An RV solar panel installation isn’t as unique as it used to be. Nowadays it is common to see a solar panel on an RV. And it’s understandable too. Why would you put up with the noise of a generator when there’s a better power source?
There was a time when solar panels were too expensive, but that is no longer the case as the cost of these panels have gone down, and if you calculate the figures you’ll save more by installing these panels on your RV.
11 Checklist about rV solar panel installation
I went solar on my RV because it is more cost effective. In the long run I save more money and I don’t want to be tied down with the power company. While going solar is straightforward, there are things you need to consider.
If you have never installed solar panels before, you’ll want to pay attention to the following. The information below will help you figure out what type of solar panels you need and how much power they can provide.
1. Know How to Calculate Your Power Requirements
Check how much power you’ll need from the solar panels. The panels must produce sufficient energy to power up your devices and charge the battery bank. Do this before you buy any solar panels.
2. Determine How Much Energy Your Battery Can Store
Amp hours (AH) is used to measure battery capacity. You have to turn AH into watt hours, and you do this by multiplying the battery voltage by the AH. So if you have a 12V 18AH battery (12 x 18 = 216), that’s 216 watt hours (WH).
The battery can produce 108 watts in 2 hours or 204 watts in one hour. The more wattage your device needs the more power it’s going to use.
3. Calculate How Much Energy Appliances Use Over a Period of Time
Watts is used to determine an electrical device’s power consumption. A fluorescent light – the 21 inch version – consumes about 15 watts. You just need to multiply the number of hours you’ll use the device by the power consumption.
In this instance the light consumes 30W in two hours and 15W in an hour. Repeat the process for all the electronic devices in your RV to get the total amount.
4. Calculate How Much Energy Solar Panels Create
Watts are used to determine the solar panel power output ratings. To figure out how much power the panels can provide your battery, multiply the number of hours the panel gets exposed to sunlight by wattage rating. Multiply the results by .80.
If your solar panel gets 4 hours of exposure, it can supply 38.4 watts of power to your battery.
5. Safe Installation of RV Solar Panels
Prior to installing the solar panels, shut down and disconnect the RV battery. Also make certain no generator or other power sources are active.
Once you’ve done the preliminary steps above, it’s time to get on with the installation.
Open your kit
- Unpack the items carefully and read the owner’s manual. Do not skip anything and pay close attention to the safety tips provided.
- This is a two person job. Make sure someone is watching when you climb up the ladder to install the panels on the roof.
- Remove the panels from the boxes and take them to the roof. Set the panels down where you want them mounted.
6. Choose a spot for the charge controller
The battery bank and the charger controller have to be close to each other to prevent power loss. Check the owner’s manual if it suggests a specific location for the charge controller.
Choose a spot for the cable entry plate
- Run the wires at the back of the refrigerator. This is a good spot as you can move the appliance aside if necessary.
- Place the entry plate above the fridge. Drill an opening on the roof and course the wires through and behind the fridge.
- Keep running the wires to the cabinet and to the solar controller.
- Once the cable entry plate is in position, apply sealant along the entry plate parameter to prevent water from seeping in.
- Apply sealant along the screw holes.
- Use wire ties to secure the wires at the back of the fridge so they don’t make a mess.
- Connect the connector cable onto the solar breaker. Ensure the breaker is set between the solar charge controller and the cable entry plate. Make certain you can access the cables in case there is a problem.
- Set the charge controller monitor where you can easily access it in case there is a problem.
- Put the DC fuse between the charge controller and the battery. Use a 4 gauge battery cable to secure it.
- Set up the hardware and the solar panels before taking them up the RV.
- Solar panels generate electricity the moment they’re brought before sunlight. This might lead to shock so put cardboard over them.
- Grab your drill and drill openings where you’ll install the panels. Hook the panels up to one another, repeating the process. There will be wires hanging off the first and last panels so plug those in the entry plate via an extension cord.
That’s it, you have installed the panels on your RV. Now you just let the panels soak in the energy of the sun and try your gadgets.
7. Choosing the Best Places to Use Solar Electric Panels
Solar panels are becoming very popular because they’re practical and cost effective down the line. But it’s only going to work if placed in the appropriate locations. You also need to consider the type of panel and if it is suitable for your application.
Thin Film Solar Panels
Thin film solar panels are often used in camping, but they’re also suitable for locations that don’t receive plenty of sunlight. These are handy for use in shady locations, in areas and those that don’t get sunlight regularly. They’re also ideal if you need to move the panels on a regular basis. Thin film panels are also good for gardens that don’t get too much sunlight.
