How to Setup Solar Power for a Camper

By Ryan Wilson

Published:
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solar camper setup

Having a solar camper setup is a great option for those that don’t need a lot of power while camping and that don’t want to hassle with a generator. For me, few things are more disrupting to the solitude of camping than the sound of a noisy generator.

A few years ago I purchased a used A Liner that did not have a solar setup for the camper. Retrofitting my older camper to include a solar setup was a lot easier than I thought it would be. Now I only rely on solar power when camping.

In the following article I’ll show you how to setup solar power for campers that don’t currently have it. While I’ll show you how I set up a 12 volt system for my A Liner, the general approach should work for most campers.


Solar Camper Setup: Required Supplies

Below are the supplies you’ll need to follow my 12 volt solar camper setup. I also provide a brief description about what each piece of equipment is for.

These are the specific items I used, but there are lots of great options for solar panels, and solar charge controllers that will work just as well.

You can also buy a single kit that includes the cables, solar panels, and solar charge controller to simplify your shopping.

ECO-WORTHY All-in-one Kit

This is a nice all-in-one kit with nearly everything you need to set up solar power for your camper
all in one kit

How to Setup Solar Power For Camper

Step 1: Determine Where To Place Your Solar Charge Controller

Before you get started installing the solar setup for your camper, you need to determine where you want to place your solar charge controller inside the camper.

I wanted mine to be located where I could easily access it from inside the camper. I also wanted it close to where my 12-volt battery is located (at the front of the camper) and that would require minimal hole drilling.

Solar controller location
The location I chose to place my solar charge controller in my camper.

In my camper, I chose to place the solar charge controller under one of my table benches. Here I can drill a hole into the external storage compartment and then another hole into the floor of the storage compartment.

Because the wood panel separating my camper cabin from my storage unit is weak particle board, I attached the solar charge controller with velcro strips rather than trying to screw it in (which would not have lasted long).

Solar controller

Step 2: Drill Holes and Install Conduit

My camper has an external 12-volt battery housed just behind the tongue of the trailer. So I needed a point of access into the camper to run the battery cable between the battery and the solar charge controller.

I drilled a 3/4 inch hole through the floor in my storage compartment. I then placed the threaded conduit nipple through the hole and secured it with a conduit locknut. The conduit elbow I link to provides a conduit locknut, but you choose a different model, you may need to order one.

Cable management
View inside my storage compartment where the solar controller cable enters and the battery control cable exits through the conduit elbow.
Cables under the camper
The battery control cable as it snakes under the camper to the battery located at the trailer tongue.

I then screwed the conduit elbow onto the conduit nipple on the underside of my camper until it was tight. I then applied the silicone sealant to ensure a waterproof seal.

Step 3: Install Cables

Thread the solar controller battery cable from the solar charge controller through the hole into the storage compartment and then thread through the conduit elbow you just installed.

Once the cable is under your camper, run it to your battery. Try to use any corridors for cables/wires that already exist. You may need to use some zip ties to ensure the cable does not sag and remains against the underside of your camper.

Next, run the solar controller cable from the solar charge controller through the hole into the storage compartment.

Your install may vary from this depending on where you sited your holes. But the same general steps will apply.

Once the cables are run through the holes, attach the cables to the solar charge controller. The solar charge controller will have symbols indicating where the cables from the battery (and which polarity) are supposed to be attached. Simply insert the wires into the designated slots and tighten with a screw driver.

Solar controller display
At the bottom of the solar controller panel, you can see the labeled wire connection points for the solar controller cables (left most screws on the solar controller) for the battery cables (two center screws). There are also symbols indicating where the positive (+) and negative (-) cables are to be placed.

Do the same thing with the solar controller cables, which also have symbols indicating proper placement into the solar charge controller.

Step 4: Connect Cables to Battery and Solar Panel

Connect the solar controller battery cable to the battery first as you never want to connect solar panels to the solar charge controller before the battery is connected.

Attach the positive (+) wire to the battery first, then the negative (-) wire.

Battery with cables attached
Where the solar controller battery cables (black cables) connect to the battery.

Once your solar controller battery cable is attached to the battery (and the solar charge controller), you can attach the solar panel to your solar controller cable.

Solar controller cables attached to panel
Solar controller cables attached to panel

I really like having a flexible solar panel because it allows me to easily move the panel around during the day to maximize my power generations

Solar panel location
Solar panel location

Step 5: Ensure You’re Producing Power

The solar charge controller will have a display showing if you’re producing and/or consuming power. Ensure that it indicates power is flowing into your system and charging your battery

Solar controller panel display
Solar controller panel showing indicator that solar power is charging the battery. This is indicated by the arrow between the solar panel and the battery symbol and shows how much the battery is charged.

Now you should be in business producing clean, renewable power for your camper!

You may need to adjust the settings on your solar charge controller (see this helpful video), but mine worked for me with.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Solar Charge Controller?

A solar charge controller is a device that regulates the voltage and current from solar panels to batteries, preventing overcharging and ensuring efficient energy storage. It protects batteries from damage and maximizes their lifespan by controlling the charging process.

How do you optimize power generation with solar panels?

To maximize power generation, place the solar panel in a location with full sun exposure throughout the day. Tilt the panel at an angle equal to your latitude for optimal sun capture. Keep the panel clean and free from obstructions like trees or buildings.

What is the difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline pan

Monocrystalline panels are more efficient and space-efficient but typically more expensive. Polycrystalline panels are less efficient but more affordable.

Is it possible to expand my solar power system later?

Yes, you can add more panels and batteries as needed, provided your charge controller and wiring can handle the increased load.

What size battery do I need?

Choose a battery size that can store enough energy for your needs, typically measured in amp-hours (Ah). Consider your daily energy usage and potential days without sun. You can always add more batteries to increase your storage capacity.

How many solar panels do I need?

The number depends on your energy consumption and the power output of each panel. Calculate your daily energy usage and match it with the panel’s output. You can always add more solar panels to increase your power generation capacity.

Summary

Many of us have older model campers that were built before solar camper setups were standard features. In this post I showed how to setup solar power for campers that are lacking solar power.

While I am a handy guy, messing with electrical systems has always been disconcerting. But installing a solar setup for my older model camper was super straightforward and easy. I want everyone to know that it is pretty simple to do and requires minimal effort.

With a solar camper setup, you can expand your camping to include more rural camping without the need for an electrical hook-up. Interested in more off-road camping? Check out the current off road pop up camper models on the market today to expand you off road adventures!

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Author

Ryan is an avid outdoorsman who loves camping, hiking, and backpacking. He was initially reluctant to join the camper world, but after his first camping trip in one, he became a convert. He especially loves how camper ownership extends the camping season and makes it easier to be more adventurous with young kids. When not enjoying his free time, he works as a professional wildlife biologist studying the ecology and conservation of large mammals in Alaska.