There are a lot of decisions to make when you install solar panels on an RV or boat. Some of the most basic are: what size solar panels to buy, whether to go with flexible solar panels or aluminum framed rigid panels, whether the solar cells should be monocrystalline or polycrystalline, and whether to install nominal 12 volt or 24 volt panels.
We have done several RV and marine solar panel installations, and we have used not only 12 volt and 24 volt panels of various sizes but we have also used both aluminum framed rigid solar panels and the newer semi-flexible solar panels. We have also worked with both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels. This article outlines the pros and cons of the various types and sizes of solar panels and offers some things to think about when you are deciding which solar panels to buy for your RV or boat.
Our article RV Solar Power Made Simple explains how to determine the overall wattage for an RV solar power installation. In general, a weekend / vacation RV can get by with 200 watts or less while a full-time solar power system is best with 500 watts or more.
SOLAR PANEL SIZE and PLACEMENT
Once you decide on overall capacity for your solar panel array, the next thing to think about is solar panel placement and wiring. The panels should be a matched set of identical or nearly identical panels. If you have a lot of real estate on the RV roof, then you can get a few big panels. If you have a truck camper or your RV roof is cluttered with a lot of things on it already (hatches, vents, antennas, etc.), then you may need to go with smaller panels that can be squeezed in and around everything else.
WHAT VOLTAGE IS THAT SOLAR PANEL?
Solar panels are constructed internally with DC wiring, and they are sized to work on 12 or 24 volt circuits. So, they are commonly referred to as 12 or 24 volt solar panels. What’s confusing is that while the nominal voltage of a solar panel may be 12 or 24 volts, the open circuit voltage is higher. So, for a nominal 12 volt solar panel that is 100 watts, the open circuit voltage (“Voc“) will be 17 or 18 volts. Likewise, for a nominal 24 volt panel, the Voc will be 34 to 36 volts.
Also, smaller solar panels (both physically and in terms of watts) are typically nominal 12 volt panels while larger panels are typically 24 volts. Solar panels under about 150 watts in size are usually 12 volt panels. Solar panels over about 150 watts are usually 24 volt panels.
Solar panels work best when they are a matched set. The electrical characteristics of all the solar panels in the array need to be very similar, preferably identical. When upgrading a solar power array this can make things complicated as you try to mix and match old small panels with new big ones.
One technique for upgrading is to wire two 12 volt solar panels in series to work on a 24 volt circuit. For instance, if you have two 100 watt 12 volt panels and you are buying a 200 watt 24 volt panel, you can wire the two 100 watt panels in series and then wire that pair in parallel with the new 200 watt solar panel.
This will work as long as the electrical characteristics of the pair of solar panels in series match the electrical characteristics of the single panel that is wired in parallel with them.
THE EFFECT OF SHADE ON SOLAR PANELS
Shade is the biggest enemy of any solar power installation. Unbelievable as it seems, a tiny bit of shade will effectively shut down a solar panel. The impact is dramatic: a few square inches of shade can drop a solar panels current production down from 8 amps to 2 amps. A few more square inches of shade can drop the current production to 0.
Before deciding on the size of the panels, it is worthwhile to take some time to study the various things that might cast shade across them once they are in place. A closed hatch may cause little shade, but when it is open on a hot day, depending on where the sun is in the sky, it might cast a big shadow across a nearby solar panel. Satellite dishes, air conditioners and even holding tank vents can cast sizable shadows as well.
We put a book in one corner of a 120 watt 12 volt panel and discovered that even though it was a small percentage of the surface area of the panel, that 8.5″ x 11″ book was enough to knock down the current production of a 120 watt solar panel by 80%. Rather than producing 7 amps, it produced a measly 1.4 amps. Egads!
Similarly, shade wreaked havoc on our three185 watt 24 volt panels on our sailboat. The shade from our mast traveled across the panels as the boat swung at anchor, and the current production dropped by 1/3 and then by 2/3 as the shade first crossed one of the three panels and then straddled two of them. It did this over and over, with the current rising and falling repeatedly, as the boat slowly swung back and forth at anchor.
