December 5, 2020

$2,600 Solar Upgrade on Truck Camper (DIY Spotlight)

DIY Renogy Solar Install

Digital nomads Chris and Jessi live, travel and work full-time in their truck camper. They upgraded to a 2021 Eagle Cap 1165 camper and completed a 750 watt solar installation on their new rig using Renogy components.

What kind of RV solar setup can you get for $2,600 if you do the work yourself? Let’s find out. Chris and Jessi were kind enough to share a full cost breakdown of their off-grid solar charging system and answer questions about their project.

How do you travel in your RV/camper?

We live and work as digital nomads in our truck camper and spend a lot of time boondocking on BLM land and in National Forests. 

DIY Renogy Flex Owners
Chris and Jessi at Crater Lake NP

Tell me about your project and how it will benefit you? 

Installing a customized off-grid solar system on our new rig was our #1 priority having had it on previous campers.

I wanted a system that I could expand as our needs grew, but also one that incorporated some of the latest tech like Bluetooth monitoring from my phone.

I also wanted an elegant install with minimal external visibility.

Being a fan of Renogy from past projects, I was able to go with a single manufacturer for all of the components so that they would work well together and save install time. 

DIY Renogy Flex Solar Equipment
Renogy Solar Charge Controller and Pure Sine Inverter in equipment bay

Not having a permanent address or workshop also required everything to be drop-shipped and assembled at our camp.

Our 750 watt unit would provide more than enough daytime power for working on our laptops while running fans, microwave, hairdryer, and watching TV. Our battery reserves would provide ample power to run our heater at night and watch movies on TVs. 

In the future we may look into one of the 12 volt A/C units just starting to hit the market. My system should be able to incorporate that. 

What are the major components of your system and why did you choose them? 

The major off-grid components include:

  • Four Renogy 175 watt 12 volt flexible solar panels (750 Watts total)
  • 60 Amp Renogy MPPT Solar Charge Controller with Bluetooth
  • Renogy battery monitoring system
  • Renogy 2000 Pure Sine Wave Power Inverter
  • Two 6 Volt Trojan T-145 260 Amp hour (Ah) batteries

The main reason I went with Renogy is I had Renogy panels on my older rig and had great success with them. I had no problems…ever. I also felt it would be easier to tie in the components with the same brand.

DIY Renogy Solar Trojan Batteries
260 Amp Hours of Trojan T-145 Deep Cycle Batteries

Being a full time traveler, it can be hard to order stuff without a permanent address. I ordered everything through Home Depot and Amazon. Home Depot’s Ship-To-Store and Amazon’s drop boxes made it super easy. 

What was the cost of your DIY solar system?

Here’s a breakdown of the individual component and material costs. 

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ComponentCost
4 X 175 Watt Flexible Renogy Solar Panels$1,180
60 Amp Renogy MPPT Solar Charge Controller$285
Renogy 2000 Watt Pure Sine Wave Inverter$289
Renogy BT-1 Bluetooth Module$54
Solar Cables, Connectors and Tools$125
Go Power TS-30 Automatic Transfer Switch$80
Eternabond and VHB Tape$60
Corrugated plastic sheets for under the panels$88
Transition strips$10
Dow 995 Sealant$12
2 x Trojan T-145 260 Ah Deep Cycle Batteries$524
Total Project Cost$2,662

To learn more about the many factors that will affect the cost of your DIY solar system, start by reading this article How Much Does RV Solar Cost? which covers this topic in detail.

What was the most significant thing you learned during your project?

It was a great learning process even though this was my second time installing solar. My last install was about 8 years ago. Technology has come a long long way.

What was more difficult than expected?

The most difficult part was installing the automatic inverter switch to shut-off the shore power charger when on battery power. That took a lot of time since I also have an onboard Onan generator and wanted to retain that for use when we are unable to receive sun power. 

There’s just no manual or good YouTube video on this topic as everyone has different systems and layouts. 

Connecting a power inverter and bypassing your converter/charger can be a little complicated. Here’s an article on this topic that will explain your options.

It also took some time to figure out the best way to hook up 750 watts with a 30 amp maximum wire load. I’m not an electrician but understand the basics. I ended up going with a series-parallel installation as a result.

DIY Solar Truck Camper Renogy Flex
750 Watts of Renogy Flexible Solar Panels on Roof of Truck Camper

What was easier than expected?

Mounting the solar panels was easier on account of your videos Brian.

I’ve never mounted flexible panels before. At just 6 pounds each I didn’t really want to drill into the roof of my brand new rig. I didn’t want a $300 panel flying off my rig while driving down the road either!

DIY Renogy Solar Mount
Renogy Flexible Solar Panels with Plastic Cardboard Layer and No-Drill Mounts

Your videos saved me a TON of engineering thinking time. In fact, the only thing I did a bit differently from your video was to use some Dow 995 sealant on the leading edge under the corrugated plastic and TPO roof for a bit of added holding power.

What would you do differently next time? 

I’m not sure there is anything I would do differently to be honest but time will tell. Mounting the panels so that they can be removed without holes drilled in the roof will allow me to upgrade as better technology becomes available.

Are there any other takeaways you’d like to pass along to fellow DIYers?  

Yes. Planning, watching videos and researching is key. I could not believe how much technology has advanced since my last solar install. I think it’s important to keep that in mind.

Also think of flexibility. Will you be able to upgrade when better tech becomes available? 

Finally, It also helps if you can get architecture wiring diagrams to save time chasing down wires. With a quick phone call I was able to get drawings for my camper from the folks at Eagle Cap Campers.

What are your major travel plans? 

We’ve visited 29 of the 60 National Parks and a few hundred of the over 400 National Monuments and Recreation Areas. Our plan is to visit all the National Parks and Monuments. 

For a full list of National Parks, Monuments and Recreation Areas visit the National Park Service Website

We also have our sights set on driving the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Ocean within the next few years.

How to Connect with Chris and Jessi

Follow Chris @nomadnagy and Jessi @gypsy.jessi.life on Instagram to see photos of their camper and follow along with their RV boondocking and travel adventures. 

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