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RV Solar Guide


An Online Guide to RV solar power systems and components

Complete online RV solar guide

Welcome to the RV Solar Guide, a guide to off-grid solar power systems for RVs that allow boondocking self-sustainably. This guide should inform beginners about RV solar’s why, how, and what.

This guide was updated on 1/15/2023:

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To get started in RV solar take a trip off-grid

We must take a little trip off the grid in a virtual RV to get the why of RV solar systems. In our virtual RV, we go to campgrounds and national parks. In these campgrounds, we find power and plug our camper into the RV pedestal at our campsite. We can run everything we need; life is great. It does seem a little loud, and the neighbors are close. Overall nice, though.

Our journey continues; we next travel to a national park. Here there are no pedestals and no services. There is no cord or pedestal where we enter the land of Boondocking or Dry Camping. Things are typically quieter here. Neighbors are further away. We have to be self-sustainable, which means both power and water.

Our virtual RVs have tanks to handle the water side of things. These tanks are:

On the power side of our RV, we have only one essential item to keep us going: RV house battery bank This battery bank powers pretty much all of the off-grid electrical loads like:

Once your house battery bank is dead, it is necessary to recharge. Since there is no cord, we must find another way to charge the RV battery bank. Enter our RV solar power system. This system will start charging our house batteries when the sun comes out. While we won’t be able to run everything, we are progressing toward keeping power coming in. As we move further through the RV solar guide, we will discuss the components, calculations, and systems that support the energy coming in. We will also set expectations for beginners of what to expect for budget, solar panel sizing, and RV solar tips and tricks.

Components of an RV solar system

An RV solar system takes many components to create, store and consume power off-grid. A solar rv is only as good as its weakest link. In RV solar, each part may sometimes be that link. We will discuss these issues in the following few sections.

The components that make up an RV solar system are:

Building the right system for your RV

While this list is not all-inclusive, we hope to flesh out the guide with even more information. This solar guide is one of the top guides on the Internet and has been used for years to assist customers in determining the right kind of solar setup to suit their mobile application best. With the addition of new solar types ranging from flexible panels to portable solar kits, we have added other information to the site as well. This informative guide has also been updated to included new information on Prewired for solar RVs and Campers. As well as new information on lithium batteries for house RV battery banks with details on requirements for solar controllers and unique specifications for lithium.

Prewired for solar RVs are very common

Many of our readers have RVs that have been prewired for solar and are interested in starting to off-grid camp or go boondocking. Time was you would have to run the wire from the roof to the controller and down to the battery. Some of this wiring may have been completed for you already.

Layout your solar panels before installing them

Having fewer holes in your RV roof is a good thing. Take a little time discussing how the panels lay out with the installer. Allow room for growth and optimizes the solar panel’s placement to prevent shading. Our RV solar layout guide may help. Check out out Solar panel mounting brackets and hardware for information on solar panel brackets for your RV.

Use the prewired MC4 cables on your roof to add panels

Want to connect to the cable entry plate on the roof of your RV?

This cable entry plate is the best way to make permanent solar panel connections that are out of the way and mostly safe from theft. The CEP-25 has MC-4 connector attachments that allow for quick connecting solar wires to the panels. MC-4 cables will extend usually 18 inches from the panel. These should be fine to conenct to cable entry for a single panel install that is close to the cable entry plate. If you want more than one solar panel or you cable entry plate is far from panel install, ordering a couple of extra MC4 extension cables can make wiring easier on the roof. These cables are almost always ordered in pairs, so get two of them.

When adding panels this is where MC-4 branch connectors will come into play when wiring in a standard parallel configuration. Most of the expansion kits will come witht these although you can order them as matched pairs.

Panels and kits if you have a charge controller installed

A 30 amp controller can typically handle up top three of these 190 watt panels.

Go Power 190 Watt RV Solar Expansion Kit
MC4 Extension Cables

Full RV solar kit if you still need the solar controller

You can add up to of the expansion kits above to a the base solar kit below.

Go Power 190 Watt Overlander RV Solar Kit
Go Power 30 Amp Controller

Use the wired on the side solar connector to go portable

Connecting to the solar port on the side of your RV

The port on the side is connected directly to the battery in most wiring setups. Check your Rv's manual to make sure this is the case.
This port has a standard connector in many portable solar kits. Commonly referred to as an SAE connector. Portable kits usually have the charge controller in line or on the back of the panel. This is why the port usually is wired directly to the battery.
If there is a side connection, a customer needs to look at our portable solar units and our portable solar guide for more information.

Many of the portable solar kits come with a wide range of connectors. This allows easy connecting to your RV and also other equipment.

Go Power 200 Watt Solar Kit
Go Power 130 Watt Portable Solar Kit
Renogy 200 watt portable solar kit
Go Power 90 Watt Portable Solar Kit

Sizing your RV solar system to match your needs

Updating the RV solar guide information and articles

As always, we continue to add new and updated pages every month. New foldable solar panel guides and solar on-the-side power guide covering portable solar kits.

Outside Supply is constantly working on adding more information to our RV solar information guide. Updating the guide includes arranging the information in an easier-to-follow format and adding new important RV solar information.

Installing the panels on your RV roof

Installing your solar panels on your RV roof after you have completed a plan for laying them out and gathered all the required materials.

Charging the RV’s house battery bank

The goal of your RV solar system should be to provide clean, reliable power throughout the day. Things are much easier when the sun is up, and the panels are producing power. At night, you need to rely on the stored power of your RV battery bank. Your solar system’s chance to get the batteries fully recharged is during the peak hours of sunlight. Storing away this power in the batteries allows for powering items in your RV when the sun has set.

