Installing The Solar Panels
Installing solar panels might sound as easy as fixing a couple of panels on the roof of your RV. But if you take into account the delicate and intricate electrical wiring, youll soon notice how much more involved it really is.
But, that shouldnt be any worry to you if you are a DIYer and know your tools. If thats not the case, employ the services of a professional to get your newly installed solar panels up and running in no time. It is, however, easier to maintain and look after once its ready to use.
Installation : With todays tools, nails, screws, and workmanship, putting a few solar panels on the roof of an RV shouldnt be a difficult job at all. On the contrary, it should be seen as a nice and fun modification project to undertake.
Do It Yourself : And, in fact, if you are a DIYer, doing the installation yourself is definitely possible. Just make sure you consult with an expert to ensure everything is properly positioned and fixed.
Safety is a high priority. Because you dont want any fires or medical emergencies to spoil your fun on a remote camping trip, where people and resources are limited.
After all, an RV goes hand in hand with relaxation and getting away from all the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Get an Expert : So to keep with that theme, do it yourself, or if it is too technical for you, employ an expert to reap the best benefit from it and also to get it right the first time around.
If Youre Unsure You Dont Need It
Before installing an RV solar system, youve got to be sure to want it. Even if you want to boondock most of the time, try it with a generator first.
The $450 generator will cost a lot less than a solar set-up .
If you realize you love being off grid and you hate the hum of the genny, bite the bullet and buy solar. If you can live with that gentle hum, dont worry about it.
Rv Electrical System Upgrade
With Tom being an electrical engineer and a do-it-yourselfer, he designed and built the whole system himself so we had no labor costs for both system installs.
For this build we are completely replacing the whole previous system with upgraded technology.
RV solar systems may seem complex, but if you break it down off-grid solar systems consist only of a few major components. In this article, we will be covering an overview of the components, and you can check out the full schematic below and join our newsletter to get notified about future posts about the new system.
If the schematic seems complicated, dont worry. We are going to break things down to their basic components.
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Category: Diy Rv Solar Power
Heres everything you need to know about RV solar power systems. Learn your options for boondocking with solar panels on an RV, how much it costs, and how to do-it-yourself.
Mounting options for flexible solar panels vary depending upon the type of surface they are being mounted to as well as the type of vehicle
When To Install Solar Panels
Its best to start the electrical part of your installation early, and the solar panel system is part of this process. Well thought-out plans are key to avoiding extra work and maintaining easy access during the build. Preferably, make a start before laying floors or insulation. Lay cables before installing the components, ready for connecting at the right time in your build. Be sure to leave enough extra cable just in case, and number or tag every end of every cable so you remember what each is, later on. Also, components like the fuse blocks, bus bars and switch panels early on.
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Our Solar Battery Bank
First let me start by saying we are not Battleborn reps, or affiliates, or whatever you want to call it. We bought our entire RV solar system ourselves, including our batteries. When I was looking for a lithium battery, I looked at tons of options out there. Honestly, I actually wanted something other than Battleborns simply because I wanted to offer consumers another option, and to try something different. Ultimately, they were the best at the time we purchased. If you want more info on why we choose Battle Born Batteries or you want to see other battery brands we would recommend, then check out the article below.Battery Info Article:
We purchased four Battle Born 100 Ah LiFePO4 12 volt deep cycle batteries and wired them in series parallel due to having a 24 volt battery bank. So essentially we have 4800 watt hours of battery bank, ours happen to be 200ah at 24 volts which is the same as 400ah at 12 volts.
Battle Born 100ah 12v via Continuous Resources:Battle Born 100ah 12v via Amazon:
Do I Need An Ac Breaker Box In My Camper Solar System
Depending on the inverter/charger you get, it may or may not come with an AC breaker installed. If not, and you are wanting to hard wire 110v plugs throughout your camper, you will need to add an AC breaker.
You will need the breaker box, as well as a breaker to protect the wiring and 110v circuits.
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The Complete System Layout
Most DIY conversion blogs feature diagrams which, in simple terms, show how the solar panels in your motorhomes electrical system can be laid out. Check out the wiring diagram by VanLifeAdventure, which is one of the clearest out there.
