DIY Solar for Your RV

As you already know, providing power to your RV is one of the challenges that comes along with this kind of travel. Sure, you can plug in to the grid when your campground of choice offers utilities, but what if no such service is available – or what if you aren’t in a campground at all? When that is the case, it is a great benefit to have another option in order to be able to use some of the features of your RV that require power. Thanks to recent developments in technology, solar power is now a viable option for your RV, and there are many DIY kits that make this option relatively affordable as well.

diy-solar-for-your-rv_Camping ‘off the grid’ is often called ‘boondocking’, and this kind of camping can be greatly enhanced by the addition of a solar system to your rig. Without the availability of power, an RV is really just a glorified tent, and while it is nice to sleep up off the ground and under a roof, the whole point of owning an RV is to have access to a variety of power features and other amenities. If you find yourself frequently camping in places where your power plug isn’t going to do you any good, it is worth your time and effort to give solar some serious consideration.

Create a Big Enough System

If you are going to build out your own custom solar system for your RV, the first thing you need to do is make sure you are building a system that is large enough to handle your needs. There is no point in doing this ‘halfway’ – if you are going to do it, it needs to be done right. Build a system that is going to power all essential functions on your RV for a reasonable period of time. Always error on the side of going too large, and building a solar system that is too small will really just be a waste of money.

Educate Yourself on Wiring

Everyone knows that solar panels are the start of a solar system, as they collect the energy offered by the sun. However, that is just the beginning, and there is much more to do than just installing panels on the roof. Once you have the right panels for your rig, those panels need to be wired up properly – and this is a crucial step. If your wiring is insufficient, or if you run too much wire around the RV, you will miss out on important power and your system will be weak. While it is great to try and handle this entire project on a DIY basis, you might want to recruit help with the wiring if you are not an electrical expert.

Flexible Aim

You want to ‘aim’ your solar panels at the sun as often as possible in order to collect the maximum amount of juice for your system. However, if your panels are simply laying flat on the top of your rig, they will only be at an ideal angle when the sun is high in the sky. That might work in the middle of the summer, but it will render your system relatively useless in the winter when the sun stays low on the horizon. To get around this problem, mount your panels on brackets that can be adjusted to match with the angle of the sun. This is a relatively affordable addition to your system, but it can make the whole thing far more effective.

Solar is an attractive option for your RV, but there is a lot to learn if you are going to take on this project on a DIY basis. Do thorough research on the size of system you will need and the cost of all necessary components before you get started. As long as you are well-prepared and you know what you are doing before the first panel goes up, you should be able to get great use from your RV solar system for years to come.

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. I had an RV solar system on my old Pace Arrow Class A. Panel was approx 30″ by 48″, output was rated at 8 amp max. Actual output was about 4.5 amp, early and late daylight, under shade, or winter. This was enough to keep my house batteries topped off, even after years when I got rid of the old rig. Never needed to start engine or genset to charge batteries.
    Now I want sim. setup on new class C. About half as much roof surface, dead flat. approx. same electrical load. Recommendations?
    Old Al in Maryland

  2. Installing a solar panel or panels to keep the batteries topped off while a coach is in storage, especially where there is no electric hookup available, can be cost-effective. Such kits are available from Amazon for less than $100. A solar array, battery system and inverter that is robust enough to run power-hungry devices such as microwave/convection ovens and air conditioning systems will cost about $12,000. For such a solar system to be effective, camping in the shade is obviously not an option. I believe that the inability to get an effective return on such a huge investment is why we rarely see motorhomes equipped with solar systems that can power continuous boondocking.

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