Hooking up portable solar panels to your RV is a great way to get electricity sustainably when you plan to spend a significant amount of time camping or away from an electrical grid. Luckily, connecting portable solar panels to RV batteries is relatively simple.
Here are 6 easy steps for hooking up your portable solar panels to RV batteries:
- Mount the portable solar panels.
- Mount the charge controller to the inside of the RV as close to the batteries as possible.
- Run the portable solar panel wiring into the RV.
- Connect the battery bank and portable solar panel wiring to the charge controller.
- Double check the wiring to ensure everything works properly.
- Install the solar inverter.
Take note that some technical skills are required to hook up portable solar panels to RV batteries. Despite that, if you would like more thorough instructions on each step listed above, continue reading.
1. Mount the Portable Solar Panels
Before you start connecting your portable solar panels to your RV batteries, you first have to mount your solar panels to your RV’s roof. There are various ways to mount your portable solar panels depending on the type of solar panel you have.
If your portable solar panels are rigid, use the mounting hardware that should have come in the solar kit with your panels. If you have flexible portable solar panels, you will need to buy separate adhesive to stick the panels to the RV roof. The type of adhesive you need depends on what kind of RV roof you have.
Place the panels anywhere on your RV’s roof, but try to avoid the vent, air conditioning system, or anything else that may obstruct the portable solar panel.
You can install as many portable solar panels on your RV’s roof that you want, as long as they fit. The front of the roof is the best place to install your portable solar panels.
2. Mount the Charge Controller to the Inside of the RV As Close to the Batteries As Possible
The second step is to mount your charge controller to the inside of your RV, and as close to the batteries or battery bank as possible. The charge controller, or regulator, is used to regulate the power coming from the portable solar panels into the batteries, and it prevents the batteries from overcharging or undercharging.
There are two types of charge controllers that you can buy:
- Pulse Width Modulated (PWM)
- Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT)
Choosing which charge controller you need depends on the amount of energy your portable solar panels produce, the voltage the battery bank can hold, and more.
PWM charge controllers are simpler than MPPT charge controllers, so if you have a more complex setup, I would suggest using an MPPT charge controller.
When mounting your charge controller, try to place it as close to your RV batteries as you can, as the wire connecting the charge controller to the batteries is often very short.
3. Run the Portable Solar Panel Wiring Into the RV
Once both your portable solar panels and charge controller are mounted, it’s time to run the wires from your solar panels into your RV. You can do this one of three ways.
The easiest and best way to run your portable solar panel wiring into the RV is through the fridge vent. All you need to do is thread your solar panel wiring into the fridge vent and then through to the charge controller.
Another way you can run your portable solar panel wires into your RV is through the plumbing pipe. This method is more challenging than running the wires through the fridge vent because you will likely need to drill holes to run the wires through.
The final method you could use is to drill a completely new hole. Only do this if you absolutely cannot run your solar panel wiring through either the fridge vent or plumbing pipe. If you end up drilling a hole, try to find a place on the wall near a cabinet for the best chance of concealing the wires. If you drill a hole in the RV, make sure to use sealant afterward.
4. Connect the Battery Bank and Portable Solar Panel Wiring to the Charge Controller
After running the wires from the portable solar panels into the RV, connect the wires and the battery bank to the charge controller. Read your charge controller’s instruction manual because some charge controllers require you to input the battery bank wire cables first, while others advise inputting the portable solar panel wiring cables first.
Connecting the battery bank and portable solar panel to the charge controller is relatively simple. For the battery bank, all you need to do is take the wires from the positive and negative battery terminals and put them into the corresponding slot in the charge controller. You should then tighten the screws to ensure they are in safely and securely.
You connect the portable solar panels with MC4 connectors. You may need to attach the MC4 connectors to the solar panels manually, and you can find them at your local electric store or online.
5. Double Check the Wiring To Ensure Everything Works Properly
At this point, your solar panels should power the appliances in your RV that run on direct current (DC). Before you start relying on it as a power source, you should double-check the wiring. You don’t want to be in the middle of nowhere, completely reliant on your portable solar panels, for an issue to happen and lose power.
When you are confident that everything is connected properly, plug everything in and fully charge your battery bank. The length of time this takes depends on the following factors:
- Battery bank size
- Wattage of the solar panels
- Power usage
- Amount of sunlight available
When you first plug everything in, I suggest either doing it at night or covering the portable solar panels with a blanket to prevent accidental sparks.
6. Install the Solar Inverter
The final thing you need to do to hook up portable solar panels to RV batteries is to install a solar inverter. While everything technically works, solar panels only run things on DC currents, and some appliances run on alternating current (AC). To be able to use things that run on AC, you need to install a solar inverter.
Again, place your inverter as close to the batteries as you can. The shorter the cable, the less energy that will be lost. The size of your solar inverter determines how many AC-run appliances you can run off solar power.
If you want to learn more about how to hook up portable solar panels to RV batteries, you can read this article from Portable Solar Expert.
There we go! As you can see from the above steps, hooking up portable solar panels to RV batteries is a complex and technical process. However, if you follow the steps closely and you consult the solar panels’ user manual, you should be up and running in no time.
- Spheral Solar: How to Hook Up Solar Panels to RV Batteries
- Battle Born Batteries: RV Solar Panels: A Guide For Beginners
- Portable Solar Expert: RV Solar Panel Installation Guide
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