How to Install Solar Panels on Recreational Vehicles?

Do you own a recreational vehicle? Are you a DIYer and planning to install a solar panel on your RV? Then this article is meant for you. I am a wild camper, and I also won a van. Since the interior of RV is like a room with some necessary appliances, it needs the power to operate.

Last summer I and my wife were going to a remote place for camping where no source of power was available. We had a generator as known as dynamo installed in our RV, but we ran out of fuel. As a result, we had to suffer a lot.

In that situation, we started to think of an alternative way for uninterrupted power supply. Eventually, the idea of installing solar panels on our RV crossed our mind. So I did a little research on how to install solar panels on someone’s RV. Here’s what I got to know.

Why Should You Install Solar Panels on Your RV?

There are some perks and benefits of having solar panels installed on your RV. You should know about them before deciding to do it. These are some positive aspects of installing solar panels on your RV.

  • If you are using a dynamo generator, you will need a lot of fuel, which is really expensive. Basically what I am trying to say is, the maintenance cost of a generator is not worth it.
  • You may run out of fuel suddenly in the middle of your journey like we did, which can be really hazardous.
  • Since solar power is green energy, which is sustainable, reliable, and renewable, it is the most efficient source of power for your RV.
  • Solar panels last for a long time. They do not need heavy maintenance. You just need to clean them every once in a while.
  • Solar power is pretty much free of cost. No fuel is needed. Moreover, no waste will be generated by using it.

Things that You Will Need

Before starting your work, you have to have everything you need. I am not going to lie; you will need a handful of products for the installation. I have done the research already, so here is a list of what you actually need.

1. Solar Panels

They are obviously the first thing you are going to need. Their job is to gather solar energy from the sun and then send it down through the wires to the solar controller. There are two main types of solar panels such as Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline.

Efficiency is the main difference between these two. These two are nearly the same size, but the monocrystalline one produces more energy than the other. I will suggest you to opt for the monocrystalline panels even though it is a bit expensive.

The quantity of the panels depends on how many appliances you have and how much voltage do you need. Calculate the daily power consumption of your RV equipment. Measure the space that you have on the roof.

Then keeping everything in mind, buy the panels according to your calculation. You can use 4,100 watt panels for operating lights, fans, one small water pump, and the kitchen appliances etc.

2. Charge Controller

This is needed to control the uncertainty of voltage that your panels will generate. It will organize and convert the produced power which will be usable by your batteries and protect the cells from overcharging.

For 400 watt panels in total, you need a 120 watt charge controller. There are two types of controller system. MPPT controller system is highly recommended for our panels.

3. Batteries

Batteris are used to store the gathered power. You do not need all the gained energy at once. There is no way that you can directly use it. Hence, for storing the power, you will need batteries.

4. Inverter 

This is really an essential part since this will change the amount of voltage as per need. That is because the different appliances need a different level of power to run.

5. Mounting stand 

Positive and Negative Wires, Screws, Roof Sealant, Fuses, MC4 connectors, MC4 wire camper, positive and negative Busbar, Shunt, Entry gland, and Fuse block are the necessary components you will get altogether if you buy a solar kit.

Step by Step Guide for the Installation

After getting all the required products, you will need a proper step by step guide for the installation. By following the described steps, the work should be your piece of cake.

Step 1: Preparing for Installation

Get on the roof of your RV wearing a harness and find where your panels are going to be fit. Find your power source and the position of your inverter. Measure and mark the area where you are going to install your panels.

Then clean the area with some alcohol based cleaner. Get rid of the covers and packaging of the stuff you are using.

Step 2: Joining the Panels Together

There are a positive and a negative wire with each panel, that means four positive and four negative wires in total. Join one positive wire of a panel to the negative wire of the other panel. This is going to combine the voltage of the four panels. Leftover wires are going to be attached with the inverter.

Step 3: Attaching the Panels with the Roof

Attach the mounting feet with the panels. Mark the location of the mounting feet. Drill the holes according to the marks. Clean the area where the feet will sit with alcohol. Insert the anchors in the holes and attach beetle tape with the parameters of the mounting feet.

Now, place the solar panels on the space they are going to go. Screw the panels to the anchors. Finally, coat the edges of the mounting feet and screw heads with roof sealant. Connect the solar panels with your entry gland. Your work on the roof is half done.

Step 4: Installing Batteries, Inverter and Controller

Get inside of your camper van and determine a place for your batteries and charge controller. Keep them organized side by side. Your inverter can sit on top of them. When your batteries are set on their place, get accurate measurements for your battery cables.

You are going to install your positive and negative busbars, and you shunt now. Mount them close to your batteries as you have kept. To make the wires ready, attach the lugs to them. At this point, you will join the batteries and inverter through the shunt and the busbars with the help of the wires.

Step 5: Connecting the Whole System Together

It is time for installing MC4 connectors on all the wires up on top of the roof for the solar panels. Take two (one positive, one negative) wires that come from the entry gland of the roof and connect them with the MC4 connectors. You are going to use these two wires to make the connection between the solar controller with the batteries.

You will be able to see a positive and negative wire sign on your controller. Attach one end of the wires accordingly. Connect the other ends of the wires with the busbars. The solar controller shall be mounted near the batteries.

Likewise, you will also find two more spaces for putting wires on your controller. Attach one end of the wires as you have done before in these spaces. The other ends of the wires are going to be connected with the solar panels.

Step 6: Final Wiring

At this point, you are going to do the final wiring to gather and store the energy. You have used a combination of series and parallel wiring for your panels. Two series and one parallel wiring are appreciated, and that wire runs down through the entry gland of the roof down to the van.

The wire will come through the roof following a suitable path to end up being connected with the charge controller.

Then the controller will take the energy from the solar panel and convert it to a usable form of energy for the batteries. Connect the inverter with the batteries so that it can change AC current to DC or DC to AC as needed.

Step 7: Connecting the System with the Appliances

You have successfully been able to gather and store all the energy. Now, you have to make the use of energy. For doing that, connect the wires from your batteries to your main fuse block.

At this time, all your appliances must be connected with the fuse so that when the fuse block gets power from the batteries, your devices can be lit up.

However, stuffs like your fridge, water pump, lights can use the DC power. Regular household plug will need AC power, which will run all the plugged-in appliances. Your inverter will make that job done.

Accordingly, I will suggest that every camper with RV should have solar panels installed for the betterment of the camper himself. I am hoping that this article will help some adventurous souls out there.

Should You Involve a Professional for this Job?

As you have all the instructions now, think if you can do the job all by yourself. The work here is quite simple for a person who has a little experience with wiring stuff, but if you are a beginner, this might be a quite challenging for you.

On the contrary, by following my guideline, you will definitely be able to get the job done. So you do not need to involve a professional and pay a huge amount of money for that.

Conclusion

In this era, solar panels are the right alternative for harmful power generators. This free of cost energy is renewable, storable, sustainable.

In that sense, people like you and like me who are really adventurous and move around with their RV like nomads to explore the world, really need to make the best use of solar energy.

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