The Best RV Solar Panels and Kits in 2020
Comparisons, Buyers Guide, and Reviews
RV solar panels are a common sight in RV parks, but few people understand their importance. They don’t understand the value that solar panels bring, even when someone is able to connect to the power grid. Let’s review what the best RV solar panel is before getting into the benefits of owning one, since the solar panels that you may put up on your home’s roof aren’t necessarily suitable for mounting on top of your RV.
Top 7 Best Solar Panels for Camper Use - Comparison
4.7 out of 5
4.7 out of 5
4.6 out of 5
4.5 out of 5
4.5 out of 5
4.4 out of 5
4.3 out of 5
What is an RV Solar Panel Actually?
An RV solar panel is, at its core, a set of solar panels designed for use with an RV. Many RV solar panels are designed to be mounted on the top of the average RV. This allows the owner to put them on the roof and leave them there, collecting power as long as the top of the RV itself is in the sun.
That reduces the need to plan stops so that the solar panels can be set up to catch sunlight while the owner is traveling. It certainly eliminates set up and tear down to the RV owner’s to do list. At a minimum, these solar panels are narrow enough to fit on top of the RV as the RV is traveling, never hitting a bridge or surrounding cars.
Most RV solar panels come with the hardware to plug readily into the RV’s electrical system. In contrast, portable solar panels designed for hikers may have a converter to let you plug it into a single cell phone to charge it but not the entire RV’s electrical system, much less your house batteries.
Here are the Top 13 Best RV Solar Panel Full Reviews
After finishing a deep research, we've listed top 7 best RV solar panels and kits. In this case, we didn't consider any issue to compromise the true. We hope- you'll get 100% true things about all of our information and reviews. And strongly, We believe- our list will guide and help you to choose the best one from the current market for your RV.
01) Renogy 200 Watt 12 Volt Solar Starter Kit with Wanderer
Editor Rating: 4.5 Out of 5
This solar kit costs a little more than average, but that is due to everything that comes with it. The 8 foot tray cable is only the start.
It comes with brackets and a best in class 30 amp negative ground charge controller; that is the “Wanderer” in the name. That makes the solar kit safe to use with a negative battery on the chassis.
The Renogy also makes this solar kit ideal for charging drained car batteries that could be in that condition, since most cannot safely do this. It has a number of protection features to protect the batteries and electrical system against short circuits, overcharging, reversed connections and discharging.
There are reports of people not receiving everything that is supposed to come in the kit, though that is rare.
The charger can put out up to 1000 Wh of power per day. It would charge a 50 Ah battery at half power to full power in one and a half hours if there is full sunlight.
The solar panels don’t create hot spots. The monocrystalline solar panels are more resilient than the polycrystalline panels that have become popular.
The panel has pre-drilled holes for permanent mounting if you choose to do that. However, it doesn’t come with screws to do so if you choose to mount it to the top of your RV. One downside of this unit is that it cannot be used with a second solar panel.
02) KOMAES 2 Piece 200 Watts 12 Volts Solar Starter Kit with Controller
Editor Rating: 4.5 Out of 5
Before someone freaks out over the price tag, note that you’re getting two solar panels and connecting hardware, not just one. The junction boxes are pre-assembled.
The solar kit comes with cables with MC4 connectors that plug into the panels. It works with both 12 volt and 24 volt battery systems.
These solar panels are more durable than average. They’re rated to withstand heavy snow and strong winds. Their design makes them a better choice for low light conditions like being parked in partial shade. This doesn’t eliminate the need to clean them periodically.
The unit is capable of putting out 1000 watt hours per day. One perk of this unit is that you can add additional solar panels to it for up to 400 Watts of power flowing through the controller.
Komaes sells compatible solar panels separately from this kit, so you can buy the extra solar panels from the same manufacturer. The downside is that solar panels like this are less efficient than monocrystalline models, so you may need more than one panel to power your RV.
03) Renogy 100 Watts 12 V. Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit w/100W Solar Panel + Hardware
Editor Rating: 4.5/5
This is truly an all in one solar power kit. There is a 100 Watt solar panel, advanced charge controller, MC4 connectors, tray cable and mounting brackets.
You get the Wanderer negative ground charge controller Renology is becoming famous for. This protects the batteries and rest of the electrical system if you accidentally connect the power cables to the wrong battery posts, creating reversed polarity.
It protects the batteries from over-charging, as well. The controller provides short-circuit and discharge protection. This is the best RV solar panel for those afraid they’ll miswire something and blow it all up.
The biggest point in favor of this solar panel kit is the price. It is one of the cheapest all in one solar panel kits on our list, and you get all of this without sacrificing quality.
Renology does make and sell a host of extra tools that are useful for working with solar panels, especially if you mount them for an extended time somewhere before moving to another location.
A side benefit of this system is you get all of the mounting hardware, including screws to go with the solar panel brackets. One strike against Renology is that if the cables or other Components they ship are found to be bad or the wrong items sent by the company in the solar panel kit, customers are often charged for shipment of replacement parts.
If you’re using the solar panel heavily, the controller may only last for a year or two. People expect that from their batteries, but not from the controller.