Shade is a huge concern in the solar power industry, and there are several white papers (here’e one) about the impact of shade on commercial solar panel installations. The gist is the importance of spacing the rows of commercial solar panel arrays in such a way that one row of panels doesn’t accidentally shade the bottom inch or so of the next row behind it when the sun is low in the sky.
If it does, the second row of panels shuts down. If there are rows and rows of solar panels spaced like this, none of the panels except the ones in the first row can function until the sun rises a little higher in the sky.
Solar panels are most sensitive to shade along the longest part of the panel, so in the case of our sailboat, when the sun was over our bow, the mast would shade the panels in a strip that had a maximum impact on current production (as you can see in the above photo)!
For RVers, besides rooftop obstructions, shade comes into play primarily if you park near a building or trees. Snowbirds boondocking in the southwest deserts of Arizona and California during the wintertime have little concern with shade from trees and buildings. But summertime RV travelers who boondock in wooded areas need to be cognizant of where the shade from the trees will fall during the course of the day.
WIRING SOLAR PANELS IN PARALLEL vs. IN SERIES
One of the big decisions for a solar power installation on an RV or boat is whether to wire the solar panels in series or in parallel. There are several things to consider when making this decision.
When the solar panels are wired in series, then the developed voltage across all the panels is additive while the current remains constant from panel to panel. That is, if there were four 120 watt 12 volt panels producing 7 amps each, then the developed voltage across all the panels would be 48 volts (12 x 4) while the current would be just 7 amps.
In contrast, when the solar panels are wired in parallel, then the voltage of the panels remains constant through the circuit while the current is additive from panel to panel. For instance, for those same four panels, the developed voltage across them would be 12 volts but the current would be 28 amps (7 x 4).
The solar charge controller takes care of balancing everything out by ensuring the circuit between it and the batteries is 12 volts. In the case of the above solar panels wired in series, the solar charge controller steps down the voltage from 48 volts to 12 volts (if they are 12 volt batteries). The current then increases from 7 amps to 28 amps in the wire run going between the solar charge controller and the batteries.
In the case of the above solar panels wired in parallel, the voltage is already 12 volts, so the solar charge controller does not need to step it down for the batteries.
SHADE EFFECTS on SOLAR PANELS WIRED IN SERIES vs. WIRED IN PARALLEL
When solar panels are wired in series, if shade hits one panel and shuts it down (caused by that solar panel’s internal circuitry building up a massive amount of resistance), then the entire string of solar panels shuts down. For instance, if a tree shaded 1/3 of one solar panel in the string of four panels given above, wired in series, the current production of the entire array of four panels would be reduced to to 0 amps, even though the three other solar panels were in full sun.
In contrast, if the panels are wired in parallel, when shade knocks one panel out, the other panels are unaffected. So, even if 1/3 of one solar panel were shaded, reducing it to 0 amps of current production, the other three would be working just fine. The total current production would be 3/4 of what it could be if that one panel were in full sun (in this case, 21 amps), rather than 0 amps.
So, it would seem that the best way to wire solar panels is in parallel.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, and here’s why:
CURRENT and WIRE SIZE in a SOLAR PANEL INSTALLATION
The more amps of current there are flowing in a circuit, the thicker the wire needs to be to ensure that no energy is lost to heat. Unfortunately, thicker, heavier gauge wire is a pain to work with. It’s stiff and doesn’t bend around corners easily. It is hard to tighten down in the solar charge controller connections and it’s hard to crimp ring terminals onto. It is also more expensive per foot.
So, when the solar panels are wired in series, a thinner gauge wire can be used for a given distance than when they are wired in parallel.
Of course, the thickness of the wire is also dependent on the length of the wire. The longer a wire is, the more energy is lost along its length. So, if you are installing the solar panels high on an arch off the aft end of a 50′ sailboat and the batteries are located at the bottom of the hull over the keel, the wire must be a lot heavier gauge than if you are installing the panels on an RV roof directly above the battery compartment.
