RV Solar Installation for RVs with Solar Prep


Conner Lund

Favorite Trip

Backpacking Ozark Trail

Home Base

Bowling Green, KY

Favorite RV

Winnebago Revel

About Contributor

Conner Lund is a Technical Content Writer. He has both hands-on experience and real-world knowledge. He’s an avid outdoorsman: camping, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, kayaking, hunting, and fishing are all things he enjoys that you could find him doing on any given weekend. He loves to travel and see new places. He does most of his exploring and camping out of his overlanding truck with a rooftop tent.

If you want to enjoy life away from busy campgrounds, you’ll need a way to power your camper off-grid. There are two main choices for this: generator and/or battery power. Ideally, you’ll use both, but solar panels harness free energy, making RV solar installation a must for boondockers looking to extend their dry camping trips. 

Are you unsure how to install solar panels on RVs with solar prep? It’s easy, and in this article, we’ll walk you through exactly how it’s done. 

Common Components of an RV Solar Setup

Go Power complete solar kit
Photo by Camping World

Before installing an RV solar panel, familiarize yourself with the components of a complete RV solar charging system. Let’s review each:

  • Solar Panel: A solar panel’s job is to absorb sunlight and convert this into energy.
  • Cable Entry Plate: A cable entry plate bridges the connection between the exterior roof or wall into the RV. 
  • Solar Charge Controller: A solar charge controller regulates incoming energy and prevents battery overcharging. 
  • Inverter: An inverter allows AC appliances to be used with DC battery power.
  • Transfer Switch: A transfer switch changes the power supply from one source to another.

Types of Solar Panels for RVs: Roof-Mounted vs Portable

Photo by Camping World

There are two main types to consider when choosing a solar panel for RV battery charging. 

A roof-mounted panel is permanently affixed to your roof with fasteners or adhesive. 

A portable solar panel is set up outside the RV and can be taken down when needed. 

Each has pros and cons, but you’ll want to choose the style your RV is set up for. 

For example, most smaller trailers prepped for solar have a cable entry port on the exterior wall near the tongue or rear bumper, designed for use with a portable solar panel. This is commonly referred to as “Solar on the Side”. On the other hand, larger fifth wheel trailers usually have a cable entry port on the roof, designed for connecting roof-mounted solar panels.

Here’s a quick general comparison of roof-mounted versus portable solar panels:

ProsHigher Amp Ratings
Easier to Add Multiple
No Setup Required
Easy to Install
Less Prone to Damage
ConsCan Require Drilling
Prone to Damage
Difficult to Install
Reduces Storage Space
Lower Amp Ratings
Must Setup Before Use

Matching the panel style you want to install to your RV’s “solar prep” (more on that next) is the easiest way to ensure a smooth, effective rv solar installation.

What Does Solar Prep Mean on an RV?

Solar flex ready sticker
Photo by Camping World

The term “solar prep” goes by many names depending on the manufacturer: solar ready, SŌL prep, OTG prep, etc. However, they all mean the same thing—the RV has special components to help you install a solar panel. For most RVs, this means a pre-installed solar charge controller, cable entry plate, and wiring.

The RV manufacturer is the best resource for understanding the schematics and ratings of your solar prep system. Consulting them will help you determine the size and quantity of solar panels you can install and remain compatible with the existing prep components. 

Can I Install Solar Panels If My RV Is Not Prepped?

Unprepped RV roof without solar
Photo by Camping World

Installing solar panels is possible if your RV is not prepped for them. However, this increases the installation difficulty considerably for roof-mounted panels as you must run wiring through the ceiling and walls. In addition, you must install the components typically found in a solar-prepped RV—charge controller, cable entry plate, inverter, etc.

If your RV isn’t prepped for solar, we recommend choosing a portable solar system or contacting our Performance & Installation department for help with a roof-mounted solar installation. 

Safety Tip: If working with multiple and/or high-amperage panels and in direct sunlight, keep panel surfaces covered (protected from sunlight) until all wiring is completed.

What Tools Do I Need for an RV Solar Install?

RV tool kit
Photo by Camping World

Fortunately, you won’t need specialty tools if your RV is prepped for solar. However, you will need the following RV tools

  • Electric Drill/Screwdriver – to secure panel
  • Drill Bits – to make pilot holes
  • Caulk Gun – required for caulk tubes
  • Self-Leveling Caulk – to reseal the roof
  • Butyl Tape – secondary roof seal 
  • Sockets/Wrenches – To unhook battery

If there is something on the list you don’t have, you can rent most of these from your local home improvement or auto parts supply stores. 

