How to Install Renogy Solar Panels on Your Truck Camper, RV, or Sprinter Van

How to Install Renogy Solar Panels on Your Truck Camper, RV, or Sprinter Van

Hey folks, thanks for checking out our Renogy solar installation guide! We've included a video of the complete solar install and will post below for a quick and simple explanation, or continue reading for the complete step-by-step Renogy solar panel install. 

Whether you consider yourself a beginner, intermediate, or expert installer, this solar system is perfect for everyone and will give you the solar power and energy for your system requirement of your van, camper or RV. Just remember, take your time, check your work, enjoy yourself, and as my grandpa would always say, "Measure twice, cut once."

Renogy 200 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit with Wanderer (1)

As a long-time Amazon customer, I was sure the panels ((2) 100 watt) would work great for my needs. The first look at the solar panel system made me feel great about my Amazon purchase of the Renogy solar panel kit with Wanderer solar charge controller (see unboxing video). The feel of the Renogy solar panel was rigged, yet sleek. The Renogy solar panels were heavier than expected, but to be honest, I’ve never dealt with a solar system before so anything would have been a surprise. I am just excited to have the power I will need off the grid from the endless and renewable energy of the sun. 

Next check was the aluminum mounting z-brackets the solar panel kit comes with; which are very sturdy and light. I like the way they look and the comfortable straight holes available for the bolt attachments. Some reviews mentioned that the connecting wires seemed cheap, but I didn’t get that impression in the slightest. They are sturdy and feel mid-to-heavy duty for the application. 

The Wanderer solar controller is one of the cheapest Renogy solar controllers but will do the trick for my application. It has small holes at the bottom of the charge controller that connect wires from the battery terminal and solar panels. The solar controller requires a small Phillip's head screw driver to loosen/tighten the the wiring connections. 

The fasteners that come with the set do not seem like the proper fit for my job (mounting to aluminum roof on a truck camper) so I ended up buying some long stainless steel 1/4”x2” bolts along with the appropriate washers and lock nuts to connect the brackets to the camper (or van) roof. If you are mounting the solar panels to a sprinter van, or you are buying racking mounts, the self-tapping fasteners included could work the solar panel mounting. 

Renogy Solar Panel Kit

All in all, I am pleased with my purchase, and the way the Renogy panels, charge controller, mounting hardware, and long connectors (less the self-tappers) feel and look for now.

6 Step Guide For Installing Your New 200 Watt Renogy Solar Panels

1. Place The Panels Correctly

Choosing a solar panel location is important in achieving the maximum watts the panels can produce.

  • Mount the aluminum z-brackets onto the solar panels before taking measurements in-order to get an accurate read on the bolt placement on the roof of the camper or sprinter van.
  • Next, put the brackets flush against the solar panel with bolts that come with the set.
  • Once the z-brackets were in place, I measured the end-to-end and side-to-side distance of the holes and went up in the roof to find where to mount the solar panels.
  • Also, remember to choose a roof position that allows your solar panels to get the most direct sun to produce the most power for your new battery(ies).

2. Clean the roof

Proper roof cleaning can help the solar panel connections stay leak-free.

Once I found a suitable spot for my solar panel placement, I thoroughly cleaned the roof with degreaser and dish soap (Recommend cleaning a van roof as well before you set your solar panels down). I ended up moving the solar panels a few times I order to avoid having to “pop-up” the roof of my camper, as I believe the roof was meant to be stood on in the “down” position. It might not be a bad idea to give your roof a really good cleaning throughout for a future solar panel install, as the wanderer solar charge controller allows a total of 400 watts of solar panel power.

3. Drill The Holes For The Wires

You need to know the wire size to choose the right drill bit.

  • Drill the hole for the wires and fed the cables down to the proper destination, but first, making sure I had enough line to get to the battery box where the solar charge controller would be set. I made the hole fairly large, knowing that I wanted to protect the cables from fraying in the installation process (I ended up buying a 1/2" spade bit). Make sure to file the hole before running the wiring (the sharp edges could cause wire damage), which can lead to voltage and current loss. The cap that I ended up buying from Amazon was a perfect fit for the connecting wires. 

  • To properly run the wires through the cap, I took the cap "nuts" off first, running the wiring cables through the rubber housing. Next, after careful consideration, I planned to install the wire cap I bought from amazon facing toward the back of my camper so I could avoid rain infiltration whilst driving. I made sure not to place the cap too far from the closest solar panel to avoid the wires from running too long.

    4. Mount The Panel attachments

    The panels will produce the most energy when configured in series or parallel, depending in your sun exposure.

