Travel Trailers and Solar on the Side

Solar Panels for RVs
RVs and solar on the side

For many adventurers using a camper is more than glamping. It is their way of life. They travel from one place to the next instead of staying in a stationary home.

For many of these nomads, boondocking is very common. This is when an RV parks, at an off the grid spot, for extended periods of time. Because these campsites don’t have water, sewer, or electric hookups these resources are limited.

To prolong the use of electricity some have installed solar on their campers. Others have purchased campers that are solar ready. These solar ready campers are part of the Wired for Solar Program.

Wired for Solar program

The Wired for Solar Program pre-wires campers for solar. Often this is done by the off-grid solar product company Zamp Solar.

There are a couple of different travel trailers out there that are solar ready. If they are apart of this program they will have a solar-ready sticker. Some of the brands that carry solar ready trailers include Jayco, Forest River and Airstream.

The placement of the solar outlet will determine which type of solar panel to use. There are a couple of different places for a solar outlet.

Rooftop Entry Plate

Often entry plates are put on the roof of the trailer. This allows the solar array to be permanently installed.

If the trailer has a rooftop entry plate, there are a couple of solar panel options. If the RV has round edges, it may be a better option to get flex solar panels installed.

If, however, the RV is wide it may be a better option to install rigid solar panels. Solar panels with a rigid frame have longer warranties and are often more efficient.

Solar on the Side Plug

A solar on the side plug is on the outside, often one of the sides, of the trailer. Having a plug on the outside wall of the RV means that the panels can’t be permanently installed on the roof.

Instead, portable solar panels are used. These are solar panels that are able to be set up where the sun is and then plugged into the RV.

 Necessary Components to Install Solar

Solar ready trailers don’t have everything they need to use solar power. Only the wiring is pre-done.

These systems still need solar panels, fused wires and a charge controller. If the system is being installed on the roof, a solar mount of some sort is also needed. Either a professional can do this or with a solar panel kit and some demo videos, it can be an at home project.

Installing Solar Panels for RVs

Although there is still a bit of work required having the system prewired does make a big difference. This means that the owner doesn’t have to take the trailer apart to conceal the wires.

However, just because the tough part is complete doesn’t mean that the rest is a cake walk. An incorrectly installed solar array could cause an electrical fire.

This is why even if a professional does the installation, it is good to know the basics.

The Essentials for an RV Solar Array

There are some things that are necessary to power a solar array. These include solar panels, battery, charge controller and an inverter.

Because RVs aren’t connected to the grid, power is not always readily available. This makes batteries an essential part of a solar array.

A charge controller is also necessary. This device makes sure that the battery doesn’t overcharge or let out charge when it shouldn’t.

An inverter converts the direct current generated by solar panels to alternating current. Most houses hold appliances use alternating current making an inverter essential. 

Using Different Solar Panels Than Suggested

Because most solar ready trailers are wired for Zamp, using their solar equipment is easy. However, it isn’t necessarily the cheapest route.

Many individuals have found ways to use different solar equipment. This takes a little more work and time, but it saves money. 

If installing solar is not in the stars, another option is using a solar powered generator. Goal Zero sales generators that can easily be charged with portable solar panels. Because a charge controller and inverter are part of the system electronics can plug into it.

Difference Between RV and Residential Solar

Installing solar for a home is a bit different than an RV. Although the basic idea is the same it is more complicated to implement.

There are a couple of different reasons why this is the case. First of all, there are different energy needs. Secondly, solar policy for residential installations is more complicated.

These two factors, among other things, make installing a residential solar array a more complex process.

How Much Energy Needed for a Home

Homes use more energy than an RV. This means that they need more solar power. However, how many solar panels that are actually needed depends on a couple of things.

The first thing that determines the size of a system is the amount of energy that the home uses. This is found by getting the electric usage of the home over the course of a year.

Once the homeowner has energy usage the hard work begins. The angle of the roof and the amount of unshaded space determines how much there is to work with. While the type of solar panels determines how many of them will be needed. 

 Solar Policy for Residential Installations

Some of the other hurdles for residential installations include interconnection and permits. These two things make solar complicated to complete.

Most homes with solar stay connected to the gird. This is because using the grid as a backup is cheaper than home battery backup. However, it also means that the homeowner needs approval from their electric utility.

The other hurdle for residential solar is permitting. A residential project can’t start until the permit for it is in hand.

Although a challenging process the ROI of residential solar makes it worth it. Homeowners with solar save thousands over the lifetime of the solar array.


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