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What Does It Mean When an RV is Solar Ready?
What Does It Mean When an RV Is Solar Ready?
You're shopping for RVs, checking out dozens of models, floor plans, and options. There's one option that keeps coming up: RV solar prep. But what does it actually mean when you see that flashy "Solar Ready" sticker on a rig? What's really included? Will your rig really roll off the lot prepped for solar? Different manufacturers use the "solar-ready" label differently, so it's crucial to check into what's included before you buy your solar-ready (or "solar-prepped") RV. There's not really an industry standard. In most cases, a solar-prepped RV is just an RV that has a wire run from the battery to an external port on the roof or sidewall. That's it. However, there are manufacturers out there who really do go through the trouble of creating a plug-and-play solar setup complete with all the major components. The main takeaway here is that your "solar-ready" sticker is more for marketing than for actually indicating what's included. But we'll dig into this a little further below.
Watch Now: What Does "Solar Ready" Really Mean?

What Does a Full RV Solar Power Setup Look Like?

If the salesperson at your dealership makes vague claims that the rig comes with "everything you need," make sure to verify what this includes. A functioning solar setup consists of several components:
  • Solar panels
  • A charge controller (Prevents overcharging and regulates power output for a consistent charge).
  • A sufficient battery bank (Your solar panels charge your batteries, and your batteries run your appliances. All the solar panels in the world won't do any good if your battery bank—that is, your battery setup— can't handle the load.)
  • Wiring (To connect all the components together.)
As I mentioned above, most RV manufacturers run a wire between the battery and an external port and call it a day. This means you'll still need solar panels, a charge controller, and potentially a bigger battery bank. That's a lot more preparation than that "solar ready" sticker suggests. This isn't to say that the wiring is worthless. Running the wiring is usually the most complicated part, so it can be a great benefit to have this done for you. Wiring run to a rooftop port is ideal for permanently mounted solar panels, while wiring run to a side port is usually best for portable solar panels. Some manufacturers take care to use thicker-gauge wiring, while others use thinner wiring that limits the amount of power the system can handle. So also make sure to ask about the gauge of the wiring used.
How Solar Power Wiring and Components are Connected
RV solar component diagram, including panel, charge controller, battery, and optional power inverter. (You'll need a power inverter to run 120V AC appliances in your rig.)
Solar-Ready RV Sticker
MC4 Solar Port on RV Sidewall
Pictured: RV Solar-Ready Sticker and MC4 Solar Connection Port

Am I Limited to One Solar Panel Brand?

Solar tech companies would obviously prefer you to buy their solar panels over the competitors'. So to try and force your hand, they pay to have their own proprietary plug installed on solar ports, then they add a big sticker warning you to only use THEIR solar panels, or the world will end in a fiery plume. Or something. So what makes certain solar panels more or less compatible with pre-wired RV setups? Really, it all comes down to the panel plug. To plug your solar panels into your RV's solar port, the plug styles AND polarities need to match up. Two of the most common RV solar connector styles are SAE and MC4 connectors. So if your RV port has one of these plugs, you'll need a solar panel with the same connector type, or else you'll need an adapter.
SAE Plug vs MC4 Connector
Some solar manufacturers will even go a step further than using a special plug type. For instance, Zamp (one of the big brands you'll often see on newer RVs), is known for reversing the polarity on their RV SAE solar ports. If you plug a standard panel into one of these ports, at best it won't work at all, and at worst it will damage your system. (It may not be a literal fiery plume, but it's still bad news.) Officially, Zamp does this for safety reasons, choosing to cover the positive-side connector rather than the negative side to prevent power mishaps during connection. It just so happens that Zamp makes companion panels designed to work with their proprietary plugs. The good news is that even in this case, you're not bound by the scary solar-ready sticker warning about ONLY using Zamp panels. You just need to work around the connector and polarity issues in order to connect the solar panels of your choice. (That's right, you can defy the sticker.)There are a couple different options for doing this:
  • Bypass the plugJust because your RV has a solar port on the sidewall or roof doesn't mean you have to use it. You can run your own wiring and install a separate port, then use whatever type of panels you want.
  • Use an adapterThere are plenty of MC4 to SAE adapters out there. If your plug has reversed polarity and your solar panels are standard, just make sure the adapter is designed to handle this.
  • Rewire the plug This is a cost-effective solution that just requires a few minutes' work. Use a multimeter to identify the positive and negative sides of your port. If the polarity is reversed, cut and splice the wires to change them back (red into black and black into red). If you're not comfortable splicing into your wires, you can also reverse the cables at the charge controller.
A note of caution: Before connecting any solar panels, it's a good idea to use a multimeter to check the polarity of your plug.
Standard vs Reversed Polarity Connectors for RV Solar Power
Standard vs Reversed Polarity Connections

The Verdict on Solar-Ready RVs

All things considered, solar-prep kits can be a worthy addition if you plan on camping without hookups. It really just depends on the individual solar-prep package and how much additional effort/product you're willing to add to your setup. It's a good idea to check with your dealer or manufacturer so you know what you're getting for your money—and perhaps more importantly, what you're not, so you can make the most informed decision. Here are some things you might want to ask your dealer about:
  • Does the solar package come with a charge controller or inverter?
  • What wire gauge was used in the solar wiring?
  • What size battery bank does the camper come with?
  • Can I use any brand of solar panels? If not, which ones can I use, or how can I modify my system to use other panels?
View our solar calculator here!
Amber S.
About Amber S.As a content writer for etrailer, I might spend my morning loading and unloading a bike on five different bike racks to figure out which is easiest to use. I might be in the parking lot, taking pictures of an impressive RV battery setup our techs came across in the shop and discussing the benefits of the setup with the owner. I might spend an afternoon in a manufacturer training class for some hands-on experience with new products, and then sit down to assemble all this information into a coherent article.At etrailer, one of our core values is that we are always learning, and I learn something new every day. I start each morning with the goal in mind of taking all of this information and figuring out the best way to answer the questions people ask us (and the ones they don’t know to ask yet), and helping people get the solutions they need to make their lives easier, safer, and more fun. I’m a DIYer at heart, so it brings me great joy to help a fellow DIYer find what they’re looking for, whether that’s a product, an answer, or a community.
Related ArticlesRelated ProductsWritten by: Amber S.Updated on: 7/15/22


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