We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.
One of the greatest things about owning an RV is the freedom to travel it provides without the need to stop. And one way to enhance that freedom is by installing a solar panel kit in your vehicle, which will allow you to benefit from free solar energy (well, maybe not exactly free since it does cost to purchase and install the panels). It’s the quietest, cleanest, and one of the most eco-friendly power sources out there. And with the help of solar panels, you can convert it to power easily and quickly. So, if you’re looking for the best RV solar panel kits to outfit your rig, keep reading on. Below the comparison chart, you can find more detailed RV solar panels reviews and a comprehensive buying guide describing all the things to look out for to find the right product.
10 Best RV Solar Panel Kits in 2021
RV Solar Panel Kits Reviewed
Renogy Kit-Starter-100D 100 Watts Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit
Our top pick as the best RV solar kit is the Renogy Kit-Starter-100D system. As of 2021, this is the most popular and the top rated RV solar system. What buyers love about this kit is the power and efficiency of the system, as well as its slim and sleek design.
The kit includes one 100 watt 12-volt monocrystalline solar panel with high solar cell efficiency of 21%. This panel has been EL tested, which stands for Electroluminescence testing and means that it has been tested for any inherent defects that might be invisible to the naked eye, such as micro cracks, debris, and bad soldering.
EL testing shows that the manufacturer ensures the quality standards of the production line and customer requirements. Moreover, it ensures that the solar panel has maximum efficiency when it comes to producing power.
The system comes lithium charging algorithm ready and its 4 stage battery charging process provides quick, efficient and safe battery charging.
Other advantages of this RV solar panel system include a durable aluminum frame, which provides corrosion resistance and helps to withstand the elements of the outdoors. This extends the panel’s life, allowing it to last for decades. Moreover, it’s equipped with a junction box that features a rating of IP65. It offers additional protection against environmental particles, such as rain and snow.
This kit also comes with everything you’ll need for the installation, which is perfect for those who never owned solar panels before. It helps to make the installation process quick and easy, even if you know little about solar installation. Along with the solar panel itself, you get mounting brackets, 8ft tray cable, waterproof MC4 connectors, and Renogy’s new 30A negative ground Wanderer charge controller.
To make the installation process even easier, the system features pre-drilled holes on the back of the panel, which allows fast and secure mounting.
The use of the Renogy Wanderer also makes it possible to expand this system up to a maximum of 400 watts of power. For this, you will need to purchase additional panels. There’s also the option of buying this kit with the MPPT controller.
These 100 watt RV solar panels are also incredibly lightweight, weighing just 16.5 pounds. It makes the system easier to install and perfect for lighter campers.
CHECK THE LATEST PRICE ON AMAZON
- Perfect for off-grid applications, such as RVs, boats, and cabins.
- Can supply 100-watt power.
- Designed to withstand harsh elements of the outdoors.
- High solar cell efficiency.
- EL tested.
- The Renogy Wanderer charge controller is equipped with all the necessary electronic protections.
- Includes almost all the necessary tools for the installation.
- Quick and easy to install thanks to pre-drilled holes.
- Excellent warranty.
- Doesn’t include fuses to protect the controller.
- The controller doesn’t have a display.
- The electric connectors for the charge controller are a bit flimsy.
HQST 100 Watt 12 Volt Polycrystalline Solar Panel
The HQST system is another great option and there are a few features that make it one of the best solar panels for RV. It’s highly efficient, reliable, and easy to install.
The first thing to note is the highly durable design. It features a corrosion-resistant aluminum frame, which is perfect for its extensive outdoor use. On top of that, the low iron-tempered glass with its anti-reflective and high transparency characteristics provides the panel extra stiffness and good impact resistance. As a result, it can easily withstand high winds and heavy snow loads. For further protection against environmental particles, the panel also features a junction box with a rating of IP65. In all, the materials of this RV solar panel ensure a longer and more reliable life of the product.
As for efficiency, this solar panel comes with a few other features that make it one of the most efficient solar panels for RV on the market. For one, it contains 36 efficient polycrystalline cells, which produce 100 watts of power. Secondly, the cells use advanced encapsulation material and feature multilayered sheet laminations. And lastly, the panel’s bypass diodes work to minimize power drop caused by shade. So, even in a low-light environment, the solar panel provides more efficient performance.
Another thing users like about this solar system for RVs is the ease of installation. On the back of the panel, you will find pre-drilled holes, which allow fast and secure mounting. It also allows using this system with different mounting options, such as with Z-brackets, pole mounts, and tilt mounts. This versatility makes it compatible with various installation situations, whether you have an RV, trailer, motorhome, or boat.
Moreover, to make the installation even easier, the panel comes with integrated MC4 leads, which offer convenient plug and play use.
This system is sold as only one panel. However, you can expand it by purchasing extra panels and create your own custom solar energy system. Another thing to keep in mind when purchasing this solar system is that it includes only the panel with its integrated MC4 leads and junction box. It doesn’t include the charge controller, battery, mounting brackets and other tools that you might need for the installation and use of this system.