What is the price difference in the cable? We like to use Ancor Marine Cable because it is tinned and it is very supple (the copper is fine stranded). Here are the price differences for 25′ of 2 gauge wire as compared to 25′ of 10 gauge wire.
What to do?
SOLAR PANEL VOLTAGE and WIRE SIZE
Luckily, there is another option: higher voltage solar panels can be wired with thinner gauge wire. Remember, Watts = Current x Voltage. So, for the same number of watts in a panel, a higher voltage panel will produce a smaller amount of current.
Rather than using four 120 watt 12 volt panels wired in parallel that would produce 28 amps at 12 volts, you can use two 240 watt 24 volt panels wired in parallel that produce 14 amps at 24 volts. The net effect on the battery bank will be the same, but the bigger panels can be wired with smaller gauge wire.
As mentioned above, the wiring that is most affected by these solar panel choices is the wiring that runs from the solar panels to the solar charge controller. The wiring from the solar charge controller to the batteries is the same in either configuration, as the same amount of current will be flowing in that wire regardless of how the solar panels are wired. In the case of solar panels wired in parallel, the voltage will be stepped down in the solar charge controller. So, in our example, the solar charge controller will step down the voltage from 48 volts to 12 volts, ensuring that the circuitry between the solar charge controller and the batteries is at operating at 12 volts.
CHOOSING THE OPTIMAL WIRE GAUGE
The thickness of the wire, or wire gauge, depends entirely on how long the wire is going to be. That is, the wire gauge is determined by how far apart the solar panels and the solar charge controller and the batteries are.
Why is this? The more current that flows in a wire, the more the conductor in the wire will warm up. The more it warms up, the more energy is lost to heat. Eventually, this becomes measurable as a voltage loss between the two end points.
When wiring solar power circuits, you can choose how much voltage loss you are willing to have. Somewhere between 2.5% and 5% is typically considered okay. There are voltage loss tables that will help you decide on the proper wire gauge size for the distance you are spanning between the solar panels and the solar charge controller and between there and the batteries. Here’s a good one:
An Example: 480 watts of solar power located 27′ from the batteries
- Say we have four 120 watt 12 volt panels wired in series. If the distance is going to be 27′, then by looking at the third chart at the above link (the 12 volt chart) and going to the line for 8 amps flowing in the wire, it shows a wire run of up to 27′ can be done with 10 gauge wire.
- Now, imagine putting those same panels in parallel. 32 amps will flow at 12 volts. For that same 27′ distance you’ll need 2 gauge wire.
- Lastly, instead of using four 120 watt 12 volt panels, use two 240 watt 24 volt panels wired in parallel. For this you use the 2nd chart down (24 volt chart). There will be 16 amps flowing in the wire at 24 volts. You will be able use 8 gauge wire.
Of course, due to the nature of multi-stage battery charging and the changing position (and angle) of the sun in the sky, the solar panels will be operating at full tilt for a very short time each day. They may produce max current for 30 minutes near noon as they wrap up the Bulk Stage, however, as the Absorb stage takes over and continues in the afternoon, the solar charge controller will gradually hold the panels back so they produce far less than max current.
With less than peak current flowing in the wires, less energy will be lost to heat.
If this is confusing, see our articles:
RV and Marine Battery Charging Basics
How Solar Charge Controllers Work
So, although it may seem dire that you’re wiring is on the hairy edge size-wise, it is only that way for a little while each day. Depending on the overall size of the solar power array, the size of the battery bank, and the state of discharge when the batteries wake up in the morning, your system may not even hit the theoretical maximum current production or even come close.
MULTIPLE SOLAR CHARGE CONTROLLERS
Another method of keeping the wire size down is to install more than one big solar charge controller. For instance, you might install several smaller charge controllers for each pair of panels wired in series, or perhaps even one for each panel. Of course, this adds complexity and expense, and you will probably buy less sophisticated solar charge controllers that have fewer programming options than a single big one.
