Renogy RV Solar Build
Here is how we put a custom solar system build in our 2014 Jayco Swift 264BH Travel Trailer. If you already know the basics about RV or home solar power and want to see a quick/easy build then this is the post for you. If you aren’t familiar with either of those things, or you just want a quick refresher then check out my other post about how RV Solar Power works.
If you feel comfortable jumping right in, then look no further because the diagram below of our (more or less) entire electrical system. Our Jayco came stock with the House Battery pre-wired to the 12V RV circuit board. Other than that, we have added everything else ourselves.
We decided to go with Renogy for our solar array because their combination of panels and charge controllers were the most efficient and affordable we could find. Read on to see more about the specs and installation below!
Materials | Wiring Diagram
Total Cost: $1137.42
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Misc Hardware: $41.25
The Battery Bank
Our Jayco RV came with a stock ‘house’ battery on the front that is rated at 80 Amp Hours (AH). Fortunately, it is pre-wired to a 12 Volt (V) circuit that runs the lights, fans, water pump, 12V outlet, along with a few other things. We upgraded all 14 light bulbs in the trailer to 4W LED bulbs which are 4X more efficient than the old incandescent bulbs! We also got a small 125W inverter that plugs into a 12V outlet that lets us charge our phones/computers at the dinette where the trailer's 12V outlet is located or while driving in the truck. Our RV also came pre-wired with an onboard power converter to charge the house battery while we are connected to 15/30 Amp (A) shore power. Below is a picture of house battery on the front of the trailer and a diagram of the pre-wired 12V D/C.
House Battery (D/C Circuit)
Since we got the camper, I have installed a 125AH AGM auxiliary battery under the front bed. Originally I thought about putting it outside next to the house battery, but the holding rack wouldn’t fit both batteries. So instead I opted to put it on a separate circuit inside, which is convenient because this battery acts as an A/C circuit since it is hooked up to a VMax 1500W pure sine-wave inverter. This works nicely because it is easily accessible from the outside storage compartment that is next to my bed. Below is a picture of the auxiliary battery and 150A fuse connection to the inverter that make up the A/C circuit.
Auxiliary Battery (A/C Circuit)
At first, I was a little hesitant to have two separate batteries because that means I need to have to charge the auxiliary battery separately from the house battery. But after using the setup for over 4 months on the road, it has worked out nicely. The house battery is pre-wired into the RV circuit panel to a charge controller it is automatically charging every time we are plugged into shore power. I also have a VMax 15A Seven Stage Charge Controller that I can use to charge the auxiliary battery from a 120V outlet while we are plugged into shore power. Both batteries can be charged by the solar panels/charge controller, however, they still have to be charged separately.
If I chose to wire both batteries together in parallel, I would have needed to run thick wire through the underbelly of the trailer to the house battery. This would have cost quite a bit more, and the varying capacity/age of the batteries wouldn’t have them working optimally together. Instead, it was more convenient and cost effective to leave the new auxiliary battery on it’s own circuit.
The Solar Panels
Given the size of each battery (80AH, and 125AH) I figured 200W of solar panels would be sufficient to charge them individually. As I mentioned in the battery bank section, both of our batteries need to be charged separately. I found that we ended up using the house battery most of the time, so 200W of solar was plenty of energy to charge the 80AH battery. The panels we ended up going with are two 100W Renogy Monocrystalline Solar Panels. If both batteries had been wired in parallel adding up to ~200AH, I probably would have added at least another 100W panel to keep them both toped off. Although the mono-crystalline panels are more efficient than polycrystalline, we probably could have gotten away with buying the cheaper poly panels since the relative power output of both the panels was sufficient enough for each battery on its own.
Most solar builds on RVs or Vans we've seen have panels mounted on the roof. I considered mounting our panels on the roof but ultimately decided against it because 1) I didn’t trust myself to drill through the roof and mount/seal the brackets on the curved roof and 2) If we are parked under shade, the panels can’t be in the sun without moving the RV. Instead I built a pair of stands to put the panels on, but ended they ended up not getting too much use. It was nice a couple times when we were camping in the forest, however, I ended up taping some cut-up pool noodles on the corners of the panels and putting them on the roof most of the time. On the downside, whether I used the stands or put the panels on the roof I still had to run the wires from the battery to the charge controller and then from the controller to the panels.
*Pro Tip* - Always connect the battery to the charge controller before connecting the panels. If the panels are connected before the battery, they will send current to the charge controller without anywhere for it to go. This could damage your controller.
If I had to do it again, I would feel more comfortable figuring out a way to mount an adjustable rack for the solar panels to give me the option to change the angle. This way the solar panels have the opportunity to work at their peak performance throughout the day and I wouldn’t have to rewire the whole setup every time we are dry camping. Doing this would also require figuring out a way to switch the batteries between the charge controller because they would still need to be charged separately.
The Charge Controller
Since we have a smaller solar setup, I opted for a Pulse Width Modification (PWM) charger since it is a bit more cost effective. Renogy also makes the charge controller to go along with their solar panels, go figure, it is the Adventurer 30A charge controller. This might be a little over kill for our system, but it allows plenty of room for adding a few more panels. As a fail-safe, we also have 15A fuses running on the positive connection to the charge controller. If more panels were to be added to the setup, I would need to find smaller fuses for the panels to prevent a total input of >30A into the controller.
The Adventurer is a step above the Other Renogy PWM Charger, and still less expensive than their MPPT model charge controllers. It has a nice display that shows the Battery Voltage, Battery Temperature, PV Voltage, PV Amperage/Battery Amperage. Currently, I don’t have the battery temperature monitored installed but as I mentioned in the RV Solar Basics post, it would provide a more efficient charge going to the battery.
We went with a 1500W Pure-Sine Wave Inverter by WindyNation. We decided on this one because it has a display that shows both wattage/voltage usage, and three outlets with switches to turn them off individually. It also comes with a main power on/off switch with a 20 ft cable so you can put the inverter out of site but still have a on/off switch. We contacted WindyNation and they were more than happy to answer our questions and help us get set up. Their website has loads of useful resources for building a solar system to fit your needs.
The most wattage we ended up drawing was from Molly's NutriBullet, which was also 900W, so this one was more than capable of handling it. In addition to the inverter, I also wanted to get some thick 0 or 2AWG wire and an ANL fuse. Conveniently, this package came with 4ft of 2AWG wire and a 150A fuse. Since I didn’t want to buy any additional thick gauge wire, this was a no brainer but it also forced me to keep the battery and inverter in close proximity with each other. Below is a picture of the Front picture of the Inverter above the charge controller. The next is a behind the scenes picture featuring the 2AWG wire, 150A fuse, and the battery connection. You can also see the back of the charge controller where connections to the battery/solar panels are.
Since the auxiliary battery doesn't automatically charge while we are connected to 30A shore power, I bought a supplemental battery charger to use while it wasn't being charged by the solar panels. This type of charger is also made by the manufacturer as it is meant for this type of AGM style battery. It is a VMax 7-stage 12V Battery Charger that charges the battery in different stages at varying voltages in order to properly charge or top off the battery. This type of charger is much more efficient than the stock power converter/battery charger that charges the house battery automatically while we are plugged into shore power.
As I mentioned in the RV Solar Basics (Pt 1), I upgraded the camper's stock 18W incandescent bulbs to 4W LED bulbs. The LED bulbs are approximately 4 times as efficient as the old incandescent bulbs, thus saving us a lot more energy and keeping the living space cooler. We have a total of 14 LED lights in the RV, but I bought a pack of 20 LED bulbs in case we needed any extra, but I don't think we will be needing them as they have quite a long lifespan.