CHECK THE LATEST PRICE ON AMAZON
- 36 highly efficient polycrystalline cells.
- Solid construction, designed to withstand harsh environment conditions.
- Enhanced stiffness and impact protection of the iron-tempered glass.
- Features pre-drilled holes for easy installation.
- Easy plug and play use.
- EL tested.
- Weighs just 15 pounds.
- The system can be expanded.
- Affordable price.
- Poor protection of the panels during shipping.
- Includes only the solar panel without additional parts.
Renogy Kit-Starter200D 200 Watt 12 Volt Solar Kit
If 100 watts is not enough for your rig’s application, one of the best solar panels for motorhomes with an output of 200 watts is the Renogy Kit-Starter200D model. It comes from the same well known brand as the first product we’ve mentioned in these reviews. Getting a product from a brand that has such a good reputation, you can know that it will be a high quality product that was manufactured with top durability and performance in mind.
It’s a remarkably efficient solar system with the monocrystalline solar cell efficiency rated at 21%. This allows it to produce an output of 1000 Wh per day. Moreover, with its 3 stage charging process, it can charge a 50Ah battery in 1.5 hours, given that there is good sunlight.
This particular RV solar system is perfect for those who are new to solar, as well as those who are looking to expand their existing system. It comes as a complete kit with almost everything you’ll need to install and set it up.
Moreover, this solar starter kit comes with a charge controller included in the package and it’s Renogy’s new model the Wanderer. It protects against overcharge, reverse polarity, and short circuit. And all this helps to extend the lifespan and performance of your battery. Also, the use of this Wanderer charge controller allows expanding your solar system if you so wish to in the future, with the maximum capacity that you can expand it to being 400 watts.
If you have a higher budget, this kit is also available with the MPPT charge controller. Its benefit is the more efficient performance, which would allow you to get the most out of your system.
In addition to efficiency, this solar panel kit also scores high on durability. It features a sturdy aluminum frame to provide corrosion resistance, tempered front glass, and a TPT back panel. On top of that, the included junction box has a rating of IP65. So, all the materials used in the manufacturing of this solar panel system are designed to provide maximum durability even in the harshest weather conditions, including high winds, rain, and heavy snow.
In the package, along with two solar panels, you will find mounting brackets, MC4 connectors, MC4 adaptor kit, tray cables, and the Wanderer charge controller. All this makes it possible to install the system right out of the box. And using the provided instructions, most find it a fairly easy process. To make the mounting of the panels even easier and faster, on the back of them you will also find pre-drilled holes.
CHECK THE LATEST PRICE ON AMAZON
- 200 watts of power.
- Can be expanded to 400 watts.
- 21% monocrystalline solar cell efficiency.
- Fully charges a battery in 1.5 hours.
- EL tested.
- Corrosion resistant.
- Sturdy frame.
- Durable design.
- Includes almost everything you need for your new solar setup.
- Easy to install.
- Comes with a charge controller that offers protection against short circuit, overcharging, reverse polarity and overload.
- Amazing warranty.
- Doesn’t include the fuses.
- The charge controller provides only LED indicators but doesn’t show the actual voltage.
WindyNation SOK-100WP-P30L 100 Watt Solar Panel Kit
Another great solar setup for RV comes from a popular brand WindyNation. This 100 watt 12-volt system was specifically designed for use on RVs and boats, but can also be used on homes and cabins.
The system offers reliable and efficient power, producing a maximum of 100 watts. And if there’s good sunlight, it will average about 350 watt hours or 33 amp hours per day. However, that’s not the limit and you can expand this system to get more solar power. The kit includes a charge controller that has the capacity to handle up to 4 of these 100 watt panels using a 12-volt system or up to 8 panels using a 24-volt system.
One of the advantages of this RV solar panel kit is also the more user-friendly charge controller. Instead of just light indicators, this controller comes with an LCD screen. There, you can view different readouts and settings of the system, such as amperage, voltage, battery temperature, DC load draw, and stage of charge. Having all these adjustable settings at hand will allow you to get the most out of your RV solar system.
The charge controller also comes with all the necessary electrical protection. It includes protection against reverse polarity, short circuit, and overload. It will help to keep your system safe and will ensure that it continues running efficiently.
In this solar panel kit, you get almost everything you’ll need to set it up and start using. It includes the solar panel itself, a 30 amp user-adjustable charge controller, 40 feet of 12 AWG solar cable, MC4 connectors, and mounting brackets with fasteners. Except for a couple of extras, it’s ready for use right out of the box.
This system is also one of the best price solar panels for caravan, motorhome, 5th wheel, or trailer. It comes at an affordable price and since it comes with almost everything you’ll need for the setup, there won’t be that many extra costs. So, if you’re looking for an excellent starter solar panel kit, this product offers some of the best value for the money.
