When not plugged in at a trailer park, most camper vans require an often noisy generator to run electrical components like an air conditioner or appliances. Even camper owners with lower energy needs can drain their battery after a few days when using interior lights or charging laptop computers. Adding solar panels to your recreational vehicle (RV) can reduce energy usage and cost. While many RV dealers or online retailers offer solar panel conversion kits, adding this environmentally friendly, cost-saving component to your vehicle can be a fairly simple do-it-yourself project.
Determine your energy usage. Consider the length of time you will typically be away from a power source and the number of appliances or devices you want to run. For example, if you plan to use large appliances with your solar power system, you will need more panels with a higher total wattage output and possibly multiple batteries for extra charge capacity. Be sure that your roof, where the solar panels are installed, is large enough to accommodate the necessary number of panels.
Choose the type of panels to install. Standard solar panels are designed to be mounted on homes under glass and therefore are not the best choice for campers travelling on bumpy roads. Consider installing amorphous or flexible amorphous panels.
Use mounts, sized to the panel, to fix the solar panels on the roof of the vehicle. Install hinges on the mounts so that the panels can be adjusted for maximum sun exposure, as well as a sturdy latch so they will be secure while driving. Run wires from the panels to the interior of the camper.
Use the wires to connect the solar system to a charge controller, and the charge controller to a deep-cycle battery or batteries stored inside the camper. A charge controller prevents the solar panels from overcharging the batteries. Disconnect the lights or appliances you wish to run on solar energy from the camper battery and attach them directly to the deep-cycle battery.
It is important to choose the proper wire size to connect the solar panels to the battery, considering both the output of the panel and the distance between the panel and battery. Wires that are not thick enough will lose much of the solar power as heat. Many newer model campers use alternating current (AC). If you wish to use AC lights or appliances with your solar system, install an inverter on the battery to change the DC current to an AC current.