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200 Watt Van Solar Panel Setup

This install guide for a DIY 200 watt van solar panel setup gives you a list of everything you need to buy and how to properly connect your solar panel system. A 200 watt solar kit is enough electricity to power small electronics such as a laptop and cell phones as well as one or two larger item such as a refrigerator or vent fan. It produces between 60-110Ah on a sunny day depending on exposure and charge controller efficiency. This guide will walk step-by-step through how to wire the system, which order to connect the wires, and the tools necessary to get the job done. Need a different amount of solar? Check out our guides on 100 Watt solar system, and 400+ Watt solar system (COMING SOON).

How to wire 200 watts of solar panels for a van

Shopping list for a 200 Watt solar system

Solar Panels (2 x 100 Watts)

Choose from the following panel options:

Mounting Hardware (Optional)

Charge Controller

Choose one of the charge controllers below. Note: if you choose to purchase the solar suitcase above, that unit comes with a charge controller so you will not need to purchase a second one.

Deep Cycle Battery

  • 12 Volt, 85Ah flooded marine battery. Because shipping this battery type is expensive, we recommend buying one at a box store. Autozone carries them for about $90
    • (x2) Wire in parallel to create one 12V, 170Ah battery bank.
  • 12V 75Ah SLA Battery (AGM battery upgrade)
    • (x2) Wire in parallel to create one 12V, 150Ah battery bank
  • 6V 180Ah AGM Deep Cycle Golf Cart Battery (alternate to 12V AGM battery)
    • (x2) Wire in series to create one 12V, 180Ah battery bank
    • Wiring in series is better for the lifespan of the batteries because they can’t get out of balance.

Inverter (12V DC to 110V AC)

Wires

Wiring is cheapest at automotive and hardware stores. We recommend keeping with red/black for safety and convenience when running wires. Some wire is sold in colored pairs as 14AWG, 12AWG, 10AWG, and 2AWG battery wires.  Make sure to purchase multi stranded wire so that it is easier to snake through your vehicle and more secure for connectors.

The wire sizes listed here are approximate and the length will depend on your setup. Using these exact wire sizes will work in most situations. If you need to run longer wires, such as 12ft. you should use a thicker AWG rating (lower number is a heavier wire) to reduce voltage loss. Remember, the longer and smaller your wire size, the less efficient your system will be.

  • 10AWG wire (to run from the Mc4 Y branch connector to the charge controller). We recommend this 10AWG in line fuse holder with a 20A fuse.
  • 10AWG wire (to run from the charge controller to the battery). Use the same fuse holder as above with 20A fuse.
  • 10ft or less, 10AWG wire to run from the charge controller to the fuse block.
    • Use a 30A in-line fuse or a fuse the size of your charge controller rating for this line (whichever is smaller). Same fuse holder as above.
  • 2AWG wire (to run from the battery to the inverter)
    • A 1200W inverter (peak 1600 Watts) can draw up to 134 Amps. This wire must have a fuse in-line. We recommend this fuse holder with 150A fuse (included).
  • 2AWG wire connecting the batteries to each other. This wire needs to be large enough to handle max current between the batteries. It is also important for the (+) and (-) wires to be the same length for proper load balancing. No fuse is needed between the batteries.

Wires running from the fuse block to the DC electrics will vary in size based on the Amps. each electric device uses. Use one fuse size up from the amperage produced. For devices listed in watts, divide by system voltage (12V) to get Amps.

For example, a 75 Watt string of lights will draw up to 6.25 Amps (75Watts/12Volts). In this case, use a 7.5A fuse because it is the next fuse size above 6.25 Amps. Wires need to be able to handle the current. See the Fuse Block section below for device wire sizing.

Fuse Block

For safety purposes, all positive (red) wires should be fused. The primary purpose of a fuse is to protect your wiring if something happens to your electronic device or you have a short, such as a wiring rubbing and touching the frame. For this reason, you should never use a higher amperage fuse than the wire can handle. The fuse should always be the weakest link in your power system!

The fuse block organizes power from your battery into separate power circuits for each electronic device you have. This way if there is an issue with one device or wire it doesn’t affect the other ones, and is easier to diagnose issues.

For this system, use the wire sizes below for the max fuse size that you can use for each amperage. You can always use a smaller fuse, but should never use a larger one. If your wire can handle 15 Amps but your electrical component can only handle 5 Amps, it is completely fine to put in a 5A fuse to protect the device.

  • 16AWG wire: 10 Amps
  • 14AWG wire: 15 Amps
  • 12AWG wire: 20 Amps
  • 10AWG wire: 30 Amps

If your wire can handle 15 Amps but your electrical component can only handle 4 Amps, it is completely fine to put in a 5A fuse to protect the device.