CHECK THE LATEST PRICE ON AMAZON
- 100 watt solar panel.
- Can be expanded to 400 watts.
- Includes a charge controller with an LCD display.
- Adjustable settings.
- Provides an average of 350 watt hours per day.
- The kit includes almost everything needed for the installation.
- Fairly comprehensive installation and usage instructions.
- Competitive price.
- The kit is not complete, since there are no fuses, fuse holders and battery cables included.
For an even more affordable option than all the solar panel products mentioned above, we recommend the Newpowa 100 watt model. It’s affordable, efficient and it is manufactured with heavy duty materials. However, keep in mind that it includes just the panel with the integrated junction box and pre-installed MC4 cables. This means that you’ll need to additionally purchase the charge controller, mounting hardware, and other tools.
The heavy duty construction of this solar panel features a durable anodized aluminum frame for corrosion resistance and exceptional rigidity, a strong TPT back sheet, and low iron tempered glass. All these materials combined provide a longer lasting performance, even if the solar panel is used in extreme weather conditions with high winds, heavy snow loads, and rain. That also ensures the best performance in a wide variety of off-grid and grid-tie situations.
Also, there’s a total of 36 polycrystalline silicon cells that are encapsulated in ethylene-vinyl-acetate. Placed under the highly transparent glass and on top of the TPT back sheet, they produce 100 watts of power. The system also features two bypass diodes. So, if your solar panel is partially shaded, it will generate half of the maximum power.
If you decide to get this RV solar system, keep in mind that for a complete setup, you’ll need to purchase a few additional tools. This product includes only the panel, an integrated junction box with pre-installed diodes, and a pair of MC4 connectors that are 3 ft long.
CHECK THE LATEST PRICE ON AMAZON
- Generates maximum 100 watts.
- High efficiency polycrystalline cells.
- Durable frame.
- Arrives in good protective packaging.
- Largely impacted by partial shading.
- Doesn’t include installation hardware and other system tools.
WindyNation SOK-200WP-P20L 200 Watt Solar Panel Kit
The WindyNation 200 Watt system is also one of the most highly recommended RV solar panel kits. It’s a great choice for those who want to have maximum efficiency from a hassle-free system that comes with all the necessary tools you’ll need for the installation. All you need to add is an inverter, a 12 volt battery, and fuses. Then your whole system will be ready for set up and use.
This RV solar panel kit also includes a charge controller. It might not be a fancy controller but it does its job, helping the user get maximum efficiency out of this system. One great thing about this controller is that it features an LCD screen. You can view on it different settings, such as DC load, voltage, state of charge, etc. And you can also adjust the load control and a few other settings.
It’s also a highly efficient system providing you with 200 watts of clean, renewable power. With this solar panel kit, you can expect on average about 800 watt hours per day. However, that is only on good sunny days. But even if it’s an overcast day, the solar panels will still generate power, though pulling just about 50%.
This kit includes 2 solar panels, each generating 100 watts. However, if you need more power for your RV, camper, caravan, or trailer, you can expand this system. If you need to charge a 12 volt system, you can get 3 solar panels. And if you need 24 volt battery charging, you can get 6 of these solar panels, which will give you 600 watts of generated power.
Another thing to love about this solar system is the ease of set up. If you know just a bit about electrical, you should have no trouble installing it. And it does come with clear instructions that are pretty easy to follow.
CHECK THE LATEST PRICE ON AMAZON
- Includes 2 solar panels for a total of 200 watts.
- Generates about 800 watt hours per day.
- Durable construction.
- Includes an LCD digital display that provides detailed system information.
- User-adjustable settings.
- Includes all the mounting hardware and a few extra tools.
- Straightforward installation instructions.
- Works well even on cloudy days.
- Easy setup.
- The system additionally needs a battery, an inverter, and fuses.
Mighty Max 100 Watt Off Grid Solar Power System
This Mighty Max portable solar panel is the perfect solution to providing reliable power to an off-grid system on the road, such as your RV, camper van, trailer, or 5th wheel. However, it can also be set up for your home or garage. It’s compact, sleek and it features an innovative technology that gives it maximum efficiency.
It’s a polycrystalline solar panel, which is usually considered to be less efficient than monocrystalline ones. However, this 12 volt panel does generate 100 watts of power and it maintains its efficiency even when it’s partially shaded.
To make this solar system more efficient, the manufacturer also added an innovative photovoltaic technology, helping to charge the battery even faster.
The solar panel also boasts durable construction with a strong aluminum frame. It’s designed with the purpose of being able to withstand heavy loads of snow and high wind pressures. On top of that, the use of the aluminum material provides resistance against corrosion, ensuring that the outdoor elements don’t impact the lifespan of the product.
