RV Solar Panel Installation: 17 Steps to Hook Up Solar Panel to RV Battery (DIY)

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Solar Panels | March 15, 2024

Woman holding cables next to an RV battery and solar panel wonders how to hook up solar panels to rv battery and if there is a diy guide to rv solar panel installation and solar rv set up so she can learn how to power a camper with solar panels.

As more campers and trailer owners are learning how to hook up solar panel to RV battery, they’re discovering that it’s much more convenient, more eco-friendly and less expensive that using gas powered generators.

With solar panels on your RV, you eliminate the noise and the foul odor, and can power your appliances easily.

Knowing how to hook up solar panel to RV battery is not as complex as it initially seems.

With the basics and detailed steps, you can DIY solar panel installation like a pro.

This complete guide outlines how to hook up solar panel to RV battery packs, and outlines some options you have for powering your RV with green solutions.

What To Know Before You Learn How To Hook Up Solar Panel to RV Battery

The first thing before learning how to hook up solar panel to RV battery is knowing the correct tools and equipment and how the entire system works.

One thing to remember is that each RV comes features a unique design and electrical system and the setup may vary for each RVer.

Graphics showing parts and devices used to build an RV solar panel system which include an RV, solar panels, roof combiner box, circuit breakers, solar charge controller, battery, battery charger, inverter, transfer switch, breaker panel to AC loads, and socket for AC appliances.

You will notice that the components are the same but the hook up may vary based on your RV model. Generally, you will need the following for the structure.

  • Solar Panels: The RV solar suitcase will be handy if you want the most convenient way out, which is buying the entire kit. Your RV size will determine how many solar panels do I need and you can also confirm what will a 100 watt solar panel run on the vehicle which helps determine how many you need.
  • Charge Controller:6 This is a crucial piece of equipment, vital in the solar setup to avoid overcharging or reducing your battery’s lifespan. Thanks to this gadget, you can tell how much voltage is coming into the system and in turn help preserve the battery.
  • Inverter: While you can run the system without it, it helps boost your 12V DC power to 120V AC, enough to power more demanding appliances.3
  • Battery: This is the crucial component of the entire system. You can buy as many as you need, provided they can serve you as long as you are off the grid.

How To Hook Up Solar Panel to RV Battery in Simple Steps

It may seem daunting to DIY solar energy on your RV. Fortunately, these four steps show you how to hook up solar panel to RV battery.

Step 1: Panel Installation

You can set up the panels in two ways; using a solar kit on the ground whenever you park or conventionally placing them at the top of your roof, which is handy for use on the road. Many drivers prefer the latter because they have a constant electricity supply all day and night.

You will need mounting brackets, nuts, bolts, or powerful adhesives. You can also go for tilting brackets that you can angle according to your needs or attach thin film flexible panels that you can glue or Velcro tape to the roof.

During installation, leave spaces in between for proper air circulation and position them for the sun to perfectly hit them for the best performance. You can always check your location and angle the panels towards the sun, usually south in the US at a 30–45-degree tilt.4

Step 2: Connecting Charge Controller

The charge controller is one of the most vital components of the solar panel system. It helps guard the battery against overcharging and improves its lifespan; otherwise, directly connecting the panels to the battery can cause overheating and explosions.

You can go for the PWM or the MPPT charge controller.9 The PWM is cheaper and reduces the voltage to what the battery can handle.

On the contrary, MPPT controllers are more complex and pricier. They convert all the extra energy to electricity, preventing the wastage of any solar power.

The controller works in amps, and to determine the ideal size for your system, you take all the setup’s power divided by the battery’s voltage. In perspective, two 300W panels on a 12V battery require a 300W * 2 12 V, which is 50 A.

You want first to ensure that the controller and battery work by following the instructions on the label. You take a copper wire and link the two battery terminals and the controller with the black and red negative and positive cables.

Tighten them into the controller and ascertain that they work.

