Skip to Content

RV Solar Panel Installation Overview

RV Solar Panel Installation Overview

As we spend a fair amount of time boondocking (camping without hook-ups), solar panels have given us the freedom to enjoy the peace & quiet of remote locations without running our generator too much.

Since we already installed our panels on the RV (7 years ago), this is just an overview of our set-up, as opposed to a detailed tutorial.

We show the general layout and components of the system, including the panels themselves, the wiring and the solar controller. We also talk about the benefits of including a simple and inexpensive tilt kit, which allows tilting the solar panels up in the winter, when the sun is lower on the horizon.

Our first RV had two panels, which were permanently fastened flat to the roof, so they couldn’t be tilted. We’ve learned a lot since then, and the new panels are tilt-able, and also use thicker 6-gauge wire to reduce loss along its length.


Recent & Related videos:

We'd Love It If You Shared This!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Craig Huggins

Saturday 4th of November 2017

Hey guys, my wife and I are relatively new to RV’ingz. We found your channel about 8 months ago while deciding to purchase our first RV, and we’ve learned a lot from you. We wanted to first say thanks!

Our situation: my wife is a gospel singer, and we travel around the country from event to event in our new 17-year-old RV. We’re currently touring in a 2000 Bounder 39z diesel (30amp), often boondocking in church parking lots that don’t offer electrical.

I’d like to ask a somewhat basic question about moving into solar power. — Does a solar power system provide house power in the same *manor* (not the same amount) as plugging into shore power, or does it simply provide a trickle charger for the batteries so the inverter can work?

I ask specifically about the manor of power because our 2000 watt Xantrex inverter doesn’t provide power to all the outlets. I realize there are a lot of variables involved, including all the additional hardware, to which you can calculate the *amount* of power that solar can provide, and that ultimately solar isn’t a 100% substitute for full shore power. But, fundamentally, if it’s just a glorified battery charger, that doesn’t seem to solve my particular problem of the *manor* in which that power is distributed to the house outles. On the other hand, if a full solar install provides power to all my outlets (even just a few amps), that would greatly reduce our dependence on our generator.

All the articles and forums I’ve been reading seem to base their perspectives on the assumption that the reader understands this fundamental concept. They tend to concentrate on the maths of energy requirements or the installations instructions or the gear reviews.

Thanks for any enlightenment you can provide!

Craig

TheRVgeeks

Saturday 4th of November 2017

Hi Craig,

Thanks so much for the kind words! It really does mean a lot to us to hear that we are helping other people with their RVs! And how cool that you're touring in your RV for your wife's events! We love how many ways people are out-and-about RVing!

On the solar front: typically, RV solar systems are configured as 12-volt charging systems for your batteries. So you would be relying on your inverter to transform the 12V power into 110V to run TVs, appliances, laptops, etc in your RV. Installing a solar system doesn't change the way your ' existing electrical system works... you're just adding in a new way to replenish the charge in the batteries. But as part of the solar install, you might be able to have the installer, or an electrician, re-wire your coach so that the inverter could power more outlets than it currently does.

We know where you're coming from, as our first RV (a 2002 Fleetwood Bounder Diesel 39Z!!) was wired the same way yours is: the inverter only powered a handful of outlets in the coach. But our current RV (our 2005 Newmar Mountain Aire 4304) is setup so that almost EVERY outlet is powered off of the inverter. The only ones that aren't are the washer/dryer outlets... and the outlet for our engine block heater. But that's fine, since those are such high-power-draw appliances that we wouldn't WANT them powered off of our batteries!

So... other than having a solar installer or an electrician re-wire your Bounder to enable your inverter to power more of the outlets... the only way to solve your current problem would be to buy another RV! Solar, in and of itself, won't change your situation... although it would be great if you could plug your shore power cord into a solar panel and be all set! ;)

Hope this makes sense and answers your question!

Jason

Sunday 2nd of July 2017

Can you provide more information/detail about the power switch that you put between the controller and the solar panels? What type of switch did you use? Did you only connect it through the positive cable or did you connect the negative as well?

