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There are a few ways to power your RV when boondocking.
Of them, solar power is on top of the list, especially for those serious about dry camping.
However, finding the right RV solar panel can be a daunting task.
As a beginner, you need to know a few essential things before you can settle on the right solar panel to recharge your house batteries.
In this article, you’ll learn the basics of solar panels, know what to look for when choosing your RV solar panels.
Lastly, you will find reviews of the 6 best solar panels for your RV, ending with the most frequently asked questions.
But, before that, here is a birds-eye view of the solar panels we have lined up for this comparison.
Table of Contents
- Overview of the 6 Best RV Solar Panels
- How do RV Solar Panels Work?
- What are the Pros & Cons of Using Solar Power for Your RV?
- What to Consider when Buying RV Solar Panels?
- The 6 Best RV Solar Panel Reviews
- 01. Best Rigid Panel: Renogy 100 Watt Eclipse Solar Panel
- 02. Best Flexible: Renogy 100 Watt Flexible Solar Panel with Charge Controller
- 03. Best Foldable: ACOPOWER 120W Portable Solar Suitcase
- 04. Best Monocrystalline Kit: Renogy 200W Solar Panel Starter Kit with MPPT Controller
- 05. Best Polycrystalline Kit: WindyNation 400W Solar Starter Kit with AGM Battery
- 06. Best Solar Generator: Jackery Explorer 1000 with Solar Panels
- RV Solar System Components
- How to Install Solar Panels on An RV Roof?
- RV Solar Panel Maintenance
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Brief Rundown of the Best RV Solar Panels
- Final Thoughts
Overview of the 6 Best RV Solar Panels
01. Best Rigid Panel: Renogy 100W Solar Panel
“High efficiency compact solar panel that will perform and last the test of time”
02. Best Flexible: Renogy 100 Watt Flexible Solar Panel
“Lightweight and flexible panel for RVers with small campers with a curved roof”
03. Best Foldable: ACOPOWER 120W Portable Solar Suitcase
“For RV owners who don’t like the idea of drilling holes on their RV roof”
04. Best Monocrystalline Kit: Renogy 100W Solar Panel Starter Kit
“A monocrystalline starter kit for beginner dry campers looking for an easy start with solar”
05. Best Polycrystalline Kit: WindyNation 400W Solar Kit
“Is a complete system to cater to the 12v needs on most large RVs”
06. Best Power Station: Jackery Explorer 1000 with Solar Panels
“A full package of a complete solar power system (DC & AC) that is portable”
How do RV Solar Panels Work?
It all starts as the sun rises.
As the rays of the sun hit the solar panels of your RV, the solar cells in the panels convert this light energy to electrical current.
Note: The current produced by the solar panel is DC or Direct Current.
The DC power from each cell is then transferred to a circuit housed in the junction box on the solar panel. The circuit has a positive and a negative terminal that feeds the current with the help of wires to a solar charge controller.
The primary function of the charge controller is to charge your RV batteries. It controls the amount of current flowing into the house batteries and prevents them from overcharging.
At this point, you can use your RV battery to power all your 12-volt DC appliances like charging cell phones, laptops, lights, etc.
However, like your home, your RV has a wide variety of appliances that need 120-volt Alternating Current (AC). This is the same electricity that comes out of the wall outlets in your home.
To transform the 12-volt DC produced by your solar panels to 120-volt AC, you need a power inverter. Now you can run all your RV appliances that use 120V AC, such as TV, refrigerator, coffee maker, etc.
You should be able to run your RV air conditioner or any other appliances if you have enough solar panels, a large battery bank, and a right-size inverter.
What are the Pros & Cons of Using Solar Power for Your RV?
Before moving on to making purchase decisions, we need to understand one more thing.
Is solar power worth it for your RV?
To answer this question accurately, let’s weigh the pros and cons of using solar for your RV.
Advantages of Using Solar for RV
The first and most important benefit for me is, solar makes ZERO noise.
Unlike a generator which can bug you and your neighbors, a solar power system does just the opposite. It enables you to enjoy the sound of nature while silently charging your house batteries in the background.
Solar has NO running cost after the system is installed.
Unlike generators, solar doesn’t need any sort of fuel or oil to produce power. All it needs is sunlight to produce electricity. Technically, after the initial cost, solar panels will produce electricity free of charge for the lifetime of the setup.
No harmful gasses are produced while using solar power.
Because solar panels don’t need any combustible fuel to function, they don’t produce any emissions. This makes them an excellent option if you’re boondocking in states with strict emission laws. Plus, you don’t have to worry about Carbon Monoxide poisoning with solar power.
With solar panels, you’ll have little to no maintenance.
Because solar panels don’t have any moving parts, nothing breaks, resulting in less maintenance. Once installed, modern solar panels can serve you for upwards of a few decades or more without any major issues. Just clean the panels from time to time as dust, debris and snow can affect the efficiency of the panels.