Step 3: Power the Charge Controller

The next step is to power the controller, and you can read the manual of your particular model for more details. This equipment is critical to the system because it details your batteries’ states, their charge, and the panels’ voltage.

You can also go for more intricate designs highlighting the current temperature and allowing you to adjust and monitor the charging.

Step 4: Connecting the Controller to the Panels

When all the most vital parts are in, the last step is to link the controller to the panels using two MC4 connector cables. The solar panel kit features positive and negative MC4 connectors, and you can add two other connectors to the charge controller.5

Once the wires are tight, the setup should be complete. The controller should immediately detect the panels and measure their voltages.

Lastly, remember that a successful connection means that the panels will keep generating electricity provided there is sunlight and you cannot switch them on or off, and if you’re unsure about the process, always consult a professional.

Calculating How Much Energy Your RV Uses

When switching to solar power10 for your RV, one of the first considerations is deciding whether your solar panels will cater to your needs.

You should know how much power does a solar panel produce and how many of them you have in total against the energy you need in your RV.

The calculation starts with knowing how much energy you use daily in your vehicle. The math involves accounting for each appliance, and all the energy consumed multiplied by how long it runs in hours a day.

For instance, if your TV consumes 100W and you turn it on for two hours daily, that is 200W/Hour every day.

You can do the same for all other appliances and add the total to find how much you use, which makes it easier to determine how many panels will do.

You can also use this solar panel calculator to help.

What Is a Solar RV Setup?

The harnessing of solar energy and converting it into electricity started around 1800. It led to the invention of solar engines, which were less effective than today’s solar panel systems.

However, in the 1950s, scientists incorporated silicon from sand, finding it vital in making the panels more efficient.1,7

The tech has gradually evolved, and more are adopting solar power in their homes, commercial buildings, and vehicles.

It is now common to find people charging Tesla with solar panels and others using them on their campers and RVs.

Roof with installed solar panels.

(Image: ulleo12)

The solar panels attach to the top of the vehicle and connect to converters and batteries in an intricate system that powers the electrical appliances in the RV. Therefore, learning how to DIY the panels to your RV makes the process easier.

Uses of RV Solar Panels: Why They Are Great Alternatives To Power RVs

An RV usually features two batteries, explaining why you should also learn how to hook up 2 batteries to a solar panel if you want to use solar energy on the vehicle.

There is the starting, whose primary role is to power up the engine and the house battery that runs all other appliances in the RV.

While the first one is the most vital, the second battery is also essential to power your fridge, microwave, and other electronics.

The house battery is a 12V version made of lead acid or Lithium-ion, depending on the manufacturer, and there are several ways to charge it.

Solar panels laying down on the inclined portion of the land.

(Image: Moritz Kindler13)

You can use charging stations in trailer parks, generators, alternators (inside the engine that powers up when you drive), or solar panels. Off-grid solar systems8 are a go-to for many due to their advantages over other methods.

Unlike with alternators, you can obtain power even when you are not driving, and unlike generators and charging stations, you don’t have to deal with loud sounds or pungent smells.

They are also easy to maintain, and the best part is that you can DIY the panel installation.

You even learn how to make a solar panel if you want to DIY the whole process.

How To Hook Up Solar Panel to RV Battery: The Basics

RV solar setups are divided into four main components, power generation, charge control, power storage, and inversion.2

  • Generation

This job is entirely on the solar panels, which must harness the sun’s rays and convert them to electricity.

It is the first section of the process, without which everything else crumbles.

  • Charge Control

The next part of the task is for the charge regulator/ controller. It receives the sun’s energy from the panels and uses it to charge the batteries.

The goal is to ensure the batteries receive sufficient power and never overcharge.

  • Power Storage

Here, the batteries store all the regulated energy from the panels until it is ready for use.

You can use this power to run your appliances or convert them in the next stage.

  • Inversion

Lastly, the inversion process is where the battery’s power converts to 120 volts AC which connects to the outlet socket.