This solar system is designed for marine and RV solar battery charging. It’s not a complete solar panel kit but it does include a few extras to make your installation process faster and a bit more simple. First of all, it’s the pre-drilled holes in the frame that are added for faster mounting. And secondly, it’s the junction box with the pre-drilled diodes and the included pair of 35 inches cables and MC4 connectors.
And the last thing that’s worth mentioning about this RV solar panel is its lightweight design. This makes it easier to install and eliminates the worry of exceeding the load weight of your rig.
CHECK THE LATEST PRICE ON AMAZON
- Generates 100 watts.
- Innovative photovoltaic technology.
- Strong aluminum frame.
- Includes a junction box and cables with MC4 connectors.
- Pre-drilled holes.
- Weighs just 16.5 pounds.
- Low price.
- It’s not a complete kit.
- No mounting hardware.
- Shipping material could be better.
Eco-Worthy 120 Watt Solar Panel
The Eco-Worthy brand also offers a good solar setup for RVs and motorhomes. It’s 120 watt solar kit that you can use for 12 volt battery charging. Though you can also purchase this kit with various other capacities. The controller supplied with the system can handle up to 360 watts when charging a 12 volt battery and up to 720 watts when charging and 24 volt battery.
This efficient solar panel system features mono cells, which under full sun conditions can generate up to 0.5 kWh in under 4 hours. With this amount of power, you can charge your cellphone or laptop, power your fridge, lights, etc.
The kit also includes a solar charge controller that features a digital display. First of all, the controller gives you battery protection. And secondly, it allows you to use the system more efficiently by providing you with detailed readings, such as battery voltage and charging state.
The Eco-Worthy solar panel can also be installed in a variety of situations. It’ll perfectly suit RV, trailer, or boat installation. And it can also be mounted on the roof of a house.
In the package of this kit, you’ll find everything ready for the setup, except for the battery, inverter, and fuses. It includes all the mounting hardware, cables, connectors, and the charge controller.
CHECK THE LATEST PRICE ON AMAZON
- Produces 120 watts of power.
- Up to 0.5 kWh in under 4 hours.
- The system can be expanded up to 720 watts.
- Comes as a complete kit.
- Includes a user-friendly charge controller with a digital display.
- Great performance even on cloudy days.
- Cheap wiring.
- Shorter warranty compared to other brands.
- Poorly constructed controller.
Renogy 160 Watt Solar Panel
The last product in our RV solar panels reviews is another Renogy system. This one offers 160 watts for 12 volt battery charging. It features a sleek design, a durable frame, and some of the highest efficiency on the market.
First, it’s the durable construction of the solar panel. The same as all the other solar panels in our reviews, this one also comes with a durable aluminum frame. This material offers corrosion resistant qualities, which is important for a solar panel that is often impacted by outdoor elements.
However, the durability doesn’t end there. The solar panel also features a low iron-tempered glass that is on one hand highly transparent and anti-reflective and on the other hand, highly rigid and stiff. The high transparency provides better polycrystalline cell performance and the rigidity helps the panel withstand heavy loads of snow and strong winds.
This solar panel system also scores high on efficiency. The polycrystalline cells feature advanced encapsulation material. On top of that, they include multilayered sheet laminations. And they have been EL quality tested to ensure their safety and longevity. All this helps to get better performance and provides a longer service life of the system.
For more efficient performance, the solar panel also includes bypass diodes. So, even if it’s a cloudy day or if the solar panel is partially covered by shade, it will still produce some energy.
This RV solar panel kit includes only the waterproof junction box and MC4 leads that extend from it. On the back of the frame, you’ll find pre-drilled holes for easier mounting. However, there’s no mounting hardware included. So, there are quite a few extras to purchase and keep in mind that this will add to the cost of the final solar panel system.
CHECK THE LATEST PRICE ON AMAZON
- Produces 160 watts.
- Efficient polycrystalline cells.
- Bypass diodes for more efficient charging in low light conditions.
- EL tested solar modules.
- Aluminum frame.
- Waterproof junction box.
- Includes MC4 leads.
- Pre-drilled holes.
- Excellent warranty.
- Weighing 25.4 pounds, it’s heavier than most other systems on this list.
- For a complete system, it needs extras.
HQST 190 Watt Poly Solar Panel
For a 190 watts, one of the best solar panels for RV battery charging comes from the HQST brand. It offers some of the best efficiency per space and is built to withstand severe weather conditions.
This solar panel offers quite a few of the same features that the above mentioned HQST 100 watt model does. However, it is a monocrystalline solar panel that is designed with the advanced encapsulation material. Together with multilayered sheet laminations, it provides enhanced cell performance and more efficient battery charging.
Moreover, the system is also built with bypass diodes. These diodes that are pre-installed into the junction box work to stabilizing power drops when the panels are in shade. This provides efficient performance even in low light environments.
