Motorhome solar panel installation projects are a significant challenge for most people, and we’re no different. When we decided to upgrade our electrical system to add solar energy collection with lithium battery storage, Scott did not know much about solar energy systems specifically and has had a life-long aversion to electrical-related projects in general. He was fairly comfortable with the initial step of replacing our failing AGM batteries with BattleBorn lithium batteries and battery monitoring kits, but designing and installing a solar collection system was a much bigger undertaking.
Motorhome Solar Panel Installation – DIY
So how do you go from knowing almost nothing about motorhome solar panel installation to being able to do it yourself? It really boils down to a lot of research and quite a bit of help from friends. There’s no “one size fits all” answer because there are so many variables to designing any solar system, and everyone’s requirements and constraints are going to be different. That’s why we didn’t do a “How To” video or blog post. Our system design and components are not going to be a perfect fit for anyone else because our goals, existing equipment, and space constraints are unique to us.
What we do want to do here in this blog post is give folks encouragement and inspiration that if you want to do a motorhome solar panel installation, YOU CAN DO IT YOURSELF, even if you don’t currently know much about it. As a matter of fact, there’s really only three basic elements to going from knowing very little to being sufficiently informed to install your own system — Learn, Network, Design
The first step in getting prepared for motorhome solar panel installation is to learn as much as you can about solar energy systems in general and RV solar systems specifically. As the guys state in our video, there’s really no substitute for knowing the workings of your solar system. Really, even if you’re not doing the installation, you should still know about the system since your installer won’t be physically with you down the road as you’re using your system.
There are so many great resources for learning about solar systems. Here are a selection of good places to start, but once you start Googling, you’ll find many others for yourself. Learn more about RV electrical systems and explore if solar is right for you with You, Me, and the RV. Multiple blog posts from Adventurous Way – Start Here. Learn about basics and options with EnergySage. Get into the nitty gritty details with MotorHome Magazine.
Once you start the learning phase, you’ll quickly see that there is a ton of information out there, and if you haven’t got much experience, it’ll get very confusing very fast. One way to cut through the clutter and get focused on what’s relevant to you is to reach out to your RV network and start having conversations about your goals and questions. We are very fortunate to have met some great friends early in our RV Nomad life, and these friends happened to include one who had already installed solar – Chris Clark of Runaway with the Clarks – and one who wanted to install solar, Phil Farley of You, Me, and the RV. Scott, Chris, and Phil had many, many conversations over a period of several months discussing the installation project, sharing information, and resolving questions. Reach out to the RVers you know who have solar systems and who are thinking of installing systems and get the conversation started !
In addition to connecting within your own network, consider what forums and groups you might have access to. There are forum sites for most RV manufacturers, and these are a good place to get information that’s specific to your kind of RV. If you haven’t yet found iRV2.com, you’re missing out on lots of information on a wide spectrum of topics. For a ton of great solar content, check out their Going Green forum. Don’t forget to check out the selection of Facebook groups that are targeted to the topic of RV solar. A couple of the bigger ones include DIY RV Solar Systems, RV DIY Solar Install, and RV SOLAR for DUMMIES & DIY.
Now, when we say design, don’t get stressed out. It’s actually fairly simple, once you’ve spent some time learning and networking. You want to start by determining your current state. What components do you already have onboard, are those components in good working order, and what can you use as a foundation to build on? Next, you want to define your goals. What kind of performance do you realistically expect from your system – based on your learning and networking AND keeping in mind the $budget$? Lastly, identify the additional components you will need to provide the performance you’re looking for and determine the suppliers you want to work with to get those components.
During the design stage, make use of the in-house design support and advice from the component suppliers you select. Scott worked with Continuous Resources and AM Solar. Both of these companies were great in helping him select the right components to achieve the goals we identified. One thing to keep in mind when picking your components and suppliers is to source your components from the same manufacturer whenever possible. This makes “plug and play” installation more feasible. For instance, Scott chose the solar controller and remote control from Magnum in part because our inverters and battery monitoring kits are from Magnum. These components are designed to connect seamlessly with each other which makes for a smoother installation.
Motorhome Solar Panel Installation ? YES, YOU CAN !!
After working your way through the Learning, Networking, and Designing phases, the actual installation is just a matter of finding a place and time to do it, coordinating some extra hands to help, and connecting the dots of your system design. OK, OK, maybe it’s a little more complicated, but if you’ve done a good job on the pre-work, then the actual installation will be fairly straightforward. Keep some resources on speed dial to help you troubleshoot, and you’ll be harvesting the sun in no time!
Here’s the PARTS LIST (click to download) Scott developed for your reference purposes only – these parts will not necessarily work on your rig. You do still need to do your own research and design what will work for you. Also, keep in mind that the prices listed were from 2019 and will certainly have changed since then.
Learn more about our approach to challenges HERE or contact us for help navigating big changes and challenges in your life.