Ever been stuck in the middle of nowhere with no power? It sucks.
It’s even worse when you have something important to do – like turning in a time-sensitive document to your boss. That’s why I’m a huge advocate for having solar power on the road.
It gives you the peace of mind that if something goes wrong, you’ll at least have a backup that isn’t dependent on another place or person. As long as you’ve got sun – you’re good to go. But how exactly do you set up a solar system? Well, you’ll need two things: solar panels and a battery.
I’ve already talked about the solar panels that I use on my van, so this post will focus on the batteries that I use alongside it. I’ll mainly talk about the specific battery that I use in my van, but I’ll also give you all the important information you’ll need to know if you buy one on your own.
That being said, my favorite battery is the Jackery Portable Power Station 500, available on Amazon. It has a lithium base, which is the highest quality and most efficient battery material on the market. It doesn’t release toxic gases as other batteries do, and it gets a deeper discharge (I’ll tell you why that’s important later on). Lastly, I’ve found that this battery requires very little maintenance (compared to flooded batteries that I’ve used in the past).
I’ve been using this battery for a few months and I absolutely love it. Keep on reading to learn more!
Why do you need a battery for your RV or campervan?
There’s not always a reliable power source while living on the road. But in this technology-dependent world, not having an Internet connection is practically social suicide. Think about it. What happens when we lose power?
Understandably, many people freak out. We need our phones to communicate with people. We need our laptops to work and make money. So how can we avoid having power-outages while on the road?
The solution is simple: a solar battery.
Having a solar battery — with the solar panels to accompany it — is crucial for any van dweller that works full or part-time on the road. With a solar battery, you can power all of your electronics. From your phone to laptop. It’s also insanely useful for powering lighting fixtures and camper fridges.
And because you get all your power from the sun — you don’t have to worry about finding quality hookups. Even better, you can harness solar power during the day, store it with your battery, and use it during the night.
How do solar batteries work?
Within campervans and RVs, batteries are usually used in conjunction with solar panels. Together, they provide campers with a reliable and consistent power source. But, how do they work?
Solar panels harness solar energy and transform it into something that we can use: electricity. A battery draws power from a solar panel until it is completely charged (usually when it reaches 100%). As soon as the battery gets full, any extra energy from the solar panels is sent back to the grid.
When hooked up to a panel, batteries are used as a “storage” for this energy. Plugging in our electronics to these batteries allows us to power our devices with ease. Of course, we have to make sure that our solar panels and batteries are powerful enough to power our systems.
More on that later.
Features to look for in solar batteries
- Capacity & power: What good is a battery if it can’t power everything you need in your camper? Here’s a guide on how to calculate how much solar you’ll need. I recommend at least 200W for any camper. From there, you’ll be able to gauge the exact battery capacity you’ll need.
- Depth of charge: Ideally, you want a battery that gets a deeper discharge. This means that in between uses, your battery life should go down to at least 40% or lower. If you have a battery that never goes below 80% or 90%, the battery itself will degrade. This will, essentially, shorten its lifespan, causing it to stop working as efficiently.
- Efficiency: Your goal is to find a battery that charges up fast, to ensure that all of your appliances are powered, but that doesn’t drain easily.
- Battery life: Some types of batteries last longer than others, depending on the material that they’re made from, as well as build quality. It’s important to find a battery that will provide you with optimal performance for years to come. But which batteries have the longest battery life? More on that later.
- Warranty: A warranty can be a good indication that a company is confident in the quality and durability of its batteries. It can also provide you with a sense of security and peace. If the battery breaks prematurely – you’ll be able to get a replacement, which will save you the time and money of buying a new one.
How long do solar batteries last?
Batteries can last anywhere from 5 years to 15 years – it depends on their base material and how well they’re maintained. This is a decently long lifespan, but it’s much shorter compared to solar panels, which last about 25 years to 30 years.
As a result, you’ll need to replace the batteries in your solar setup at least once. It’s possible to make your batteries last a bit longer if you take proper care of them. You can do this if you:
- protect them from freezing or sweltering temperatures
- keep them adequately flooded (for flooded batteries)
- allow them to discharge to at least 40% every once in a while
Generally speaking, your batteries should never be kept in temperatures below 30 degrees Fahrenheit or over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold temperatures will inhibit and damage your battery’s ability to charge. Sweltering temperatures will cause your battery to overheat, reducing its efficiency.
What types of batteries are there?
There are 3 main types of batteries on the market. I’ll discuss them here:
1. Flooded lead-acid batteries
Flooded lead-acid batteries have been around for about 150 years. They’re extremely reliable and fairly common, making them one of the most popular types of batteries out there. They’re relatively inexpensive, as well, so you can find them in many locations.
Flooded lead-acid batteries get their name because they have a water component. This liquid surrounds the battery, allowing electrolytes to move within the encased system.
Unfortunately, while this makes them fairly efficient, this also means that they require regular maintenance. You have to check up on them every so often to ensure that the water level within the system doesn’t get too low (at least every month).
