Is it Worth it to Upgrade Your RV Battery Bank to Lithium Batteries?

Posted December 15, 2021

Whether you have been living in your RV for many years or occasionally use your RV for vacation, there are many factors to consider when it comes to investing in the proper equipment for your RV - from your water supply to your electricity needs. One of the most common questions RV owners have when it comes to RV equipment is whether it’s worth it to convert their RV’s lead-acid batteries to lithium batteries.

After growing more than 200 percent between 2010 and 2017, and then accelerating again during the wake of the pandemic, there’s no question that the RV market has been, and likely will continue to be, on the rise. From providing a safer and more affordable way to travel locally to offering an alternative to a decades-long home mortgage, there are myriad reasons why people across the world have been increasingly turning to vans, motorhomes, skoolies, and other RVs.

We answered some of the top questions below, ranging from cost to ease of conversion to safety to ability to handle cold weather, to help you determine whether a lithium battery upgrade is right for you.

How much do lithium batteries cost?

First and foremost, let’s address the elephant in the room. It is well known that lithium batteries often have a higher upfront price point compared to lead acid batteries. However, what is less well known is that lithium batteries have been proven to be more cost-effective long-term than lead acid batteries, particularly when factors such as cycle life, replacement costs, depth of discharge, roundtrip efficiency and charge rate are accounted for within a Levelized Cost of Storage analysis. While you may have paid less for your lead acid batteries upfront, you will have to replace them many times during the lifespan of a single lithium battery. Also, as a result of lithium batteries’ much higher efficiency rates, up to 5x faster charge rates, and ability to be discharged 50 percent greater, you will have more usable capacity on a daily basis, which in many circumstances is akin to having an additional solar panel on your RV’s roof.

To provide a more specific example, we calculated the total cost of ownership - rather than just the upfront price point - of the RELiON RB100 12V 100Ah lithium battery and compared this with three common lead acid battery technologies: flooded lead acid (FLA), Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM), and Gel. As you can see in the table below, the total cost of ownership of the RELiON battery came out to be over $2,000 cheaper compared to each of the three alternative battery technologies. That’s several thousand dollars that you would be able to invest in an additional road trip.

Total Cost of Ownership LiFeP04 battery vs lead-acid

Camper Van Lithium Battery Conversion

How easy is it to replace a lead acid battery bank with lithium batteries?

While it depends on the specific brand of lithium batteries, the majority of lead acid battery banks can be easily replaced with RELiON lithium batteries, as seen by the countless van, motorhome, and skoolie owners that have already made the switch. This is due in part to the fact that the majority of solar charge controllers, such as those that are currently installed with your lead acid battery system, will function properly with RELiON lithium batteries. For example, many Morningstar, Victron, and Magnum brand charge controllers work well with RELiON lithium batteries. Keep in mind that there are certain charge controllers that charge lithium batteries more efficiently though, as confirming the solar charge controller settings with a RELiON representative will ensure you receive maximum battery performance - from charging efficiency to depth of discharge. This will enable you to make full use of the energy produced by your limited solar array.

Are there any safety concerns associated with using lithium replacement batteries?

If you are planning to use lithium batteries as a drop-in lead acid replacement for your pre-existing energy storage system, you do not have to be concerned with safety when using RELiON lithium batteries. RELiON lithium batteries come with a sophisticated, proprietary built-in Battery Management System (BMS) that automatically protects the battery from being overcharged or discharged.

Are lithium batteries or lead acid batteries safer to use in my RV?