You must run more wires between the RV roof and the location in the coach where the solar charge controllers are installed (preferably next to the batteries), and so you must not only pay for additional solar charge controllers, but you must buy more wire and install it all. However, this design option does deserve mention and consideration.
TILTING THE SOLAR PANELS
Solar panels perform a whole lot better in the summer than in the winter. This is because the sun rides much higher in the sky and its rays hit the panels at a nearly perpendicular angle in the summertime. The days are also a whole lot longer. In the winter, the sun’s rays hit the panels at an angle and the sun is only out for a short while.
To get around this, rather than using ordinary Z-brackets to mount their solar panels on the roof, many RVers use tilting brackets. By tilting the panels towards the sun at about a 45 degree angle (technically, at the angle of your latitude), then the sun’s rays hit the panels at a nice 90 degree angle if they are oriented to face south. This can increase the overall power production by about 30% on a sunny winter day.
The only problem is that you have to climb up on the roof to tilt the panels each time you set up camp and then climb up again later to lay them flat when you are packing up before you drive away. We’ve seen many a winter snowbird driving their RV around with the solar panels still raised.
An alternative is simply to install more solar panels and to keep them lying flat all the time. This is easy for a big RV that has a huge roof but is not so easy for a little trailer with a small roof. We have not installed tilting brackets on our trailers.
MONOCRYSTALLINE vs. POLYCRYSTALLINE SOLAR CELLS
There are lots of different kinds of solar panels on the market today. There are two primary types of solar cells used in the manufacture of solar panels: monocrystalline and polycrystalline.
Monocrystalline solar panels are more efficient and more expensive, but they are also extremely intolerant of shade. Polycrystalline panels are slightly less efficient and less expensive, but they handle partial shade just a smidge better.
The way to tell if a solar panel is monocrystalline or polycrystalline is to look at the pattern of rectangles on the panel itself.
If the circuitry between the rectangles has large silver diamond shapes, it is monocrystalline. If the pattern of rectangles is just intersecting lines, it is polycrystalline.
Examples of popular monocrystalline solar panels are here:
- Renogy Monocrystalline solar panels
- Grape Solar monocrystalline solar panels
- Eco-Worthy monocrystalline solar panels.
Examples of popular polycrystalline solar panels are here:
- Renogy polycrystalline solar panels
- Grape Solar polycrystalline solar panels
- Eco-Worthy polycrystalline solar panels
- Kyocera polycrystalline solar panels.
RIGID ALUMINUM FRAMED SOLAR PANELS vs. SEMI-FLEXIBLE SOLAR PANELS
Solar panels can also be rigid or flexible.
Rigid panels are built with an aluminum frame surrounding tempered glass that covers the solar cells.
Flexible solar panels are built with the solar collecting material impregnated into a thin mylar film that is affixed to an aluminum substrate.
Flexible solar panels are not flimsy, they are simply bendable up to about 30 degrees.
There are a number of manufacturers selling flexible solar panels:
- Go Power flexible solar panels
- Grape Solar flexible solar panels
- Eco-Worthy flexible solar panels
- King Solar flexible solar panels
FLEXIBLE SOLAR PANEL ADVANTAGES
Flexible solar panels have several advantages over rigid panels. They are a little lighter than framed solar panels and you can glue them onto an RV roof using Dicor Lap Sealant, or something similar. This saves you from the complexity of drilling holes into a perfectly watertight roof and risking creating leaks. This is especially helpful with a fiberglass roof. It takes just a few minutes with a caulk gun to attach these panels to the RV roof.
Another nice feature is that on a rounded roof, like an Airstream travel trailer or Casita travel trailer, the panels can bend to follow the contour of the roof.
One of the most important things for solar panels to work well is heat dissipation. Rigid aluminum framed solar panels stand up off the roof of the RV by about an inch, allowing air to flow underneath and for heat to dissipate. Air can’t flow underneath flexible solar panels. The aluminum substrate serves to dissipate the heat instead. This may or may not be as efficient a method of heat dissipation, and I have heard of a case where all the flexible solar panels on a sailboat had to be replaced after two years because they did not dissipate the heat sufficiently in the tropics and the panels self-destructed.