As for the construction of this solar panel, it features a corrosion-resistant aluminum frame, which is perfect for its outdoor use. For extra durability, the panel is also built with iron-tempered glass. On one hand, it provides stiffness and impact resistance for protection against high winds and heavy snow loads. And on the other hand, it’s highly transparent and anti-reflective, allowing for better efficiency of the solar cells.
For the installation, the unit features pre-drilled holes to help with faster and more secure mounting. This system is also applicable to different mounting options. You can either mount it on the ground, on a pole, install it tilted, or using Z-brackets. You can choose an option that best suits your situation.
This solar panel is perfect for 12V battery charging. The package of this system includes the panel itself, a waterproof junction box, MC4 connectors, and a pair of panel leads. So, it’s not a complete solar kit and might need to purchase a few other tools.
CHECK THE LATEST PRICE ON AMAZON
- Offers 190 watts and can be expanded to more.
- High efficiency polycrystalline cells.
- Corrosion-resistant aluminum frame.
- Stiff iron-tempered glass.
- Designed to withstand extreme elements.
- Produces power even in low light conditions.
- Pre-drilled holes for mounting.
- Includes a junction box, MC4 connectors, and a pair of 27.5in long 12 AWG cables.
- Excellent warranty.
- Easy installation.
- Weighing 22.1 pounds, a bit heavier compared to other systems.
What Is an RV Solar Panel?
An RV solar panel is a device that collects solar energy and converts it into an electric current. And you can use this created electricity to power different appliances in your rig. This allows getting energy wherever you are, which is perfect for off-grid applications.
The difference between RV solar panels and the ones that you install for a house is that the RV systems usually come with smaller and lighter panels. It makes it easier to get them up and take them down. Also, RV roofs usually don’t have that much space to accommodate bigger solar panels and the lighter weight ensures that your vehicle doesn’t exceed its maximum load capacity.
In order to use a solar power system on your RV, except for the panel themselves, you’ll also need a few extra components. A complete setup would include solar panels, a charge controller to prevent overcharging, a battery to store the collected energy, and an inverter to convert DC electricity to AC. Additionally, you’ll need mounting hardware and wiring connecting all the pieces together.
When buying an RV solar panel system, you can either purchase each of the above mentioned separately or you can find a complete kit that comes with everything included.
How Do RV Solar Panels Work?
RV solar panels work in the same way as residential ones. They collect the light from the sun in the form of energy particles called protons. These protons are converted to an electrical current, which is supplied to your battery and then to your appliances.
A typical solar panel is comprised of individual solar cells that are linked together. Each cell is basically a sandwich since it’s usually made of two layers of semiconducting material. And in most cases, this material is silicon.
To create electricity, these cells also need to establish an electrical field. For that, the cells need two opposite charges separated. That’s why manufacturers add to the silicon other materials, such as phosphorus in the top layer for the negative charge and boron in the bottom layer for the positive charge. As a result, each slice of the sandwich has either a positive or a negative charge. And this creates an electric field between the two layers.
When the protons strike the surface of a solar panel, the generated energy knocks electrons out of their atomic orbit. The electric field then pushes the released electrons out of the junction between the silicon layers and pulls them into a directional current.
Metal conductive plates that are positioned on the sides of the cell work to transfer the electrons to wires and after that, the electrons flow like any other source of electricity.
Benefits of RV Solar Panels
There are countless positive things that you can expect from installing a high-quality RV solar panel. If you’re still not sure about getting one, here are some of the many benefits that they offer.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of solar panels is that they produce clean, renewable energy that doesn’t pollute the earth. It has the least negative impact on the environment compared to any other energy source out there. It doesn’t emit any gases, doesn’t produce any waste and doesn’t pollute the water. So, by investing in an RV solar panel, you’ll be helping in reducing global warming.
On top of that, sunlight is a renewable energy source. We won’t run out of solar energy. It will be accessible as long as we have the sun.
Another important advantage of solar panel generated power is that it’s all very quiet. Basically, it offers the quietest operation compared to other power sources. For example, the noise you’d be having in your RV if you installed a generator instead.
It’s true that solar power isn’t free. It does have a high upfront cost. However, over time you’ll make that money back and then you’ll be able to enjoy the inexhaustible supply of free solar power. And considering that solar panels typically last about 15-25 years, imagine how much you’re going to save on your electricity bills.
Gives Your RV Life More Freedom
Wherever you go with your RV, you’ll be able to find a free source of power. Even if you’ll be in the most remote area, you won’t have to worry about finding electricity to power your appliances. So, you can spend more time in natural settings, away from crowded campsites.
Great For Your RV Battery
Solar panels are less demanding on the batteries, which are usually expensive and last only 2 to 3 years. This translates to an extended life of the battery. Some brands claim that their solar panels can increase the lifespan of your battery by 50-70%. That means not having to replace it for 4 or 8 years.
One more excellent benefit of solar panels is their low maintenance. While most other energy systems require a lot of time and money to keep them in top notch condition, solar panels are almost maintenance-free. There are no moving parts that could break. There’s no wear and tear. You’ll only need to clean the panels a couple of times a year and replace the inverter and battery every few years. Besides that, you can expect very little spending on any maintenance or repair costs.