You can also get more auxiliary outputs to enhance your outlet capacity.

Why Know How To Power a Camper With Solar Panels?

If you enjoy life on the road, electricity is a necessity. You can use it to watch TV, microwave food, iron your clothes, and do several other things.

Setting up solar panels on your camper saves you all the hassle by providing cheap and readily available electricity from the sun.

It is ideal if you plan to go off-grid, with no charging stations around. You can power your vehicle regardless of location, provided the weather is favorable.

Additionally, solar power is more sustainable since it is renewable, and you can use it for years.

Besides, it beats the noisy generators and smelly gas; for a small initial investment, you can obtain power in your camper for years with little or no maintenance.

How To Hook Up Portable Solar Panels to RV Batteries: How To Power Travel Trailer With Solar Panels

In a few steps, you can learn how to hook up solar panel to RV battery existing plug in charger. This way, you can have a constant and efficient energy source for all your needs.

You can attach it to the roof at the top of your RV or set it up on the ground whenever you stop your car.

Two solar panels with the sun on their background.

(Image: 1844730915)

First, it is crucial to understand your power needs because the more appliances you want to run, the more elaborate your solar vehicle11 system will be. You may need 200 Watts for basic electronics but more than 400W if you have a massive RV with more appliances.

It also helps to know the system’s dynamics and how everything integrates. Learn the role of the controllers and inverters before you can DIY the installation.

You can then gather everything else you need and get to work, from the panels and controllers to the wires that make the connection.

The only concern for new solar users is the carbon footprint solar panels during manufacturing. Luckily, renewable energy is kinder to the environment in the long run, and solar power is better than fossil fuels.

The best part is that the process is simple, and you don’t have to be tech-savvy to connect the panels successfully.

RV Solar DIY Tip: Must You Use RV-Specific Solar Panels?

If you have experience making a solar panel, you understand that each comes in a different shape, size, and design.

Professional installers will tell you they must check the roof size and nature before deciding which versions suit the homeowner’s needs.

In this case, the panels attach to the top of the camper, trailer, or RV, and one of the pressing concerns is whether you can use the house roof panels. Luckily, any solar panel works on your RV, although there are some challenges of not using RV-specific designs.

Graphics showing parts and devices used to build an RV solar panel system which include an RV, solar panels, roof combiner box, circuit breakers, solar charge controller, battery, battery charger, inverter, transfer switch, breaker panel to AC loads, and socket for AC appliances.

(Image: Newpowa14)

First, the available space is an essential factor to consider because if your RV roof has other items on top, you may have to use smaller and fewer panels.

The case differs with house roofs because there is more room to install massive full-size sheets.

Secondly, solar panels for home use usually have a higher voltage than those for RVs, which operate at 17-20 volts and work with PMW controllers.

Home systems hold 40-70 volts and don’t work with PMW controllers.

How To Hook Up Solar Panel to Solar Ready RV

You must have heard the term “solar ready” in RV adverts. Many believe that it means that the RV they are buying comes already fitted with solar panels, ready for use, but this is not the case.

It is usually a marketing strategy to get more buyers and implies that the vehicle has the necessary wiring to facilitate the installation of solar systems.

The vehicle doesn’t feature pre-installed panels, controllers, or a battery but has a connection port on the roof or side to simplify solar panel installation. Solar panel manufacturers cash in on this because they pay the RV makers to install the ports.

It explains why you will see a sticker on the RV detailing which solar panel to use. alternatively, you can go the fastest route by contacting the company on the sticker and asking them to help install their panels, but if you are an electrician or know a lot about electric wiring, you can go for DIY.

Most importantly, remember that the set up process doesn’t necessarily change, although you will have to work around the already in-built wiring. However, ensure that the connection is tight and secure, and the entire system works perfectly.

How Does RV Solar Panel Installation Work?

