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Camper Van Solar Panel Wiring

From selecting and sizing your panels to wiring everything together, this camper van solar wiring tutorial will guide you through every part of the setup process.

How-To-Install-Solar-Panels-On-A-Camper-Van-Roof

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Camper Van Custom Solar System Diagrams

Four different solar diagrams for four different budgets

No matter your budget, you can build a solar system to meet your needs.

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Intro: Let's Go Off-Grid!

Welcome! If you want to install a solar panel system in your camper van, chances are you value energy independence and off-grid living.

Who wants to pay expensive RV park fees just to connect to shore power?

From selecting and sizing your panels to wiring everything together, this RV solar wiring tutorial will guide you through every part of the setup process. No tiny, mundane detail is left behind. We cover it all.

If you are a complete solar beginner, this van life solar setup guide is ESPECIALLY for you.

So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!

By the way…check out our custom solar diagrams eBook. It’s completely free. And no pesky sign-ups…

Solar Post Archive

For specific tutorials, scroll through the different posts we have on solar systems for campers.

How Much Solar?

Calculating your ideal solar wattage size

If you’re starting from scratch, calculating how many watts of solar panels you need is a critical first step to your camper van solar installation. Too little solar and you might not sufficiently charge your electrics on a daily basis. Too much solar and it’s simply overkill and a waste of money.

So knowing a rough estimate on how much solar you need is a good place to begin your camper solar journey. But how to calculate?

Calculating your required solar array size is a 3-step process.

To get through steps 1 & 2, we recommend reading our other post to calculate what size batteries you need for your camper van.

You Should Know!
If you’ve already sized your batteries then you should have already decided ‘type’ of battery you will use (i.e. AGM or lithium). Our solar array size calculation will depend on both your battery bank size AND your selected battery chemistry.

Already have your batteries? Refer to the table (below) to determine how many watts of solar you need for your camper van solar installation.

Solar Wattage Calculation Table

Battery Bank SizeSolar Size
(with AGM)
Solar Size
(with Lithium)
100Ah200W100W
150Ah300W150W
200Ah400W200W
250Ah500W250W
300Ah600W300W
350Ah700W350W
400Ah800W400W
450Ah900W450W
500Ah1000W500W

Want More Information? Read our post on calculating how much solar power you need for your camper van.

Which Solar Panels?

Recommended PV panels for camper vans

Solar panels come in different shapes, sizes, & constructions. But which types of panels are best for camper vans? We look at the threee most popular styles below.

1. Rigid Solar Panels

The most popular choice for van conversions. Rigid solar panels are encased in a stiff aluminum frame and topped with tempered glass.

The biggest advantage of a rigid solar panel is their robust build. The tempered glass protects the panels from sand, hail, and brush-ups against low hanging branches.

They’re virtually scratch-proof.

In Our Van: We use two 180w rigid solar panels and recommend these types of panels for most van life situations.

Newpowa 180w Solar Panel For Camper Vans
180w Rigid Solar Panel

Interested In The MOST Efficient (9BB) Solar Panels?

“9BB” solar panels are becoming the next big thing in the solar panel industry. Read our 9BB solar panel post to learn why these panels are more efficient AND have a longer usable life than traditional solar panels.

2. Flexible Solar Panels

Because of their thinner construction and use of plastic, instead of aluminum and glass, flexible solar panels are…flexible!

But the biggest reason why flexible solar panels are popular for camper vans is their exceptionally low profile. Because of their thin construction, these panels sit lower on a van’s roof and are much more difficult to recognize from the street side, great for stealth camping.

Renogy 100w Flexible Solar Panel For Campers
100w flexible solar panel

3. Foldable Solar Panels

Foldable ‘suitcase-style’ solar panels can be popular for those who do not want to mount panels on their roof.

Simply keep these panels folded and tucked away in your van when you don’t need them. Then on a sunny day, take the panels out to start charging your batteries.

Hassle-free and easy.

Renogy 100w Foldable Suitcase-style Solar Panel
100w Foldable Solar Panels

Solar Panel Summary Table

Rigid PanelsFlexible PanelsFoldable Panels
Price Point$$$$$$
Best ProHigh durabilityGreat for stealthPortability
Worst ConInvasive installationLow durabilityCannot charge unless outside
Suggested ModelAmazonAmazonAmazon

Want More Information? For a more detailed breakdown on each type of solar panel, including their pros & cons, check out our post: Best Solar Panels For Camper Vans

Series or Parallel Wiring?

Which is best for camper vans?

Series vs. Parallel Solar Panel Connections
Series vs. Parallel Solar Panel Connections

If you have multiple solar panels, the first step of the wiring process is to decide whether to wire the solar panels together in “series” or in “parallel”.