However, the main thing is to choose the best RV solar panels that will be built with high quality materials and durable construction. It will ensure that the panel won’t start corroding and that it will be able to withstand the elements of the outdoors.
Easy to Use
Solar panels are also very easy to use. With some electrical knowledge, you’ll have the system installed in no time. After that, all the hard work is done. You might need to check the charge controller settings. But other than that, the solar panels will do all the work on their own.
RV solar panels are usually comparatively lightweight, especially if they’re the flexible ones. The light weight allows for portable use. For example, it makes it easier to transfer it from one rig to another or from one application to another. The best portable solar panels for RV will weigh just about 15 pounds.
How to Choose the Best RV Solar Panels? – Buying Guide
With such popularity of solar panels in recent years, it’s no surprise to see such a variety of products on the market. However, you probably don’t want just any solar panel. Instead, you want the best. But which solar panels are best for RV? It all depends on a few factors, such as the characteristics of the product and your needs. So, here are the main things to look out for when buying a new RV solar panel.
1. Types of Solar Panels
When choosing an RV solar panel, the first thing that you need to decide is the type of solar panel. And understanding each of the types will help you see which one would benefit you the most. So, below we’ve outlined the different types of RV solar panels that are available on the market today.
Monocrystalline solar panels are the oldest and the most developed. This type of solar panel uses the purest silicon, which gives it better efficiency. And as the name suggests, they are made with a single continuous crystal structure. So, if you look at them, you can recognize them by their even and uniform look.
Moreover, the solar cells are made of silicon ingots that have a tube-like shape. These ingots are then made into silicon wafers by cutting out the four sides of the cylindrical ingots. This gives the monocrystalline panels their characteristic look and also helps the manufacturers keep the costs lower and the efficiency of the solar panel higher.
- The monocrystalline type of solar panels has the highest efficiency rates since they are made using the highest quality silicon. On many of the products, you can find an efficiency rating of about 15-20%.
- They are also more space efficient, which is really advantageous for RV use. Having the highest power outputs allows them to use a smaller amount of space compared to other types.
- They have the longest lifespan. Many monocrystalline solar panel manufacturers offer 25-year warranties, so you can expect your RV solar panel to last 20-25 years.
- Perform well in low light conditions.
- They are the most expensive.
- Partial covering of the solar panel with snow, dirt or shade can cause the entire circuit to break down. So you might want to consider getting a micro-inverter for a monocrystalline panel to prevent these shading issues.
- The cutting out of the corners in order to create silicon wafers creates a significant amount of waste.
- Not as efficient in cooler climates.
Polycrystalline solar panels are a new technology that was introduced to the market in 1981. And even though these solar panels are slightly less efficient compared to monocrystalline, they dominate the market due to a few other reasons.
Concerning the manufacturing, the same as monocrystalline solar panels, polycrystalline ones are also made from silicon. However, instead of using a single crystal of silicon, the solar cells are blended together from multiple sources of silicon. And this blended makeup gives the polycrystalline panels their characteristic blue color.
The melted blend of silicon is then cooled and solidified. And in the end, it’s cut into thin plates to form wafers. As a result, each cell ends up containing many crystals, which affects the movement of electrons. This makes the surface of polycrystalline cells less perfect. They absorb less solar energy and consequently, produce less electricity.
- Simpler and cheaper manufacturing process.
- The manufacturing process also produces less silicon waste.
- Polycrystalline solar panels handle heat very well. They might not perform as well as monocrystalline solar panels, but still they do work well in high temperatures.
- Due to lower silicon purity, you won’t be able to get the same efficiency as with monocrystalline solar panels. Typically, polycrystalline solar panels offer an efficiency of about 13-16%.
- Lower efficiency also means that the solar panel requires more surface space to be able to produce the same amount of electrical power as monocrystalline solar panels. So, if you want better efficiency and you have a limited amount of space on the roof of your RV, you might be better off with a monocrystalline type of solar panel.
- Unlike the even and uniform look of monocrystalline solar panels, polycrystalline solar cells have uneven texture due to how they are made. And the speckled blue color is less aesthetically pleasing compared to monocrystalline and thin film solar panels.
The third type of solar technology is the least popular as of today. And it’s mainly used in special applications and large-scale utility projects. However, the thin film technology is expected to have vast improvements in the nearest future and so they might get more usage.
The manufacturing of these solar panels involves depositing a photovoltaic substance onto a backing plate, which is usually made of glass or plastic. There are also different types of thin film solar cells, depending on the type of photovoltaic substance that is used. For example, it can be amorphous silicon, organic photovoltaic cells, cadmium telluride, or copper indium gallium selenide.
