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Camper Van Solar Installation Guide – With Illustrated Wiring Diagrams

This ultimate camper van solar installation guide will teach you how to build your own solar system for van life. Read to learn more.

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Solar Panel Installation Guide For Camper Vans and RVs

Van Life Solar Got Your Confused? Our camper van solar installation guide will help you to build your own DIY solar system for van life. This ‘white paper’ also provides detailed illustrated solar wiring diagrams so you know exactly what components you need to buy and where everything must be installed.

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

This RV solar guide teaches you all the basics, such as:

So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!

Chapter 1:

Calculate How Much Solar You Need

If you’re starting from the very beginning, figuring out how many watts of solar panels you need is a critical first step to your camper van solar installation. Too little solar and you may not be able to sufficiently charge your electrics on a daily basis. Too much solar and it’s simply overkill.

So knowing a rough estimate on how much solar you need is a good idea. But how to calculate?

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

So in order to size your RVs solar system, you will first need to determine how much batteries you need.

You Should Know!
If you’ve already sized your batteries then you should already know which ‘type’ of battery you will be using (i.e. AGM or lithium). Your solar array size calculation will depend on BOTH the size of your battery bank and which battery chemistry you selected.

Below is a table to help you determine how many watts of solar you will need for your camper van solar installation based on your battery’s type and overall size.

Solar Array Size Calculation Table

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

Want To Learn More? Check out our post on calculating how much solar power you need for your camper van.

Chapter 2:

Best Solar Panels For Camper Vans & RVs

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

In Our Van: We use rigid solar panels in our camper van and recommend these types of panels for most van life situations.

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

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 175w Flexible Solar Panel For Campers
175w 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 camper van’s 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 To Learn More? 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

Chapter 3:

Series vs. Parallel Solar Panel Wiring

Which Is Best?

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

If you have multiple solar panels on your RV’s roof, the first step of the solar panel wiring process is deciding 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.

Benefits:

Three Solar Panels Connected In Series - Series vs. Parallel
Three Solar Panels Connected In Series

Most Popular Method: Wiring panels in series is the most popular way to connect solar panels among the camper van community.

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.

Benefits:

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

In Our Van…
Our two solar panels are wired in parallel to achieve the above benefits. In our experience, partial shading happens quite often. So parallel wiring is important for us.

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

Chapter 4:

When To Add A Fuse In A Solar Array

Safety First!

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

We hope that picture got your attention!

Adding fuses to a solar array can be cumbersome and adds additional cost to your total system build. But fuses are a critical part of any electrical system to keep you, and your camper van, safe.

“But 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.

Otherwise, you’ll need to properly fuse your camper van’s 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 a much more in-depth discussion on when to fuse, fuse sizing, and WHERE to install the fuse, check out out detailed post: Fuse Guidelines For Solar Arrays

Chapter 5:

Solar Wire Sizing Guide

When you try to force too much current (amps) through too thin of a wire, the wire begins to overheat. Too much overheating and the wire becomes a fire hazard. So selecting the proper wire size for your camper van solar system is critical to prevent your solar system from overheating and catching on fire.

“Just skip the science and tell me what size wires 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 need to be sized independently.

Two sections to consider when calculating solar panel wire size
Two sections two consider when sizing your solar wires

The first wiring section is from the panels to the solar charge controller. And the second wiring section is from the charge controller to the batteries. Depending on your solar array, these two sections may or may not require the same size wire.

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

2. Series & parallel connections might influence your wire sizes

The correct wire size for a camper solar system depends on whether you are connecting your solar panels in series or in parallel.

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

Wire Sizing Chart For Series Connections

Calculating your solar wire size is easier in series connections. And for the vast majority of van life travelers, using 10AWG wire to connect the entire system is sufficient. Refer to the chart below to check recommended wire size based on the size of your solar array.

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

Wire Sizing Chart For Parallel Connections

For most camper van solar builds, 10AWG wire will also be sufficient for panels connected in parallel. However, thicker wires may be required for solar arrays larger than 440-watts. Refer to the chart below for more information.

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

Recommended Wire For Solar System Builds

10AWG Stranded Wire

The 10AWG 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, when building a robust solar system, these wires are worth the investment.

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

Chapter 6:

What's A Solar Charge Controller?

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 | Solar 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.

4. Provides solar data | Some charge controllers allow you to connect to them with your smartphone via Bluetooth to view solar harvesting data.

“Which charge controller do I need for my van’s solar system?”

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
Good ForUp to 200WUp to 400WUp to 680W
Bluetooth Enabled?YesYesYes
AmazonAmazonAmazon

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

Want to learn more? Check out our post What Is A Solar Charge Controller to get more great info on why you 100% need a controller for your solar system build.

Chapter 7:

Mounting Solar Panels On A Camper Van 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.

Chapter 8:

Complete Solar System Wiring Guide

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

Complete camper van solar installation wiring guide
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.

Chapter 9:

Camper Van Solar Installation FAQ

"Are solar panels worth it for van life?"

"What tools do I need to install my camper van solar system?"

"What's the difference between polycrystalline and monocrystalline solar panels?"

"Are tilt mounts for camper van solar panels worth it?"

Installation Tip #1: When connecting the MC4 connectors, it's important to get a good, solid crimp around your solar wires. Or else the wires might out of the connector due to the constant vibrations while driving. Happened to us...twice!

For an excellent video on how to crimp MC4 connectors onto your wire ends, see the below video from LDSreliance.

Final Result: Complete Solar Panel Wiring Diagram

To get more detail on our solar panel installation and with clickable pictures download our FREE Camper Van Electrical Installation PDF.

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