How to Install Solar Panels on an RV – Everything You Need to Know
Installing one more solar panels on your RV can add to the sense of freedom you experience when you set out for your next RV adventure. By embracing solar power, you can take your RV to remote locations that would not be accessible before you had a reliable source of off-grid power. Not only can solar panels give your RV off-grid capabilities, adopting solar power can save you money and reduce your overall carbon footprint.
Why Should You Install Solar Panels on Your RV?
While it is possible to carry foldable solar panels and set up a temporary solar power system each time you park your RV, fixed solar panels will save you time and frustration. By mounting solar panels on the roof of your RV, you will no longer have to worry about positioning and wiring solar panels each and every time you stop for the night. Not only that, if you install solar panels on the roof of your RV, they can charge at all times, including while you are driving.
How Can We Help?
If you are unsure how to install solar panels on your RV, campervan, or motorhome, you have come to the right place! We will go over everything you know and even recommend some convenient and high-quality pieces of solar equipment that you can use to get the most out of your mounted solar power system.
Components You Will Need for Your RV Solar Power System
Before you begin the installation process, you will want to make sure that you have all of the required pieces of solar equipment. While solar panels are undoubtedly important, there are other components that you will also require.
The Power Inverter:
For starters, you will need to invest in a solar power inverter. When solar panels absorb sunlight, they use it to generate direct current, or DC power. Unfortunately, most of the electronic devices and appliances inside your RV require AC power, which is why you need a power inverter to convert the current to a more useable type of electricity.
For more information about solar power inverters, as well as a full list of the options we carry, take a look at our Full Collection of Solar Power Inverters. We carry power inverters from some of the best brands in the solar industry, so you are sure to find the right option for your RV.
The Charge Controller:
If you plan on storing the electricity your solar panels generate, a charge controller is a necessary piece of equipment. The charge controller will regulate the flow of electricity from your solar panels to your battery bank, as well as any electronic devices you plan on running on solar power. A charge controller can also prevent the reverse flow of electricity from your batteries to your solar panels, which would otherwise cause unnecessary battery drain.
Shop our Solar Charge Controller Collection and find the perfect module to keep your solar power system running safely and efficiently.
It goes without saying that you will need solar panels. While finding the right solar panels for your RV can seem somewhat overwhelming, our Collection of Foldable Solar Panel Suitcases and Blankets is a great place to start. These lightweight and convenient solar panels are perfect for RVs and they are available in a wide variety of configurations and power ratings.
Solar generators are convenient all-in-one solar products that are ideal for RVs. Basically, you just connect these units to one or more solar panels and the solar generator does the rest. They contain a built-in power inverter, charge controller, and deep cycle battery. They also feature a variety of output ports, so you can connect your electronic devices directly to them.
Solar Panel Kits:
If you are new to solar and you do not currently own any solar equipment, a solar panel kit can be a convenient and affordable way to get everything you need in one ready-made package. In addition to solar panels, a solar panel kit will come packaged with a power inverter, charge controller, deep cycle solar battery, and all of the cables and connectors you need to wire your system together.
Our Collection of DIY Solar Panel Kits is a great place to find exactly what you need. Our kits are easy to install and contain only the highest quality components. Best of all, by bundling the solar equipment, we are able to offer the components at a lower price than they would cost if they were purchased individually.
Step by Step Guide for Installing Solar Panels on an RV
Step 1: Read the Instructions and Mount Your Solar Panels
Regardless of your experience level, you should always start by reading the instruction manual for each and every piece of solar equipment you purchase. This will ensure that you are installing the unit correctly and following the exact recommendations of the manufacturer.
Once you have read through the instruction manual, you can mount your solar panels. The mounting process will differ depending on the type of panels you purchase. Rigid panels are usually affixed to the roof with the brackets and screws they come packaged with. On the other hand, flexible panels usually use a combination of an adhesive and screws that are positioned at each corner.
No matter what type you are using, lay the panels out on the roof in your preferred positions and make sure they all fit together. Mark the locations and then use the mounting hardware to fix the solar panel frames to the roof. You should also apply a sealant under the edges of the brackets and the panels, as this will prevent corrosion issues in the future. Make sure you are also using corrosion-resistant screws whenever you mount anything to the exterior of your RV.
Step 2: Wire the Solar Panels
You must now run the solar cables from your solar panels down into the RV where the charge controller will be positioned. There are three main ways that RV owners run solar cables from their roof-mounted solar panels into their RV:
- The Refrigerator Vent: The most popular way to run solar cables is to put them through the refrigeration vent, as this prevents the need to drill new holes into the vehicle’s exterior.
- Plumbing Pipe: If you cannot access the refrigerator vent, or it is located far away from the rest of your solar equipment, you can run the solar cables though the plumbing pipe and simply apply a durable sealant around any new holes you need to make.
- Drilling New Holes: If nothing else works, you always have the option to drill new holes exactly where you need them. It is a good idea to drill somewhere that will make it easy to hide the cables once they are inside the RV. If you are uncomfortable doing this yourself, it can be done professionally. Just make sure you are making sure any new holes you drill are made water and weather proof after the cables are run through them.
Step 3: Connect the Components
Once the panels are mounted and the solar cables have been run into the RV, it is time to connect all of the components together. During this step, you will want to make sure that everything is mounted exactly where you want it to be.
Most people will mount their charge controller and power inverter directly to a wall; however, the location is up to you. You will most likely want to choose somewhere that is discreet, but also accessible.
Again, read through the instructions for each piece of equipment to make sure you are wiring and connecting them together safely. In most cases, you will wire the charge controller to your battery before you connect them to the solar panels.
You should use a multimeter to test your wire polarity. Once you are sure everything is positioned correctly, you can use MC4 connectors and the wires that were included with each piece of solar equipment to make sure everything is safely connected together.
Step 4: Connect a Power Inverter:
The power inverter will ensure that any electricity your solar panels are able to capture will be converted into AC power. Connecting a power inverter is relatively simple. Just make sure that your positive and negative wires are connected in the right order and that the power inverter is rated appropriately for your particular solar power system.
Once you have installed each piece of equipment correctly and wired them together, you can start accessing free and environmentally-friendly solar power from any off-grid location.
If you are not entirely confident that everything was done correctly, you can always have an electrician take a quick look before you connect the components. While it is relatively easy to mount solar panels, safety should always be your most important concern, so there is no harm in being extra cautious.
If you have any other questions about RV-friendly solar power systems, we are always happy to help!
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