When camping off-grid, it can be hard to go without some modern conveniences that need electricity to work. Using solar panels on your RV can greatly improve your trip’s overall conditions by allowing you to use air conditioning in hotter weather or a heater during the colder months. So, how do you install solar panels on your RV?
To install solar panels on your RV, you’ll start by determining how many panels you need and then mounting them onto the RV. Then you have to run the wiring through the RV and connect your charge controller. You may need to install an inverter, but this isn’t always needed.
Figuring out how to install solar panels on your RV can be tricky, so let’s take a closer look. This article will also go over the benefits of solar panels and how many you might need for your RV.
Are Solar Panels On An RV Worth It?
Solar panels for any occasion can be expensive. This makes the decision to get them for your RV a tough one. Sometimes when you’re going off-grid, having a solar panel system would be beneficial in charging your batteries and generators. More than that, having solar panels could mean the difference between hot summer nights or sleeping in comfortable air conditioning.
The best thing to do is to weigh the options to see if getting the solar panels will be right for your needs. Take a look at the pros and cons list below to get a better idea of what you’ll need to consider as you shop around.
Benefits To Installing Solar Panels On An RV
There are a lot of payoffs to switching your RV into a solar energy system. Even if you don’t use solar panels to power your entire RV, there’s no denying the pros listed below really make this a tempting option.
- Solar energy saves money in the end. Without the need for an electric hookup, you’ll be able to save a ton at the RV parks you visit. You’ll also be able to park anywhere, completely removing the need for an RV park, unless you want the water hookups.
- Solar panels are reliable. As long as there is sun shining, you’ll have energy in your RV. That is super reliable and especially helpful when going off-grid. Even in the winter, when the sun isn’t as powerful, you can still use your solar panels for energy.
- They’re Eco-friendly. Because the panels don’t burn any type of fuel, solar energy is a perfect eco-friendly type of energy. It allows you to live more sustainably and doesn’t contribute to the growing fumes in the atmosphere.
Drawbacks To Installing Solar Panels On An RV
Even though having a solar panel system on your RV can be really beneficial, it comes with a couple of downsides too. Take a look at the list below for the things that might turn you off to solar energy.
- Solar panels are expensive. The initial cost to get a solar panel system installed on your RV can be expensive. You can find some of the cheaper ones in the $1,000 range, which is still a lot of money to hand over!
- Takes a while to see the payoff. If you don’t use the RV a lot or if you’re not sure you will like this way of camping, it could be a long time before you see how much money you’ll be saving in the end.
Now, if you’ve decided to go ahead with solar panels on your RV, you’ll need to install the system. This can be done by either yourself or you can hire someone to do it for you.
Plan And Budget How Many Solar Panels You’ll Need
The first thing you’re going to want to do is to make a plan and budget what you need to get the right solar panel system for your RV. There are a lot of things to consider when installing solar panels. Your budget is one of the biggest things to take into account.
You’ll also want to decide how many panels you’re going to use. If you only want something that will help recharge the batteries, you might not want to go overboard with the number of panels you get. However, if you’re planning on using them to power your entire RV, you’re going to need quite a bit.
The amount of energy your panels produce will also depend on the amount of sun every day. While this isn’t something you can actually control, it’s important to consider this when deciding the number of panels you buy. While three panels might generate 30amps one day, they may not perform the same the next day.
Take A Look At the Roof And Map Out the Layout Of The Solar Panels
Once you know what you want to spend and how many panels you want to use, you’ll want to head on up to the roof. On the roof, you have to determine how you plan to mount the panels. This is crucial in figuring out where the wiring will line up and how much space you have available for the actual panels themselves.
An easy way to do this is to use boxes, pieces of cardboard, or paper that are the same size as the panels and place them in the locations on the roof that you want them mounted on. You should mark the panels’ locations before removing the placeholders so when it comes time to mount the actual panel you’ll know exactly where they go. This also gives you a way to rearrange things before you drill your holes in the roof of your RV.
Recommended Solar Panels For RVs
After you map out where the solar panels will go on your RV, you are ready to purchase them. There are two considerations you should take:
- Make sure you have the room for the solar panels. This means you need to understand the size of the solar panels you are purchasing. And you need to know the number of solar panels you plan to purchase.
- Properly calculate how much electricity you need. This will impact the size of your battery and inverter, as well. You may not need to power everything in the RV. The most common appliances that are run off solar are the refrigerator, television, and small kitchen appliances.
There are many kits the include everything you need for off-grid solar energy. They are specifically designed for RVs. Here are the best options:
- Small Option – 100 Watt Solar Kit. This can power LED lights, fans, small appliances, radio, and small pumps.
- Medium Option – 200 Watt Solar Kit. This solution can power everything in the small option with the addition of swamp coolers, small cooking appliances, and larger lighting.
- Larger Option – 400 Watt Solar Kit. This powers everything in the medium option with the addition of air conditioning, refrigeration, and larger kitchen appliances.
Mount the Solar Panels
Now comes the time to actually mount the solar panels. You’ll want to follow the instructions that come with your solar panel kit. You can purchase either rigid panels or flexible ones. The rigid panels will have hardware that you’ll need to drill into the roof, but the flexible ones can use an adhesive instead.
The type of panel you purchase will come down to personal preference. Some don’t feel comfortable drilling holes into the roof of their RV, so the flexible panels may be better suited for them. Just make sure you purchase the best adhesive for the material of your roof.
Run The Cables And Connect The Charge Controller
The next steps needed are to run the wires and connect them to the charge controller. When running your wires, the typical way to go is through the fridge vent. This removes the need to drill another hole into the roof and is often located near your rechargeable batteries, which is ideal. Alternatively, you can run the wires through another vent on the roof if it’s more convenient to do that.
When you’ve got your wiring done, you’re going to mount your charge controller. The best place for this is near the batteries. Be sure to follow the instructions very carefully when installing the charge controller. Each controller’s instructions are different, and you could risk firing the internal circuitry.
Install An Inverter If You Need AC Power
Solar panels generate direct current electricity, but appliances often run on alternating current. This isn’t always an issue for some people. However, if you plan to charge your laptop, coffee maker, or other appliances that use AC power rather than DC, you may want to purchase an inverter. We recommend the Renogy inverter. It comes in 700W, 1000W, 2000W, and 3000W options.
If you do decide to install one, make sure to size the inverter to your solar panels and batteries. The solar panels should come with recommended battery and inverter sizing. You’ll want to install it close to the rechargeable batteries and the charge controller as well.
Summary Of RV Solar Panels
If your next camping trip will be off-grid, buying a solar panel system is an appealing notion. The best thing to do is to weigh all of your options and decide if this is something you’re able to do. Hopefully, this article has given you all the information you need to know how to install solar panels on your RV.