Installing Solar Panels on RVs and VANs

Posted by Armin Nalavi on

Adding solar panels to your motorized home is a tricky subject. The importance and benefits of installing solar panels are not always evident. Furthermore, installing them on Vans and RVs does not make matters more straightforward. 

This article will discuss a few reasons you should invest in solar panels for your vehicle. And all significant components you’ll need to have on your system.

RV lifer in front of a lake

Do I need solar panels on my RV, Van or Bus?

You will definitely ask yourself this question while getting into RV and Vanlife. While on the road, the electricity bill is no longer a concern for you as the alternator or Battery chargers such as Sterling Power battery to battery charger will keep battery banks charged, and the installation costs are kept to a minimum.

What if you are not always on the road? What if you like to camp somewhere off the grid for a long holiday?  

Answering these questions will help you understand if solar panel installation is suitable for you or not!

RV and Van solar panels will not charge your battery bank with maximum capacity all the time, but they provide constant charging of the AGM or Lithium batteries. This will help you enjoy your time in your motorized home with ease of mind on your energy needs.

Van with solar panels on the roof

How to build a DIY Van and RV solar kit?

While building a solar power system, the battery bank is the first thing that we should decide on. Since battery banks are the only power reserve in most places, we recommend a battery bank with enough capacity to last 48 hours.

First, make a list of the equipment you will use. Each one has a power usage; multiplying this number by 24 will provide you with the total usage of that device in one full day.

For example, if you use your power reserve for a Fridge, Lights, Charging your phone and Laptop, TV, Internet Hotspot device and some other small appliances, the daily usage should be somewhere between 3 to 3.5 kW.

So we need a battery bank that provides between 6 to 7 kWh of electricity for two days of autonomy. 

Large lithium battery bank

Now that you know the power needed, you have to decide on the system voltage. For smaller systems, a 12V battery bank will be efficient enough and generally speaking, most 12V components such as inverters or inverter/chargers are cheaper than 24V versions.

Lead Acid or Lithium Battery for Van and RV?

For similar power, Lead-acid will be a lot heavier and take up a lot more area. However, the initial cost of getting a lead-acid battery is less than lithium batteries. 

If you see your battery bank as an investment that should last more than ten years, we recommend getting something like LBS x271Ah batteries that will be leak-free and won’t require any maintenance. In addition, the LBS x271  will be four times lighter and smaller than the equivalent lead-acid battery bank.

Van Electrical System done by Volts Energies

Next is the RV Solar Panel.

For the limited space on most RV roofs, installing solar panels on the roof of a VAN or RV is not a very difficult task also Van most solar panel kits are small or consist of only one or two panels. 

There is also the option of installing Flexible solar panels such as Sunpower 100 watt Flexible panels that will be more durable and can take up smaller areas on the roof. However, most flexible solar panels have a lower power output will force you to buy multiple panels for one system.

Solar Panels on a Sprinter Van

You can also install one or 2 LG or Peimar energy-efficient panels that can produce up to 400 watts of power for your motor home instead of 4 to 8 flexible panels.

After solar panels, we need an MPPT solar charge controller 

To find the right MPPT for your vehicle, find the nominal voltage of your panels ( let’s say around 50 volts for one LG solar panel) and we have that will be the maximum voltage of the charge controller for one panel and the 100V for two solar panel system.

Using this number, we can find a suitable solar charge controller to handle the panel's maximum output voltage.

Overall, most solar systems won’t be that large, and a Victron Energy Smart Solar MPPT of 100/30 or 150/60 can be enough for the whole system.

Battery Charging!

Other than solar panels, there are many different ways to charge your batteries on the go. One of the simplest methods for charging is using Battery Chargers such as Victron Energy IP65 battery chargers to charge batteries using a standard AC plug. 

System with sterling power battery to battery charger

Another way to boost your electrical system is to add a Battery to Battery Charger such as Sterling Power BB1260.

The Sterling battery-to-battery charger will enable you to charge your batteries while driving to your destination without additional fuel or energy, making this equipment one of the best-sellers among Van Life enthusiasts.

Inverters or Inverter/Charger 

Whether you decide to use an inverter or an Inverter/Charger in your solar energy system will be up to you as there are very similar in their inverter function, which we need the most.

multiplus inverter/charge in a Van

Now that your system is shaping, another essential product allows you to use your 120V appliances with the same 12 or 24 Battery bank. The inverter will transform the 12V voltage to 120 for all needed applications such as laptop and phone chargers.

There are also many benefits to installing a Multiplus Inverter Charger on your vehicle, as this device will allow you to use available AC sources to charge your batteries, in addition to the inverter capabilities.  

Monitoring Systems

A monitoring system is an optional piece yet advantageous. With a monitoring system, you can monitor your solar panel production and battery banks' state of charge and be more energy efficient using your electrical system. 

Furthermore, once we install a solar panel system with a monitoring system here at Volts Energies, we can monitor your system from our office anytime and complete our troubleshooting steps. 

Complete Van electrical system

We have often resolved issues remotely without needing our clients to commute to our office.

The basic monitoring system will include a Cerbo GX, which can be connected to your phone or laptop via Bluetooth, and you will be able to see your stats. An additional upgrade is using a GX touch monitor, which will display all the data you need on one screen beside your system.


Always remember that spending a little extra on fuses and breakers can prevent thousands of dollars in damage to your electrical systems. 

We usually recommend placing a breaker between each connection to ensure that a malfunction will be contained and limited to just one component.

At Last!

RV and Van life is all about the adventures and discovering the off-grid world by yourself; a well-made electrical system won’t change any of that. You will still enjoy every minute of being on the road or camping in the forest, and when you want to rest and relax in your motorized home, you will enjoy the comfort of your electrical appliances.

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