Nothing says going fully off the grid than installing a set of solar panels to the top of your RV, which many RV owners prefer to do themselves.
RV solar panels need to be grounded, ensuring that any shorts or loops go through the grounded surface of the RV, which would be the RV chassis. Grounding the RV solar panels is easy to do and should only take a few minutes of connecting wires and clamping everything down.
You will need to learn several things about installing RV solar panels and how their power distribution works. The RV solar power system is often routed through the overall electronics, with many owners not being aware that they need to ground the system as well.
Why Do You Need to Ground Solar Panels?
When a solar panel is producing energy, normally, it will push the power through to its wiring and work normally. However, when the panels get wet, or when you are cleaning them, or just as they age, there may be small amounts of power leaking into the panel’s metal parts.
This charge is not enough to immediately cause a problem; however, it can build up to dangerous amounts of amplitude and voltage where the panel can short circuit. In the worst scenarios, it can cause a deadly shock to anyone who may touch the solar panel without protection.
Grounding the solar panels allows this charge to dissipate into the ground through the RV’s chassis harmlessly. This charge will always be minimal and absorbed completely when the grounding for the RV has been done properly; further, the charge will be too small even to measure.
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How Do You Ground Your Solar Panels?
Unless you are adding the solar panels onto your RV before buying it brand new, the chances are that you will be installing them on your own. This is the most common way RV solar panels are installed, as they are quick and easy to install with only a few hand tools required to do properly.
Before you can safely say that the solar panels have been installed, you must ensure that they are thoroughly grounded and ready to go. The steps are extremely basic and can be completed with only a few tools you should already have at the ready around the house.
Finding Ground Lug
The ground lug is where the solar panel manufacturer has routed through the internal wiring to make ground. This lug is usually inconspicuous and may also be used as a lug to be used to secure the solar panel to the framework you have built for it.
Most ground lugs are located at the bottom of the solar panel and will be clearly marked as the ground lug, usually with a black sticker that indicated this. Larger solar panels will also have a special clip that allows for quicker flow of power through the wiring that has been connected.
Attaching The Wire
Unlike the wires you attach to ground the batteries you are installing in your RV, and the engine, the wiring for the solar power ground does not need to be massive. This wire can be slightly thinner but should still be thicker than the average car wiring.
You can remove the nut, put an end cap on the wire and thread it around the bolt, then add the nut back onto the bolt. This secures the wire to the solar panel and allows you to go ahead with the following steps that need to be done to properly ground the solar panels.
Creating a Series Connection
If you have multiple solar panels that you are adding to your RV, you can link all of their ground wires to each other, creating a series connection. As long as two or more wire points connect to the chassis, the power will never flow the wrong way back into the solar panels.
This is the best way to ensure that your wiring looks clean and that everything is properly grounded without resorting to a rat nest of cables. Many people have mistakenly daisy-chained the ground nuts of their solar panels together to create a giant electrified panel on their roof.
Connecting To Chassis
This is the important part and, oddly enough, the part that most people do wrong, as they connect the wire to something that is not a part of the chassis. The connection needs to be against the clean metal of the chassis, somewhere there is no paint, usually with a bolt or screw driven through the roof.
This is why you will see many people get frustrated with the grounding of their solar panels, as it can be a challenge finding a way to connect them without damaging the RV. We also need to point out that the minimum connection is always two to allow for redundancy if a connection does fail.
Testing Power Flow
You need to use a voltmeter to send out a small charge to ensure that the solar panels are correctly grounded. To most people, this will be the setting on the voltmeter that makes a beep when the two points make a clean connection between each other.
When one point of the voltmeter is placed against the outer rim of the solar panel, and the other is placed against the bare metal of the chassis, there should be a beep from the meter. This means that any excess energy or charge built up in the voltmeter will safely dissipate into the chassis of your RV.
Does Each Solar Panel Need to Be Grounded on Its Own?
No, the solar panels can all be connected to the same wire that is then grounded onto the chassis of the RV. Many people have one central line that runs through each grounding nut of their solar panels, allowing them to easily ground the entire solar panel array, which is grounded on two spots.
However, it should be noted that if your solar panels are placed at a reasonable distance from each other, it will be easier to ground them each individually. This is the most common way of grounding solar panels because the included wiring is usually relatively short and can be connected right underneath each panel.
Each new spot connected to the ground of a solar panel is a new location on the roof of the RV that can be exposed to rust. Because you will have had to remove the paint from the roof with each location, water and moisture can get to the bare exposed metal.
Your RV solar panels all need to be grounded to ensure that the excess power flows in the best and safest way out of the solar panels. Most parts of an electrical system will build up excess charge as they continue working, becoming a hazard if there is no ground wiring.