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how to hook up solar panel to rv

How To Mount A Solar Panel On An RV

Are you trying to learn how to hook up a solar panel to an RV?

Solar panels on the RV roof are an excellent way to use clean, quiet power when not hooked up and/or living off the grid. 

In this guide, we will cover the basics of how to mount a solar panel on an RV and connect everything together to charge your onboard battery bank and appliances.


What's In This Guide

In this guide, we introduce a proven step-by-step method to help hook up a solar panel to an RV.

We cover the entire list of tools and materials you'll need to accomplish the task at hand.

Finally, we answer the most commonly-asked questions about mounting a solar panel on an RV for traveling - including the gotchas that trip up most people.

Hopefully, this guide will answer all of your questions.

But in case it doesn't, please leave us a comment below.


Why Mount A Solar Panel On An RV For Traveling?

The numerous benefits include: 

  • Solar panels are silent so that you can enjoy your camping adventure in peace.
  • With little to no emissions, solar panels are entirely eco-friendly.
  • Solar panels are low maintenance and easily last for up to 10 years.
  • After buying the solar panels, there is no additional cost as they have a fuel-free operation.
  • You can have electricity, no matter where you go, as long as the sun shines. 

How To Hook Up A Solar Panel To An RV (Summary)

With the right set of skills and tools, you can easily install a solar panel on the RV by yourself.

The installation of solar panels on an RV requires approximately four to five hours. 

In this section we give you a quick rundown before getting into the details.

The first thing you need to do, obviously, is to get the correct number of solar panels according to your power needs. 

To do this, check the RV roof to find a clear space and plan the layout. Then, purchase the right panels for the space you have including mounting hardware.

Next, install the mounting hardware and secure it tightly. 

You will next place the solar panels on the RV and mount the cable entry plate. 

Then run the wires through the cable entry plate and connect them to the charge controller installed inside the RV. 

Finally, you will attach the charge controller to the battery and to the solar panels. 

At that point, you are ready to test the setup and charge levels.

Get Prepared: Tools & Supplies You'll Need

how to hook up solar panel to rv

Below is a list of the components and accessories required to install solar panels on an RV roof.  You can find everything you need online on Amazon or a solar panel retailer.

RV Solar Panels

Solar panels are placed on the RV roof to collect solar energy from the sun and store it in the battery. It is recommended to get monocrystalline solar panels as they are 22% efficient compared to the rest. Choose a flexible mounting system to allow you to angle the panels toward the sun.

Charge Controller

The solar charge controller is installed inside the RV, and it regulates the flow of charge from solar panels to the battery. 

There are two types of charge controllers: MPPT and PWM. The PWM is cheaper and a bit outdated, while a MPPT charge controller is more expensive and requires complex connections. 

That said, an MPPT controller can transfer 20% to 30% more power even at cold temperatures, so we strongly suggest buying an MPPT.

Battery Bank

Batteries are the system's heart and store the energy generated by the solar panels. It requires at least one 12V deep cycle or two 6V batteries for an RV.

Lithium ion phosphate (LiPO4) batteries are a popular choice for any solar panel setup due to their flat-voltage characteristics and long cycle life.

Mounting Brackets

Mounting brackets make the installation convenient by saving you from the trouble of drilling holes in the RV roof. Attach the solar panels to the mounting bracket and place them on the RV roof.

Cable

Choosing the right cables is vital for efficiency and safety. Lower guage cables are preferred for reducing the voltage loss between panels and the charge controller to the minimum. 

Fuse Holder

A fuse holder is installed between the battery and charge controller and the solar breaker to protect the battery.

Solar Circuit Breaker

Solar breaker or battery cutoff switches are additional safety mechanisms to allow you to cut off the power when necessary. Also critical for battery safety.  

Next, let's see how to hook up solar panels to RV. 

Step 1: Determine Your Typical Energy Usage

Before buying a thing, make sure you understand how much Watt-hours of energy you will need to power your RV lights, plumbing and appliances for a full day.  You can estimate this using our appliance worksheet.

This will determine how many batteries you will need to store that energy.  Once you know how many batteries you need, you are ready to figure out how many solar panels will be needed to recharge them during the day.

Step 2: Size Your RV Solar Energy Requirement

The next step is to decide how much energy (in Watts) you will need each day from your solar panels to properly refill your batteries.  