FLEXIBLE SOLAR PANEL CONSTRUCTION and INSTALLATION
Our RVing friends Dick & Katie asked us to install six 100 watt 12 volt flexible solar panels made by Eco-Worthy on the roof of their motorhome, along with all the other projects involved in an RV solar power installation. Ironically, the hardest part of the entire installation was removing the plastic protection from the aluminum substrate of each panel (it kept ripping!). We all ended up working on this together.
Once we got up on the roof, and got past a cute warning from Winnebego, the installation was straight forward.
The plastic protection needed to be removed from the face of the panels as well. Interestingly, at one point Mark found himself picking at the corner of the mylar that has the solar collection circuitry embedded in it and almost began to peel that whole layer off the aluminum substrate! But once he got a hold of just the most superficial layer of plastic, it came off easily.
He used Dicor Lap Sealant to tack down the corners of the panels and then ran a bead around each side of each panel.
FLEXIBLE SOLAR PANEL DISADVANTAGES
Flexible solar panels are less efficient than rigid aluminum framed solar panels, which means you may want to get a few more total watts of solar panels than you would if you were buying framed panels. Bendable panels also can’t be installed on tilting brackets. So, again, buying more total watts may be the best solution.
Flexible solar panels are not as rugged as rigid aluminum framed solar panels built with tempered glass. Overhanging branches can scratch them. This is important for anyone that will be boondocking or dry camping a lot on public lands and in rustic public campgrounds, as it is often impossible to get in or out of a site without ducking under some low lying tree branches.
Some RVers have found that flexible solar panels installed on flat motorhome roofs tend to pool water when it rains. This can lead to debris building up and taking root and damaging the panels.
Perhaps for all these reasons, flexible solar panels are sold with a much shorter warranty than rigid solar panels. Whereas many solar panel manufacturers warranty their tempered glass aluminum framed rigid solar panels for 25 or 30 years, bendable solar panel manufacturers generally warranty their panels for 5 years or less.
This may or may not be relevant for RVers, as the fine print in almost every solar panel manufacturer’s warranty states that their solar panels are not warrantied for use on mobile vehicles.
Also, there has been a huge problem across the entire solar power industry with rigid solar panels failing prematurely in large numbers in big commercial installations (see a May 2013 NY Times article here). Apparently, just because those lovely rigid solar panels are warrantied for decades doesn’t mean they will last that long. We have already had a failure of one of our framed solar panels that was warrantied for 25 years, and we discovered the manufacturer’s warranty did not apply to RV installations.
However, as a general rule, when manufacturers warranty a product for 5 years versus 30 years, it says something about how they think their product will hold up over time.
There are many ways to go about installing solar power on an RV roof, and the solar panels that work best in one installation may not be the same as those that are best for another. Not only is every RV roof different, but every RVer’s needs are different.
If you have loads of space on a big motorhome roof or fifth wheel trailer roof, and you are setting it up for full-time use, you may be best off with three or four 200+ watt 24 volt rigid solar panels wired in parallel. If you have a little tear drop camper you use on weekends and store in the garage, a single flexible 100 watt 12 volt panel may be just the ticket for you.
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Related articles about Solar Power on RVs and Boats:
- RV (and Marine) Solar Power Made Simple - An overview of how solar power works on an RV or boat
- Which Solar Panels To Buy? - What's Best: Flexible or Rigid Panels? 12 or 24 volt? Mono- or Polycrystalline? And WHY?
- Installing Solar Power on a Sailboat - How to overcome the unique challenges of solar power on a sailboat
- Solar Power Tutorial 1 - Basics - What makes up a solar power system and how does it work?
