How to Switch to a Lithium Battery for Your RV
If your lead-acid batteries are dead or dying and it’s time for new ones, you may be looking into lithium ones for your RV. Lead-acid batteries are okay if you’re hooking up to a shoreline and like RV park camping with neighbors close by. However, if you really want to boondock so you can enjoy the peace and quiet in the wilderness, you’ll need something better. Lithium batteries are becoming the standard for renewable energy and offer many benefits over lead-acid ones. They’re half the weight of lead-acid batteries and can be recharged quickly. They can also take a deep discharge and take high loads better than lead-acid batteries. But how easy is it to convert your RV over to lithium batteries? This step-by-step guide will walk you through the conversion and help you understand what you need to make the switch.
Step 1: Figure Out What Components You’ll Need
While many lithium batteries are drop-in ready, that doesn’t mean that all you have to do is swap out your lead-acids for lithium. There are a few things you may need to change out as well. Let’s take a look at what these are and how to figure out what you’ll need.
Obviously, you’re going to need lithium batteries. 12V lithium batteries are ideal, but you’ll need to figure out how many amp-hours (Ah) are necessary to run your appliances. The bigger the rig and the more devices you’ll be using, the more Ah you’ll need. This will also depend on whether you’re running an inverter, which converts the battery power to an AC current. If you’re using one of these, you’ll likely need more batteries. The best way to determine how many batteries or how many Ah you need is to list out what appliances and devices you’ll be using, their wattage, and how many hours a day you plan to use them. For example, let’s say you want to power a 30” LED TV (50 watts) for 3 hours a day. You’ll multiple the wattage by the hours to get 150 watt-hours. Divide that by 12 volts, and you’ll get 12.5Ah. If this were the only thing you were running, a 100Ah lithium battery would last you 8 days. Take the time to make your list and you’ll get a good idea of how many lithium batteries it’ll take to power your RV the way you want.
Lithium batteries need a charging voltage of 14.4 volts, which is higher than lead-acid batteries, so for the best performance, you’ll need a charge controller that supports lithium batteries. If your RV is relatively new, your charge controller may already be compatible with lithium batteries, but most older models don’t support them. You’ll have to check yours to find out. The type of charge controller you’ll need varies based on how you plan to charge your batteries. Patriot Power Source’s lithium batteries come with a lithium-specific charger, so if you’re only using shore power to charge them, you should be able to connect to that with an extension cord. However, this is an entry-level, 10 amp charger, so it’s not going to be very fast. It’s nice to have as an emergency backup, but it’s better if you get a charger that charges at a higher amp in a shorter time window. This way you can enjoy the outdoors without worrying about your battery. If you charge your batteries from your engine’s alternator, you’ll need a DC-DC charger. If you have solar panels and plan to use those to charge them, you’ll need a solar charger (MPPT). They also make all-in-one chargers that have both DC-DC and MPPT. Just make sure that whichever you choose supports lithium batteries and meets your needs.
A battery monitor is vital because it shows how much battery you have left. Depending on the battery meter you choose, it can display the current usage, battery temperature, estimated remaining runtime, and much more. Good news! A battery percent meter is included with any of Patriot Power Source’s lithium battery bundle kits.
If you want to be able to plug in your devices to a regular household 110V power outlet, you’ll need an inverter. The type and wattage size you’ll need varies based on your devices and how much you use them. If you’re planning to use electronics, such as laptops, you’ll need a pure sine wave inverter because modified sine wave inverters could damage them. As far as the size, figure out the total wattage you’ll be using at the same time and then add 10-20% as a safety buffer. This will give you the minimum wattage inverter that you’ll want to purchase.
Step 2: Placement
The next step is to figure out where you’re going to put everything. Lithium batteries can’t be charged below freezing, so if you plan to take your RV out in winter weather, it’s best to put them in a heated area in your rig. Smaller campers may have a battery box, although lithium batteries are a little taller than lead-acid, so yours may not be big enough. Larger rigs may have a battery bank or compartment somewhere. To minimize the length of wiring and current loss, try to put them as close to the controller as possible. You’ll also need to make sure there’s room for the inverter and the wires needed to hook everything together.
Step 3: Bench Test
Now that you’ve figured out where you’re going to put everything, you’ll want to test it all out and make sure everything is working before you install it all. You can test the batteries with a volt meter, then hook up the inverter to the battery and test it with a small appliance like a hairdryer. Then you’ll hook it all up to the controller and see if everything is working, such as the lights in your RV. Read the manuals for the inverter and controller to ensure that you’re doing everything correctly.