DIY solar power on your RV!
We wanted to be able to camp anywhere and in order to that we needed electricity. We have an on-board generator, but it is noisy to us and to those around us. We decided to look into solar energy. Could we make enough power to suit our needs? Could we store that power overnight? Would this be enough power for 8 people using it on a daily basis? After MANY hours of research we decided it was our goal to go solar! We did not have much knowledge of solar or how it worked going into this project. Anytime my husband, Ricky, has his heart set on doing something, you better believe it will be done!
First Ricky had to look at our “real estate”, which was the area we had to install our solar panels on. This is limited to the surface area you have on top of your RV to place your panels. Keep in mind there are obstructions on an RV roof such as your vents, A/C units, skylights etc. These can cast shadows on your solar panels. The smallest of shadows can greatly decrease the efficiency. They can also get in the way of installing the solar panels. Therefore you need to take time surveying your roof to figure out the best way to locate your panels.
We decided to utilize every sq feet we had available to mount solar panels. Based on the real estate we had available we were able to fit (12) 100 watt panels. Ricky mounted our panels to an aluminum framework consisting of 2 inch screen enclosure posts. They overhang the RV, known as cantilevering, to distribute weight on the hinges. This also makes them easier to tilt. He applied silicone under a 2 inch post which was the entire length of the RV. He used 3 inch self taping screws attaching it to the frame of the RV. He installed the framework for the panels to this post using aluminum hinges every 18 inches on center. The panels are attached to the framework in sets of 3. This makes them easier to tilt, one set at a time.
Next we had to wire the panels together and combine them in a combiner box. Ricky was able to make our own combiner box to save us money. He wired each set in series of 3 panels, 16 volts per panel, which equals 48 volts per string. Each string is combined and fused inside the combiner box. He used water tight conduit from the panels to the box. This keeps any water from entering the system. It also keeps the wires protected from the sunlight. In the combiner box, each string has its own 10 amp fuse. (rated for these panels) We decided to use a car audio DC fuse block for combining the positive and negative sides of our strings. The positive side only had to be fused in this application. A ground wire also connects all the panels together and enters the combiner box into a bus bar.
Out of the combiner box, a ¾ inch water tight conduit carries (2) 4 awg wires and (1) 10 awg wire to the junction box in a storage compartment. This junction box houses our disconnect switch from the panels to the charge controller. The positive wire from the charge controller runs to another disconnect switch that disconnects the feed from the controller to the positive side of the batteries. Also attached to this disconnect is the positive wire to the inverter. Doing this saves an extra wire from the positive on the battery to the inverter. The negative from the charge controller runs straight to the negative side of the battery bank. These disconnect switches are recommended for installation for the purpose of safety, killing power to the item you are working on.
After we wired the charge controller and the inverter, it was time to build our battery bank. Our battery bank is a 24 volt system. We used 6 volt Trojan T105-RE batteries. We have wired them in series of 4 (positive to negative) and then paralleled the 2 sets (positive to positive and negative to negative). This makes our battery bank 24 volts with 500 amp hours. We used 4 awg oxygen free welding cable. We did not use solder on our ring clips. We crimped the ends and used heat shrink to seal the wire. The reason we did not use solder was because it has acid which can corrode the wire causing inefficient connection. We installed the battery monitor and shunt to accurately show us how much power we are using and able to store. This unit effectively shows us in detail exactly what we use on a daily basis. We highly recommend you getting this unit! The batteries have a battery temperature sensor, one goes to the charge controller and one goes to the inverter. They measure the temperatures at which the batteries are charging and discharging.
Our inverter, the battery monitor and charge controller are all synced with a network cable that connects them to an ARC-50 monitor. This is on the inside of our RV so that we can monitor each component. We can see exactly what is going on without having to exit our RV. We have not only loved the Magnum products we have also appreciate their technical support located here in the United States. They are always more than willing to help us with troubleshooting our system.
We have such a huge gratification knowing we are making our own power! We have more than enough power to provide for our family of 8. We do not have to even think about our usage each day due to a VERY efficient state-of-the-art system! Magnum has even invited us to their headquarters in Everett, Washington so they can check out what we have done. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. Ricky would be more than happy to help guide you in building your own solar panel system. Plus if we are driving through your town, we could always stop to give a hand in building your system! Rickyfay2012@gmail.com
SPECIAL THANKS to Jeff Marrero for helping us with wiring our system! If anyone is in the Orlando area, you must have Jeff come and assist you. He is a certified electronic installer. (201) 914-4074
Products used to make our solar panel system:
Magnum MS4024PAE Inverter-$1,300 (We were able to get it used, it normally costs around $1,700)
Magnum ARC-50 version 4.0-$200
Magnum ME-BMK (bank monitor with shunt)-$175.00
Magnum Energy ME-AGS-N Automatic Generator Start
Magnum PT100 MPPT 100 amp Charge Controller-$800
SunWize Solar Panels- $1,200.00
Follow our journey as we travel America with our 6 kids! https://www.facebook.com/SimpleLifeFullHearts/
Here is a recent video on how we set up our RV with solar panels!