The size of your battery bank controls how long you can run off-grid when not producing power. The house battery bank is your reserve. It is all the power your system has til morning, when the panels start charging again. This battery bank capacity is rated in amp hours. The more amp hours, the larger the battery bank’s storage capacity. AGM and lithium batteries make up many of the RV house battery banks. There are still some deep-cycle marine flooded batteries, although they are becoming less common. Lithium batteries are better but at a higher price. Read Are lithium RV batteries worth the cost? for more information on the choices.

A few benefits of lithium battery banks:

The downside of lithium batteries for your RV solar system:

Since I like to use blenders and induction cooktops off-grid, a larger battery bank is better for me. I remember how much power I use because I want lights and TV when camping off the grid at night. Determine what loads are essential to you. This will help you size your RV solar battery bank.

Ask RV Solar Question

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Recent updates include Added new information to consider the issues and failed causes of solar installs on RVs. Since Covid-19, RV sales have been off the chart. Many people have stepped into the realm of off-grid camping. Many of these have made the big leap with a residential refrigerator, which requires 760 Watts or more of solar and about 750 Ah of battery. Many mistakes and problems have been reported from customers who rushed into the cheapest kits and information on the Internet. We hope to add an article documenting the 10 Biggest Failure Points on RV Solar Systems.

We have also added new information regarding newer MPPT controllers and Lithium Battery charging profiles.

Fifth Wheel Campers Better for Off Grid Camping

Ready to enjoy the Comforts of Home While Camping Off-Grid? Going off-grid and camping in the wilderness is a giant step in one’s RV journey. It is a great way to get away from it all and reconnect with nature. But why not combine the best of both worlds and enjoy the comforts of home while still enjoying the great outdoors? That’s where a fifth wheel comes in. Fifth wheels are superior for off-grid camping because they offer the following benefits:

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Genesis Supreme installing RV rooftop solar panels

Genesis Supreme solar panel system Some of the Genesis Supreme campers and fifth wheels come pre installed with a solar panel installed on the roof. Many of them use the 190 watt solar panel and the Go Power PWM 30 solar controller. This can be found on the Rev 1/22 manual on page 127 (Chapter 11 Page 9). Depending on your roof space and how many panels you have already installed, it may be possible to add additional solar panels to your Genesis Supreme.

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Solar Panel Wires

The solar wires are key to power in RV solar systems One item that needs to run from the RV’s roof down to the charge controller when installing solar panels is the solar wires. RV solar wires are specialized wires that connect solar panels to the RV power system. Today most RV cables use MC4 or MC3 connectors. These connectors allow for watertight quick-connects for solar cables. Depending on your solar array and its wiring configuration, the gauge and maximum length of the wires may vary.

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Installing Solar Panels on RV Roof

Three keys to a great rv solar panel installation on the roof Safety is critical - you are dealing with a roof. This installation means higher work areas than most people operate at daily. This height means installers must take special fall prevention steps that are designed to prevent dangers. Hard hats are a good idea for installers and helpers, as tools can fall and injure them. Keep the installation safe.

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Solar Panel Mounting Brackets

Securely mounting your RV solar panels is very important Solar panel mounting brackets are often overlooked as an essential part of an RV solar kit, but with them, your panels stay securely mounted on the roof. These are simple brackets that fall into a few categories. These RV solar panel brackets are: Standard low profile RV solar mounting brackets - these brackets are simple pieces of metal bent in a “Z” or “L” shape and attached to the RV solar panel with bolts and typically with screws to the RV roof.

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Replace RV Surge Suppressor

Replacing RV surge suppressor in RV power system RV surge suppressors sometimes go out and can cause RV items not to work. Replacing the suppressor will often solve the problem. As times have changed, so have the features in RV surge protectors: Amp rating of surge protector Bluetooth monitoring portable The amp rating is usually written on the old suppressor. Another way to tell what amperage is from the type of plug on the unit.

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Rv Lithium Battery Problems

what kind of problems have you seen with lithium batteries for RVs? Now that lithium batteries are main stream in RVs, what kind of problems have you heard of? The first problem is I have heard that the purchase price was the biggest problem :)! Just kidding, they really have come down in price. See Are Rv lithium batteries worth it for a more serious answer. Over draining Lithium Batteries with internal BMS We have seen situations where lithium batteries were drained so far that the battery could not continue to power up the BMS.

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How Long Do Lithium Rv Batteries Last

Well how do you judge batteries that haven’t been around for decades? I always find this to be a hard question to know the exact answer. Lithium batteries haven’t been main stream until the last 4 to 5 years. This doesn’t give the best source of information for life expectancy on the road. So how do lithium battery manfacturers know how long to warranty their products? They test them to simulate the real world use that the batteries can expect.

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Are Lithium RV Batteries Worth the Cost

So you are wondering whether that exspensive upgrade to lithium batteries in your RV is worth the cost Simply, for most RVers it is worth the cost to upgrade to lithium batteries anytime you have some or all of the following conditions: Need to already replace the battery bank Plan on keeping the RV over 2 years Concerned with the weight of your RV Need more duration and run time from your battery bank Have a dmaged or faulty battery Here is what to know about the cost of lithium RV batteries They ain’t cheap!

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Compatible 190 Watt Solar Panel for RV

What kind of 190 can I use to be compatible with other major brands A lot of customer look for panels that may be compatible with some of the major RV solar brand panels. This can be for a lot of reasons like: Out of stock Discontinued Pricing Shipping speed I had a customer looking to build an expansion kit without using the main brands panel. They were trying to match a panel with the following specs:

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