  • Automotive blade fuses for your fuse block can be purchased at any auto store.

Connectors and Terminals

Most panels come with MC4 connectors. You can buy connectors on your own or a pair of extension cables with connectors attached.

To combine your solar panels in parallel you need 2-1 MC4 adaptors to connect the panels to your charge controller.

For your wiring, your batteries will likely not come with terminal connectors. Connectors on the posts of your batteries allow you to attach wires to the batteries. You need a set for each battery.

To attach wires to the batteries, ring connectors are recommended for easier and safer assembly. Make sure to use a connector that is appropriate for the wire size. They are usually labeled. Spade connectors are used to connect wires to your fuse block. If you need both connector types, it is usually more economical to buy everything in one kit.

For the large 2gauge wires you need heavy duty connectors if the wires do not already have them.

Connectors can be used to connect the negative (black) wires from your DC electronic devices to metal on the vehicle frame. Then connect the negative post of your battery bank to the frame as well. This means that your entire vehicle frame is grounded. Do this only for your powered devices. Your inverter and charge controller negative wires should be connected directly to your battery bank.

Total Cost of a DIY 200 Watt Solar Panel Kit:

When choosing to buy just the basics, you can expect to spend about $600 on a 200 Watt solar kit including everything except the wires themselves (this can vary depending on how much wire and how many devices you’re using). If you upgrade the battery, charge controller, mounting hardware and inverter, the price will increase to around $900.

If you don’t feel comfortable piecing together your own parts, Renogy offers a partial solar kit with PWM controller for about $320. Purchasing all of the pieces separately will cost around $290 on similar equipment. Renogy pricing is usually quite good for the convenience that it offers if they have a kit that matches your needs.

You can also buy a Renogy solar suitcase with charge controller. This is portable and would not attach to the roof. With this suitcase you would need to purchase and inverter, fuse block and batteries.

Alternatively, a full system Goal Zero Yeti kit can be purchased for around $1750. This would be the equivalent of a 100Watt solar suitcase paired with a 100Ah AGM battery and 1200 Watt inverter. Our estimate that the DIY pieces separately for this would be around $600-$700.

Tools For Solar Installation

Aside from general wrenches and drills for mounting, some basic wiring specific tools that are necessary:

  • Digital Multi Meter (DMM). This is critical for anyone doing electrical work as well as troubleshooting many electrical issues. For basic wiring you don’t to spend more than $20 like this Craftsman DMM.
  • Wire stripper and crimper. You can spend a good amount on a separate stripper or crimper and they are definitely better tools, but if you’re just getting started a basic combo tool will get you by just fine.
  • Dielectric grease. This is used to keep bare metal connections from corroding. Vaseline works for this as well if you already have some.

Tips On Installing Your Solar System

Wiring 12V systems is relatively safe. You can short wires or start a fire but you are not likely to shock yourself like you can with household electricity.

  • Wire connecting order:
    • When wiring solar panels, always connect the panels to the system at the very end and disconnect them first. You don’t want that voltage connected with nowhere to go.
    • After the above tip, it’s a good habit to disconnect the negative (black) battery terminal before working on electrical systems. The order of assembly should be: 1) Connect all system wires 2) Connect negative battery terminal. 3) Connect solar panels to charge controller. Disassembly is in reverse of this.
  • Here is a good video on how to crimp wires.
  • There are two schools of thought for ground wires. You can run a ground wire from each component back to a bus bar. This often is easier because you don’t have to find frame grounds. Or you can ground each component to the nearest bare metal. This uses less wire and is easy if you have a lot of exposed metal.
  • Avoid running wires in areas where they may rub or chafe and cause a short. Along a similar vein, it’s good to lay out your wiring so that you have access after the van is built in case you need to troubleshoot or add more components.
  • Shade is the enemy of PV solar panels. The cells are arranged in a way that if one cell is shaded, the whole row loses power. So make sure to mount your panels on the van in a way that they will not be shaded by other objects on the roof. In certain cases, if 10% of a panel is covered, 90% of it won’t be producing electricity.
  • When pairing batteries:
    • Batteries must be the same size and type, otherwise they will be out of balance and have a drastically shorter lifespan. Even two of the same batteries that are different ages can cause issues.
    • Two 6V batteries wired in series is better than two 12V batteries wired in parallel. This is due to the ability for the 12V batteries to discharge at slightly different rates, making them less balanced. Two batteries in series will discharge at the same rate.

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