One of RVing’s most common questions, particularly from those considering off-grid camping, is “Are RV Lithium Batteries worth it?”
Even experienced RVers have had a tough time determining whether the investment will pay off.
“Should I just stick with the lead-acid batteries that came with the rig, or will it be a meaningful upgrade to move to lithium, and worth the time and expense?”
Though it can seem a bit overwhelming when contemplating the options, it doesn’t have to be as difficult as it may appear. Let’s have a look at the value of lithium batteries as compared to the lead-acid batteries with which you’re likely more familiar.
What are RV Lithium Batteries?
Simply put, RV Lithium Batteries are rechargeable 12-volt batteries that have become a popular replacement for lead-acid batteries. This is particularly true of folks who have solar power on their rigs.
RV lithium batteries are based on a newer, more efficient lithium-ion technology known as LiFePO4 or lithium iron phosphate. For the purposes of this post, whenever we talk about “lithium” we’re referring to this specific technology.
Difference Between RV Lithium Batteries and Lead Acid Batteries
Aside from the technology on the inside, the difference between lithium batteries and lead-acid batteries essentially boils down to the efficiency of use and lifespan.
Lithium batteries can be fully discharged without damage. But once a lead-acid battery is discharged below 50 percent, it suffers permanent damage and will no longer recharge to its full capacity. Because lithium batteries can safely be fully discharged without damage (so their rated capacity is fully usable) a lithium battery provides much more usable amp hours than a lead-acid battery rated at the same capacity… about double!
While a 100-amp-hour lead-acid battery can only safely be discharged to roughly 50 percent, a 100-amp-hour lithium battery can be depleted to virtually zero without damage. So, you only get about half as many usable amp hours from lead-acid as you do with lithium.
An RV lithium battery can also be depleted and recharged (or cycled) thousands of times. Lead-acid batteries may only have as few as several hundred cycles in them before needing to be replaced.
Additionally, lithium batteries are much lighter than lead-acid batteries, which can be a huge help for RVs that are at or near their maximum weight carrying capacity. And because it takes fewer batteries to equal the same amount of usable amp-hours, lithium batteries ultimately use less space than their lead-acid counterparts (again, a big benefit for smaller RVs that need more power but don’t have the room to add more batteries)
How Does A Solar Panel Work On A Caravan Or Camper Van?
The story is similar for mobile solar installations. You generally want your panels to be mounted as high as possible, such as on a vehicle’s roof. You want a clear path to the sky, particularly to a south facing if you’re camping in the U.S. or Canada.
One difference with solar panels on a caravan or camper van is that you can also choose to have flexible solar panels. These can be strategically placed to catch the most possible sunlight, even in more difficult terrain.
You’re far more likely to want a solar battery when you’re on the road. Being able to run an appliance or two even when you’re off grid can be a life saver. Without the power company backing you up, whatever you generate in a day is your total power allowance. So you want to capture and store as much power as you can during peak sun hours.
How do you figure out the number of solar panels and the size of the battery that you need? Use a solar calculator to figure out how much power each of your appliances draws.