Series Wiring

Wiring panels in series entails connecting the NEGATIVE wire of one panel to the POSITIVE wire of a second panel. And so on.

Then the POSITIVE wire of the 1st panel and the NEGATIVE wire of the last panel connect to your solar charge controller.

Pros & Cons

Three solar panels wired in series
Three solar panels wired in series

Parallel Wiring

In a parallel connection all the POSITIVE wires are combined into one positive output line. The same is done for all the NEGATIVE wire. The single positive and negative lines are then connected to the solar charge controller.

Pros & Cons

Two solar panels connected in parallel
Two solar panels connected in parallel

In Our Van…
Our two solar panels are wired in parallel. Partial shading happens quite often, so parallel wiring is important for us.

Want More Information? For a more detailed breakdown, including all the pros & cons, check out our post: Series vs. Parallel Connections For Solar Arrays

Need Solar Fuses?

How to keep your camper van safe from fire

Short circuit in solar array leading to a fire
Unfused solar array experiencing a short circuit

We hope that picture got your attention!

Understanding if your solar array system requires a fuse is an important step to keep you and your camper van safe.

“Is a fuse required for all solar arrays?”

Luckily, you DO NOT need to fuse your solar panel system if you satisfy any one of the three situations below.

In other words, if you have 3 or more solar panels wired in parallel, you’ll need to add fuses to your solar system.

“What size fuse would I need?”

Simply put: The fuse size you need must equal the ‘Max Series Fuse Rating’ listed on your solar panel.

Example:
In our case, our 180-watt solar panels have a listed max series fuse rating of 20amps. Therefore, we use 20A fuses in our van’s solar wiring setup.

20A Solar Fuse

“Where do I install these fuses?”

For more information on when to fuse, fuse sizing, and WHERE to install the fuse, check out our detailed post: Fuse Guidelines For Solar Arrays

What Size Solar Wires?

Best wire thickness for your solar system

The overall size of your solar array and the connection type (remember: series vs parallel) will determine what size wires you will need for your camper solar system.

If your selected wire is too small for your solar system, the wires can overheat and become a fire hazard. So selecting the proper wire size is a critical safety issue.

“So what size wires do I need?”

There are two things to know when sizing your camper’s solar wires.

  1. There are two wiring sections in a solar system that must be sized independently.
    • The solar panels to the solar charge controller, and
    • Solar charge controller to the batteries
  2. Connection type (series or parallel) affect solar wire size.
Two sections to consider when calculating solar panel wire size
Two sections two consider when sizing your solar wires

Oversimplification:
The diagram above is an oversimplification of the entire wiring process. Refer to Part 8 for detailed solar wiring diagrams.

Refer To Our Sizing Charts: Look for our sizing charts below to understand which size solar wires you need.

Wire Sizing Chart (Series Connections)

Solar Array
Wattage
Panels To
Charge Controller
Charge Controller
To Batteries
0-440W10AWG10AWG
441-550W10AWG8AWG
551-800W10AWG6AWG

Wire Sizing Chart (Parallel Connections)

Solar Array
Wattage
Branch Connectors To
Charge Controller
Charge Controller
To Batteries
0-440W10AWG10AWG
441-550W8AWG8AWG
551-800W6AWG6AWG

Recommended Wire Brand

Ancor 'Marine-Grade' Wire

The stranded wires from Ancor are the best. They’re certified marine-grade, meaning they better withstand harsh outdoor environments (i.e salty air, rain, UV rays).

Though pricier than other options, these wires, when considering resistance to outdoor environments, are worth the investment

Want More Information? For more details and wire sizing examples, check out our Solar Panel Wire Sizing Guide

Solar Charge Controllers

And Why You 100% Need One

A solar charge controller is required for every solar system installation in a camper van. Simply put, these devices serve four basic functions:

  1. Voltage regulator | Charge controllers regulate the voltage from the solar panels to provide the correct voltage to the batteries.
  2. Prevents overcharging | Charge controllers shut off the charging process when batteries are full to prevent damage to the batteries.
  3. Blocks reverse current | At night, current will want to flow from the batteries to the panels. Charge controllers block this reverse flow to prevent damage to the panels.
  4. Provides valuable solar data | Some charge controllers allow you to connect to them via Bluetooth to view solar harvesting data.

“What size charge controller do I need?”

Solar charge controllers come in different sizes. The correct size for your camper van’s solar system depends on the total wattage of the solar array. For most systems, it is the current (amps) that is the limiting factor and decides which charge controller to get.

Refer to the table below to find which charge controller you need based on the total wattage of your solar system.