TheRVgeeks

Sunday 2nd of July 2017

Hi Jason! We picked up that toggle switch at an auto parts store. It's a pretty typical 12-volt on-off switch, although we made sure to buy one rated at 25 amps, since that's how much our solar controller is rated for. It's basically the same as this one: http://amzn.to/2sw4iGH

We only added it into the positive cable, as it's not necessary to have one on both the + & - sides. Once the power is cut to the positive cable, the panels are disconnected. Hope this helps!

TheRVgeeks

Sunday 2nd of July 2017

Hi Jason! We went to an auto parts store and picked up a 12-volt on-off toggle switch. Since our solar controller is rated at 25 amps max, we made sure the switch was also rated for at least that much. This one on Amazon is pretty much the same as ours: http://amzn.to/2sw4iGH

dominique dewitte

Wednesday 1st of February 2017

j'aimerai savoir à quelle hauteur les panneaux sont perchés en position à plat

TheRVgeeks

Wednesday 1st of February 2017

Bon Jour Dominique! Nos panneaux sont montés à environ 2 pouces du toit, ce qui leur permet de rester plus frais en raison du flux d'air en dessous. Plus les panneaux sont froids, plus ils produisent efficacement de l'électricité.

Van

Sunday 9th of October 2016

Though aimed at my WOG friends, you and your readers might find the thread below to be an interesting read. Our coach is an ongoing project that's evolved and the solar has significantly upgraded its boondocking capabilities. I chose house rather than smaller RV sized panels from Sun Electronics to keep the costs down. And because I had the real estate up top, doing 5 panels rather than four allowed flat placement making tilting unnecessary. With this much solar supplementing the batteries, midday AC operation of one unit with a soft start controller is often a break-even proposition.

http://www.wanderlodgeownersgroup.com/forums/showthread.php?t=25074

You and the friends you reference have been a great inspriation. Thanks for all that you do for the RV community and I look forward to meeting you in-person someday!

TheRVgeeks

Sunday 9th of October 2016

Thanks Van. Nina & Paul's setup is indeed rad. Hard to go wrong emulating them.

Jeremy

Thursday 8th of September 2016

Sorry for the Solar Newbie question but would I be able to run my air conditioners and my refrigerator with a solar panel. If so how big of one do I need?

TheRVgeeks

Thursday 8th of September 2016

Great question Jeremy, and a popular one! Running a residential fridge off solar is a standard thing, and one of the most common reasons that many RVers get solar for in the first place (including us), although one panel isn't enough to do much. Powering A/C off solar panels is a pretty big task, partly because it requires a very serious battery bank (nothing actually runs off the panels.... they simply provide juice to the batteries, which power everything else).

The VAST majority of RVs could never hope to run A/C off batteries/solar, as it's very expensive and can be quite complicated. We personally know of only two people who've made the modifications required to do it... both good friends of ours. Here they are, with links to their blog posts about powering A/C with solar, and overviews of solar in general:

(1) Nikki & Jason of GoneWithTheWynns: http://www.gonewiththewynns.com/off-grid-solar-rv-air-conditioning (we make a guest appearance in their video on the topic) (2) Nina & Paul of WheelingIt: http://wheelingit.us/category/solar-power-2/

It's a lot to take in, as it's a big topic, so pull up a chair and get ready if you really want to know the whole scoop. There is a ton to learn, but these three couples provide some of the best information out there.

Unless you have plans to dry camp in very hot climates an awful lot, a smaller solar system that isn't able to power the A/C is probably a better choice ( that's what we have). The cost will never be recouped, so running the generator for occasional dry camping A/C use makes more sense in most cases.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

PLEASE NOTE: We're handy RVers, not professional technicians. We're happy with the techniques and products we use, but be sure to confirm that all methods and materials you use are compatible with your equipment and abilities. Regardless of what we recommend, consult a professional if you're unsure about working on your RV. Any task you perform or product you purchase based on any information we provide is strictly at your own risk.

We participate in the Amazon affiliate program, which provides a means for us to earn a small commission by linking to products there. But our opinions are our own and we only link to products we personally use, love and can recommend to friends with complete confidence.