For a better idea of the other components in the electrical system and how to install them, read our recent blog about setting up motorhome electrics. Weve got detailed sections on how to choose the best inverters and leisure batteries for your system. Battery installation is also easier in the tight spaces of a motorhome if you buy quick-release terminal connectors like these from Motopower.
Are Lithium Batteries Worth The Cost
It really depends. For full-timer RVers like us, the total cost of ownership over several years becomes comparable to alternatives like flooded lead acid or AGM batteries.
Not to mention the much lower weight, smaller size, safer technology and almost complete lack of maintenance required. For us, they were all major considerations – putting 600Ah of lead acid batteries on the tongue of our RV would not have been feasible from a weight or space perspective on our small travel trailer.
If you only use your RV occasionally, don’t have the need to run high-power appliances, have plenty of space and weight in your RV, or simply just have existing lead acid batteries that are still in good condition, then switching to Lithium batteries may not make financial sense. Ultimately, you need to decide whether the many advantages of Lithium batteries are worth it to you, and if you can afford the upfront costs.
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Is Solar Worth It
Yes! As long as you are OK with your return on investment taking a really long time, if ever. The freedom that having an off-grid system provides is not something you can easily quantify. We can tell you for sure that after having this technology in our camping lives, it is not something we will be willing to go without. If you are interested in going solar, we encourage you to explore your own options for solar-powered trailer life. You wont regret the freedom you create for yourself and your family.
How To Know How Many Solar Panels You Need For Your Rv
Knowing how much solar power you need for your camping comfort involves figuring out a couple of pieces of information. These two parts of the equation help you determine how many solar panels youll need for the suns power to deliver the electricity you want. The two parts of this equation are:
You must balance all of this for an optimal system. Solar panels without enough batteries to store all of the power they produce will waste your money and not provide the power you need.
Conversely, one solar panel and lots of batteries will not allow enough of the suns energy to be harnessed to fill those batteries for your use!
Figuring out this balancing act can take some work and requires an entire article of its own to explain, but we can distill down the basics here.
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Solar Powered Christmas Tree Lights
Christmas wouldnt be Christmas without a beautifully decorated tree. But traditional Christmas tree lights can be expensive, and they often require wiring.
With this DIY project, you can make your own solar-powered Christmas tree lights! All you need is a few simple supplies and some basic soldering skills.
Adding Solar Power To A Camper Or Rv
We purchased an 86 Travel Villa 29 fifth wheel camper as an inexpensive means to travel out west with our dogs. The camper is an older model, but it has served us well. After building the solar generator, I have found that I always want to bring it with us when we travel as we typically boon-dock without hookups.
I have decided I would like to add a dedicated solar power system to the camper. This way the camper will always be ready to go, and the dedicated solar panels will also keep the campers existing deep-cycle battery topped off when not in use.
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Route The Solar Panel Cables And Battery Cables
Once you have a placement strategy, carefully drill the necessary holes and run the two solar panel cables along the planned route. By doing this first, we can make sure the route will work as planned before we have mounted any of the other components.
If possible, avoid securing the cables until after the panels and charge controller are installed. It is convenient to be able to adjust the amount of wire on either end when wiring everything up. Use rubber grommets whenever the wire is passing through any sheet metal. We will also be sealing the exterior holes when finished with the install.
When the solar panel cables are routed, do the same for the battery cables. Do not actually connect them to the battery yet, to minimize the chances of a short while working, but be sure to leave enough length by the battery for easy hook up. If you are using the Renogy kit wires make sure to label the one you intend to use as the positive cable on both ends to avoid confusion later.
Sizing Your Solar Power System
At this point you may be wondering how many solar panels you will need for your rig. In the introductory paragraphs, we alluded to a minimum of 200 watts with a minimum of 200 amp hours of battery power. The size of your solar power system, of course, depends upon your personal needs. Things like your TV, the inverter, your water pump, your DC compressor refrigerator, lights, and fans all need to be factored in. The easiest way to size your system is to use this Solar Sizing Calculator. To use this calculator youll need to know four numberstotal wattage for all of your devices, hours , the efficiency of the charge controller used in your system, and average sun hours per day. For total watts youll need to determine the wattage consumption for all of your electrical and electronic devices in a single day then divide that figure by 24 . The wattage figures for your devices can be found either on the device itself or in the devices literature. Charge controller efficiency is either 80 percent for PWM or 92 percent for MPPT. For average sun hours per day, we recommend entering five hours for most latitudes here in the continental U.S., except for places like Florida and Arizona, which in the summer, would probably get six.
