RV Solar – Off-grid power tips for boondocking

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Solar panels can either be flexible or rigid. Which one you choose will depend on the size and the type of your system on your RV.

When choosing an RV solar system, it is best to start planning with identifying what kind of RV you have. This is because each type of recreational vehicle has specific requirements and limitations for off-grid power and solar charging systems.

Common questions regarding solar and inverter systems in RVs

  • What type of panels to use? Flexible or Rigid
  • How many solar panels do I need?
  • What kind of batteries? AGM, Deep Cycle Flooded, Gel, Lithium
  • What kind of solar controller? PWM or MPPT
  • What kind of solar cells on the panels? Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline or CIGS
  • How do I calculate a reliable power generation system?
  • Running an air conditioner on a solar system and power inverter.
  • Lithium battery bank charging on solar and alternator.
  • How to calculate wattage on common electrical appliances?
  • Any tips on reducing power usage?
  • Can I run a CPAP off-grid while camping?
  • Can I run a refrigerator on a solar system?
  • My RV has a residential french door refrigerator, how can I power off-grid?
  • My RV is prewired for solar, but I cannot find the cables.
  • How to mount the panels to the roof?
  • What kind of sealant is used for mounting RV solar panels?
  • Should I buy an RV portable solar panel?
  • Can I make my own portable solar kit?
  • What kind of solar connectors are out there?
  • Do I need a transfer switch with a solar system?
  • Can I run my lights without an inverter?
  • Can I use my onboard USB connectors when I am not plugged into shore power?
  • I have a 30 amp charge controller and a 50 amp RV, what does this mean?
  • Do I need to tie down or tie-wrap my cables on my roof?
  • Can I mount a solar panel on my roof rack?

Basic components of a solar battery charging system for an RV

Branch connectors

Branch connectors are quick connect connectors that allow connecting 2 connectors to a single connection point on an RV solar panel.
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Solar wire

The wires on your solar panels are like the water pip[es in your home, but instead of carrying water, they carry the electricity you need to charge your batteries and power your devices. Wire gauges and connectors vary by system.
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Solar cable entry plate

A prewired cable entry plate on an RV is a simple way to have your RV solar-ready without the need to run additional wires into the RV. The main 10AWG cable run uses a quick-connect MC4 connector base for both the + (Red) and – (Black) cables.
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Charge Controllers

A solar charge controller is the brains of a charging system. The solar controller determines when and how the solar panels charge your batteries based on several factors. This protects your batteries from being overcharged from your solar kit.
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Solar panel tilted to capture more power from the sun.

Tilt mount for panels

Tilting a solar panel to better angle towards the sun can produce more power. There are brackets that can help achieve this on an RV.
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Circuit breakers

Circuit breakers are designed to protect AC wiring in your RV. The breakers are allowed to trip and be reset. They can allow for easily shutting of a circuit.
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Solar extension cables

Solar extension cables are designed to extend the solar circuit some length. These cables allow for additional panels to be installed some distance from the first panel.
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Solar panels

Solar panels take light energy from the sun and turn it into useful DC electricity. This electricity is useful for charging batteries or for immediate consumption using a power inverter.
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Front of power inverter being turned on in an RV

Power Inverter

Power inverters are devices that allow a user to run 120-volt appliances from their 12-volt battery banks. These units come in a variety of models including power waveform of True Sine Wave and Modified Sine Wave and charging models including inverter only or inverter chargers.
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Tools used to install rv solar kit.

Installation tools

Tools are required to install an RV solar system. There are several common tools and a couple that will make the job much easier.
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Inverter install kit

Inverter install kit

To install a power inverter, cables and a fuse should be used. The cable should match the wire size required by the load from the power inverter.
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What kind of RV do you have?

Travel Trailer

Travel trailers or tow behind rvs are often the first type of RV that someone buys to start RVing. These units range from 13 feet…
I have this type:

Truck Camper

Truck campers are RVs that are installed into the bed of the truck. They can be taken off to allow freedom to travel in vehicle…
I have this type:

Schoolie or Bus

Schoolies are often being made from old school buses, hence the name. These are really customized RVs with large roofs for solar panels.
I have this type:
Pop Up Tent Camper

Pop Up Campers

Pop-up campers are a cross between a tent and a travel trailer. They are super light and easy to pull and may be perfect for…
I have this type:

Teardrop Campers

Teardrop campers are some of the first RVs. They are lightweight and often have very low loads. Find ways to run your devices when off-grid.
I have this type:

Typical Electrical Loads for RV appliances and electric devices.

This is a partial list of the common devices and appliances that RV owners request to run on their RV solar panel system. Each item has its own electrical specifications and common run times. For more information visit the Complete list of off-grid common RV loads.

Hot Water Tea Kettle

Hot water kettles make hot water quickly using only electricity. Use this hot water for tea, coffee, soups and cooking.
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TV

Everyone needs a little TV when camping, even if it is just to watch the latest weather report. Get the skinny on running a television…
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Energy Efficient Appliances

More efficient appliances use less power off-grid. Energy Start has very detailed information on some high-efficiency appliances. https://www.energystar.gov/products/appliances

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