04) ALLPOWERS Brand Solar Panel 100W Kit
Editor Rating: 4.5/5
This solar panel kit by Allpowers stands out for its truly flexible solar panels. These solar panels are ideal for lying out on the top of a curved trailer top, boat or other irregular surface.
However, you still need to be careful not to bend them too much, and don’t apply a heavy load to it when bent.
The company advertises them as suitable for hanging on the side of a tent. They are light enough to be mounted almost anywhere. (They weigh less than fifty pounds.)
If you’re trying to maximize fuel efficiency while enjoying off the grid solar power or want to carry the solar panels to a campsite, you’ll like these solar panels. This is the best RV solar panel for taking anywhere else you need power.
Note that the solar panels are water resistant but not water proof, so don’t put them out where they’d risk being submerged or regularly doused by the waves. The junction box itself is water-proof and sealed, so it could be left outside. It is thus more weather-resistant and better suited for exposure to the shore than other solar panels but not something you’d just leave out for the storms.
This solar panel kit is affordable. The unit has basic short circuit and surge protection. It doesn’t have reverse polarity protection and other advanced features. The solar panels are more efficient than average despite being flexible.
The solar panels have a basic 18 month guarantee. This is a very short warranty. There are complaints that people who received defective hardware like cables were unable to return it at the manufacturer’s expense. Customer service for technical problems is poor.
05) WindyNation 100 Watt Solar Panel Off-Grid RV Boat Kit with LCD PWM Charge Controller + Solar Cable + MC4 Connectors + Mounting Brackets
Editor Rating: 4.5/5
This solar panel comes with a 100 Watt solar panel, a PWM solar charge controller, cables, MC4 connectors and mounting brackets. The forty foot cable lets you connect a solar panel a fair distance from your RV to a controller in or around the RV.
In short, it comes with all the hardware you’re likely to need as long as you want a single solar panel. You receive all of this for an affordable price.
The company offers a compatible AGM battery if you pay about three times as much for the whole thing. However, there is no in-line fuse holder unless you pay extra for it.
The controller itself is advanced. It shows system amperage, amp-hours, voltage, system temperature and DC load draw.
You can see whether or not the system is pulling too much power or suffering from reverse polarity. What makes this controller stand out is the fact that you can adjust settings like the voltage level at which the controller will disconnect the solar panel from the battery. This is done via an easy to use set of up and down buttons.
The downside of this smart controller is that when it errors out, it may malfunction seriously such as drawing down batteries it should be charging. It is hard to get customer service to deal with an issue quickly. This kit is not easy to assemble. You can get replacement parts online from various sources, but they aren’t cheap.
06) HQST 100 Watt 12V Monocrystalline Lightweight Solar Panel for RV/Boat/Other Off Grid Applications
Editor Rating: 4/5
This is a very efficient solar panel. And it generates a lot of power for its surface area (100 Watts). That’s true of all monocrystalline solar panels, but this brand is even better than average. Their optimum operating voltage is 17.7 volts, and their maximum system voltage is 600 volts DC.
One of the ways this solar panel stands out is its literal flexibility. It is very flexible for a solar panel, though you don’t want to bend it intentionally. This makes it easy and fast to mount with adhesives to almost any surface.
You could hold it in place with zip ties or Velcro while hanging it off of a support. The solar panel has holes in it for permanent mounting or tying down, but it doesn’t have mounting hardware.
The solar panel is about four feet tall by two feet wide. They’re less than half an inch thick. This is ideal for an application where you want to mount them without having the solar panels interfere with your aerodynamics.
The HQST is Portable and Lightweight
These solar panels are lightweight. They’re portable, though you can’t roll them up and stow them in a backpack. At four pounds, they are pretty much the only solar panels you could literally string up in a tree to generate power. They weigh so little that they won’t slow down an RV the way large, heavy panels would.
This solar panel has a sealed, water-proof junction box suitable for exposure to rugged, wet conditions. You can use this solar panel on your boat as long as you don’t get it submerged. The kit comes with two ten inch cables with MC4 connectors. There is a single set of panel leads. Assembly tools and connectors are available at extra cost from the manufacturer.
This solar panel system does not have good electrical safety features to prevent shorts and other issues from potentially escalating to a fire hazard. And while the manufacturer says these solar panels don’t have hot spots, they do develop hot spots hot enough to melt and warp supporting structures in some circumstances.
There is only a one year warranty. The warranty is only for material and workmanship. And having it honored is a challenge. If they can blame shipping or installation for the issue, you get nothing. There are jokes that it only lasts a year or two, though this depends on the operating conditions.
07) Go Power! Weekender SW Complete Solar and Inverter System with 160 Watts of Solar
Editor Rating: 4.0/5
This solar panel kit provides 160 Watts, almost but not quite as much as two 100 Watt solar power kits. Simplicity may be reason enough to buy this, since you don’t have to buy two smaller solar panels and then figure out how to connect them to each other and your house batteries.