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Home While We Roam Tip
You will also see solar options that include tilting or being flexible. Our recommendation is to save yourself extra work and extra budget by going with flat, nontilted, polycrystalline panels. Monocrystalline are priced at a premium and the efficiency gains of tilting your panels versus the effort of going up on the roof to tilt, is just not worth it. If you have the roof space, cover it with more polycrystalline panels to offset the efficiency issues.
How Many Solar Panels You Will Need For An Rv
The number of panels youll need will depend on how much or how little solar power you will use. As well as the size of your trailer and the electrical output it generates.
Finding out how many solar panels you need can be tough job initially. It also depends on your usage.
Typically a 100 Watt panel can produce around 6 amp per hour on a bright sunny day. Which then means you can have upto 30-32 amps hours produced every day.
So, if your consumption is 30 amps or less per day then you should be fine with one solar pannel. If its more then add more pannels.
If you have high needs then its going to be more than 30 amps for sure.
You also have to look at the battery by the way. It is going to store this charge for you. If you have 100 amps batteries then you can draw around 50% out of it. Having two batteries can work great.
You watts hour consumption will depend on the number of appliances you run.
Various appliances in RV and their Wattage requirements.
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How Big A Solar Panel Do You Need To Charge The Battery
As you can see from above we didnt need a whole lot of battery storage for our power needs. We definitely only required one solar panel and probably couldve got a very small one.
However, its not always sunny, sometimes we were in a forest, parked somewhere out of direct sunlight or just needed more electricity for certain days. We ended up with a 300w solar panel because Thom found a great deal on one . This worked out well since it meant we could charge our battery in much less time, and we were hardly ever less than full.
With the Jackery, we bought the Explorer 240 as it was powerful enough to charge our laptop and drones.
But, if you do the above calculations and you look like youll need a lot more power, then you may want a bigger battery and more solar panels.
Mount The Solar Panels
I mounted my two solar panels on the downhill portion of the camper roof, behind the master bedroom / overhang portion. I chose this place because it seemed like it would see less wind shear when traveling on the freeway.
I considered adding a small trim piece / spoiler to the leading edge of the panels to prevent wind from getting underneath / below the panel, but it has not seemed necessary at least for my installation. I have inadvertently tested my camper at speeds of up to 85 mph on our last trip, and the panels still seem nice and secure.
I purchased a gallon of white flex-seal to seal off both the exterior wiring as well as the mounting holes for the panels. You wont need an entire gallon for this, but I bought that because I intend to coat the entire roof as well since it is an older camper.
The solar panels come with four brackets each. They worked well for my installation. Each bracket attaches to the panels with included bolts, washers, and lock washers. Be sure to tighten these snugly, as you will not want them coming loose on the road!
Once you have the brackets installed to the panels, position them on the roof to determine the best placement. Them mark the roof where each bracket rests. Temporarily move the panels out of the way and put a thick coat of flex seal where each bracket rested. This will help to seal the mounting holes, as well as keep the brackets from rubbing / abrading against the camper or RVs metal roof.
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Monocrystalline Vs Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Take these two solar panels from the same company for example. The first one is the Polycrystalline and the 2nd one is the Monocrystalline.
Take these two solar panels from the same company for example. The one on the left is the Polycrystalline and the one on the right is the Monocrystalline. The Polycrystalline is rated at 160 watts and has dimensions of 58 x 26. The Monocrystalline is rated at 175 watts and has dimensions of 57 x 26.
The two are within an inch in physical size, but the monocrystalline panel is capable of producing 15 more watts per panel. Which means you could be potentially gaining an extra 5-10 amps per day per panel if you opt for Monocrystalline over Polycrystalline.
Solar Powered Desk Lamp
A desk lamp is a great way to provide extra light for your workspace. And with this DIY project, you can make it solar-powered! All you need is a solar panel, a led light, and some wire.
Start by connecting the solar panel to the led light using the wire. Then, use tape or zip ties to attach the solar panel to a sturdy surface like a desk or table. And thats it your solar-powered desk lamp is ready to go!
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