Published Sunday October 29, 2017: Updated 12/20/2017

An Electric RV

In April 2017 we rented an RV for a week and drove 1188 miles through Southern Utah. 

It was an amazing experience that my family will never forget. However, as an energy conscious individual, I couldn’t help but take note of all the energy we used. 

Over 6 days and nearly 1200 miles, we consumed 130 gallons of gasoline and 18 gallons of propane for heat. In total we blew 5003 kWh of fossil fuel energy in under 1 week. It takes our solar array 4 months to produce that much energy. It takes over 2 years driving a Nissan Leaf everywhere I go to use that much energy. 

It got me thinking though, what would it take to make an RV 100% all-electric?

How To Make an RV Electric?

I thought about this question a lot on our trip: How to convert an existing RV to battery electric and still have the same range as an ICE one with a 55 gallon gas tank (500 miles)? 

An EV is about 4x-5x more energy efficient than a comparable gas vehicle. If you made the shell of the RV more aerodynamic you could probably get 20% better fuel economy. Off the cuff, an all-electric RV with an aerodynamic shell would get about (9*4/0.8) = 45 mpg on an electric gallon of gasoline, or about (34.6 kWh/45mpg) = 0.769 kWh per mile). To get 500 miles on a single charge, it would require 500*0.769) = 385 kWh (almost four 100 kWh Tesla model S batteries). Adding regen and making it self-driving would make it a dream RV. 

Charging would be tricky. It would take 4.5 days charge up a 385 kWh battery using a 120V, 30 Amp circuit as at an RV park. Even on 240V at 40 Amps it would take over 40 hours to charge back up. Using a 145kW Tesla super charger on the other hand it would only take about 3 hours. 

Using the existing Tesla charging infrastructure plus a couple dozen super-chargers at the entrance of every national and state park would empower electric RVs to travel the country. 

While a 100% all-electric is certainly doable with current technology, incrementally electrifying an RV is also an option. 

Levels of Electrified RVs:

  • A stock RV with some solar panels added. 
  • A well-insulated RV with solar panels and several kWh of lithium batteries. 
  • A hybrid RV. The engine starts and stops as needed to keep the lithium battery pack topped off.  Also can charge using solar panels. 
  • A fully electric RV.