The major upside is that this solar panel kit comes with a compatible inverter. The inverter can store power and deliver it in a format compatible with AC driven appliances. It can deliver big power draws like televisions, too. It generates enough power to run electronics, though it may not deliver the power quality you want to protect your smart phone.
The solar panel and inverter combination can charge a 200 amp battery bank. In theory, this set can replace a generator used for the same purpose.
The biggest downside is the price. You pay a lot for that pure sine wave inverter. The solar panel and inverter set can be expanded by adding two more expansion kits, but you have to pay extra for that. The expansion kits themselves cost as much as some of the cheaper solar panel kits on this list.
Be careful of the maximum load that this pulse width modulated solar panel provides. It won’t have peak power like the inverter generators it competes against.
08) Newpowa 175 Watt 12V Moncrystalline Solar Panel High Efficiency Mono Module
Editor Rating: 4.6/5
One of the points in favor of the Newpowa solar panel is its high efficiency. You’ll get 175 Watts out of this solar panel when similarly sized models deliver around 120 Watts.
This allows you to get as much power out of two of these RV solar panels as three of the competing models.
At 27 pounds, they are of average weight, though needed fewer solar panels means that you won’t need to take up as much cargo space or carry as much weight to power your RV if living off the grid.
This product is relatively easy to install because the diodes are already installed in the junction box; it has a pair of pre-attached three foot MC4 cables.
Another point in favor of these solar panels is their strength. They have heavy duty frames that protect the edges of the solar panels and keep them rigid. That’s aside from the general durable of mono-crystalline solar panels in general.
An occasional complaint about these solar panels is that they don’t deliver as much power as promised. What isn’t clear is if it is due to the design, electrical connections or user errors.
For example, there are issues with the plastic covers over the wires having improperly applied seals that create gaps that can cause shorts.
In some cases, the panels have cloudy spots. That will obviously cut into its performance.
09) Renogy Brand 160 Watt 12 Volt Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel
Editor Rating: 4.3/5
These RV solar panels are incredibly flexible. This is achieved in part by making them very thin. That means you can put the solar panels almost anywhere and they’ll conform to the shape.
Let it sit on the hood of your car, the deck of a ship or hang from a tree. It is lightweight, so it is easy to take with you on a hike to recharge smart phones or power a GPS device. Yet it puts out around 160 Watts.
The manufacturer says it can flex up to 248 degrees; in theory, you could curve it to capture as much sunlight as possible in a minimum of space.
In reality, it isn’t that flexible but could bend 180° without breaking. Don’t try to roll it up for more compact storage.
This brand of solar panels is not only energy efficient, but it is anti-fouling and self-cleaning. When you leave it out at sunrise, the morning dew will form on the panels and naturally rinse away the dust that collects on the solar panel.This won’t completely eliminate the need to clean the solar panels, but it dramatically reduces the amount of maintenance the solar panels need.
The Renogy solar panel is quite rugged for a thin, flexible RV solar panel. It can handle heavy winds and snow loads. It just won’t survive heavy impacts, be it a tree branch, rocks or hail. The only reason this solar panel isn’t perfect is because it doesn’t have grommets. That makes it very difficult to attach to anything.
Instead, you either have to find something to hold it in place or simply lay it out on a flat surface.
10) Holarose Brand 175W Monocrystalline Flexible Solar Panel
Editor Rating: 4.5/5
The Holarose solar panel is another solar panel designed for the challenging marine environment, making it ideal for use in an RV. It is rigid and rugged.
Being left out in the rain or splashed with water won’t hurt it. Just don’t let it get wet while you’re assembling it. Water will short out its connections before they’re properly sealed.
This is the most effective solar panel on our list. It creates a steady 175 Watts of power as advertised. The unit is described as somewhat flexible.
Don’t expect to bend it ninety degrees. It can only be bent to thirty degrees. This means it is less likely to crack and break if flexed during installation or removal, but don’t try to make it conform to curved surfaces.
It doesn’t have an adapter for common battery packs. Instead, it has a male and female terminal for MC4 connectors. It doesn’t come with an extension cable, either.
These solar panels need a solar control between the battery and the solar panel, and it doesn’t come with one, though that is true for the other solar panels on this list. These panels can be connected in parallel if you have the right cables for it.
There are no grommets to tie these solar panels down, though they could be glued down or mounted on a frame.
11) Renogy Brand 50 Watt 12 Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel
Editor Rating: 4.3/5
The manufacturer says it can bend as far as 248 degrees. In reality, it is more like 180 degrees. You could accidentally break the circuit paths bending it as far as the manufacturer says it could.
However, it is the most flexible solar panel on this list. It will lay neatly in place on vehicle hoods and boats.
The fact that these solar panels are designed to work on boats makes them rather rugged for a line of flexible solar panels. They’ll handle rain, wind and light snow. This includes the solar panels and the waterproof junction box.
It comes with rugged MC4 cables. The only issue they have is that you have to do the assembly in a dry environment and be sure to seal the wiring or else it could short out.
These solar panels are thinner and lighter than most of their competitors. That makes it easy to stack in storage in your RV, as long as you’re aware of the fact you cannot roll it up and stow it. Or you can leave it mounted on the top of your curved little trailer. Bend them too far, and the circuits will break and the solar panel will not work.
