Complete Guide To RV Solar Kits
Complete Guide To RV Solar Kits
What to Look For When Buying Your RV Solar Panel Kit
- Available Roof Space and Desired Power Output
Also, the number of solar panels is critical. This number will be a function of the amount of power you are looking for. The majority of the larger RVs require four or more panels (but four at the very least). Smaller vehicles such as vans generally utilize one to two panels.
Your RV will require a good input of power to run electronics, The more wattage the better because it will produce current capable of supporting numerous electrical activities at the same time. A higher wattage can also guarantee a higher efficiency rating each time you connect your electronics and appliances to the source of current.
- RV Solar Kits (vs Separate Parts)
Purchasing items separately is not a smart move. In fact, buying RV Solar Kits is cheaper and more effective. These kits will come with all the basic and necessary items required for a solar system, which makes the whole installation process much easier. Manufacturers will bundle the most effective and recommended combination of parts.
In general terms, RV solar kits include items such as solar panels, charge controller, cables, and mounting brackets, at the very least. Additional items required are batteries and inverters. When energy consumption is high, you will need to purchase the most powerful batteries.
First things first. Always refer to your manual to check the detail on the weight capacity of your roof. This is step number one. Usually, RVs will withstand a lot of weight, so you won’t likely run into a weight issue but you should check first. In any case, check the weight on panels and compare to the weight capacity on your RV roof.
- Durability and Quality
Make sure you are buying products form known and reliable brands. Durability is key when installing RV solar systems. You don't want to spend money and effort to suddenly realize you bought a low quality and unreliable system. Solar panels are under the sun and are prone to aging and wearing out. Check on aluminum frames, weather resistant, dust resistant, water resistant, and with sturdy glass when buying your RV Solar Kit.
- Ease of Installation
When you are on the road, usually there is not help around so make sure installing is easy in case you need to take your panels down whilst on the road, and then install it afterwards.
Look for models with pre drilled holes, and easy to follow installation process so that you don't waste much time on installing and taking them down.
Since RV solar panels can be expensive, you need to make sure they offer the best warranty. Most of companies offer a warranty of a year at least. While leading brands offer warranties of up to 20 to 25 years for their models. Other components such as charge controllers and inverters usually can come with warranties ranging from 10 to 15 years.
Benefits of an RV Solar Panel Kit
The benefits of an RV solar kits are numerous. They are incredibly useful and are suitable especially for when you are the road for several weeks or even months. Below, we will discuss more on these benefits and why you need to buy one for yourself if you are an RVer.
- You don't depend on gas consuming energy generation. This is the most obvious benefit offered by solar panels: use of pure energy from direct sunlight.
- Eco-friendly: Avoid harmful wastes such as C02 from being discharged into the air, and thereby polluting the environment.
- Always available: Solar power is always available to serve you guaranteeing constant power regardless of where you are. No plug or outlet required, just the sun and the outdoors.
In general, RV solar panels are almost a 'must have' to your camper or RV. They provide you with energy anywhere the sun shines. You can live worry-free knowing you can take on longer and more adventurous trips. If you are an RVer it is highly recommended to purchase these devices.
In Basic Terms This Is How RV Solar Panels Work
Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity or power. The solar panels produce an electric current whenever sunlight hits the panels. This electric current is then trickled into a charge solar controller which controls the amount of current that charges the battery or battery bank.
After that, the battery bank will produce DC power. The installed inverter converts the DC power into AC, which is the type of power to operate electronic devices like laptops, phone charges, blenders, and ovens.
Different Types of RV Solar Panels
There are three common types of solar panels:
- Mono-crystalline solar panels - Constructed from a single large silicone crystal, these panels are considered to be the most efficient and having a higher charge output of more than 16%. It produces a higher amount of power in low-light conditions.
- Poly-crystalline solar panels - Made from silicon blocks that contains few small solar crystals. It produces about 16% power. Poly-crystalline solar panels is also one of the most commonly used types of solar panels today (although less efficient vs Mono).
- Amorphous - We won't waste time here. They are minimally used.
How to Install Solar Panels on Your RV Roof?
