6 Tips for Installing RV Solar Panels

An RV on the road.

RV solar panels are a great way of reducing fuel costs associated with running your vehicle's generator. Not only is constantly filling the tank of your generator costly and wasteful, the generator makes a lot of noise and makes it hard for you (and neighbors in the RV camp) to relax and get a good night's sleep.

Installation of an RV solar system is not that difficult and is an excellent weekend project for a DIY enthusiast. However, before you go headfirst into a RV solar panel installation, here are a few tips that will make the installation of your RV's panels much easier and less stressful.

Calculate Your Power Requirements

Before you purchase solar panels, you should know how to properly calculate the amount of power you will need the panels to produce. An effective solar system for your recreational vehicle will be able to produce enough solar energy to recharge your RV's battery bank and power devices in your RV.

Determine How Much Energy Your Battery Can Store

Your battery's capacity will be measured in Amp Hours (e.g. 18AH). In order to determine how much power you will need, you will first need to convert this rating into Watt Hours by multiplying the AH number by the voltage of the battery (e.g. 12V). So, for a 18AH, 12V battery, the Watt Hours would be 18 x 12 = 216WH. This means your battery can produce 204 Watts of power for one hour. Or, it could produce 108 Watts for two Hours. The higher the wattage requirements for an electrical device, the faster the battery's power is drained.

Calculate How Much Energy Appliances Use Over a Period of Time

The power consumption of an electrical device is given in Watts. For example, a 21 inch fluorescent light may have a consumption rating of 15 Watts. To calculate how much energy the light will use, multiply the power consumption rate by the number of hours the devices will be used. So our fluorescent light would use 15 Watts of power in one hour and use 30 Watts of power in two hours. Calculate the energy requirements for all your devices and add them together. This will equal your total power consumption for a given period of time.

Calculate How Much Energy Solar Panels Create

Power output ratings for solar panels are also given in Watts. To determine how much energy a solar panel can supply to your battery, multiply the wattage rating by the number of hours that the panel is exposed to the sun. Then, multiply the result by 0.80 (this number factors in naturally occurring system losses). So, if you have a 12 Watt solar panel that is exposed to the sun for four hours, the panel would supply 38.4 Watts of energy to your battery.

Safe Installation of RV Solar Panels

Before you begin the installation of RV solar panels, always disconnect the vehicle battery and make sure that no extension cords, generators, or other sources of power lead into the vehicle. Failure to disconnect all power sources, before wiring up solar panels, could result in serious injury.

Plan for Additions or Expansion

When wiring the solar panels to the battery or central controller, consider using a larger gauge wire. This will allow you to add additional panels or batteries without having to first replace costly wiring.