Some pros of using flooded lead-acid batteries include:
- recyclable & easy to dispose of
- lots of options
Some downsides to flooded lead-acid batteries include that they:
- emit toxic fumes
- need proper ventilation
- need regular maintenance to function optimally (adding water)
2. Sealed lead-acid batteries
Sealed lead-acid batteries are similar to their flooded counterparts, except that they are spill-proof and require less maintenance.
Here are some pros to sealed lead-acid batteries:
- low maintenance (don’t have to add water)
- non-hazardous (don’t release fumes)
While sealed batteries are a decent option, flooded batteries are still better for renewable energy. Sealed batteries have 2 big flaws:
- they’re sensitive to changes in temperature
- they wear out quickly
Unfortunately, because of this, sealed batteries are not the most reliable option. Take it from me, they’ll eventually pose a problem. Living on the road, this just isn’t a risk I’m willing to take.
3. Lithium batteries
In my opinion, lithium batteries are one of the best on the market, and they’re perfect for solar setups. They’ve been around since the 1970s – commonly used in laptops & cellphones – and have remained fairly popular ever since. They’re a bit more expensive than the other batteries on this list. However, the higher price tag is justified.
In comparison to the other batteries on this list, lithium batteries:
- have a longer lifespan
- require little to no maintenance
- use power more efficiently
- have deeper discharges
- don’t release toxic fumes (don’t need ventilation)
Therefore, I would seriously recommend them for your solar setup. In fact, the battery that I chose is made with a lithium base:
Why I picked the Jackery Portable Power Station 500
I did a lot of research before buying a battery because I wanted to be sure that I was making the right choice. After reading several reviews and asking friends for advice, I finally came across the Jackery Portable Power Station 500. Across the board, people’s experiences with it were overwhelmingly positive, so I felt comfortable buying it online.
Here’s my experience with it in the past few months that I’ve used it:
- Highly portable: Many batteries that I’ve used in the past have had flimsy handles. This is not the case with the Jackery Explorer. Because the handle is built into the machine, it’s incredibly durable and firm. I know it won’t break on me. It’s also fairly lightweight, so I have no trouble moving it around.
- Low maintenance: I didn’t want a power source that would need my attention every few weeks, so I made the conscious decision to avoid flooded batteries. I’ve had flooded batteries in the past and I would often forget to check on them. In this regard, the Jackery Explorer has been a life-safer. It doesn’t require ANY maintenance at all, so it’s perfect for people like me.
- Aesthetically-pleasing: This isn’t the main reason I chose to buy this battery, but it sure did help! Many van dwellers build around their batteries for two reasons. One, because it protects them. And two, because they’re ugly. With the Jackery 500, the latter isn’t much of an issue. If I may say so – the design is beautiful.
- Functional: The Jackery 500 is reliable – I haven’t had any issues with it in the months I’ve used it. It has all the outlets I would ever need, enough to power all the electronics in my van. Including my cellphone, laptop, and fridge. I’ve also noticed that it charges faster than some of the other batteries that I’ve had, which is a definite plus!
Of course, nothing is perfect and there are some downsides. As I mentioned before, lithium batteries tend to be a bit on the pricier side. So, you’ll end up spending 2x or 3x more in comparison to buying some of the other batteries on this list.
However, I still think that the Jackery Explorer is 100% worth it. If I’m being honest, it truly exceeded my expectations. It’s highly reliable and efficient without sacrificing aesthetics. And because it’s a lithium battery, it requires very little maintenance, has a longer lifespan, and doesn’t release toxic fumes.
If you ever need to charge it in a pinch, you’ve also got a whole bunch of different to choose from. You can charge it from a wall outlet, your car, or a generator.
- sleek, portable design
- easy to install to solar panels
- can use with other brands
- wide variety of power options
- might need adapter (when connecting to other brands)
- lithium batteries are a bit more expensive (than other battery types)
What are the best batteries for solar systems?
Here are some other great batteries, though keep in mind that I haven’t tried these myself. These recommendations come from other people, who told me how amazing these batteries were (when I was searching for my own).
- Best flooded lead-acid battery: Trojan T-105 Battery
- Best sealed lead-acid battery: Universal Power Group 12V
- Best marine battery: Optima OPT8016-103
There’s a lot of great solar batteries out there, but not all of them work the same. Some will suit your needs better than others, so it’s important to do your research when buying one. If you want an affordable, powerful battery, I recommend a lead-acid battery.
Flooded lead-acid batteries are typically better for solar systems than sealed versions. However, they do require a bit more maintenance.
If you’re looking for a higher quality battery, but don’t mind paying a bit extra, I recommend the Jackery Portable Power Station 500. This is the battery that I’ve used in my camper for a few months. So far, in the few months that I’ve used it, it has surpassed my expectations and I can recommend it without hesitation.
If you’re looking for more quality, camper-tested gear, I have other pages like this one recommending my favorite accessories and equipment. From mattresses to solar panels, all of this can be found on the recommended gear page of this site. It’s all gear that I use and completely adore!
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