This 50 Watt solar panel array is the best RV solar power panel kit for those who will be roughing it. They’re rated to handle heavy winds, assuming they’re mounted or tied down.
They’re unusual in being able to handle a snow load without incident. They have a wide temperature range. A side benefit of their low profile is that they won’t impact your vehicle’s fuel efficiency if left on your roof. They’re so light that multiple such panels won’t hurt your fuel economy, either.
One strike against this model is that the manufacturer says it has grommets on the corners that you can use to tie it down, but the solar panels don’t really have that.
12) Solar Cynergy 120watt 12volt Monocrystalline Flexible-Bendable Solar Panel
Editor Rating: 4.4/5
The Solar Cynergy flexible solar panel is ideal for RVs. If you lay it on the top of your truck’s hood or the roof of your RV, it will conform to the curves and stay in place, though you’d still want to secure it.
This RV solar panel is rugged. While it is intended for use by campers, it is suitable for marine applications. If it can handle laying on a boat deck, it won’t be ruined by the rain or snow due to the thick protective coating.
That allows these solar panels to resist light hail, dust and road debris, though you certainly don’t want it being hit by rocks thrown up by your tires. The only major issue with this solar panel is that it can flex too far.
Leave it unsupported or apply too much weight to one side, and it will crack. Then it won’t break. Another point in favor of this RV solar panel is its light weight. It weighs a fifth as much as conventional solar panels.
13) ECO-WORTHY Brand 1000 Watt 24 Volt Solar Panel Kit with a 45 Amp PWM Charge Controller
Editor Rating: 4.4/5
This thousand watt solar panel kit is the best choice for those who want to meet most of their energy needs from solar power. You receive six solar panels, a charge controller, cables, mounting brackets and all of the other hardware you need.
It comes with everything except a 12 volt battery. Note that it doesn’t have an inverter to convert DC power to AC power.
The electrical components are rugged. For example, the bypass diodes are waterproof. The fact that they are pre-installed is a matter of convenience.
These solar panels are notable for having rather high efficiency in low light conditions. The manufacturer says their energy output won’t decline over the years.
The Eco-worthy brand solar panels are rugged. They resist corrosion, they can withstand heavy winds, and they can survive heavy snow loads. They’ll work whether the weather is broiling or well below freezing. They’ll continue to operate in nearly 100 percent humidity.
You may need power tools in order to mount these brackets to the top of your RV or cabin, but it won’t require special tools. The solar panel kit doesn’t come with hardware to hang the solar panels, and extra hardware may be needed to mount it to a curved roof.
Replacement Z-style mounts if you lose something will cost extra.
Types and Differences of the RV Solar Panels
RV solar panels come in a variety of forms, and we aren’t just talking about size or power generating capacity. Let’s look at the different types of RV solar panels and the differences between them.
01) Poly-crystalline solar panels
These solar panels are made from crystalline silicon. In the past few years, they’ve become more popular than mono-crystalline solar panels. They’re sometimes simply called “poly-panels”, though they may be called poly-crystalline solar panels. You can identify them by the fragmented color, often due to the blue tint.
Poly-crystalline solar panels begin life as a silicon crystal seed put in a mat of silicon. Instead of creating a large silicon ingot then cut to create a solar cell, the entire batch of silicon is allowed to cool as it crystallizes. This creates a variable grain in the resulting silicon pieces, giving each cell a distinct edge.
These panels are slightly less efficient than monocrystalline solar panels, but they make up for this by being much cheaper. The faster manufacturing process is one reason, but so is the fact that less silicon is wasted.
These panels don’t have as high of a heat tolerance as mono-crystalline solar panels. However, this is a minor difference.
02) Mono-crystalline solar panels
These solar panels are made from crystalline silicon, and for years, they were the most common type of solar panel available to residential users in the West.
They’re sometimes simply called “mono-panels”. You can identify monocrystalline solar panels by the color of the solar cells; they all appear to have a single “flat” color. Each crystal of solid silicon cut to create the silicon wafers that are the heart of the solar cell.
These solar panels are the most efficient because they are made from the highest quality silicon. Unlike other designs, their efficiency actually goes up with temperatures.
Their single-piece silicon wafers also make them the most durable solar panels. They are projected to have a 25 year working life if not longer.
03) Thin Film (flexible solar panel)
Thin film solar panels are much less efficient than the first two types of solar panels. This means you either have to have it take up far more space to get the same amount of power as crystalline silicon panels or do with less power. Conversely, they work better in low light conditions. If you’re traveling somewhere with cloudy weather or parked in partial shade, a large thin film panel will outperform the first two types on our list.
Thin film solar panels are a very new technology. They have a solid black color. These solar panels may or may not be protected by a frame. If the solar panel doesn’t have a frame, you know it is a thin film solar panel. These solar panels are rather expensive per unit, but prices are coming down as the manufacturing process improves.
These solar panels are created by laying a photovoltaic substance on a solid material like glass. The PV substance is most commonly amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, copper indium gallium selenide. Amorphous silicon had the lead in this market because it is based on the best-understood technology. It has been available for years powering devices like solar calculators.