The reason for such low popularity of this type of RV solar panels is that they are not very efficient. Most thin film solar cells are rated at about 7-13%, though many manufacturers promise that in the near future they will be offering an efficiency of up to 16%.
- Mass producing thin film solar cells is a more simple process than manufacturing mono- and polycrystalline solar cells. And this also makes them cheaper to manufacture.
- The surface of thin film solar cells has a homogenous characteristic, which gives them a very appealing look.
- The thin film technology allows making flexible solar panels, which could open many different possibilities.
- Their performance doesn’t get affected as much by changes in temperature and shading.
- Cheaper and simpler to manufacture.
- As of today, thin film solar panels are not very useful for residential applications. Their lower efficiency means that you’ll need a lot of space to accommodate their installation. For comparison, monocrystalline solar panels are four times more efficient.
- Since these solar panels occupy more space, they also require more PV-equipment. This also means higher costs for the support structure, cables, etc.
- These solar panels also degrade faster and they usually require a replacement more often than mono- and polycrystalline solar panels.
2. Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Choosing between these types of RV solar panels is mainly down to your personal preference, your budget, and your space constraints.
For example, if you have a limited amount of space on the roof of your RV or motorhome, you’ll be better off with a higher efficiency solar panel. That’s why you might want to pay a bit extra and invest in the more efficient monocrystalline solar panels. However, if you don’t have any space constraints, you might prefer the less efficient polycrystalline solar panels that you can buy for a lower price.
Also, consider your preference. For example, some really care about aesthetics, while for others it plays an insignificant role. Remember that monocrystalline solar panels a uniform look, which looks more aesthetically pleasing. Polycrystalline solar panels, on the other hand, have an uneven blue color, which might not be preferable for some people.
Finally, consider your budget. If you want to find something lower priced, you might prefer to choose a polycrystalline solar panel. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any affordable monocrystalline solar panels. It just means that there are more options among the polycrystalline type.
3. Standard or Flexible
There are good both solid and flexible solar panels for RV. Flexible solar panels work well in situations when there’s not enough flat space. They also work better for applications on curved surfaces. For example, you can install them on Airstream-style campers. With that being said, standard solar panels with an aluminum frame and solid backing are still more popular. They are more durable, more efficient, and come with better warranties.
Unlike with the roof of your home, the roof of your RV has a more limited amount of space. With that in mind, look for a highly efficient solar panel that will allow you to get the most value for your money. You want to find one that produces more energy with a smaller amount of space.
The efficiency of solar panels can be defined as the amount of solar energy converted to electricity. You can usually find this amount reflected in the form of a percentage.
Moreover, think about the different types of RV solar panels and their efficiencies. Remember that monocrystalline panels offer the best efficiency. With polycrystalline solar panels, it will be slightly lower.
5. Electrical Output
Another thing to determine before making a purchasing decision is how much solar power you need for your RV. For that, you need to estimate your energy requirements and it will help you understand the necessary solar panel wattage.
Check the electrical output that the RV solar cell can provide and see if it matches the amount of power you need. Of course, the higher the wattage, the better. It will allow you to support numerous electrical appliances, translating to a more productive solar panel overall. However, a higher wattage solar panel will also cost more and will most likely take up more space. On top of that, installing a bigger solar panel is a trickier process. So factor all this in as well.
If you aren’t sure about your power needs, you can start small. For example, you can start with a 100 watt solar panel. Later, if required, you can expand the system as needed.
RV solar panels don’t come cheap. That’s why you want one that will last a long time. When choosing an RV solar panel, check the quality of the structure and the materials used in its manufacturing. A durable solar panel will typically have a strong aluminum frame, a solid TPT backing, and heavy-duty glass. The use of such durable materials ensures that the solar panel will be able to keep up its top notch condition even in the harshest weather conditions.
7. Size and Weight
The size and weight of a solar panel is also an important factor. Generally, you can a unit that is compact and lightweight. Before choosing a particular solar panel, you need to know the available space on the roof of your RV in order to make sure that it can actually accommodate the size of the new solar panel.
You also want to check the weight of solar panels. First of all, a bulky and heavy solar panel is difficult to install. And secondly, it will weigh your RV down.
8. Charge Controller
If you’ll be installing a solar panel on your RV, you’ll also need a charge controller. It helps to control the amount of power that the batteries store. On top of that, it also protects your batteries from electrical damage.
Most RV solar panel kits include a charge controller in the package. This eliminates the hassle of having to choose it separately. However, some people might prefer a different charge controller from the one that is supplied. In this case, you can purchase the solar panel and the charge controller separately.
For example, Renogy solar panel kits come with their own charge controller supplied. The solar panels themselves are of very good quality but the charge controller is a bit cheap since it features only light indicators. It doesn’t show voltage, charge state, etc. And some might prefer to have those things display on a charge controller with a digital screen for getting better efficiency out of their system. So, you could buy the solar panels from Renogy and the charge controller from another brand.