- First off, planning and preparation. You already went through this part, so you already know what you will buy (space and power are the factors here).
- Make sure they will be installed on a leveled surface. You can angle them when the RV is static so you capture sun in the angle is at at the moment and at the same you don't interfere with wind while driving.
- Measure and map/mark surface in roof. Make sure you understand where things will go and make sure walking space is available for maneuvering panels if future expansion or uninstallation is needed. You can play with cardboard to envision the layout.
- Avoid the shades. When planning for roof layout make sure there is nothing interrupting sunlight from getting to your panels (antenna, vent, etc)
- If you install in series, all panels will be affected by only one getting shade. If installation is parallel, the panel getting shade will be affected. Still shade is something you want to avoid at all cost.
- Always plan for extra power specially for when cloudy days are present. You won't regret having more power. (3x200W or 5x100W is a good average set up but it all depends what you want and need)
- Wire into your RV. You can opt in using any available vent to get wires into the RV or you can drill new holes. Depends on how you see the whole set up working out at the roof. But both options are available. Just make sure they make their way into the RV in a smooth and convenient way. You can wire down from roof to the belly and forward thru belly up to the charge controller, and forward to batteries. Make an inspection and find the best way to wire cables in.
- Wiring is the most critical part of the installation. Don't use small or cheap cables as they can inhibit the flow of power. Preferably use the ones with less than 2% voltage drop. You can use 10 AWG from panels to combiner, 6 AWG from combiner to controller, and same 6 AWG from controller to batteries. Always use high quality cables (UV resistant for exterior wiring).
- Use circuit breakers to disconnect panels from controller, and controller from batteries. You can use 30 or 40 amp circuit breakers depending on panels and controller. But this is a good average.
- Install a catastrophic fuse right at, or very close to the battery bank. This is important.
- Use quality wiring lugs and attach them properly. Use high-quality adhesive heat shrink that is color-coded (red for positive and black for negative wires).
- Use combiner boxes at the panel level. This means, instead of running 6 wires (3 solar panels x 2 wires per panel) from the roof, all the way to the solar controller, the idea is to 'combine' the solar panel wiring together into one pair of larger gauge wire. Solar combiner boxes are typically mounted on the roof, in a central location, as to limit the wire lengths (runs) from all the solar panels to it. Look for weatherproof boxes.
- Install the controller. This is the heart of the system that controls how energy goes from panels into batteries. Your solar controller will want to be able to handle the maximum amount of amps that your solar panels (rooftop and ground deploys) will be able to produce. As general rule, you are going to want the shortest possible wiring run from the solar controller to the battery bank. This will minimize the size of wire needed and voltage drop (energy loss). In other words, locate the controller next or very close to the batteries.
- Use MC4 adapters to minimize wiring both at the roof and inside the RV (an MC4 adapter can combine 4 wires into 2).
- Charge controller. Preferably to be placed in a compartment next to batteries or in the same compartment.
- Wiring your panels in series will increase the total panel voltage, which can be a good thing with an MPPT controller, but you have more issues with panel shading affecting solar output.
- Wiring panels in parallel means fewer issues with shading affecting the overall power output but doesn't let you increase total panel voltage.
- If you are wiring in parallel make sure your panels are of equal Voltage. Any panel with lower voltage will bring the rest to the lowest voltage.
- If you have an even number of panels (4 or 6), you can use a combination of series and parallel wiring to take advantage of the increased voltage, and yet limit the shading effects.
- Always think of future expansion when planning your parts.
- Your charge controller and battery need to be next to or very close to each other.
- Preferable to use Lithium batteries (lighter).
- Buy only branded well known parts.
- Always use higher than input charge controller. This will allow for future expansion at no additional cost.
The installation process is very simple provided you follow the basics in the right way: Bolt your panels down, run your wires, and set your central system up by either your kit or additional purchase. Although it might seem complicated, it is not once you understand basics and framework.
Hopefully this post helped clarify some concepts and gave the you the framework to start your RV Solar Paneling project.
If you have any comment or suggestion we'd love to hear from you.
Buying an RV Solar Kit? Check our selection of RV Solar Kits