    I chose to run my solar panels in a paralleled configuration for a couple reasons:

    • One, I found that with maximum sunlight, running solar panels in parallel would give you more bang for your buck (In sophisticated engineering power/watt terms).
    • Second, I will exposed to some serious sun this summer, so the potential voltage loss from one panel being in the shade shouldn’t be an issue. 
    Series vs parallel

    I recommend doing your own research in this matter as there is a flip side to this coin, and depending on your environment, running your panels in series may be a better option. To do this, I used the y-splice cable mc4 connectors provided by the renogy solar panel kit, mounting both negative attachments to one mc4 splice, and mounting both positive attachments to another (two y-splice mc4 connectors were provided in the kit). Be careful to mark which mc4 connectors are positive and negative before bolting down, the solar panels do not sit high enough for you to figure out which wire is which once installed; well barely tall enough.

    5. Install The Panels

    The 200 watt system should be water-tight.

    5-step guide on how to Set Up The Renogy Solar Panels

    5 Steps to Install the Solar Panels:

    • Once the (second) panel placement was decided (and cleaned), I used a 1/4” drill bit and drilled (16) holes into the roof where the bolts would hold the Z-brackets to the panels.
    • I cleaned around and in the holes (blew on them like an old Nintendo game) and liberally applied Dicor lap sealant to the holes (side note: if you are going to add a lot of sealant to a hole, make sure you put something underneath the hole to catch excess sealant from dripping all over your floor, haha). I would recommend you buy Eternabond tape to place down before the you start to drill the holes, this will really help to prevent roof leaks and only cost about $25 on Amazon.
    • Following the sealant, I added the bolts and washers to each hole. I was able to run down into the cabin and bolt them myself with a little ingenuity (placing a socket wrench and a paper towel roll under for support).
    • I slowly tightened each bolt to avoid knocking the socket wrench loose on the roof and having to run back up for replacement (you would be much better served employing a buddy for this step).
    • Once I finished installing the lock nuts and determined they were tight enough for comfort, I went back to the roof to seal the brackets as best as humanly possible to avoid any future leaks. To do this, I completely covered the hex headed bolts first, then came back around to completely cover the z-brackets. I really liked the feel of having bolts and washers holding down the panels. Knowing that they are safe on highways and backroads is worth the $10 in extra hardware, trust me.

    6. Wire The Panels To RV

    Wire the panels to RV
  • I chose to buy (2) 6v golf cart batteries in series I order to supply my system with 12v power for my lights and other appliances (which required a small amount of watts). This battery choice was a mistake, which I will post about later. I took my wires coming from my solar panels and ran them down to the solar charge controller; where my batteries were going to be installed. 

  • As I stated above, make sure you know which cable is positive and negative before you seal everything up, you’ll thank me later. After running up a few times to figure this out I drilled the appropriate holes and ran the wires the charge controller area. 

    Before hooking anything up, I tested the batteries on my lights to make sure that my wiring was correct and I indeed had 12v of power, I also attached the ground wire to my truck chassis with a self tapper (drill a small pilot hole first) and a washer (use non coated zinc for conductivity). 

    Once I was satisfied with my battery wiring I installed the wanderer charge controller inside camper’s battery bay and connected the positive and negative wires from the battery to the controller. The charge controller has a few different battery options to choose from: sealed, flooded, gel, and lithium. This is a nice feature, especially from such a simplistic controller included with the panels. It’s important to know which type of battery you have for the controller to know how to properly charge and maintain your battery for optimal future health.

    After the controller was connected to the battery and it ran through the boot phase, I connected the renogy solar panel wires to the controller (put the negative cable from the battery into the controller first, then the positive cable). The controller immediately responded to the solar panels and started charging the batteries. 

    After a few hours the batteries were full and all was well, or was it? After a short drive I started to notice a smell coming from the cabin. The battery had overheated and discharged fumes! I returned them and opted for the (2) 12V AGM battery instead, which would provide the same amount of power needed for my system.

    A battery may require ventilation, and others do not. It’s important to know your system and do the proper research to know what you are getting into so you can rest easy and enjoy the sun once all is installed and you are off adventuring in your camper or van. 

    Installing the batteries in series would add the voltage and keep the current the same. To do this, run cable connectors from the positive battery post to the negative battery terminal. If you need 12V of power, you would run (2) (6V) batteries in series, giving your system a total of 12V. Installing the batteries in parallel would add the batteries current and the voltage would remain the same. To do this, connect the positive battery terminal with an (8) gauge cable to the other positive battery posts. 

    How to Set Up the Renogy Solar Panel System

    Final Thoughts

    The install took a total of about 7 hours. I recommend installing these panels close to a home depot or repair store in order to buy supplies while installing. This gave me the freedom to run back and forth from the store without having to load up all my gear.

    I like the Renogy 200 watt solar panels with the Wanderer controller for one reason: simplicity. It gives you everything you need in a starter kit to get off the grid and into the wild for a fraction of the cost of other solar kits with similar watt panels. I like the full 200 watt kit for peace-of-mind as well, knowing that if something is left over, I forgot something; which gives me a chance to sit back and re-evaluate my steps and catch whatever mistake I’ve made if I’m not an expert installer (as you may gather from my video).

    All in all I would recommend this solar panel kit to anyone with a little know-how and a hankering for some off the grid time in a camper or van! Check out future posts for cool new gear for on-the-road living.

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