- Solar Power Tutorial 2 - Weekend/Vacation Systems - Everything needed for small "Weekending" and "Vacation" systems
- Solar Power Tutorial 3 - Full-time Systems - Describes the design of a "Full-time" system
- Solar Power Tutorial 4 - Solar Panel Selection & Wiring - Design considerations for choosing solar panels PLUS wiring tips
- Solar Charge Controllers - How to OPTIMIZE battery charging from the sun
- Solar Power and Shore Power Combined! - What happens when you're on solar and you plug into shore power?
Related articles about Batteries and Battery Charging:
- RV and Marine Battery Charging Basics - How do batteries get charged and what is the best charging method?
- Converters, Inverter/Chargers and Engine Alternators - No two battery charging systems do the job the same way.
- Solar Charge Controllers - A detailed examination of how three popular solar charge controllers work
- Solar Power and Shore Power Combined! - What happens when you're on solar and you plug into shore power?
- Wet Cell vs. AGM Batteries in an RV or Boat - Why we upgraded our RV house battery bank from flooded to AGM!
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RVers Jason and Nikki Wynn have written about the condition of their flexible solar panels after a year of use HERE
With regards to series vs. parallel, is wiring four 12 volt solar panels in combined series and parallel configuration like wiring four 6-volt batteries for 12 volt output a workable option? The idea being to gain some advantage from higher voltage, and some of the benefit of parallel? Smaller wire size (24 volt vs 12 volt) from a combiner box on the roof to the charge controller, and not losing all output due to shade on a panel.
Another question – with regards to solid solar panels with an approximately 1 inch air gap, does the heat buildup have a negative impact upon the life of the roof? Again, asking about solid panels, I’m not sold on flexible, YET!
Thank you for the great articles about solar.
Yes, Colan, as I mention in this article, you can combine series and parallel wiring with solar panels just like you do with batteries. This gives you the advantage of operating at 24 volts with half as much current running in the wires than would be at 12 volts, letting you use smaller gauge wire, and also gives you the advantage of some shade tolerance from banks of panels being wired in parallel.
There is no heat buildup on the roof under rigid panels that we have seen. Our plain old rubber roof is 8 years old now and is in good shape (they are expected to last for 10 years). We did peak under the panels once last year when troubleshooting our dying panel, so we have seen the portion under the panels — so far so good!
Thanks for reading!!
Great write up on Solar. Shade sure is an issue! I am really curious when Fuel Cells will be available in the US. Have you checked out the Efoy 210? http://www.efoy-comfort.com/ They are still a little pricy, but hopefully the price will come down and be a great option for rv’s.
Wow, looks very interesting — thanks for sharing, Hans!
I have to admit, hubby and I are still in the learning mode. We just had 3 solar panels installed on our fifth wheel. We brought it home but after a couple of days it wouldn’t run any small appliance without the appliance turning off. We took it back and they said the inverter was bad. Bah! The question I have is the tech said it was only legal to hook up “One Leg”. We had to choose which side we wanted to be able to use electricity generated from the solar panels. We chose the side with the kitchen and the bathroom. I’ve never seen this on any explanations of solar panel installation. Unless I missed it. I was wondering if this is correct.
Just to clarify, the inverter installation is completely independent of the solar panels. You can install an inverter on a brand-new-from-the-factory fifth wheel without putting any solar panels on the roof. The inverter converts the batteries’ 12 volt DC power into 120 volt AC power and has nothing to do with how the batteries are charged.
I’m not sure why your technician could wire the inverter to only one side or the other of the coach. We used a technique is not an approved method by electricians but that works. Check it out here: https://roadslesstraveled.us/rv-solar-power-tutorial-full-time-rv-cruising-solar-power-kits/#inverter-installation
Lightbulb moment! We’re brand new to inverters/converters/solar panels and I’ve read through your articles which help tremendously but I was still somewhat confused. Okay, admittedly a lot confused. My husband grasps better. Lol. I guess the key is to keep reading until it starts to make sense. Thanks so much for all the help you give newbies!
I love those lightbulb moments, Karen. Keep reading, listening, and asking questions until it makes sense, and don’t be intimidated by the jargon!!!