Roof-Mounted RV Solar Panel Mounting Instructions

RV roof solar panels
Photo by Camping World

Before you begin, unhook the negative battery cable to ensure you don’t accidentally cause or create any shorts. You’ll also want to ensure your RV is on a flat, stable surface since you’ll be getting on the roof.

Step 1: Safely ascend to the roof using the RV’s ladder or your own. 

Step 2: Find a flat spot on the roof close to the cable entry port and out of the way of other accessories, such as vent fans or rooftop A/C units. Nearby accessories can cast shadows on the panel, hindering performance. 

Step 3: Secure the brackets to the panel and set it into position. Mark holes on the roof through the mounting brackets using a marker or pencil. Check inside to ensure these spots are not located above any interior components that could interfere with the hardware.

Step 4: Remove the panel and use an electric drill with a ⅛” drill bit (or the size recommended by the manufacturer) to make a pilot hole in each of the previously marked holes.

Step 5: Apply butyl tape to the bottom of the brackets and align them with the pre-drill holes. Place the panel back into position. Using an electric screwdriver, secure the brackets to the roof with the supplied or manufacturer-recommended hardware, being careful not to overtighten. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for the panel mounting angle to prevent water build-up.

Step 6: Use a generous amount of self-leveling sealant around and over each bracket, then let cure/dry.

Step 7: Repeat the process for all remaining roof-mounted panels. 

Technician Tip: If securing multiple panels, start at the panel furthest away from the entry port and route the cable from the furthest panel to the next closest panel using the supplied harness. Then, work your way to the entry port, securing the wires along the way. 

Installing Portable Solar Panels for RV Use

Solar on the side plug
Photo by Camping World

A portable solar panel can be installed easily whether your RV is prepped or not. These panels are usually self-contained, which means the solar charge controller is built into the design. All you need to do is plug the unit into the exterior cable entry port (if present) or hook it right to the battery.

These steps should help you connect a portable solar panel to your RV, but we also recommend consulting the panel’s manufacturer for their specific setup instructions.

Step 1: Locate a suitable place to set your solar panel. Make sure the ground is flat and level so the surface is stable. 

Step 2: Place the panel in direct sunlight and within a reasonable distance of the RV. 

Step 3: Attach the harness to the panel and route the wire to the RV’s cable entry port or battery. 

Step 4: Attach harness to RV. 

Verifying Successful Installation

Photo by Camping World

To ensure your system works properly, you must check that power flows from the panel to the battery. To start, rehook the negative battery cable. Then, position your RV in the sun as much as possible. 

Find the onboard charge controller, usually in the front basement storage, and cycle through the settings until you find the display for incoming power. This is expressed in terms of amps and will correspond to the panel size and weather conditions. Don’t be alarmed if the panel doesn’t produce 100% of its rated power output. For example, if you have a single 10-amp panel, you’ll likely see a charge rate of around 5-6 amps. 

If anything is amiss or not working correctly, first reference your system’s owner’s manual. If you cannot troubleshoot the issue further, you must take your trailer to a service center for assistance. 

Technician Tip: Because these installations deal with solar-prepped RVs, the wiring up to the controller and cable entry port would be done by the factory. However, it may help to consult the manufacturer’s instructions for proper sizing and placement of overcurrent protection at the solar panel wiring and near the battery on the wiring from the solar charge controller. If an inverter is installed, additional overcurrent protection is required near the battery on the wiring to the inverter. These three sets of wires function separately and each set can be energized independently, thus requiring individual protective devices.

Want To Learn More About RV Solar?

Upgrading and accessorizing your RV is what makes it unique. Here are a few more resources to help you choose and care for your RV’s solar system: 

Hopefully, this guide gave you the confidence to do this project yourself, but you can always visit one of our local service centers if you need assistance from our team of certified RV technicians.

In the comments below, please let us know if you have tackled a solar panel installation yourself and how it went.

The information provided in this blog is for general informational purposes only and not intended to take the place of professional service providers. While we strive to provide accurate and up-to-date information, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability, or availability with respect to the information, products, services, or advice contained on the blog for any purpose. Any reliance you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk. In no event will we be liable for any loss or damage including without limitation, indirect or consequential loss or damage, or any loss or damage whatsoever arising from loss of data or profits arising out of, or in connection with, the use of this blog.

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