Cadmium telluride (CdTe) has a lower cost of manufacturing and far greater efficiency than amorphous silicon. The toxicity of cadmium, though is a strike against its widespread use. So is the relative limited supply of tellurium; it is about as rare as platinum.
While thin film solar panels come in multiple forms, CIGS is so important it is considered its own category.
04) CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenide)
There are several benefits of CIGS solar cells over the other types of thin film solar cells. They have the highest efficiency of any thin-film solar panel technology, beating out cadmium telluride by a modest margin. They have a protective buffer layer, allowing films as thin as 1 micrometer.
This creates the thinnest, lightest “thin film” solar panels possible. Their tandem design could allow for built-in devices like sensors into the film itself, though that’s not a mature technology.
The downside of flexible solar panels like Copper Indium Gallium Selenide panels is their vulnerability. They degrade faster, and they could be damaged more readily than sturdier panels. However, the fact that you can attach them to the top of an RV via glue means you don’t need screws to mount them or have to drill holes into the top of the RV.
The upside is that they are lightweight, and flexible solar panels don’t hurt your fuel economy as much as if you had solid solar panels standing up on the roof as you drive.
What're the benefits of investing in a RV Solar Panels?
What are the benefits of investing in RV solar panels? Why should you consider buying RV solar panels? We’ll give you several.
If you own RV solar panels, you can use it to charge devices when you’re off the grid or have access to shore power. You could choose to park in a spot with a better view or lower price without having to choose to give up quality of life. Depending on the RV solar panels you choose, you could take them with you on a hike so that you could recharge smart phones and laptops while you’re on the trail. That provides a measure of security.
Or you could park in a mega-mart parking lot overnight and still have power, if you decide you don’t want to stay in the local RV park or a friend’s backyard. You have the ability to go where you want, when you want, and still have power as long as you take the time to charge the batteries first.
If you find that you don’t have the money to pay for a more expensive campsite with shoreline power, you have that option. If you permanently rely on the solar panels and don’t rent the more expensive campsites with shore power, you could recoup the cost of the panels in less than four years.
And you can use the solar panels to charge batteries or power equipment when you’re somewhere not designed to provide power to RVs like sports stadium parking lots. Now you can stay in the RV overnight in the parking lot of the stadium, enjoying the company of other fans, and you’ll be able to enter the event venue when you want to. You won’t have to arrive hours before the event to get a back lot parking spot and then wait in boredom before the stadium doors open.
One of the benefits of RV solar panels is the security they provide. As long as weather permits, you will have power. You can use the solar panels to power your devices and recharge house batteries if the grid itself is down.
You’ll be able to charge the batteries to run the water pump and sump pump even if the power pedestal for the RV spot you reserved is bad. RV solar panels mounted permanently to the RV have the side benefit of being far harder to steal than a generator plugged in twenty feet away from the RV. The same issue arises with portable solar panel kits designed to be carried in a backpack.
If the solar panels are permanently mounted to the top of the RV and connected to the electrical system, you cannot accidentally leave anything behind, either.
Let’s be honest – sometimes your generator cannot generate enough power to run everything you want to run. If you have a generator, carrying RV solar panels allows you to power more appliances than what the generator. The solar panels provide power above and beyond what the generator can produce. That is aside from the benefits of redundancy, since you’d probably still have power from the solar panels if the generator runs out of fuel.
D. The Quiet
Generators are loud. A quiet generator is still generating more than 57 decibels of noise. There are RV generators that advertise that they only put out 58 decibels of noise, but in the fine print they warn that that is at one quarter power and when the generator is a fair distance away. Solar panels, on the other hand, are always quiet. There are no moving parts at all.
You can watch the sunset or the sunrise in natural silence, and the beauty of nature won’t be interrupted by the roar of a generator kicking in. That’s aside from the greater odds of enjoying nature, since animals aren’t scared away by the generator noise or the smells it produces.
E. The Labor Savings
If you only use the RV for the occasional weekend trip, running a generator for extra power doesn’t create much work. Check the oil before you go. Take several gas cans so that you have fuel for the generator. Clean the oil filter after running the RV generator for a weekend. However, if you are living in an RV full time off the grid such that you have to deal with generator maintenance continually, solar panels for an RV become worth it just because of the work it avoids.
When you are boon-docking, when you’re away from the power grid and on your own, owning RV solar panels saves you a lot of work. You don’t have to drive to town to get gas for the generator every day or two. You don’t have to monitor the generator’s fuel and oil levels, refilling each as necessary. There is no need to clean the oil filters periodically and the occasional fuel spill. You don’t have to clean spark plugs or even rinse out the fuel tank itself.
A potential benefit of using RV solar panels is the daily, full recharging of your house batteries. This could double the operating life of the batteries. It certainly reduces the need to check their power levels and otherwise maintain them.
