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You can make solar panel awnings for your RV, and there are good reasons why. A solar awning serves two purposes. One, it keeps your RV cool. Second this enables solar panels to gather sunlight even when it is at a lower angle, which happens during fall and winter. Whether it’s hot or cold an awning makes a difference.
Before we start you should get the following materials. Unlike when you’re installing solar panels on an RV, you can do this on your own
What You Will Need
Flexible solar panels: there are two types of solar panels, rigid and flexible. For awning you should use flexible or semi-flexible. They are lighter, thinner and easier to mount. Power output is good and they have grommet openings for quick installation. Our favorite is the Renogy 175W Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel as it is ideal for awnings.
A 50W solar panel is ideal for small RV windows. You can always install additional panels if you need more energy. You may use 12V or 18V systems. For larger windows or power requirements, a 100W solar panel will work. You can also connect two 50W solar panels.
Charge controller: you may opt for an MPPT or PWM charge controller. the rule of thumb is an MPPT controller is better suited for high power needs as it’s more efficient. High end devices like the EPEVER Solar Controller are now available and allows you to get more power from your panels.
MPPT controllers also have monitoring systems to track panel performance. Compact controllers can handle up to 300W for maximum output. Others will opt for PWM controllers as they are more widely available and bundled with solar power kits. It’s up to you.
Solar SAE sidewall port: an SAE sidewall port makes it easy to install a solar panel to your RV. After drilling a hole in your RV wall, set the port and run the negative and positive wires into the charge controller.
SAE switch: an SAE switch allows you to turn off the panels easily. Connect this with the SAE extension cable and it’s good to go.
SAE extension cable: you connect this to the MC4/SAE adapter. This allows you to set the panels some distance from the charge controller. Calculate the extension cable length you need by measuring the distance from the panels to your controller plug.
Locking suction cups: you can use these to set the frame anywhere on your RV. Here we will place the suction cups on the windows.
MC4 to SAE adapter: use the adapter to hook up your solar panel’s MC4 output to the SAE cable connection.
Extension cable: a 20 ft. extension cable is ideal for RVs. But extension cables are available in different sizes, so get the one that meets your requirements. This applies to the other materials here. Plan ahead by marking the spots where you will install the panel. This way you don’t end up short during the construction.
Charge controller monitor: some charge controllers have a built in monitor. If not you can buy one. Some controller attachments have Bluetooth functionality, allowing you to monitor your solar panels’ performance on an Android or iOS device.
Solar Awning Frame Materials
To make the awning frame you need the following. You have to do this first before setting up the solar panel. Some knowledge of tools (drilling, screws) are required here.
- Wing nuts 4x
- Washers 4x
- Machine screws 4x
- T fittings (for connecting the awning legs) 2x
- Corner L fittings 4x
- PVC pipe (small sections) 1/2 inch
Build the Awning Frame Step by Step
There are only eight steps required to put the awning frame or stand together. As you will see, only basic working toosl are needed here. As long as you have the materials listed above you’ll be done here in no time.
- Drill an opening into one of the corner L fittings. Attach to a corner with screws. Repeat this with the other three L fittings.
- Cut the PVC into four parts. Use the L fitting you just attached for the measurement. Overlap each fitting by .75 inches.
- Set the PVC pieces into the corner fittings.
- Cut two more short PVC sections. Use these and the T fittings to create a leg hinge point. Repeat for the other leg.
- Cut two more PVC sections. Set each one into the T fittings.
- Use a PVC section to join the L fittings to the legs.
- Cut a couple more PVC sections to join the T fittings.
- Place the suction cup on the frame with the Velcro.
That’s it, the awning stand is complete. The next step is to set up the solar panel. Your solar kit comes with instructions so you an refer to that. What follows is a brief overview of the setup and how you can integrate it with the stand.
If you have an MPPT charge controller you can configure the panels in a series for maximum power output. Next use the extension cable to connect the SAE port to the panels. Connect the panel to the SAE cable with the MCR to SAE adapter.
Plug the SAE port to the charge controller’s negative and positive PV inputs. Connect the charge controller output to your battery’s terminals. Do this and your solar awning is finished. If your panel was set up correctly you should see a charge soon.
Does Your RV Really Need a Solar Panel Awning?
You’re probably wondering if an awning is really necessary. Maybe you already have solar panels installed, so will it really make a difference?
Yes it does.
If your RV already has solar panels installed, the awning serves as an additional power source. You can never have too much solar power. The excess power is stored in the battery and you can use it during the night. That excess energy will be very useful during cloudy days and during the winter.
And if your RV roof cannot support a large solar array, setting the panels as window awnings is a good workaround. A regular awning provides shade, but make it solar and it collects energy too. This is the reason why many homes in the US now have solar awnings (and they get tax credit too). What can be done at home is also possible with RVs.
Solar awnings are so useful it’s no wonder they are catching on. It works like a regular awning, keeping you cool on hot days. And during the fall and cold season, it drives more solar energy into the battery. If your RV doesn’t have one yet, it’s about time it did as it provides you with additional energy.