Panels on Flat Roofs
A flat roof is the most ideal for most solar panels. It makes setting up easy though proper placement is crucial. To get the maximum power, choose the spots on the roof that receive the maximum amount of sunlight and put the panels there.
Panels on Sloping Roofs
You may install panels on sloping roofs, but again the key is the placement and how much sunlight it’s going to receive. If you’re going solar with your hot water tank, a south facing roof is appropriate as it is going to absorb a lot of the sun.
Panels in Gardens
You can use a portable solar panel to provide sunshine for your garden, heat the pool and charge up garden tools. Since they’re portable you can move the panels around and put them where they need to be.
Getting these panels to work should not be a problem if you follow the instructions. The process will also be faster if you have all the tools and materials prepared beforehand.
8. Why I Chose 10 Gauge Romex Wiring
10 gauge romex wiring is suitable for RV solar panels because:
- It is widely available and isn’t as expensive as 10 gauge car wire.
- Romex cable has several conductors. These conductors are in an insulated cover, so it has more protection that regular cable.
- Solid wire goes past electrical charges in a bigger capacity compared to the regular wire. In other words it’s like you’re using an 8 gauge.
Can you use other wires? Sure, but romex is the most effective and when it comes to cost it is one of the most practical as well.
9. Using PVC Plumbing Pipe
A PVC plumbing pipe in the 1/2 inch size range is ideal. With its fittings, the edges from the front surface to the roof look good and clear. It looks good as is and does not require a paint job.
If you use a 10 gauge romex though you won’t get a lot of flexibility. What you’ll want to do is thread the fitting in the wire prior to running it into the pipe.
Use regular metal conduit clips to connect the trailer and the pipe, and one screw each should be enough. You may use three clamps after installing the pipe, and you can also apply silicone on the screw heads for leak prevention.
10. Troubleshooting Common Problems with a Solar Panel System
Are the solar panels on your RV not working properly? Try the following and those panels should be up and running again.
Do a Shading Test
If light production isn’t the same as before, do a shade test. Get a pillow and cover one of the panels with the pillow so it doesn’t get full light exposure. Take note of how well or poorly the panel responds to light. Do the same for the other panels. The ones that don’t respond well are the problematic panels.
Check the Wiring
Get your wire diagram and examine the connections for possible problems. Check for signs of loose connections, oxidation or corrosion. Tighten loose connections. Replace corroded and oxidized wiring.
Check for Heat Fade
This is due to the unit overheating. An overheating solar panel won’t be able to produce sufficient energy. You’ll notice fixtures don’t light up as well as before and the temperature in your RV isn’t what it was once.
Check the wiring if you notice these signs. Replace the wiring as soon as possible and use only heavy gauge wire.
Replace Burnt Terminals
Solar panel terminals will burn if you put too many panels onto it. The best way to avoid this problem is not to connect too many panels on a single terminal. If you see signs of oxidation, it means the terminal has already burnt. The solution is to replace them with new ones.
Lastly, check the troubleshooting section of your solar panel owner’s manual. Follow any suggestions as they can help.
11. Knowing which Building Permits You Need to Install Solar Electric Panels
So you’ve decided to make the big leap to solar energy, but before you do, make sure you’ve got the permits necessary to use these panels.
What Are Building Permits?
A building permit is provided by the local government so you can build and use a structure. A building permit is required to construct and use solar panels in your home.
Types of Permits You Will Need
There are two kinds of permits you’ll need, an electrical permit and a building permit. Depending on where you live, a development permit may also be needed. Just present the required documents and you should be all right.
The Building Permit
This is the document that gives you permission to set up solar panels on your RV or home. Keep in mind the building permit only allows you to construct the solar panels and connect it to your home’s roof. However this does not include permission to install electrical wiring. In this case you may need to get additional permits.
Usually an electrical permit is only given to a licensed electrician so you need to talk to one. The permit will be given according to the plans that have been laid down and set for your solar panel. All the materials must conform to the electrical codes in your location.
The requirements for building permits vary from state to state. Get in touch with the local government to ensure you meet their requirements.
Installing a solar panel for RV trailer is going to take some time, but with the right tools and knowing the proper techniques there shouldn’t be any problems. The important thing is to follow all the directions to ensure everything is set properly.