Solar Array
Wattage
Max Amps For Solar
Charge Controller
0-130W10A
131-200W15A
131-270W20A
271-400W30A
401-540W40A
541-680W50A
681-800W60A

Recommended Solar Charge Controllers

We use a Victron-branded solar charge controller and love the product. The best feature about the Victron controllers is being able to connect to them via the Victron Connect App from our smartphone, which makes adjusting the controller specs and viewing our harvesting data incredibly easy.

Considering how often we’re viewing our solar stats every day, these controllers are worth the investment. See the table below to view the most popular models.

Model #MPPT 75/15MPPT 100/30MPPT 100/50
Max Amps15A30A50A
Solar Array SizeUp to 200WUp to 400WUp to 680W
Bluetooth Enabled?YesYesYes
AmazonAmazonAmazon
MPPT 75/15MPPT 100/30MPPT 100/50
15A30A50A
Up to 200W of SolarUp to 400W of SolarUp to 680W Solar
Bluetooth EnabledBluetooth EnabledBluetooth Enabled
AmazonAmazonAmazon

Check out our full review of the Victron 100/30 Solar Charge Controller

Want more information? Check out our post What Is A Solar Charge Controller and How To Wire A Solar Charge Controller to learn more.

Mount Panels To Roof

Campervan Build Guide - Solar Panels For Camper Vans

There are two ways to mount solar panels to the roof of your camper van.

1. Use a roof rack | First you install the rack on the roof, then you mount the solar panels to the rack. The Flat Line Van Company makes great, low-profile roof racks for Sprinters & Transits.

2. Directly onto van roof | Mounting solar panels right onto the roof is a good option for those concerned about reducing the panel’s visibility from the street-side, for a stealthier look.

Our Van: We went with option #2, installing our solar panels directly on our camper's roof. We detail the installation process below.

Product List For Mounting Solar Panels

ProductPurposeBuy
Solar PanelsDuh...Amazon
Z-BracketsMounting brackets that connect panels to roofAmazon
VHB TapeVery strong tape to hold panels to roofAmazon
Butyl TapeWaterproof putty tape to keep rainwater outAmazon
Lap SealantApply over z-brackets for final water-proof layerAmazon

Steps For Mounting Solar Panels

1. Attach z-brackets to solar panel frame | This is accomplished with the bracket’s provided nuts and bolts

2. Apply butyl tape to the mounting bracket | Only place enough tape to cover the screw holes on the underside of the bracket’s feet (the side that will contact the roof).

3. Apply  VHB tape to the mounting bracket | Apply the tape to the middle area on the underside of the bracket’s feet.

4. Screw z-brackets (with affixed panels) to van roof | Be sure to plan ahead where the panels need to be placed.

5. Add lap sealant over bracket feet | Apply a generous amount to cover the bracket feet for the final water-proof layer.

Still confused? We provide more detailed description in our post How To Mount Solar Panels On A Camper Van Roof.

Step-by-Step Installation

With Installation Diagrams

Now that you have a solid foundation of what is required for a camper van solar system, it’s time for the complete installation process, from solar panels to batteries. In this chapter of our camper van solar installation guide, we go step-by-step to show you, with diagrams, how you can install your own van life solar setup.

If you haven't already... Download our free solar wiring installation eBook. It's 100% free and provides lots of great diagrams and side-content. Download Now

Finished Solar Wiring Diagram

Camper van solar installation wiring diagram
Complete solar wiring diagram for camper vans

Good To Know:
In reality, we do not wire the solar charge controller directly to the batteries. To keep the wiring clean and tidy, the charge controller gets wired to bus bars. The bus bars are then wired directly to the batteries.

The image above represents the complete solar system wiring process, from solar panels to batteries. For a complete item list, check the table below.

Materials You'll Need

ProductPurposeBuy
Solar PanelsDuh...Amazon
10AWG WiresMost common wire size for solar connections. But read our Solar Wire Sizing post to reconfirm your requirements.Amazon
MC4 ConnectorsStandardized wire connectors for solar systems.Amazon
Solar Entry GlandHouses the wires as they pass through the van's roof.Amazon
Rubber GrommetProtects solar wires from sharp edges as they pass through the metal roof.Amazon
Solar Charge ControllerRegulates voltage to batteries. Read here for more information on the purpose of a charge controller and which one you need.Amazon
Circuit BreakerProtects wires and downstream electronics from unexpected surges.Amazon
M6 Ring ConnectorsConnects positive solar wires to circuit breaker.Amazon
Bus BarsActs as electrical accumulation and distribution centers. Critical for a clean electric build.Amazon
M10 Ring ConnectorsConnects solar wires to bus bars.Amazon
2/0 WireTo connect batteries together and batteries to bus barsAmazon
3/8" Wire LugsConnects 2/0 wire to bus bars.Amazon

* Not all products included for parallel wiring. Check part 2 (below) for more details

For greater detail, we split the above solar wiring diagram into three parts.

