RV Solar Panels: 7 Things You Must Need to Know Before Buying

This article will discuss the 7 things you must need to know before buying an RV solar panels.

If you are looking to travel all over the country in a leisurely and comfortable fashion, going around in a car simply would not cut it.

recreational vehicle or RV, no doubt, is the best way to drive on long distances as it basically provides you with what amounts to a home away from home.

A basic RV, however, does not have all the amenities that a stationary abode can provide, and you will need to customize it to suit your needs.

Often, you will need to install appliances and cooling systems that require more power than your vehicle’s engine can provide, and for that matter, you will need to install a reliable external power source that can sustain your mobile home for many miles.

While many would choose bulky, smelly, and noisy diesel generators to do the job, your best option currently is to go renewable.

Of all renewable power generation systems, though, nothing is as feasible as an RV solar panel system or also known as off grid solar panels.

Solar panels take power from the Sun, which is practically an unlimited source of energy.

They can be easily mounted on an RV’s roof to maximize their capacity for energy collection and power generation.

That is not to mention the fact that solar panels are increasingly getting cheaper, thanks to various improvements in their manufacturing processes as well as the industry’s increase in knowledge in the renewable energy field.

For these reasons and more, many RV enthusiasts are encouraged to install solar power generation systems on their mobile home.

Indeed, there are many DIY recreational vehicle installation resources that practically make it easier for anyone to install such systems on their own.

The installation itself, however, is no simple task, and you will need to take note of several considerations before you start mounting those solar panel systems for a recreational vehicles.

Table of Contents

  1. Video – RV Solar Simplified by All About RV’s
  2. Installation
  3. Types of Solar Panels to Use
  4. The Cost
  5. Integrating Your Solar Panel to Your RV
  6. The Caveats of Solar Power
  7. The Advantages of an RV Solar Panel System
  8. Should You Really Go DIY

Video – RV Solar Simplified by All About RV’s

RV Solar Simplified

Here are the 7 things You Must Need to Know Before Buying an RV Solar Panel:

1. Installation

As mentioned earlier, installing an entire solar power generation system on your RV is no walk in the park.

It is a process that will require some technical knowledge — particularly everything that has to do with setting up electrical circuits — and the ability to follow what is dictated in the DIY installation manual that usually comes with solar panel kits.

Of course, as is the tradition with all home cooking recipes, here are the things that you will need to use for an RV solar panel set up:

  • Portable Solar panels – Obviously, you will need these. Pick the ones with the right dimensions for your RV and, if the budget allows, it would not hurt investing in spare panels.
  • Solar batteries with battery monitors – This is where the solar panels are going to store the energy collected from the sun for later use. Make sure that you install battery monitors as well to keep track of your battery level so you’ll know when it’s time to charge your battery and save power.
  • Mounting hardware – You will need racks, drills, and screws to secure the solar panels on your RV’s roof.
  • Charge controller – This regulates the voltage coming from the solar panels and into your battery so as to prevent overcharging and the resulting.
  • Inverter – This component converts the DC (direct current) voltage coming from your solar battery and converts it to AC (alternating current) voltage that most modern appliances and electronic devices use.
  • Wires – These connect the above components into your RV’s electric circuit.

While putting all of these components together will take some fundamental knowledge on electric circuits and the technical skills to turn these into a working solar power generation system, the installation process is actually pretty straightforward.

Here are the basic steps:

  • Plan the solar panel layout. Make sure that the panels are positioned in such a way that their ability to collect sunlight is maximized and that you have a clear path to walk on during installation or possible future repairs. You should also take into consideration the removal or relocation of obstructions like TV antennas as well as the presence of access hatches.
  • Mount the panels on the roof. Carefully follow the instructions that come with your solar panel kit and mounting hardware so as to guarantee a secure installation.
  • Connect the battery to the solar panel.
  • Create a wire connection from your panels to the interior of your RV. You can use existing apertures like vents as the entryway of your wire. Alternatively, you can just drill a hole on the roof or the RF’s sidewall.
  • Connect the wire to the charge controller. Select a location for your controller that is closest to the solar battery so as to minimize power loss.
  • Connect the inverter. Make sure that it is mounted near the battery and is secured from corrosive battery gas, heat, and other potentially damaging elements.
  • Connect the inverter to the RV’s battery posts to power your mobile home.