RV solar panels have the same working principle as home rooftop solar systems. When you place a few at the top, directly under the sun, the rays hit the cells and transform to electricity throughout the day.

They will generate power for you whether you are parked or driving during the day or at night.

The cells inside harness the sun’s rays and convert them to electricity, and with a battery, you can store the excess and use the energy at night. Whether off the grid in a rural area, you will always have power provided there is no weather interference.

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need for My RV?

The number of solar panels you need in your RV depends on several factors, including how much room you have on the roof, how much power you need for everyday use, and the quality of your panels.

An SUV with 4 solar panels while hooked up on a battery in the middle of the desert.

(Image: Jackery Power Station16)

If you have more appliances and need a lot of power daily, you will have to go for more panels and choose the high-quality ones that are more efficient. These will guarantee a high power output for all your needs.

How To Hook Up Solar Panel to RV Battery, Is It Worth It?

If you are an avid RVer and spend most of your time on the road, investing in solar power is worth every penny.

It helps if you park in trailer parks and resorts where they charge before providing electricity because it will save you a lot of money in the long run.

Besides, it is clean energy that is quiet and doesn’t smell, and you can use it wherever and whenever even when traveling to remote areas without electricity.

Campers and RVers have found the best solution to their electricity troubles. Instead of finding a trailer park or RV resort where you pay for a power hookup, you can invest in a solar panel system that goes on your roof and enjoy access to electricity 24/7.

You don’t have to suffer through the loud generator noises or foul gasoline smells just to power your RV. Thanks to battery energy storage, you will have high-power and efficient energy wherever you are, whether driving or at night.

In only a few steps and with the right tools and equipment, you can DIY a solar system on your RV roof.

Knowing how to hook up solar panel to RV battery saves you the cost of professional installation, and you can customize everything based on your needs.

Read More About How To Hook Up Solar Panel to RV Battery


References

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2Boondockers Welcome. (2021, August 23). How to Hook up Solar Panels to RV Batteries. Retrieved March 24, 2023, from Boondockers Welcome: <https://www.boondockerswelcome.com/blog/how-to-hook-up-solar-panels-to-rv-batteries/>

3Fedorick, L. (2022, February 6). HOW TO HOOK UP SOLAR PANELS TO RV BATTERIES. Retrieved March 24, 2023, from Do It Yourself RV: <https://www.doityourselfrv.com/how-to-hook-up-solar-panels-to-rv-batteries/>

4Gorichensky, A. (2021, March 1). How to hook up solar panels to RV batteries in 4 easy steps. Retrieved March 24, 2023, from A1 Solar Store: <https://a1solarstore.com/blog/how-to-hook-up-solar-panels-to-rv-batteries-in-4-easy-steps.html>

5Sarah, B. a. (2022). HOW TO HOOK UP SOLAR PANELS TO RV BATTERIES. Retrieved March 24, 2023, from RVing Beginner: <https://www.rvingbeginner.com/how-to-hook-up-solar-panel-to-charge-rv-battery>

6Almazrouei, A. (2019). Solar Charge Controller. Abdulla Almazrouei. <https://www.evansville.edu/majors/electricalengineering/downloads/projects-2019/solar-charge-controller-report.pdf>

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12Photo by Ulleo. Pixabay. Retrieved From, <https://pixabay.com/photos/solar-system-roof-power-generation-2939560/>

13Photo by Moritz Kindler. Unsplash. Retrieved From, <https://unsplash.com/photos/solar-panels-on-green-trees-during-daytime-mRBywMReXH8>

14Photo by Newpowa. Unsplash. Retrieved From, <https://unsplash.com/photos/MvTva7Lr5xk>

15Photo by 18447309. Pixabay. Retrieved From, <https://pixabay.com/photos/sunset-solar-energy-sun-5607776/>

16Photo by Jackery Power Station. Unsplash. Retrieved From, <https://unsplash.com/photos/YvImG3fkcMU>