We love your articles and like to occasionally print one out, without all the ads. Is there a way to get a print-friendly version? Thanks!
Thank you — I’m so glad you enjoy this blog! I’m sorry, though, I have no idea about printing, as we do not own a printer. I would love to operate a site that is ad free 🙂 but the ads help cover my out of pocket costs for having a website (although they do not pay for the crazy hours spent writing — that is a labor of love!).
Kudos to the “laymen” language. Is the Dicor lap sealant the only way that was used to attach the flexible panel to the roof? How did that hold up? How would one remove it later down the road if you had to replace a panel…and if you felt like you didn’t want to add weight to your roof, so wanted to go flexible, I wonder if there is a way to built a light, slightly arched mounting surface to avoid the pooling (scratching my head and wondering).
Thank you for the kudos, Dawn! The Dicor lap sealant was the on thing used to attach the panels to the roof. It stays semi-tacky and remains pliable, so you can scrape it off with your fingernail. You could probably remove the panels, since the lap sealant doesn’t harden permanently, but you’d have to be careful, of course.
Our friends have had the panels on their motorhome roof for 16 months now, and everything seems to be fine. Perhaps you could construct an arch, but that seems like a lot of work and you’ll have lost some of the weight savings…
Just curious. Why have you not utilized wind turbines? Especially on your sailboat? This source would not be dependent on sun vs shade. Seems there would most always be wind? BTW- very very new to RVing. Just bought a Pace Arrow 1998 that I am reinervating on a very very tight budget but would love to be able to “boondock” as efficiently as possible.
Good question, Karen. Wind generators can be really noisy and can cause vibration in the vehicle they’re mounted on. Whenever we were anchored near a boat with a wind generator, if the wind picked up, we found the noise annoying on OUR boat, never mind what they experienced on theirs. If the wind gets excessive in a severe storm, the wind generator itself and its mounting system can be at risk. Also, wind generators have to be mounted fairly high, and this introduces yet another item that can shade the solar panels. We saw boats with wind generators mounted in such a way that the solar panels were rendered useless most of the time. Have fun with your Pace Arrow and happy boondocking!
I saw a blogger who has the panel on the TV. The two 12 v batteries and charge controller are in the TV. It’s a 24 v panel and the charge controller is a mppt. Her camper has a single battery of the same type. I believe there is an inverter installed in the TV also. These are optima yellow tops. I also know there is an Anderson plug that connects TV to trailer. Her power requirements are minimal and she doesn’t know where what or how this cable is supplying power. Do you folks have a guess.
Gosh, I have no idea. At first I thought she had some awesome newfangled TV that did a whole lot more than YouTube and Netflix. Then I realized you were referring to her tow vehicle! If it’s working for her, she’s good to go!
Very useful info! Thanks for sharing!
Nice article. To save hassle (using smaller wires) and expense (using only one charge controller), why can’t you lead individual sets of small wires from each panel and then parallelize them right at the input to the charge controller. This limits the resistance drop but is a perfectly fine parallel circuit. This would be a hassle for lots of panels, but would seem to be a good solution if you were just using a couple of panels.
We don’t advocate using more than one solar charge controller. I simply mention it in this article as an option to consider, and I discuss the pros and cons of such a choice. In all of our installations we’ve had just one solar charge controller.
As for the wiring, you can opt to tie the parallel lines together anywhere you like. The advantage of tying them together near the roof is that you only have to snake one wire from the roof to the charge controller in the interior of the RV instead of snaking several wires down.
Depending on the size of the openings the wiring has to go through between the roof and interior of the RV, this can make a big difference. If the entire route from panels to charge controller is wide open with no obstructions and no corners, then snaking a group of wires is not an issue. In most instances, however, there are tight turns and narrow openings that the wire has to go through.
In each installation we’ve done, snaking the wire from the roof to the charge controller has been the hardest part of the entire job.
VERY helpful articles. More of a question here than comment!
