Are RV Lithium Batteries Worth The Upgrade?
RV lithium batteries are becoming much more popular with RVers as they become safer, more efficient, and as the price point becomes less of a barrier.
When we bought our new 2019 Newmar Canyon Star, the issue of lithium batteries came up, but all I knew about lithium batteries was that you couldn’t just pull out the lead-acid batteries and insert the new lithium batteries, without potentially causing some serious damage to your electrical system.
That was enough information for me to avoid making this change. I didn’t understand these new battery systems and I remembered the stories of people’s pockets catching on fire from the lithium batteries in their phones, and that was enough to scare me away.
At least that was before I started to do the research for this article. Now, I know that lithium batteries will be my choice when it’s time to replace the batteries I currently have in this coach and the following article is an overview of why I came to this conclusion.
How much do lithium batteries cost?
First, let’s address the elephant in the room. The first thing (and maybe the only thing) you will hear about RV lithium batteries is that they are expensive. YES, they are! By comparison to traditional batteries, they are very expensive. So, you may ask why would anyone purposely choose lithium batteries?
The bottom line is they last much longer. In fact, you might need to replace traditional batteries every 2 or 3 years depending on the wear and tear and the way they are maintained, but you might be able to use the same set of lithium batteries for 10 years or more. Additionally, I mentioned the maintenance of lead-acid batteries as one of the conditions that determines the useful life of the battery, but lithium batteries require no regular maintenance.
All batteries degrade over time, but the rate at which lithium batteries degrade is so much slower than lead-acid batteries it results in the prolonged lifespan of these batteries.
Another major difference between these two battery systems is the amount of available power each will deliver to your RV. In other words, you can store more energy and access more power in lithium-ion batteries because they have a more dense and efficient energy storage system, which translates to more power available to you and the electrical systems in your RV.
Bottom line…you can run more electrical equipment in your RV for longer with lithium batteries and unlike lead-acid batteries, they deliver full power even as the energy level is depleted in their cells. Lead-acid batteries need to maintain at least a 50% charged level to deliver any power to your RV, but lithium batteries can be depleted up to 85% without damaging the batteries or diminishing the available power.
With lithium batteries, you do not need to add fluid or clean the battery terminals. They weigh about 1/3 of the weight of traditional lead batteries and they are not dangerous, nor do they emit any fumes. On the flip side, with lead batteries, it’s recommended that you have a battery power management system installed, but it is essential with a new lithium battery system.
Converting to lithium batteries
The original warning that scared me away from lithium batteries in the first place was based on how complicated the electrical system is in an RV. If you drive a motorhome (and we do) there are both 120 volt AC circuits and 12 volt DC circuits in the house portion of the RV plus the regular car battery in the chassis that starts the engine and performs some other electrical tasks in the RV.
A travel trailer may have different systems, but suffice it to say that each rig is set up a little different from all the others. The battery bank (the entire battery set-up) is designed to deliver the correct power to every single electrical component in your rig, like the plugins, refrigerator, entertainment center, fireplace, and lights. These battery banks may also be set up to work with one or more inverters, and this whole system needs to be precisely replicated with a lithium-ion battery bank, to continue to meet the electrical demand in your RV.
An installation of new lithium batteries will also require a battery management system as mentioned above, which performs several functions, including balancing the power input during the recharge cycle, and providing valuable information about the lifecycle and charge level in the battery bank.
For an experienced and knowledgeable RVer with electrical expertise, replacing a deep cycle lead-acid battery bank with a lithium battery bank and battery management system, might be within reach. But for the average RVer, I would recommend having this system installed by people with technical proficiency, especially if you intend to include solar panels with the installation.
The bottom line, if you can afford to replace your lead batteries with lithium batteries, you will probably save money over time. You certainly will have more power available for longer periods of time, and you won’t need to do any maintenance on the batteries. They are lighter, cleaner, safer, and more efficient. The downside is they cost more, a lot more, roughly $1000 each.
For more information on RV lithium batteries, check out the following article from Camper Report.