Particularly as you will be sleeping in close proximity to your battery system in your vehicle, this is an understandably common question. Unlike lithium batteries, many lead-acid batteries, including AGM batteries, need to be in a properly ventilated compartment within your motorhome or van in order to prevent the build-up of hydrogen gas, which can poison the breathable air, cause battery damage, and in worst-case scenarios, explosions. All lithium batteries have the distinct advantage of not producing hazardous hydrogen gas. When it comes to choosing the safest lithium battery, there are two types of lithium batteries to choose from: cobalt-based or non-cobalt-based. Lithium iron phosphate batteries (LiFePo4 or LFP) are non-cobalt-based and do not pose a risk of thermal runaway or fire due to the strong covalent bond inherent in the LFP battery’s chemical composition. As a result, LFP batteries can also often be easily installed on their side and in more space-restricted compartments without issue. These are a few of the reasons why all RELiON lithium batteries exclusively use the LFP battery chemistry.

Do lithium batteries perform well in cold weather?

Do lithium batteries perform better than lead acid batteries in cold weather?

Cold weather can seriously degrade the long-term performance and lifespan of standard lead acid batteries. Temperatures below the 32°F mark will noticeably reduce both usable capacity and efficiency of lead-acid batteries, providing just 70 to 80 percent of its rated capacity at 32°F. Alternatively, lithium-ion batteries can operate with very little capacity and efficiency loss in cold temperatures, providing 95 to 98 percent of the battery’s capacity at 32°F. Even at 14°F, lithium batteries will provide 80 percent of their rated capacity. Typically, the more you pull from a lead-acid battery in cold temperatures, the weaker the performance will become. Unlike lead-acid batteries, lithium-ion batteries in cold weather will also begin to warm when you use them, which will lower the battery's resistance and increase its voltage, allowing you to properly run your equipment.

Additionally, while lead-acid batteries have a smaller charging temperature range compared to lithium batteries, nearly every battery - whether lead acid or lithium - requires a more involved charging process when the temperature begins to drop, from charging at a slower rate to making sure the batteries stay within their specified temperature ranges. For example, when charging LFP batteries in temperatures below 32°F, the charge current must be reduced to 0.1C, and when charging your LFP batteries below 14°F, the charge current must be reduced to 0.05C. Failure to do so can cause irreversible damage to your battery.

However, at RELiON, we have solved this inherent problem with charging lithium batteries in cold temperatures by developing and engineering a low-temperature LFP battery called the LT Series. The LT batteries have been rigorously designed and tested to specifically excel in cold weather environments, as they can safely charge at temperatures down to -20°C (-4°F) using a standard charger. The RELiON RB100-LT 12V 100Ah Deep Cycle Lithium Battery features proprietary technology that draws power from the charger itself, requiring no additional components. Once the battery is plugged into the regular lithium charger, the internal heating and monitoring system takes care of the rest. These batteries also feature a robust battery management system (BMS) that protects the batteries from irreparable damage in extremely cold temperatures.

Will I save significantly more weight by upgrading from lead acid to lithium?

Yes, a major advantage of lithium batteries is that they weigh about one-third less, on average, compared to AGM batteries and are often also smaller in size. For example, the VMAX 200 Ah AGM battery weighs 82 pounds more, or over one-third more, than the RELiON RB100 LFP 100 Ah battery. Depending on the energy needs of your vehicle and the number of batteries in your bank, this weight can really add up, resulting in lower fuel efficiency and additional funds required for gas or diesel fuel.

In addition to weighing down your vehicle and taking up precious space, heavy lead-acid batteries also do not store significant amounts of energy relative to their large size. This metric is referred to as energy density: how much energy can be stored in relation to the battery’s weight and space. Lithium RV batteries have a much higher energy density than lead-acid batteries. In other words, lithium batteries can store three to four times as much energy compared to the same size lead-acid battery. This higher energy density is a huge benefit for mobile use cases because weight and space are limited. Freeing up space that would otherwise have been taken up by larger lead-acid batteries makes room for more of your belongings.

Rich Rebuilds Upgrades Van With Lithium Batteries

To learn more about how to calculate your energy needs and find the optimal battery for your application and usage, visit our Lithium Battery Selector Tool. If you have additional questions please contact a RELiON representative to help you arrange the optimal RV battery bank upgrade and prepare for your adventures in the new year.