Solar Panel Installation – Step-By-Step for Home and RV


Solar panel installation cover image

It is safe to say that there has been a sharp rise in the use of solar energy in the past few years. And this trend is not limited to a single country, with the world as a whole being receptive to this fast-rising energy source because of the many advantages it has to offer.

Several individuals who want to embrace solar energy have little knowledge about its installation process. This involves some vital factors. For example, you will have to take a look at how big you need to go to power your home, the position and location of your solar panel, mode of installation, etc.

Most likely, you are one among many who are curious about this information. If so, keep in mind the following details.

Overall, the basics you need to know about solar panel installation include:

  1. Researching the laws in your community to make sure you can install solar panels legally on your own or through an installation company
  2. Finding the best installation company for your home or RV (or finding the best DIY method)
  3. Finding the best layout for your solar roof on your home or RV
  4. Estimate the amount of power that your system will bring you on average every day
  5. Find out which appliances will typically be used in your household or RV from the energy collected via your solar array

Although there are several other factors to consider, the above are the main points to consider when making the decision to install solar panels on your home or RV. We’ll be going deeper on all of these topics and more in this article.

Installing Solar Panels for Your Home

Solar panel array on home roof

Once you decide to install solar panels on your home, the first line of action is to do a critical assessment of the number of variables involved in the size of the solar panel you choose to install.

These include the size of your home (as mentioned earlier), the types of electronics you run (do they fall within the expected energy consumption limit or they are way over it), which part of your roof is likely to get the highest quality of sunlight in 24 hours, etc.

These variables are going to play a huge role in the configuration of your solar panels’ installation process. To this end, it’s essential to keep all the factors in mind as you are about to commence the installation process of your solar panel project.

  • Seek the best location

The sun is indeed essential for solar power. However, just because the sun hits an area of your roof or property doesn’t mean it’s the best spot to install a solar panel. The pitch and direction of your roof, the slope, and the level of exposure of the piece of property where you plan to install your solar panel all impact the efficiency of the solar PV system.

The first step to install solar panels properly involves surveying your property to find the installation location that will provide your solar panel with the best possible exposure so you can maximize your capacity.

  • Build the platform for panel mounting

This is the part where you prepare the most viable area of your roof for the installation of the solar panel. You can think of the platform as a foundation on which the solar panels rest firmly so that they are not easily whisked away by windy weather.

While this involves constructing a platform, there is more to it. Additionally, it involves running the conduit or channel from the point of installation down to the building that will receive and process the power the solar panel generates for storage and usage.

On setting up the channel, you can start with the construction of the panel platform. It is important to pick the right spot for the installation of the panel so it can maximize sunlight reception.

  • Set up the panels on the platform

The panels are mounted to the platform using an angle bracket. When considering how to install solar panels properly, it is important to pay attention to the angle of the bracket while mounting the panel on the mounting points.

The proper angle to position the array needs to be calculated using meteorological data to ensure the appropriate placement for achieving maximum exposure.

  • Proceed to the wiring exercise

*We highly recommend seeking professional help for this step

Once the solar panel is set and the wiring channels are in place, you will have to do a connection exercise. To get this done, you will have to use connectors known as junction convectors; some others make use of the usual fuse combiner box in the electricity installation process of another power source.

Once you are done with that, connect the exterior wiring with that of the interior. This, and the presence of a fuse combiner box, will create an avenue for energy flow that can be controlled whenever there is a need for it.

  • The earthen process

*We highly recommend seeking professional help for this step

In any form of engineering exercise, safety is a top priority. Therefore, the solar panel system must be fortified against the possibility of electrocution. This is why you need to ground the system so that any thunderstorm capable of causing this in the future will be channeled right into the ground.

Therefore, you will need to install a grounding rod near the array of solar panels. This process involves the use of a rod and extensive copper wire. When deciding on a rod or preparing one for this purpose, make sure it is capable of having up to six inches above the ground after it has been comfortably buried in the ground.

After that, run a copper grounding wire from the rod and solar panel to the fuse box. That way, your solar panel system is safe from lightning.

  • Link up the electrical modules

*We highly recommend seeking professional help for this step

At this point, your solar system is almost ready to start operation. Before then, you need to connect the electrical components properly. First of all, you need to run the ground wire.

Once you get that done, you can then make proper electrical connections between the array and the inverter panel junction. Once this connection is made, the battery bank is installed near the control panels.

In effect, the panel disconnect is linked with the battery system. After that, you can test run the system. Before test running, however, go over the whole installation one more time just in case a mistake occurred, or some important step was omitted. Once the coast is clear, your solar energy system is up for usage.

Similar: The Truth about Living Off-Grid with Solar Power

RV Solar Panels

RVs on a beachAside from enjoying the use of solar panels in your house, you might want to explore their usage even when you are away from home. If you own an RV, this might be an avenue for you to enjoy camping without having to worry about a power supply because you can have a solar panel installed on your RV.

RV owners have been known to install solar panels on their RVs because the solar panels give them the “home away from home” experience. It is even more pleasing for those who live in areas with an erratic power supply and have to run on gasoline generators at times.

