Whether it's a weekend getaway, a cross-country adventure, or a full-time lifestyle, RVing offers the freedom of outdoor adventure and allure of the open road.
But for all the joys that RV life brings, there's a crucial need every road nomad and doomsday prepper must understand: powering your RV.
In this blog, we give you the low-down on how to power an RV with the best solar power solutions at your disposal.
Hint: Heads-up, there's a 3-minute quiz at the end of the blog to help you select the most suitable solar setup for your RV. It's quick, it's fun, and it will path you to RV energy success!
Essential Components of an RV Solar Power System
The modern RV is everything you'd want to have a good time with your loved ones. It comes with various appliances and devices, from air conditioning and entertainment systems to refrigerators and lights.
But before enjoying all these features, you must understand the components that make everything happen. Each component plays a critical role in powering your RV.
You can also check out our in-depth Solar Power 101 Guide to understand how everything works.
Solar Panels and Charge Controllers
Panels are the heart of the system. They convert sunlight into electricity. They come in two types, monocrystalline and polycrystalline, and two sizes, 60/120-cell and 72/144-cell.
Beneath the panels are the charge controllers, which regulate the flow of electricity to the batteries. They prevent overcharging and, consequently, extend your battery's lifespan.
RV batteries are typically of two types: starting/ chassis and deep cycle batteries. Deep cycle batteries are the preferred option since they can handle frequent charge and discharge cycles.
Again, these are available in different types, including lithium-ion (Li-Ion), absorbed glass mat (AGM), and flooded lead-acid (FLA). The choice depends on your specific requirements and budget.
An inverter converts direct current (DC) electricity to alternating current (AC), which is compatible with most devices – thanks Nikola Tesla.
Wiring and connectors
You need high-quality wiring to minimize energy loss. Connectors and gauge wires will help ensure efficient transmission of electricity between components.
Mounting hardware and accessories
Lastly are the mounting hardware and accessories. The mounting hardware will secure your panel to the RV roof safely. Accessories such as combiner boxes and tilt kits help optimize your system's longevity and performance.
How to Power an RV: Installation Process
Here's a step-by-step DIY guide on how to power an RV. This is for those who don't want to call in professional services; those who want to get their hands dirty.
Safety Precautions Before Starting
Safety is paramount, especially when powering an RV. Here are a few things to keep in mind before you begin the installation process.
- Go through the user manual and familiarize yourself with the components and guidelines.
- Disconnect your RV from any external power source, including generators and shore power. This is to prevent electrical accidents during installation.
- Wear safety gear during the process: safety glasses, work gloves, and any other appropriate clothing and footwear.
- Check your roof's structural integrity to confirm that it will support the solar panels' weight and that of the mounting hardware.
- It may not seem like necessary, but ensure there is good ventilation. You may also assemble ladders and other equipment to access the roof if need be.
- Mark all wires and cables to avoid confusion during installation.
- Have a work buddy to help you out. They don't just offer an additional set of hands; they may prove useful in emergencies.
- Finally, have a fire extinguisher readily available.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Installing Solar Panels on an RV Roof
Step 1: Prepare Your RV Roof
Prepare the roof for the installation. Remove debris, old sealant, and all dirt present. Inspect for any leaks or damage and repair as needed.
Plan a layout and mark the locations with colored tape. This is to visualize how the whole thing will appear.
Step 2: Mount the Panels
The next step is to mount the solar panels. Position them on the roof, ensuring proper alignment and spacing. For multiple panels, leave around 20 mm in between.
Use mounting brackets to fasten the panels securely to the roof. You may need to drill holes, but remember to apply a sealant afterward.
For those connecting multiple panels, you can connect them either in series or parallel connection. Consider getting the best solar panels for RV for the best performance.
Series connection increases the voltage. You connect the positive (+ve) terminal of the first panel to the second's negative (-ve) terminal.
Parallel connection is known to increase current value. In this connection, you connect the +ve cables of the first panel to the +ve of the second. You also do this with the -ve cables.
Step 3: Wiring
It's wiring time. Run the solar cables from the solar panels to the charge controller, which is inside the RV.
Connect the cables to the controller's input terminals. Ensure the cable is of the right size to minimize power loss.
Step 4: Mount the Solar Charge Controller
Once that is done, look for a well-ventilated area inside your RV and near the batteries to mount the solar charge controller.
You've connected the solar panels to the controller's input terminals. Connect the battery cables to the output terminals.
Step 5: Install Batteries and Inverters
Connect the battery bank to the charge controller to ensure correct polarity. Mount your inverter close to the battery bank. Follow the manual guide on how to do this. Connect your appliances to the inverter's output.
When you are done, properly ground everything as per the safety regulations.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Here are a few common pitfalls to avoid if the entire process is to be rewarding.