You can calculate this by dividing the Watt-Hours of battery storage decided in Step 2 by 6-8 hours of full daylight charge time.  This will tell you how many Watts of solar panel you will need to do the job.   

Most solar panels for RVs come in 100-Watt or 200-Watt sizes.  So round up to the nearest 100 Watts to get your final solar supply requirement in Watts.

Step 3: Calculate The Number Of Solar Panels You Need

how to hook up solar panel to rv

It’s time to select the solar panels right for your budget and application.  There are many suppliers of RV solar panels, but we recommend Renogy, BougeRV and Harbor Freight.

Divide the Watts you need by the Watt rating of the solar panels you’ve selected and this is the number of solar panels you need to power the appliances and devices on the RV.

Step 4: Check The Roof For Damage

The next step is examining your RV's roof for any damaged spots. In case there are some damaged areas, it is better to fix them before installing solar panels. 

Step 5: Plan Where You Will Install The Panels

how to hook up solar panel to rv

Step 6: Create An Installation Mask

Take a blank piece of paper and place it over your intended panel location.  Draw how you would like to place the solar panels on your RV's roof.  You’ll want to mark any drill or glue points on it. 

Step 7: Install Mounting Hardware

According to your installation mask as a guide, drill the holes on the panels using a drill. Now place the brackets on the panels and tightly screw them using the nuts and bolts provided in the package.

Step 8: Mount Solar Panels On RV

This step may vary depending on the type of solar panels you are using. 

For rigid solar panels, you may need to drill holes in the roof and attach the solar panels to the bracket. Screw the solar panels and apply a sealant between the solar panel brackets and roof to get a water-tight seal.

For flexible solar panels, an adhesive is generally used. Remove the clear protective coating from the edges of the panels. Measure the length of one long edge of the panels and cut a strip of the Eternabond strip. 

Apply the sticky side of the tape on the panel. Remove all the protective coating and apply pressure to the tape over the panels and the RV roof. Repeat the process on the other three sides. 

Step 9: Mount Cable Entry Plate

Drill holes in the RV roof to access the cable entry plate. Install the entry plate on the RV roof and secure it tightly.

Step 10: Connect Cables To Charge Controller

how to hook up solar panel to rv

Install the charge controller and place it near the battery as the cables are short. Connect the battery to the charge controller and then panels to the charge controller.

Now, connect the cables to the solar breaker. Finally, install the DC fuse block between the battery and the charge controller. 

Step 11: Connect in Series 

After mounting the solar panels on the RV roof, it's time to link them together. Connect the loose ends on the first and last solar panels to a cable and the entry plate. You can also use an MC4 connector to get a neat one-cable finish. 


Frequently-Asked Questions

How do I connect my solar panel to my RV?

Munt solar panels on the RV roof and install a charge controller inside the RV. Attach the charge controller to the battery and then solar panels. Install a DC fuse and ink the solar panels to each other. 

How do I connect my portable solar panel to my RV battery?

Connect the positive and negative wires from the solar panels to the respective terminals of the battery. It will charge the solar panels while powering the appliances. 

How much solar power do you need for an RV Fridge?

An RV fridge would require you to install two to three solar panels, each producing 250 to 400 watts of power. This solar panel system can run your RV fridge for more than 24 hours.

What size solar panel do I need to charge my RV battery?

A 100 watts solar panel is enough to charge a 12V RV battery. It will take approximately two to five hours to recharge the battery with the 100-watt solar panel fully. 

Are solar panels worth it on an RV?

Solar panels can be a cost-effective and convenient means of electricity, especially if traveling or camping in an RV. These are generally low-maintenance and offer constant electricity during the day. 

How long does it take to charge an RV battery with a solar panel?

If you have a 100Ah RV battery, it takes seven to eight hours for a 100 watts solar panel to completely charge it. A deep cycle battery takes four hours to get recharged with the 100 watts solar panel. 


Final Verdict: How to Mount A Solar Panel On An RV

This brings us to the end of the detailed guide on how to hook up a solar panel to an RV. Hopefully, it gives you a complete understanding to ensure a pleasant RV ride during your next trip.

About the Author David Roberts

I'm a Mechanical Engineer who's obsessed with solar energy and sustainable living.

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