F. The Environmental Benefits
Solar panels tap into a free source of energy, and they produce no waste. They don’t release noxious fumes, and there’s no risk of spilling toxic chemicals like oil or gas when you’re using them. And we already mentioned the irony of burning gas to drive to a gas station to get fuel for your generator so you can spend more time deep in nature or otherwise off the grid. You’ll still need fuel for the RV, but solar panels minimize your need to get gasoline or natural gas so that you can use electric appliances.
How to Choose the Right RV Solar Panels and Kits?
There are quite a few RV solar panels on the market, and there isn’t one perfect RV solar panel for every potential user. Here are a few tips on how to choose the right RV solar panel for your application and your specific situation. We’ll explain when extra features may be worth it and when they aren’t worth the hassle. After all, cheaper isn’t better if the cost is wasted time and effort or having to buy a different solar panel later because it literally won’t work for you.
01) Purpose of Power Needed
The right solar panel will be one that can deliver power when you need it and how you need it. If you’re going to use a solar panel to recharge the house batteries, you’d give priority to solar panels that come in a kit ready to connect to your house batteries. If you want to use the solar panels to recharge your smart phone or laptop computer, you should give priority to solar panel kits that deliver power in a form compatible with these smart devices.
Quality takes several forms. Solar panels with sturdier monocrystalline panels are probably better for taking the vibration and periodic impacts, but one that comes in a protective frame would be a priority if you need it to handle abuse. The quality of associated hardware like power regulators and charging cables is paramount.
An efficient solar panel that loses a fraction of the power via the connecting hardware isn’t worth as much as one that collects less power but delivers all of it. (It isn’t what you collect but what you keep that matters.)
Another factor to consider is the overall quality of the system. Read customer reviews and do your research, since a manufacturer isn’t going to tell you if their units are prone to problems or simply stop working after a year or two. It is probably worth it to spend a little more to get hardware that will last for years.
03) Electrical System Output
There are several variations to this theme. One would be the electrical system performance – how many watts does it deliver relative to the power you want to consume? Another consideration is how the electrical system is designed. Some solar panel kits only allow you to plug a single solar panel into the controller, whereas other solar kits let you add additional solar panels to the network. Don’t plug a solar panel into an AC appliance or DC batteries unless you know that it is sending compatible electrical power.
04) Size, Weight, and Design
The weight of the solar panels is an important factor for RV owners, since multiple heavy solar panels is literally a drag on your vehicle’s fuel efficiency. The size of the solar panels matters, too. If the panels are mounted on the top of the RV, you want something that won’t extend very far past the edges of the vehicle. Nor do you want the RV solar panels to stick up so far above the top of the RV that you can’t drive under standard bridges and overpasses.
Flexible solar panels look cools, but there are few cases where they are truly worthwhile. If you want to take the solar panels out on a boat or need flexible panels to fit on the top of a curved trailer, then it may be useful. However, you should never take solar panels out on the water or expose them to severe weather unless they’re rated for it.
05) Construction System
Not all solar panels come with the protective hardware like the supportive frame. Some solar panels are advertised as having pre-drilled holes into the frame so that you can mount it to the top of the RV, as long as you get the hardware like screws and nuts elsewhere. Other solar panel kits come with everything from controllers and cables to the frame and lug nuts. If you aren’t a handyman, it may be worth buying solar panels and electrical connections that are plug and play.
06) How Easy It Is to Install
The ease of installation is important, but it is often overlooked. It matters if you’re going to install the solar panels yourself, though it matters less if you’re going to pay someone else to install it. Ease of installation doesn’t matter if you’re going to roll out the solar panels when you park the RV, but now how easy it is to set up each time matters.
Another factor is how easy it is to connect the solar panels to the batteries, if they aren’t going to be permanently wired into the RV’s electrical system.
07) Right Price
The cost of the solar panels is important, but this needs to be balanced by the value you receive. For example, a solar panel system that costs 50% more but delivers twice is much power is a better value as long as it meets other criteria like size, weight and ease of installation. A solar kit that costs 10% more but comes with cables and supporting hardware may be a better deal if you’d pay more than that if you bought all the components separately.
08) Fits with the RV and Related Equipment
Don’t forget the importance of finding a solar panel array that fits in the RV. We already addressed having solar panels that fit on the top of the RV, if you’re going to mount them there. If you intend to transport the solar panels to various campsites or use them in other applications, then the ideal size will be what can be stowed in your storage bay.
Your experience with solar panels and RV electrical systems could determine which safety features you may want to pay extra for. For example, if you aren’t experienced with connecting chargers to batteries, it may be worth it to pay for a controller that will warn you of reversed polarity or protects the electrical system from reversed polarity.
A charger / controller that can warn you or actively prevent over-charging and excess voltage flowing down the line may be worth it if you don’t want to monitor the status of the batteries.
The length of the warranty is meaningless in this case, since there are companies that promise a years-long warranty that is almost impossible to qualify for. If you’re spending a lot of money on the solar panels, then you may want to shop for one with the better warranty and the reputation for honoring it.
It is better to pick RV solar panels that are almost always good than buy a solar panel kit that the company periodically mails out with missing or broken parts but sends out replacements in short order. This is because the delays waiting for working parts can interfere with your life, leaving you stranded or forced to pay more for a parking spot with power.
