This RV Runs On Solar And A Tesla Model S Battery

APR 23 2018 BY EVANNEX 9


Tom and Cait Morton live the RV lifestyle, roaming the US with their two dogs and recounting their adventures in their Mortons on the Move blog. When they added a solar system to their mobile mansion, they decided to include battery storage in the form of a used Tesla Model S battery module. They explain the entire process in a set of fascinating videos [scroll below].

*This article comes to us courtesy of EVANNEX (which also makes aftermarket Tesla accessories). Authored by Charles Morris. The opinions expressed in these articles are not necessarily our own at InsideEVs.

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Above: The Mortons lounging on top of their RV (Source: Mortons on the Move)

The Mortons’ setup is a hybrid system – that is, they have a gas-powered generator as well as solar panels, so they’ll always have plenty of power available, regardless of weather conditions. The incorporation of battery storage means that they can enjoy the advantages of solar-generated energy – no noise, no stink, no need to turn a generator on and off – much more of the time. They can also combine the power of the generator and the battery for high-power applications like running the AC or cooking.

Techie Tom Morton installed the system himself. It’s a 1,200-Watt system, the total cost was around $4,000, and the Mortons expect their payback period to be between two and five years. (They spend a lot of time “boondocking,” meaning that they’re off the grid. RVers who tend to stay at campgrounds with electrical hookups probably wouldn’t find such a powerful solar system to be cost-effective.)

Above: Tom and Cait Morton travel to some scenic destinations across the country in their RV (Source: Mortons on the Move)

After installing the solar panels on the roof of their RV, and connecting them to their existing (lead-acid) batteries, the Mortons moved on to Phase 2, in which they upgraded the system with a bigger and better battery. A modern lithium-ion battery has about ten times the energy density of a legacy lead-acid unit (in other words, a battery of the same weight can store 10x more juice). Li-ion units also perform better and last longer. The Mortons found that new lithium-ion batteries are “crazy expensive,” but that used ones salvaged from wrecked EVs (yes, even an electric car can crash) can be bought for a good price.

The Mortons bought a single Tesla Model S battery module. The Model S85 has 16 of these modules, each of which stores about 5.2 kilowatt-hours of energy. In the second video, Tom explains the technical challenges he had to negotiate to incorporate the 24-volt Tesla module into his RV’s 12-volt DC system, using a 24-volt inverter and an MPPT solar charge controller – it’s “not a drop-in solution by any means.”

Above: Tom Morton decided to integrate solar and a Tesla Model S battery module to help power the couple’s RV (Source: Mortons on the Move)

Even if you aren’t interested in RVs, this video is well worth watching, because it includes some close-up shots of the battery module and a detailed description of how it works. In a separate video, Tom gives us a detailed tour of the system installed in his RV.

​We’re looking forward to the Mortons’ next video, in which they move on to Phase 3, installing a hybrid inverter and powering up a 120-volt AC system.



Written by: Charles Morris; Source: Mortons on the Move

*Editor’s Note: EVANNEX, which also sells aftermarket gear for Teslas, has kindly allowed us to share some of its content with our readers, free of charge. Our thanks go out to EVANNEX. Check out the site here.

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9 Comments on "This RV Runs On Solar And A Tesla Model S Battery"

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Ho hum. Batteries and solar panels on an RV is very common. The only thing that makes this one different is they bought an expensive Tesla battery, otherwise just the same as all the other “boon docking” trailers. I’ll be impressed when they are driving down the highway with their trailer on a battery.

Actually, the big deal here is how they are able to power their A/C off of the batteries. Most batteries cannot sustain or even handle the peak power to turn on an A/C unit. The higher capacity with the inverter to 120v made this possible.

Come back when they’re pulling the fifth-wheel with something other than a diesel pickup. That will be a story worth telling.

I have looked for a way to pull a trailer with something bigger and power the trailer off the EV. Currently that is not available through Tesla. A Model X can tow 5k lbs, but then cannot power the RV. Also a 5k RV is not very big. Maybe 21′.

Pulling a large trailer — even if the Model X was rated to handle one that heavy — and powering the RV off the MX’s battery pack, would both severely reduce the range of the MX. Using an ICEV to pull a large RV trailer may not be “green”, but it is practical if you plan to travel long distances that way.

Battery packs need to get cheaper, and hold more energy (higher capacity), before it’s going to be practical to use one to power a consumer-grade truck that tows a heavy load.

My 21’ trailer is half that weight

I tend to agree with some of the other people it’s nice to have solar on the camper or better yet we need a pick up truck pulling a fifth wheel on a battery instead of using diesel or gas somebody has to come up with that

I was at an event this year where we didn’t have much power. I mentioned to a food vendor it would be awesome if we could put a 24kWh Leaf battery under the floor of the trailer and have off grid power to run the food blender and other electric items. The roof could have solar to provide a bit of charge as well. If I lived in a country where wrecked Leaf are easy to get, I’d definitely take a look at this. Or maybe that program Nissan has to recycle batteries would work as well.
As regards the RV, maybe one day they have a battery and motor so they provide their own motive force when towing. There would be several advantages, but given how the manufacturers can’t even get the charging plug standard I’d say there would be virtually no chance to get a connector like that as a standard.

Tom, first off, thank you for sharing these videos. Im eager to try this set up for my boat solar panels and power. Question, How or where did you get the wiring for the Tenergy 5-1 cell meter to hook up to the battery pack? Were you able to hook it directly to wiring harness off the tesla battery pack?