We have had a teardrop travel trailer for 1+ year. 3 month-12,750 mile road trip spring-summer 2017. Camping mainly in National Parks>>no hook ups, variable sun exposure. It has one Group 24 12V “Deep Discharge Marine” battery on the tongue–Yes, I was told it was designed to fully discharge repeatedly!! Calculated 80 AH usage per day based on specs for appliances and time on. I feel this is very generous and assumed 12 H run time for Fridge. In southern deserts it may run more than 12 hrs.
I have ruined 2 batteries. Discovered a broken wire to 7 pin electrical supply from tow vehicle when fridge didn’t work in southern deserts. 70 Watt rigid Crystalline Solar panel on a tripod mount and 2 stage charge controller were connected whenever parked but shade was an issue. Clearly I am discharging the battery too low and for too long a period of time!
I am thinking of adding a 100 W flexible panel to roof of trailer and running it while towing, then adding the rigid panel while parked. Also thinking of getting a Trojan 12v 76 AH Deep Cycle AGM Sealed Battery T24-AGM and being more vigilant when parked, turning off fridge when necessary. Tongue weight already at max–no easy way to create a battery array with more Amp Hours unless I put one in a kitchen cupboard in back. 2-12V-76AH? 6 V 200+AH size and weight is too large and heavy for tongue mount (2nd battery assumed to be in back)
Your thoughts? Mixing panel types? 2nd battery?
Gosh. If you are using 80 Ah per day and not using lithium-ion type batteries (which can be discharged fully), then you’ll need at least 160 ah of battery capacity, i.e., two Group 24 12 volt or two golf cart 6 volt batteries. Ideally, they should match in age and brand and they should be close together or battery cables should be extremely heavy gauge. Or, cut your electrical consumption to 40 Ah per day or less. This will be hard to do if your fridge is electric. If you ruined two batteries already during spring/summer/fall, you are going to have a very difficult time in southern deserts in winter. Flexible panels don’t hold up, but your roof line may be best suited to one. Mixing with another panel is fine, but the bigger panel will be electrically reduced to match the smaller one, so if you mix a 70 watt and 100 watt panel, you will effectively have two 70 watt panels which may net you only 30 Ah per day in winter. If you are determined to be fully solar, swap out the fridge for a model that can run on propane and use oil lamps for light at night and don’t watch TV (we did that for a year). Play outside and go to be early. Or get a generator.
I have a question/problem rather than a comment also.
Im looking at getting roughly 400w of flexible solar panels for a yacht, however most of the flexible panels say they cant be used in series or parallel. I found a couple of panels that didnt state this so i rang the supplier and they confirmed they coudnt be but coudnt give a reason.
Ive noticed that you have used them in this way. So are there specific flexible panels can be or is there something that needs to be added to the system to allow them to be used in parallel.
any info in regards to this would be greatly appreciated.
We installed flexible panels in parallel on a friend’s motorhome. They were Eco-Worthy 100 watt panels. There was no problem with the parallel wiring. Another popular brand is Windy Nation.
The problem with flexible panels is that they don’t hold up over time. We installed the flexible panels for our friend because he insisted that they had worked well for someone he knew. We advised him to get fixed/framed panels like we had, but he was extremely confident that the flexible panels were a good choice. Unfortunately, after two years he had to replace them all. He now has fixed/framed panels.
Prior to that installation — and we told our friend this to try to dissuade them from buying flexible planels — folks we knew with flexible solar panels on a yacht in the Mediterranean had to replace them all after a year. In addition, other folks we know who put flexible panels on a fifth wheel trailer in the US had to replace 2 out of 4 within a year.
If you plan to install flexible panels, be aware that they will probably not stand the test of time.
I have 4 x 200 watt flexible panels and in less than 2 years they have become brittle, turned almost white and putting out only 3 to 4 amps.Never will I use flexible panels again.
Join the large club. We have yet to hear of someone who has used flexible panels long term (more than 2 years) without having to replace them. Our fixed/framed panels are still good after 10 years.