What type is the best choice for your RV?
When space is at a premium, monocrystalline solar panels are probably the best choice. If you’re going to leave the solar panels on the roof of your RV where it can be scratched up by tree branches, go with monocrystalline panels unless you want to be able to afford to replace them once in a while. If you have a limited budget, polycrystalline is the better choice.
Flexible solar panels are a good backup option, since you can roll it out to generate power to recharge portable devices like smart phones if your solar power production is barely enough to recharge the house batteries and run basic appliances. Flexible solar panels you can roll away and stow in storage are also a good backup source of power in case you run out of fuel or have other issues with your generator.
How to Maintain Your RV Solar Panel and Kits?
While RV solar panels don’t need as much maintenance as gasoline and natural gas powered generators, maintenance is still required. Here are a few tips on how to properly maintain solar panels.
Let There Be Light
The first step to maintaining an RV solar panel, regardless of its form, is to get it out in the sun. Moving the solar panel out of the shade is a given.
What many don’t realize is that you have to ensure that nature doesn’t get in the way of the sun reaching the solar panels. If you’re in a cold environment, this may include carefully scraping the snow and ice off of the solar panels. In the fall, this could include brushing away falling leaves.
Clean as Needed
In dry climates, it often includes washing the panels to get rid of dust and caked on dirt. In fact, in desert solar panel arrays, there are complaints by locals regarding how much water they use washing the solar panels. That’s led to research in self-cleaning solar panels, though that isn’t yet available to most of the public. This means you may need to wash the solar panel with water and compatible detergents, since anything from caked on dirt to pollen to smog particles piling up reduces power capacity by up to a third.
And no, the occasional rain will not be enough to eliminate this chore. You have to be careful of the detergent type, since the wrong choice could corrode the panel. Use cleaning solutions designed for solar panels. Flexible solar panels are prone to “cupping”, where they warp and form permanent “cups” that trap dirt and need to be cleaned particularly well. Scratches, too, catch dirt and debris.
Paying more for coatings with hydrophobic coatings, if you could find them, significantly reduces this hassle. However, that doesn’t eliminate all issues such as bird droppings, so expect to clean any solar panels regularly. Use a gentle brush when you do this so you don’t scratch up the panels and end up eroding its efficiency.
You can use a monitoring system to track how much energy is created by the solar panels and go out to clean it when the efficiency has dropped.
)Inspect for cracks as you clean the solar panels. Try to have the panels repaired by a professional before any cracks spread. Always take care to protect the panels from direct impact. Burn marks and discoloration warrant a check by a professional.
Solar panels in general require little maintenance, but their electrical connections are prone to deterioration and failure. Corrosion and damage to the wires that connect the solar panels to the battery are a greater issue than damage to the average RV solar panel. Check the wiring when you’re cleaning the panels, and have damaged wires fixed or replaced.
RV Solar Power Related Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Solar panels are popular for people who want to go off the grid. Our popular image is of solar panels set up to power a cabin deep in the woods. However, solar panels are an option for RV owners, too. Solar panels may let you run your key appliances, recharge your batteries and let you live almost as well as when you’re connected to shore power. Here are 7 Things to Know about an RV Solar Energy Power before Use.
01. How do solar panels for RV work?
Solar panels for RVs work the same way residential solar panels do. They have an array of silicon cells to collect light and convert it to electricity. However, residential solar panels come with warnings not to use them on an RV. This is because the RV solar panels are more rugged, whether they’re designed to be set up at campsites or permanently mounted on the top of the RV.
Solar power systems for RVs have different electrical connections than those you’d use for your home, since it needs to deliver 12 volt power to your water pumps and lights. You may want an inverter so that this same electrical system can give you steady power for AC appliances and charging your cell phone.
02. How many watts do you need to run an RV?
The basic load for the RV will be the number of watts your appliances will draw at a steady rate. For example, the standard RV fridge needs about 180 watts to run. A slow cooker will use around 200 watts. The minimum wattage you’ll need from solar panels is enough energy to charge up your battery and an inverter so that it can deliver that steady power load.
However, appliances like refrigerators need more power to get started than they need to remain running.
For example, that 180 watt fridge needs, for a short time, 600 watts to get started. If you are boon-docking while enjoying all the modern amenities like using a laptop computer eight hours a day, watching four hours of TV, running your water pump and fans regularly, cook meals in a microwave and rely on a refrigerator, you could burn through 6500 watt-hours a day.
One way to deal with this is to have a large array of solar panels that can deliver more than the 2000 watts your essential RV appliances like a fridge and air conditioner need to run. Another option is having an inverter that stores the extra power generated by the solar panels, and the inverter delivers the peak power you need as appliances start up.
The third option is turning on a generator when you’re starting up the appliances in the RV, then turning off the generator and relying on solar power once everything is running.
03. How much do solar panels for RV cost?
A basic rule of thumb is expecting to pay a dollar per Watt for a monocrystalline solar panel. If you want a 200 Watt solar panel, expect to pay $150 to $250 apiece. Monocrystalline solar panels cost a little more than the rougher multi-crystal units, but they’re more durable and more efficient. You may save money on the price of each solar panel if you buy several at the same time.
