in your recreational vehicle or on a boat, you’ll probably need to take a look at RV inverters or marine power inverters.
How does an inverter work
In short an inverter simply turns DC to AC. Inverter is a very complex device which is composed of several circuits. For example, while the main circuit runs the inversion process, the drive circuit controls the switching of field-effect transistors according to the control board, the control circuit collects signals from the main and provides the algorithm of actions, etc. Generally an inverter includes some kind of transformer, which serves to increase or decrease the voltage level of alternating current.
Inversion is not the only function of an inverter. What it also does is:
- acts as another protection barrier and shuts down the system in case of an electrical ark.
- maximizes the output of solar panels by utilizing the maximum power point tracking (MPPT) principle, much like an MPPT-controller.
- allows the owner to monitor the system.
- an inverter interacts with a commercial grid when installed at home. With the help of an inverter you can sell the generated energy into the grid for grid-tie houses systems. Obviously, with an RV or a boat, this function doesn’t come into play.
Don’t confuse an inverter with a converter. Converter does the opposite job: it turns alternating current into direct current. When you use, for example, a gas generator for an RV, it produces 120 volt current and this is where a converter comes in handy. Sailors also use either generators and converters or solar panels and inverters in the sea, and when they reach the ground, shore power points provide the boat with alternating current.
How to size an inverter for your system
Make sure that your RV inverter or marine power inverter is well suited for the voltage of your solar panel system. Since energy needs on an RV or a boat are fairly small, most likely you will be using 12 volt solar panels. The compatibility with the high voltage systems is listed in inverter specifications. If the inverter breaks down because it wasn’t suited for your system, your warranty is most likely to be voided.
To determine the size of an RV power inverter (or a marine power inverter) you have to calculate your energy needs. The easiest way to do it is to simply write down all your appliances with their power ratings and daily number of hours in use. Multiply the power rating by the number of hours and you’ll get the energy needs of a device for one day. Add 20% on top of the sum of energy needs of every appliance on your RV or a boat just to be safe. Then you can pick a suitable inverter for this system.
For example, if the sum of daily energy needs of your RV appliances is 1100 watts, then 1100 W * 1.2 = 1320 W. Of course, there aren’t any inverters of this size, so look for 1500 watt RV inverters for sale or pick a 2000 W inverter.
How to install RV inverters
Inverters for RV should be placed somewhere near a battery to minimize the power losses. To connect an inverter to a solar panel system, you should hook it up with a house battery with large battery cables. Usually you’ll need to add a fuse or a circuit breaker between an inverter and a battery for safety reasons.
Marine power inverters as well should be placed somewhere near a house battery. This place must be dry, dark and cool. The installation process for marine inverters and RV power inverters is always described in detail in associated manuals. Keep in mind that an inverter is the most fragile part of a solar panel system just because of how internally complex it is. Even the best inverters for RV or a boat will break down after just a few months if you put them, for example, somewhere under direct sunlight.
How to take care of an inverter
The average lifespan of an inverter is 10 to 15 years. The are simple tips to prolong it:
- Inverters have air intake filters: air is necessary for cooling it down, but the dust may simply kill the device. After a while these filters get dirty and it’s better to call for professional help to clean it.
- Wipe the dust off your inverter every once in a while, so it doesn’t overheat.
- Watch the display of an inverter. If it shows an error, take it to the service.
- Make sure the connections to the battery are clean and fixed tightly.
How much inverters cost
Looking for RV or marine inverters for sale, you can find out that their cost depends on their size and range of functions. Usually the prices for the most simple boat or RV inverters start from $500 — $750 and can go up to several thousands.