As pleasant as the thought of making use of solar panels on your RV might seem, the installation process is a big challenge for many. This has led to many questions from various interested individuals.

These questions include:

  • How exactly do RV solar panels work?
  • Which are the best kinds of solar panels to get for an RV roof?
  • How do you connect them up to your inverter so the power from the sun can supply your electric gadgets?

Are Solar Panels Worth the Stress of Installing them on an RV?

To start with, let’s talk about how important solar panels are for RVs. Before the invention of solar panels, RVs have been in use, and their users have always found their way around the electricity challenge.

So campers understand that RV solar panels are an option. Again, they are also concerned that RV solar panels are said to be expensive. All these factors might make you want to review if the installation of a solar panel on your RV is worth it. 

To clear the air on this, we will be examining what exactly RV solar panels are, and how they are used.

RV solar panels are devices that convert light (sunlight) into power (electricity). It basically duplicates the working principle of the home solar system, except that it is configured to work perfectly while the RV moves from one place to the other.

This is how it functions: sunlight hits the solar panel (which is fixed directly on the RV). This creates an electrical current which in turn feeds into a charge controller.

This determines the amount of current that goes through the battery. The batteries act as a storage tank and producer of DC power.

Ideally, direct current can’t be used directly to power electric appliances. Therefore, there is a need for an inverter in the system, which converts the stored electricity from DC (direct current) to AC (alternating current.) At this point, the electric current is fit to power basic appliances you might need during a camping trip.

Basically, most RV owners use solar panels for two main reasons. First, solar power provides a slow and steady charge for your batteries. This is the most effective form of charge you can get for any battery, increasing the number of hours the battery will last. The second reason is its ability to provide electrical power even in remote locations. 

Regarding whether it’s worth the switch or not: RV solar panels actually do have a lot of benefits. These include extended battery life and having an alternative to generator use while away on a trip, which will help you save for other pressing needs.

Definitely, there is no doubting the fact that it is a cost-effective means of power in the long run.

Also, RV solar systems need almost zero maintenance. All of their components are fitted to stable parts of the RV.

This leaves it with zero chance of breaking or getting damaged due to movement. One of the most exciting things about the systems is their lifespan: they are estimated to function for over ten years once they are installed, so long as they are adequately managed and used judiciously.

In the future, if you want to expand the power generation capacity of your solar panel system, it can easily be achieved without having to start the process from scratch.

Similar: Top 5 Best Portable Solar Panels for Off-Grid Use

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need if I Want to Run Them on an RV?

Asking this question is an indicator that you have already resolved to use solar energy for your RV. It is best to begin by understanding that there is no definite number of solar panels required to be on the top of your RV.

Rather, it will depend on the size of your RV and how much electric power you’re trying to provide for usage in the RV. Ideally, most campers will like to settle where the temperature outside won’t bring about discomfort to them inside the RV.

Therefore, they would like to balance their desire for comfort with the need to power appliances in their RV with electricity harvested from direct sunlight.

Your solar panels charge your battery and store power. To this end, there is no point in getting more solar panels than you actually need. Instead, the number of solar panels you need is a function of how well you use the electricity you’re generating.

Taking a look at the consumption pattern of most RV users, it is found that they usually fix between one and three 100-watt solar panels on their RV. Solar panels within this range can generate up to around 30 amp-hours daily.

If you are interested in a comprehensive analysis of your power consumption, you might want to use an energy consumption calculator. Better still, you might go on a sizing experiment by actually using it with your appliances and seeing just how well they are going to perform.

After some time, you will definitely know what you are using with your RV and how well they consume energy. Then you can decide how much power you need to generate.

Installing Solar Panels on Your RV

Engineer installing solar panels

Although it has been mentioned that solar panels on RVs are quite easy to maintain, setting them up is quite a task that demands attention to detail.

This is because apart from the fitting of the panel to the RV’s roof, there are other parts involved which deal with the conversion of the solar-generated power into usable electricity. We have the inverter, which converts AC to DC, and we also have the controller, which is used to take charge of its usage and power storage.

Note that the RV solar panels are directly connected to the solar charge controller. This transfers the energy your panels have acquired from the sun to the solar battery system. The controller is very important in the sense that it screens just how much energy reaches the battery. That way, overcharging the battery can be avoided. 

To correctly install a solar system on your RV, you need to be familiar with the basic components:

Panels

As you already know, panels are needed to help you trap direct sunlight. They come in a variety of sizes, and their effectiveness is usually a function of their surface area and other important factors. Also, you can even purchase and install additional ones without having to start from scratch.

Charge controller

The charge controller serves as a regulator for the flow of electricity to your batteries. Once the battery is fully charged, it stops them from receiving further energy so they don’t get damaged as a result of overcharging.

Battery LCD monitor

This serves as an indicator of some sort that helps you to keep a tab on your battery level. With this, you get to know exactly how many more amp-hours you have, leading to better usage planning on your part.

Inverter

Your appliances can’t make direct use of the energy received from the solar panel. This is because it is a DC (direct current) and therefore needs to be processed to a usable form known as alternating current (AC). This is not only applicable to RV users, as it is the same principle for the solar energy systems installed in buildings.

