I had always wanted to install solar panels on our old RV but instead we used a portable 50 watt panel to boost the batteries when camping. I had the panel strapped behind the storage box we had at the rear of the RV. A bumpy road and incomplete strapping yielded a destroyed panel that we heard dragging behind the moving RV.
I purchased a 200 watt portable system but it did not seem to operate correctly. I never tracked down the problem. But with the new RV and the updated electrical system I was determined to add solar.
First I had to decide how to use the rooftop space and determine what would be the best fit. I looked at several 100 amp panels for their size but I was unsure about the typical tape and screws installation on the new roof.
I turned to the experts at Northern Arizona Sun and Wind to help research the choices. This company has been around for decades, I bought our first small system from them by stopping by their store in Prescott. It was a heady experience to run into experts who were so enthusiastic. They have always carried panels and equipment that held to their high standards. Plus they were having a sale. The panels in their RV kit were too large for my roof. I believe it was a 300 watt system but they have switched now to the Solarland 180 watt panels I bought instead. I also purchased the equipment in the kit but not the wiring. Now their kit matches the system I put together.
The PERC solar technology helps to increase the efficiency of the panels. Just by adding an extra layer to the cells this “rear cell” panel is 1% more efficient and produces 25% more electricity. Although solar degradation or the initial loss of rated power is a bigger issue with PERC the technology has improved that problem so these panels are taking over the market.
I also looked at Renogy and NewPowa monocrystaline 200 watt panels but at 65 inches long I didn’t think I had enough room for them. The Solarland panels are 60 inches long and about the same width.
I was not comfortable putting 12 screws per panel in the roof of the RV so I looked at various racking systems. Most were not wide enough to span the RV roof and were costly so I designed my own. The Winnebago RV build has a metal cage that supports the roof and siding.
The strongest part of the cage is the upper side rails. These are also reinforced with roof gutters attached to the top to catch rainwater from the roof.
I took advantage of these side rails to hold the stainless steel T and L brackets. I used galvanized angle steel with plenty of bolt holes to fasten the z brackets that hold the solar panels. I used stainless steel bolts and washers and locking nuts at all the attachment points. The stainless screws for the sides came with the z brackets.
The eight foot angle was not quite wide enough for the RV roof so the l brackets on each side were 3×6 with the longer end on top. There was enough flex in the mounted panel rack that I sought answers on the rv.net forum. There was a recommendation for wood blocks covered with carpet so I browsed Amazon for bed risers or similar and found bolt on adjustable furniture legs. These were just the right height with just the right amount of adjustment.
Because I used the racks horizontally I would have been able to fit longer panels. But it’s nice to have some space to step around them.