A full solar power “kit” will not just come with the solar panels. They will also include cables, controlling hardware, inverters and everything you need to harness the sun to charge your batteries. In these cases, you’ll pay $1000 to $1500 for 400 watts of capacity.
The price will depend on what all is included. You’ll pay more for a solar power system that is more intelligent, has greater protective features and can scale up to include more solar panels.
04. Are flexible solar panels any good?
Flexible solar panels have a number of advantages. They are flexible and lightweight, so you may be able to literally roll them up and carry them with you on a hike. Then you unroll it and use it to recharge your GPS, laptop or smart phone. The weight savings and easy storage are certainly points in favor of their use in RVs. But are flexible solar panels any good?
They do generate power, but they are less efficient than monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels. Those large solid solar panels have efficiency ratings between 15% and 20%.
For flexible panels, the efficiency can drop as low as 10%. This means that if you would have needed 5 conventional solar panels to power you RV, expect to need 8 to 10 flexible solar panels to run the same set of appliances. Enter your text here...
05. Which type of solar panel is most efficient?
Monocrystalline solar panel efficiency is the highest on average, achieving 15 to 20% efficiency. They also do better in low light conditions than polycrystalline panels.
Polycrystalline solar panels are made by making silicon form a large number of crystals. This is faster and therefore cheaper than making the large single crystals that are the backbone of traditional monocrystalline solar panels. Manufacturers have been improving their performance, but their efficiencies range from 13% to 16% depending on the manufacturer.
Flexible solar panels are the least efficient, since they are so thin. Their efficiency is unlikely to be better than 13% with many with efficiencies as low as 10%.
06. Which brand of solar panels is the best?
The answer to this really depends on what you consider “best” The best RV solar panel is one that will deliver the power you need and survive the conditions you’re operating in. After all, a solar panel that is destroyed by a ride on your RV’s roof isn’t worth it no matter how efficient it is. If you can’t afford enough solar panels to power your lifestyle, their efficiency is meaningless.
Sunpower makes some of the most efficient solar panels on the market. LG makes decent solar panels, both monocrystalline and polycrystalline models. Panasonic has good monocrystalline solar panels. Note that the best RV solar panel kit will be one that is easy to install and maintain as well as generate the power that you need.
Flexible solar panel companies started folding in 2016 and 2017 as government subsidies started to dry up. Leaders in the field like Stion closed because of this. Sunpower is one of the top performers that remain in business. First Solar is expanding its flexible solar panel business but isn’t selling much to the general public.
Note that you don’t have to buy flexible solar panels to mount them on the roof of the RV. You could have a flat array of conventional solar panels mounted to a frame attached to the top of RV that you lift to the ideal angle when you’re parked.
07. How many solar panels do I need to run my RV?
Determine how much power you’ll need on a daily basis in Watts. Remember to factor all of your energy requirements throughout the day. If you’re drawing 1000 Watts continuously, the solar panels have to generate more power than this to charge up your batteries so you can continue to use that much power at night. The alternative is literally turning off everything when the sun goes down, unless you park in campgrounds with shore power every night.
Once you know how much power the solar panels need to produce, give yourself a safety margin. For example, your solar panels could be partially blocked by shade, leaves or clouds in the sky. If you need to generate 2000 watts to power your lifestyle, you’ll want to have 2200 watts or more of generating capacity unless you’re going to have a generator as a backup. More margin means you’ll be able to get by if one of the panels is cracked or its electrical connection is fried.
The next step is dividing the power capacity you need with the power output from each solar panel. If you’re looking at 200 Watt solar panels and want 2200 Watts of capacity, then you need 11 solar panels (2200 divided by 200).
If you only want a solar panel as a backup power source for recharging critical devices, then consider how much power it can produce in several hours relative to what is required to charge your essentials like a smart phone used to call for help or a GPS used to navigate in places without cell phone coverage.
Solar panels are especially popular with boon-docking RV owners, people who camp off the grid but want to enjoy lights, air conditioning and access to working electronics. Solar panels are a valuable asset for those who enjoy camping, since they may let you recharge devices when far from civilization.
That can make carrying a spare solar panel for recharging cell phones and GPS devices a critical safety measure even if you plan on staying at a campground with electricity and running water.
We’ve outlined the best solar panel kits on the market today, knowing that not all customers have the same needs. The best RV solar panel for you will be one that fits your budget and intended lifestyle. The ideal RV solar panel kit will weather the storms you drive through and fit your maintenance schedule.
You May Also Like_
Some more reviews are published here like what's best rv generator, best rv wireless backup camera, best rv battery, best rv trailer tires, best rv pure/modified sine wave inverter, best rv washer dryer combo, best rv power converter, best portable rv grill, best rv surge protector, best composting toilets for rv, best cell phone signal booster for rv, best 5th wheel travel trailer hitch, best rv gps navigator system, best rv tpms system, best combo/portable refrigerator for rv, and more. Check all of them on the Menu from the Above.