- Don't underestimate your energy needs. The last thing you want is to be in a blackout because you have insufficient power for your needs. You are better off with a solar system that exceeds your needs.
- Don't place your panel too close to the roof's edge. Similarly, avoid placing the panel close to other obstructions on the roof.
- Tilt your panel above 10 degrees for ideal direct sunlight. This will also help avoid dust buildup.
- Avoid drilling into any electrical wiring when mounting the panels. You don't want to create a fire hazard.
- Do not neglect regular maintenance, such as checking the connections and cleaning the panels. This can lead to decreased efficiency.
Benefits of Using Solar Power for RVs
The most compelling benefit of using solar power for your RV is freedom. Freedom to power your automobile in the most remote places.
Solar panels may be expensive upfront, but they are cost-effective in the long run. These machines allow you to charge batteries and run appliances with only the help of the sun, saving on fuel expenses.
Don't we all love the quiet, peaceful operations of solar panels. For once, we don't have to deal with the obnoxious whining of gas generators. Sure, there is slight noise produced. But it's more like soothing background hum that helps you sleep.
Who needs costly, noisy gas generators when you can use solar panels to camp off-grid for extended periods? They eliminate or reduce the need for generators, creating a silent and hassle-free experience.
You now have the freedom to explore secluded and remote locations.
Extended Battery Life
Solar charge controllers are the unsung heroes of this. They are in place to ensure your batteries charge optimally. This helps reduce replacement costs and extend their lifespan. Another viable reason to consider solar panels.
Comfort and Convenience
Since your main power supply, the sun is everywhere, you can camp in more locations without the need for power hookups.
Solar power provides a reliable and consistent power source that allows you to charge devices and operate appliances without interruptions.
With solar panels, you are typically limited to the occasional cleaning and the optional customization only. No fuel expense, no maintenance cost, no expenses in general. It can't get better than this.
Solar Paradise takes great pride in being an advocate for clean energy. Solar energy is clean and renewable and helps reduce your RV's carbon footprint.
Additionally, solar panels operate quietly and don't produce emissions. They contribute to a quieter and more eco-friendly outdoor experience.
Factors to Consider Before Installing Solar Panels on an RV
Evaluating different factors is critical to ascertain whether your solar power meets your needs. Here are some key considerations.
Energy Needs and Consumption
How much power do you consume daily? How many appliances do you have, and how long do you use them? The first thing to do before getting a solar panel is to identify and calculate your power needs.
A bit of math is involved in this process. We know, we're not happy either. But it's not complicated. Check the watts (or amps) on your appliance and multiply that by the number of hours you use the appliance.
For example: Your TV consumes 100 watts. You watch TV for three hours a day, approximately. So your TV consumes:
100W ✕ 3h= 300 watts a day
Do this for all your appliances to calculate the total watt-hours you'll consume. Once you have all this info with you, then you can estimate the number of panels you'll need.
The other method is through trial and error. Go out with your RV and monitor your battery usage. This will give you a clue on your power consumption and what to get. Both methods are efficient. It's up to you.
Pro Tip: When purchasing your solar panel, consider the operating power, not the maximum output. The maximum output is what you expect from your panel under perfect conditions. But we don't live in an ideal world, do we?
Available Roof Space
Examine the layout of your RV's roof and check how much space you have. Consider obstructions such as air conditioners and roof vents that may limit the available space. Like purchasing furniture, you don't want to end up with something too big for your space.
You also want to evaluate your roof's orientation, whether it's flat or sloped, and its exposure to sunlight during the day.
Money is another important consideration when deciding on a solar power system. Set a realistic budget, one which will include the cost of the panels, controllers, batteries, and any other necessities.
As expected, the larger the system, the more expensive it will be, but the greater the power output.
Good news, at Solar Paradise, we've partnered with Bread Pay to come up with the Pay Over Time Program. This allows you to pay for your equipment in multiple installments instead of one lump sum amount.
Should You Install RV Solar Panels?
There's time and money involved in investing in RV solar panels. So, the million-dollar question is: should you buy an RV solar panel?
Like anything else, it all comes down to individual needs and preferences. But here are a few pointers to help you decide.
An RV solar panel will prove useful if you:
- Are looking to save on fuel costs and avoid high fees at campgrounds with electrical hookups.
- Need consistent power without having to rely on fuel, generators, and external power sources.
- Are committed to an environmentally friendly lifestyle.
- Have a growing family and an increasing power demand. You need to upgrade your system to meet the new demands.
Want a quiet, peaceful operation.
Who knew the sun could be your best friend on the road? Solar energy is the answer to a joyous, peaceful, and quiet RVing.
Before we part ways, here's the RV compatibility quiz we promised earlier. It only takes 3 minutes and will be your ticket to finding the perfect solar setup for your RV.
Feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns you may have. Safe travels, fellow RV nomads!