Wire conduit

The wires responsible for moving the trapped energy to the battery and to the inverter have to go through a well-defined route. To get this done, a wire conduit through which the wires can pass is needed.

Similar: 5 Best Solar Generators for Off-Grid Living

Best Solar Panel for RVs

There are several types of RV solar panels available in the market. However, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. While some are quite firm and rigid, others are flexible. It is up to you to make a decision on this.

In the solar department of the RV industry, there are presently three basic types of solar panels.

  • Mono-Crystalline solar panels

As the name implies, monocrystalline solar panels are made from a single crystal. The cells on the panel are basically individual thin wafers of silicon crystal.

  • Poly-Crystalline solar panels

This type of solar panel is also made from silicon crystals. However, the difference is that polycrystalline solar panels contain several smaller crystals.

  • Amorphous solar panels

These are thin-film panels whose cells are made of a thin layer of silicon. They are usually attached to a backing material.

Deciding Which Solar Panels are Best for an RV

Man with confused look on his face

While determining the best solar panel for your RV, you must consider two basic things. These are size and level of efficiency.

Although amorphous panels are the cheapest, they actually have a high-efficiency rate. The downside of this type is its area of coverage on the RV roof. On average, its surface area is twice the size of poly-crystalline and mono-crystalline. This is not so good when we consider the fact that there is limited space on the roof of most RVs.

Taking a look at the mono-crystalline option, we can see it is also highly efficient. A more critical look shows that it is capable of generating more power in low light conditions than poly-crystalline or amorphous panels. In effect, it is a better option when the intensity of sunlight is not so good.

Poly-crystalline solar panels are quite a popular choice among RV users. Usually, it takes up half the space of the amorphous panels and produces just slightly less power than mono-crystalline panels. Little wonder why most people feel it is absolutely the best choice.

Similar: Monocrystalline Vs. Polycrystalline Solar Panels – What’s the Difference?

Hiring an Installation Company

Chances are that you will find the process of solar panel installation quite hectic, and you could instead save yourself the stress of installing it yourself. In that case, you will need the service of a solar installation company, and you should ask some crucial questions before making a decision on whether to install your solar system yourself or not.

  • What type of solar energy system do they personally prefer to use?

Personnel working for solar panel installation companies at the very least are well-versed when it comes to the energy source. Therefore, their choice of the solar system is likely to be the best available. However, you will want to be careful with this move. Solar systems are chosen according to the needs of a facility, so if there is a wide gap between their rate of energy consumption and yours, this question might be helpful.

  • What is the most “wallet-friendly” size of the solar system?

The expense to be incurred in the process of installation is a factor you just can’t ignore. However, it is also important to note that sizing a solar system requires that you provide the following information:

  • Your home energy usage patterns in your facility
  • The orientation, type, and angle of your roof
  • The excess amount of energy that will be stored for later use

Just in case you are wondering why you need to provide the following information, it is because it will assist the team in determining the ideal system size for your home. From there, they will be able to devise financial ideas based on what exactly you need.

  • How long have they been in operation and are they licensed to install solar panels?

Licensing counts a whole lot when it comes to hiring a solar installation company. You also want to find out how long the company has been in business. It won’t be cool if you allow them to use your project as a learning process. To be effective in this regard, it is important that you ask who will be assigned to work on your home.

On asking these questions, most solar installation companies will have gotten the message already: you don’t want a novice working on your project! To this end, they will likely see to it that the best hands in their team are assigned to execute the project.

  • What if my solar system doesn’t generate as much energy as promised?

Before starting the project, there is usually an expectation to be met. Usually, the head of the installation team promises that your system will produce a specific amount of energy. It is important that you ask what will happen if the system or panel efficiency doesn’t meet the set bars.

So many things could be responsible for this possibility, most likely to be a fault of the installation company. Therefore, ensure that they promise to look into the situation if it happens; it is likely that they respond by installing additional solar panels to meet the expectation level.

Why Take an Interest in Solar Panels?

Illustration of people with natural resources
People vector created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com

You probably can guess why you should be interested in solar energy systems at this point. There are several reasons why you need to key into the use of solar energy.

The cleanness of this type of energy is one major reason why you should consider it. The energy that is extracted from the sun is clean, thereby making it a global recipe for fighting global warming and environmental pollution.

Other energy sources, such as fuel generators, are dangerous to human health and ecological well-being. Additionally, solar energy is renewable, sustainable, and cost-effective in the long run.

There are more advantages to embracing solar energy than all that has been mentioned here. For example, you will be doing the economy a whole lot of good.

When you invest in solar energy, it will eventually promote economic stability over time. It will also naturally drown the production of harmful energy equipment (like fuel-based generators) with time.

Conclusion

Solar panels are becoming more relevant, and this is not stopping anytime soon. In years to come, they will have a solid place in crucial sectors such as transportation.

To this end, you have every reason to be interested in getting information about it. Beyond being a consumer of solar energy, you might even want to consider tapping into any of the several opportunities that will pop up with the solar energy evolution.

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