Part 1: Connecting Solar Panels

In this first part, if you have multiple solar panels, we show you how to connect them together in both series and parallel.

Two Panels In Series

Two Panels Connected In Series For Camper Van Solar Installation
Two panels connected in series
Materials Required
ProductPurposeBuy
Solar PanelsDuh...Amazon
10AWG WiresMost common wire size for solar connections. But read our Solar Wire Sizing post to reconfirm your requirements.Amazon
MC4 ConnectorsStandardized wire connectors for solar systems.Amazon

As written in Chapter 3 of this solar installation guide for camper vans, connecting multiple panels together in series is straightforward. Simply follow the connection guidelines in the solar panel wiring diagram above.

Three Panels Connected In Parallel

Three solar panels connected in parallel for camper van solar installation
Materials Required
ProductPurposeBuy
Solar PanelsDuh...Amazon
10AWG WiresMost common wire size for solar connections. But read our Solar Wire Sizing post to reconfirm your requirements.Amazon
MC4 ConnectorsStandardized wire connectors for solar systems.Amazon
Solar Fuse (20A)Protects panels from short circuits. Read our fuse post to learn more about if you need a fuse.Amazon
3-to-1 Branch ConnectorCombines all (+) and (-) wires to create a single (+) and (-) output line.Amazon

If choosing to wire solar panels in parallel, additional components and considerations will need to be made.

1. Branch Connectors | You will need to buy branch connectors to combine your POSITIVE and NEGATIVE wires.

2. Solar Fuses | If you are connecting more than two solar panels in parallel, you will need to add fuses. Read our solar fuse post to learn what size fuses you’ll need.

Part 2: Through The Roof

The next step is to take the solar wires on the camper van’s roof and bring them inside. In this step, the below wiring diagram shows how to bring solar wires inside a vehicle with the use of an entry gland and rubber grommet.

Camper van solar installation wiring through the van roof
Solar wiring through a camper van roof

Materials Required

ProductPurposeBuy
Entry GlandHouses the wires as they pass through the van's roof.Amazon
Rubber GrommetProtects solar wires from sharp edges as they pass through the metal roof.Amazon

Top Tip: When attaching the entry gland to the van’s roof, it is better err on the side of caution and use more sealant around the gland’s edges. Do you best to make sure leaks don’t happen in the future.

Part 3: Wiring To Solar Charge Controller & Batteries

With a single POSITIVE and NEGATIVE wire inside the van, the wires can now be connected to the solar charge controller and to the batteries. Refer to the solar wiring diagram below to see how it is done.

Solar Wiring Diagram (Part 3 - To Solar Charge Controller & Batteries)
Wiring to solar charge controller & batteries

Materials Required

ProductPurposeBuy
10AWG WiresMost common wire size for solar connections. But read our Solar Wire Sizing post to reconfirm your requirements.Amazon
Solar Charge ControllerRegulates voltage to batteries. Read here for more information on the purpose of a charge controller and which one you need.Amazon
Circuit BreakerProtects wires and downstream electronics from unexpected surges.Amazon
M6 Ring ConnectorsConnects positive solar wires to circuit breaker.Amazon
Bus BarsActs as electrical accumulation and distribution centers. Critical for a clean electric build.Amazon
M10 Ring ConnectorsConnects solar wires to bus bars.Amazon
2/0 WireTo connect batteries together and batteries to bus barsAmazon
3/8" Wire LugsConnects 2/0 wire to bus bars.Amazon

Good To Know! Our recommended M6 & M10 ring connectors already come with heat shrink. Simply use a heat gun to activate the shrink wrap to create a tight seal onto the wire.

And voilà!

You’re camper van solar panel installation is complete. We hope your found this van life solar guide useful. If you have any questions, please let us know in the comments section below.

A remember, please download our solar installation eBook. It’s 100% free and is a great offline resource.

FAQ

Surprisingly, you do not need a huge garage full of random tools to build your own camper solar system. You should be able to complete most of the installation process with the below 3 tools:

  1. Wire crimper
  2. MC4 assembly tool
  3. Electrical drill

If you value being energy-independent and getting off-grid, solar panels are absolutely worth the investment. If you are on a tight budget, we provide a solar solution that costs less than $450.

If you follow our solar sizing guide, we don't think tilt panels are worth the money and trouble. Our solar panels do not tilt and we are getting PLENTY of solar power into our batteries each day.

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