We often receive emails from owners saying that their RV or camper is "solar ready" or "wired for solar" asking if they can just hook up a SunPower flexible solar panel and they're all set. It's great to see that more and more manufacturers are realizing that solar is a popular feature and are setting their vehicles up for clean, quiet renewable solar power but "solar ready" needs a little more investigating.
Solar ready can be a somewhat vague term and you will likely find yourself needing one or more components to complete your system. Typically when installing a solar system running the wires can be the most tricky part, so if the manufacturer can run the wires (and drill the holes) during the build then that's a bonus. You will likely have a sidewall port or roof port that provides a designated waterproof connection to hook your panel to and wires running down inside your vehicle to the battery bank.
These ports typically use what is called an SAE connector, with over half of all new RV's using the Zamp Solar connector. As you can see this is different to the MC4 connector you will find on most solar panels, so you will need an MC4 to SAE connector. We have these available in our store and they look like this.
When connecting it's very important that you take the time to get your multimeter and double check the polarity as you may need to use one of the reverse polarity adapters (included with purchase). This will ensure that the positive connects to the positive and negative connects to the negative (note: the positive pin on all of the Zamp solar SAE plugs is set back and covered)
The other part that is integral to your system, and may or may not have been included, is the solar charge controller. This will regulate the flow of power from the solar panel to the batteries and prevent overcharging. If you have one installed already it's important to get a hold of the manual and check the spec sheet, this will give you the limitations/parameters of how many solar panels you can add to your controller. There's no sense adding 300W of solar panels if your controller can only accept 200W, you will lose out on some power from the panels and may even cause some damage to the controller. In particular make sure that the combined open-circuit voltage (Voc) of the solar panels does not exceed the maximum PV input of the controller.
If you don't have a charge controller then we recommend the Victron Energy SmartSolar range of MPPT charge controllers available in our store. These have built-in bluetooth so you can easily monitor the system from the VictronConnect app on your phone or tablet.
How many solar panels do I need? With a relatively limited roof space (compared to say your house) it's often a case of maximizing the roof space you have for solar. You won't hear anyone saying their next job is to remove a solar panel because they have one too many! Take a look at the spec sheets for the flex panels and check the panel dimensions to see which panel will work best for you. Here's a few examples of install photos from our customers that were able to maximize a lot of their roof space for solar. Keep you batteries topped up and in a better condition to improve their lifespan and you may even be able to leave the noisy generator behind for your next roadtrip.