How to Add RV Solar Panels to your Rig

RV solar panels
(photo by Serendigity via FlickrCC)

Looking to make more environmentally conscious lifestyle choices? Or maybe you’re interested in reducing your electric bill or your dependency on electric hookups at RV campgrounds. No matter what your reasoning is, you want to learn more about RV solar panels. Well, you’ve come to the right place!

The trend of outfitting RVs with solar panels began only a few short years ago. Thankfully, the technology has come a long way since then. These days, solar panel installation is cheaper and easier than ever before. To help you through the process, we’ve put together a quick primer on all things involving solar power. Read on to learn more!

Solar energy

First, a bit about solar energy. Most of us get the basic idea that the sun hits your solar panels, creating energy. But it’s important to realize that battery storage is an important component of solar power. For most users, solar panels are intended not as a total replacement but to complement other energy sources, such as a generator or an external plug-in power source. All of these power sources filter into your vehicle’s battery, creating your own miniature RV power grid.

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So how does this work at your campsite? Essentially, you’ll need to set up your solar panels so they get as much sunlight as possible. Output wires then run from the panels to a charge controller and then to your RV coach battery. Voila! You’ve got power.

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What to know about RV solar panels

To start, you’ll need to investigate how much power you’ll need. Some say that 200 to 400 watts is enough to power the batteries on most RVs, but try using an online solar panel sizing calculator to get a sense of how many panels you’ll need to achieve the energy output you’re looking for. Doing a small amount of research before you make your purchase can help you save hundreds of dollars, so don’t skip this step!

Then, you’ll have to decide between rigid or flexible solar panels. Rigid solar panels are made from glass and built to withstand outdoor travel and most weather conditions. They’re more durable than flexible panels and generally cheaper to install.

Flexible solar panels, on the other hand, are lightweight and designed with silicone. They can generate the same amount of energy as a rigid panel but aren’t as long-lasting. For more details on the different types of RV solar panels, check out our earlier guide here.

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(photo by Serendigity via FlickrCC)

How to install solar panels

Once you have your equipment ready, it’s time to start the installation process. While it might seem intimidating, installing DIY solar panels isn’t as complicated as it seems.

  1. First, find a spot on the roof of your RV where the solar panels fit nicely.
  2. Clean the area with an all-purpose cleaner to remove dirt and debris.
  3. For flexible panels, peel off the adhesive membrane and attach to roof. For rigid panels, secure to the roof with nuts and bolts.
  4. Reroute the wiring so the panels are connected to the charge controller and the RV battery.

Remember that the process of installing RV panels will be slightly different depending on the type and brand you purchase. For more detailed instructions on the general principles, check out these tutorials and online how-to guides from other RVers who have gone solar.

Best solar panels for RV

Plenty of cheap solar panels are available for purchase on sites such as Amazon. So how do you choose?

Renology is one brand that comes highly recommended by many RVers. Their RV solar panels start at about $110 each, making them an affordable yet high-quality option. Windy Nation is another popular brand that sells ready-made solar panel kits to make the entire process a little less complicated. If you’re new to the world of solar power, buying a kit with step-by-step instructions might be a good way to get started.

You can also check out online reviews to get a sense of the best solar panels for your price range and type of RV. Wirecutter, an online review site owned by the New York Times, recommends theĀ Suniva Optimus 335W Monocrystalline Solar Panels for off-the-grid solar power, but there are plenty of great options out there so don’t be afraid to expand your search.

We hope this guide was helpful! Here’s wishing you many sunny days ahead.

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