However, consider also which type of charge controller you would prefer. You can choose between a PMW and an MPPT controller. The PMW features older technology but is cheaper. And the MPPT is the newer technology with more efficient performance, which results in its higher price tag.
If you don’t already have a deep cycle battery in your RV, you’ll need one to be able to store the collected solar energy. Most solar panel kits don’t include a battery, so most likely you will need to purchase it separately. However, when choosing solar panels, keep in mind they work with either 12 or 24 volt batteries. So, if you already have a battery in your RV, make sure that your new solar panel kit matches the battery voltage.
Another useful feature to have in solar panels is expandability. At some point in the future, your power needs might increase and instead of buying a completely new system, it would obviously be easier to just add one or two more panels to the existing setup. Some of the solar panel kits offer expandability of up to 800 watts.
The ease of installation also plays an important role in determining the quality of a solar panel. You won’t get any good out of a solar panel that you can’t set up. To understand how easy it is easy to install a certain solar panel, you can check user reviews or check the instructions from the manufacturer.
When researching the installation process of a certain product, also check the quality of the mounting hardware and what parts the package incldues. Since you want your solar panels to stay put while on the road, make sure that they come with the mounting hardware of the highest quality. And if you want less hassle with the setup, look for kits that come with everything included for the mounting.
For those who think that you will be taking down the solar panel quite often, consider the models that are more portable. The best portable system will be lightweight, compact, and will be easy to take down and put up again.
RV Solar Panel Installation
If you have some electrical knowledge, you’ll find the RV solar panel installation a fairly simple process. Below, in the video, you can find the detailed instructions that will help you with this process. However, before you start, also consult the manual that is supplied by the manufacturer of the solar panel that you’ve bought. Make sure to follow those instructions that you properly complete the RV solar system installation.
You can also leave the job to the experts. For RV solar installation costs, consult the manufacturer or a solar company.
RV Solar Panels Maintenance
Solar panels require minimum maintenance. However, by cleaning them from time to time, you’ll be able to keep them in their best condition for much longer. The best practice would be to wipe them down with a soft cloth. Make sure that it’s soft, so it wouldn’t scratch the surface of your RV solar panel as that can make it less efficient.
Moreover, regularly test the system as per instructions provided by the manufacturer. This will help to see that it’s working correctly.
RV Solar Panel FAQ
How much solar power do I need for my RV?
It all depends on how many appliances that you run in your trailer and how much power they use. If you want to get a more specific number, there are plenty of calculators online that will help you to quickly figure out your needs.
How many solar panels do I need for my RV?
Solar panels offer different watts, so the main question isn’t how many panels you need but how much power you require. For example, if 200 watts is enough to power your rig’s appliances and you find a good 100 watt solar panel, you’ll need to purchase two of those units.
What is the purpose of a charge controller?
There are a couple of different types of charge controllers. The first one can either be a 1- or 2-stage controller. Its main purpose is to control the voltage. When the voltage reaches a certain level, the controller shorts the panel to prevent overcharging the battery. Overloading the batteries significantly reduces their lifespan and can even damage them to the point that they become unusable.
The second type is the PWM controller or pulse width modulated controller. This is the most common type and it’s considered to be the industry standard at the moment since it’s the most effective at achieving constant voltage battery charging. It works by slowly reducing the amount of energy that it supplies to the battery as it gets closer to the fully charged state. This allows keeping the battery fully charged but without putting on it stress.
Can solar panels power an RV air conditioner?
The answer to this question depends on the AC unit that you have. Check how much power your RV air conditioner consumes and that will tell you if you can find a solar panel system that will be able to supply such an amount. For example, if the running wattage of your RV’s AC unit is about 300-450 watts, you’ll need several high efficiency solar panels that can match this wattage. But this running wattage is just for a small 5,000 BTU air conditioner.
How much do solar panels cost?
There’s a variety of RV solar panels on the market and they all come at different prices. However, for the most part, smaller solar panel kits cost under $200. Typically, it would include one solar panel with about 100 watt output and the installation hardware. And the bigger the system, the more it will cost.
Is my solar panel weatherproof?
Since RV solar panels are designed for use outside, most manufacturers make them weatherproof. Different products might have different levels of weatherproofing but in most cases, it includes heavy-duty construction that can withstand high winds, rain, and snow.
What are some good RV solar panel brands?
Some of the best brands in the industry that are catering mainly to RV owners include such names as Renogy, WindyNation, AllPowers, Newpowa, and HQST.
Solar panels are definitely a great addition to RV equipment. Especially if you travel in your RV full time, this piece of equipment is essential. It will give you the freedom to explore nature, will save you money in the long run and most importantly, will provide you with clean, renewable energy. We hope that with our guide, you’ll have an easier time choosing the best RV solar panel kits. You can start by determining your needs and preferences and then compare the top products in the RV solar panels reviews. This will help to choose the highest quality system that perfectly suits your needs.