What does "Solar Ready" mean on an RV?
Got a “solar-ready” sticker on your RV or motorhome? If you’re wondering what that means, you’re not alone. More RVs are coming out solar-ready (also called “solar prepped”) for this next generation of travelers who want more freedom on the road.
What is a solar-ready RV?
A solar-ready RV typically has a particular type of port on the roof or side, and a pre-wired path for solar panels to connect to your battery bank.
What is included in a solar-prepped RV? Is it enough?
In practice, the type of port, wiring, and capacity of your solar-ready set-up can vary quite a bit. In many cases, RV manufacturers will partner with a specific company to install their proprietary solar port. This means when you’re ready to purchase a panel, you’re nudged toward that company’s offerings exclusively.
Everyone’s version of pre-wiring for solar will also differ. In some cases a professional installer will need to take a look and make modifications, while others are more DIY-friendly.
Your solar-ready RV likely will not come with any solar panels, nor will it include a solar charge controller – a key component of any solar system to ensure the appropriate amount of charge is hitting your batteries, so they stay healthy and functional.
Caution: Never wire solar panels directly to your battery bank! Always go solar panels > solar disconnect switch > solar charge controller > batteries.
What else will I need?
Depending on your specific model and goals, you may also want to consider a more efficient and capable inverter or inverter/charger, upgraded batteries, and a holistic monitoring and control system.
Further, most solar-ready RV ports and wiring set-ups are often designed for smaller applications. Think hooking into one smaller-capacity, deployable panel, that can be used to trickle-charge your batteries in a pinch.
For example, this solar ready port is only rated for 10 amps. That’s not enough to run our fridge 24/7, but it might keep our lights on while we’re off-grid for a quick overnight trip.
If that type of set-up is what you’re interested in, we recommend a folding, small-scale solar panel (we like this one from Rich Solar). You can break that out and prop it up on the ground when you need it – no need to drill or install permanently on your roof.
You’ll also still need a solar charge controller rated for smaller capacities (like this one we recommend from Victron Energy). Note that this will need to be programmed to your battery manufacturer’s specifications; we’re glad to help with that, too!
What if I want more power from my solar-ready RV?
If you want a larger solar system capable of powering all of your appliances for a longer stretch of time – like an A/C, refrigerator, TV, and coffee maker all week long – there are a few modifications you’ll want to consider for your solar-ready RV.
You may need to swap out the pre-wired set-up and do some additional wiring to increase amperage capacity. You might also need to switch out the specific port to work with the actual panels you want on your roof. In some cases, you may even have to reverse the polarity of your pre-wired port, depending on who manufactured it and which panels you want to use.
In other cases, you may need to install a brand new port in a more convenient location. For example, your solar-ready RV may be prepped with a port on the side to work with a deployable (on-the-ground) panel. So, if you’re switching to a larger array of roof-mounted panels, you’ll want to put the right port (a.k.a. cable entry housing) up on the roof.
As with any solar system, you will still need all of the other components, like solar panels, charge controllers, inverter/chargers, monitoring and control systems, and more. These will work together to ensure the correct amount and type of power is safely delivered from your panels to your batteries, and from your batteries to all of your appliances when you need them.
Is solar-ready worth it?
Regardless of your goals for going off-grid, a solar-ready or solar-prepped RV can still save you some time and effort when it comes to installing your solar system. Even if it’s not exactly what you need for your lifestyle, it can provide a helpful starting point for organizing your wiring or bringing in an installer.
Unfortunately that solar-ready sticker can also be a marketing gimmick. Be wary of anyone who promises that your solar-ready RV is totally good to go or completely plug-and-play for an off-grid adventure.
There will always be some amount of customization, or modification to make when it comes to your personalized solar system. If you’d like support, we’re always here to talk it through with you.
What if my RV isn’t solar-ready?
We’ve helped clients get efficient, effective, and affordable solar systems in place without any solar prep in place ahead of time. So, don’t worry if you don’t see that solar-ready sticker. Any RV can get off-grid with modern solar power and energy storage.
Think of your rig as a clean slate – plenty of flexibility to get the best possible set-up in there from the start!
How do I know what I need for my solar-ready RV?
What you need for your solar-ready RV will depend on your specific rig and lifestyle. The first step to understanding your energy needs is to complete a solar energy audit – figuring out which appliances you need to power, what their energy consumption is, and how it all adds up.
Then there are a few logistical questions to consider. How often you plan to be off-grid, if you’ll still be plugging into shore power regularly, what your intentions or goals are with a solar upgrade, and how much you’re willing to invest will all have an impact on the components you’ll need.
Taking stock of what you may already have is also important. Check with your manufacturer or manual to understand which aspects of solar-ready your RV is already equipped with, and what the limitations may be. For example, check in on where the port is located, which panels it is compatible with, and how much it is rated for. Once you understand these aspects, you’ll be able to assess the modifications needed to make your energy system more compatible with your goals.
Do you have a solar-ready RV? What do you want to know about taking it to the next level? Let us know in the comments!