Build a lightweight portable solar panel stand for a flexible solar panel that can be easily mounted to your RV window. Using an MPPT solar charge controller with bluetooth monitoring, this setup is great to add more solar to your RV or use it as your primary solar charging system.
There are two truths related to boondocking in the southwestern desert during the fall and winter months.
- The temperature in your RV could vary between 45 degrees at night to 90 degrees during the day.
- The sun is not as high in the sky making it more difficult to generate solar power
For these reasons, I wanted to give this solar panel window awning idea a try. I don't have double pane windows so they heat up in direct sun. The solar panel awning would keep direct sun off of the window while generating power at an optimal angle.
I wanted this thing to be versatile, easy to use and powerful. So I made this list and got to brainstorming some ideas.
Problems to Solve
- Decide what type of solar panel(s) to use for the awning
- Build a frame for the solar panel that can be mounted to a window, to the side of the RV, or left free standing on the ground
- Figure out how these additional panels would tie in to my existing solar charging system
I had two types of solar awnings in mind.
A smaller square-shaped 50 watt solar awning would fit a small or narrow window.
This larger rectangular-shaped 100 watt solar awning would fit a larger window.
What Type of Solar Panels to Use for an Awning
This was an easy one for me. I decided on semi-flexible solar panels for a number of reasons.
- They are very light weight
- They are thin and easy to store flat
- They are highly efficient and can provide plenty of power
- They come with grommet holes for easy mounting
Building the Solar Awning Frame
I decided to use 1/2 inch PVC pipe and fittings for the frame. PVC is very easy to work with (like Tinker Toys for grown ups). The PVC pipe and fittings were purchased at my local hardware store.
Here’s what I needed to make one awning frame:
- 6 x short sections of PVC pipe
- 4 x corner “L” shaped fittings, (one per corner)
- 2 x “T” shaped fittings to attach the legs
- 4 x stainless steel machine screws
- 4 x washers
- 4 x wing nuts
- Roll of VELCRO
I decided to use heavy duty locking suction cups to mount the panel to the RV wall or window. As an avid stand up paddle boarder, I knew about these suction cup gear mounts designed to secure gear to a paddle board. I thought they would work great for this awning project.
Additional Materials You’ll Need For This Project
Steps For Assembling the Frame
- I first drilled holes in the middle of the four “L” shaped corner fittings and attached them with screws to each corner.
- Using the corner fittings as a guide, I measured and cut four lengths of PVC (one for each side) overlapping the each fitting by roughly 3/4"
- I assembled the sides and bottom of the frame by inserting the PVC sections into the corner fittings
- Using two short sections of pipe, and the “T” shaped fittings, I created a hinge point for each of the two legs
- I cut two more PVC lengths for each leg and inserted them into the “T” fittings
- "L" fittings were attached to each leg with another section of PVC to connect the two legs and form a cross brace
- Finally, I cut a PVC section to connect the two “T” fittings at the top of the frame
Before mounting the suction cups to the frame, I first removed the gear hooks leaving the cross brace. Then I connected the suction cups to the top of the frame using VELCRO straps.
Connecting The Solar Panels and Charge Controller To The RV
To complete this solar charging setup I needed to add a solar charge controller and some quick connectors.
I used two of the smaller solar awnings for my two large tall windows on the RV. The solar charge controller I selected is a small Victron MPPT solar charge controller capable of converting higher voltage inputs. This allowed me to use a series configuration connecting the two panels end-to-end to produce roughly 40 volts at 3.5 amps.
I also needed an extension cable with SAE connections to connect the panels to an external SAE port I installed on the RV.
Using an MC4 to SAE adapter, I connected the output of the solar panels to the SAE cable and RV.
The SAE power port is wired to the positive (+) and negative (-) PV inputs to the Victron MPPT solar charge controller. To complete the system, I wired the output of the solar charge controller directly to the positive (+) and negative (-) terminals on my battery bank.
This has been a very useful accessory to our boondocking arsenal. The setup has been very effective at keeping the windows cool while pushing more solar energy into our battery bank.
During the latter part of the day, I adjust the angle on the solar panel awning to track the sun, then angle them back up in the morning.