2. Types of Solar Panels to Use

There are 3 different types of solar panels for RV:

  • Monocrystalline Solar Panels – So-called because each module is made of a single silicon crystal, monocrystalline panels are most efficient when it comes to converting solar energy into usable electricity at 20% efficiency. Also worth noting is the fact that it does not take up much space and can last for up to 25 years. However, the panels can are brittle, and given the fact that they are mounted externally and prone to damage, you will need to install a protective layer of glass to keep them intact while maintaining their power collection and generation efficiency.
  • Polycrystalline Solar Panels – These panels are composed of multiple photovoltaic cells and are far cheaper than monocrystalline panels while remaining as durable. They are less efficient than the latter at 14-18% efficiency, however, and take more space than monocrystalline panels in order to generate the same amount of power, making this type of solar panel less suitable for RVs.
  • Thin Film Solar Panels – These are made of thin semiconductor films secured by plastic, glass, or thin metallic materials. These are lightweight, flexible solar panels, and their performance is not affected by shading or temperature increase as much as crystalline solar panels. However, they can be very bulky and their thin cells are very easy to damage.

3. The Cost

A recreational vehicle solar panel system is not cheap.

According to RVShare.com, the price typically hovers above $500 and can go as high as $700.

There is no fixed price applicable for all RVs, however, as it always depends on your needs and intended design.

This price range is for the installation alone, however, and you should expect to spend extra on upgrades such as switching to lithium batteries to increase your RV’s battery life and reduce maintenance expenses.

4. Integrating Your Solar Panel to Your RV

We have spent some time going through the steps to install a solar power generation system to your RV earlier, but we have not really dwelt on hooking this system up to the vehicle itself.

This always depends on your RV model, so you will need to take a look at your owner’s manual to make sure you do things right.

There are also various instructional videos and other online materials that can help you in this regard.

If in doubt, though, you can always contact a professional to do the work for you.

5. The Caveats of Solar Power

Solar power, in its current state, is not all rainbows and daisies.

They do come with the following disadvantages according to this article from RV Life:

  • Solar panel kits are initially expensive. As mentioned earlier, solar power kits tend to cost $500 at the very least. It can only get higher the more you need to modify your vehicle to accommodate this system.
  • The installation can be complicated. While the installation is straightforward, it takes some basic knowledge of electric circuits and you will need to be very careful to avoid injuries and electric shock.
  • It will take you a bit before you recover your investment. As solar power kits are expensive, you will need to wait a bit to save enough to recover the initial installation costs. Thankfully, such systems do not incur any further cost as they do not require constant maintenance and will not need to consume fuel.

6. The Advantages of an RV Solar Panel System

Solar power simply is a very convenient way to power your RV.

Kempoo has a comprehensive list of these advantages that we certainly agree with, and these are as follows:

  • Solar power generators are not noisy. Unlike diesel generators, you will not hear any noise coming out of proper solar panel installation.
  • Emissions coming from a solar panel system is basically zero. As it does not burn fuel, expect no emission from a solar power generator. That would also mean that it will not let off any smell which is a big no-no when camping near other RVers or trailer parks next to residences.
  • Solar power generators are cheaper in the long term. It is a set-and-forget installation, and you will not need to spend money to keep it going. This is unlike diesel generators that will constantly need to chug gasoline to keep working. Also, solar panels can last at least a decade without the need for replacement.
  • Solar panel systems are allowed in national parks! The lack of noise makes solar power generators acceptable as per various national park rules, which typically sets a decibel cap on vehicle noise levels.
  • They are perfect for any road trip. Solar power generators can practically generate power so long as sunlight is available, and can keep your RV powered over long trips.

7. Should You Really Go DIY

Most solar panel kits come with an installation manual that basically shows you how to do the work yourself.

This, however, does not mean that you will have to do everything yourself.

Know whether or not you understand what needs to be done if you are physically capable of doing the necessary work, and if you have the time, effort, and attention to invest in the task.

Of course, not everyone is capable of installing an RV solar power system, and it sure will not hurt to invest in the services of a professional solar panel installation firm in such cases.

Do you have any more questions regarding getting ready for solar camping?

Contact us now so we can help you prepare optimally.

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