Disadvantages of Using Solar for RV
Your RV solar setup is a costly investment.
One of the biggest downsides to installing solar in your RV comes from its initial investment. The solar panel price will vary depending on the type, efficiency, and rated output of the panel you choose.
Apart from the panels, an RV solar setup consists of a charge controller, battery, and an inverter. Of them, your battery will use a substantial part of your budget, especially if you go with lithium.
Solar power is not an on-demand source of power.
Unlike generators, your solar panels can’t produce electricity on demand. Meaning, there is no button that you can press like on a generator to start producing power whenever you want.
You need the right conditions like a clear sky with lots of sunlight for it to work. Moreover, they are useless at night and very inefficient on rainy and cloudy days.
What to Consider when Buying RV Solar Panels?
Before buying solar panels for your RV, you need to know a few essential things. These factors will help you make an educated decision when choosing the right RV solar panels.
Total Power Requirement
The first question to ask yourself before putting a finger on a solar panel is “how much power do you use daily”. Without knowing your power requirements, you won’t be able to determine how many solar panels your RV needs.
To find out how much power you use daily, simply make a list of the appliances you plan to use. The more appliances you plan to use, the larger your solar array and battery bank will be.
I would suggest keeping the number of appliances to the bare minimum. As both solar panels and batteries are expensive. Moreover, the batteries are heavy, which may hinder the balance of your RV.
Before mounting solar panels on the roof of your RV, you need to find out the total usable space available for the panels.
Rigid vs. Flexible Solar Panels
Rigid panels are hard solar panels that use tempered glass to protect the solar cells. The glass is strong enough to withstand damages from hailstorms, heavy snow and is scratch resistant.
They are enclosed in an aluminum frame which adds to the strength. They also come in a wide range of sizes to power large and small RVs.
Generally, rigid panels are mounted on the roof, but you’ll find rigid panels available in the portable, foldable, and suitcase form factor.
Flexible panels are soft solar panels that use a layer of plastic to protect the solar cells. These panels can bend to a narrow curve to fit on top of most small teardrop types of campers.
They are very lightweight, which makes them ideal for pop-up campers and use on the awnings of your RV. The soft plastic layer is less resistant to scratches but is less likely to crack in the event of a hailstorm.
Types of Solar Panel Cells
There are three main types of solar panels available in the market today:
Monocrystalline panels are the most efficient and come with a higher price tag. Polycrystalline panels are less efficient compared to mono and thus are a bit cheaper.
Amorphous panels use the latest technology that gives them the ability to flex. But, they are the least efficient and are the most affordable amongst the three.
I would suggest you go with the monocrystalline panels if you have the budget or polycrystalline if you’re short on budget. Amorphous panels are ideal for pop-up campers or campers with curved roofs like Airstreams and teardrop trailers.
Solar Panel Mounting System
There are two different ways to use RV solar panels to charge your house batteries when boondocking:
- Permanently mount them on your RV roof
- Use portable solar panels
Roof-mounted panels, as the name suggests, are installed on the roof of your RV. You can hire a professional to install it or do it yourself (more on this later).
With roof-mounted panels, you don’t have to worry about moving the panels at sunrise and set. On the other hand, roof-mounted panels steal the freedom to park your RV in the shade on a hot day.
Portable solar panels, on the other hand, are not fixed to any one spot. This hands you the freedom to move it and change its angle depending on the time of the day.
However, with portable panels, you have the extra work of loading and unloading every day. Plus, they may grow legs as they are not secured to one place.
The efficiency of a solar panel is determined by the amount of electricity it produces with the sunlight it receives.
The efficiency of your solar panels may vary depending on a wide range of factors. Usually, the solar panels that are available in the market today range between 15-25% efficiency.
The higher the efficiency, the higher the price.
Get the most efficient panels you can afford, as you’ll need to install fewer panels.
Like any other household electronic device, your solar panels need a certain temperature to perform optimally.
This is referred to as the temperature coefficient.
Generally, solar panels perform at their best at a temperature below and up to 25° C or 77° F. As the panel temperature goes above this number, your panel’s efficiency comes down by the temperature coefficient of the panel.
For example, the temperature coefficient of the Renogy 100W Solar Panel is -0.37%/°C. This means, for every degree rise in temperature from 25° C or 77° F, this panel will lose 0.37% efficiency.
This may not look much if the increase in temperature is by a few degrees. However, it soon adds up until you find your panels are working like a tortoise.
When buying solar panels for your RV, look for panels with the smallest temperature coefficient number.
The warranty of a product is the direct indicator of its quality.
Getting your RV solar panels from brands that offer longer warranty periods will give a peace of mind.
There are two types of warranty solar panels come with, material and performance warranty.
A material warranty ensures your panel from equipment failure due to environmental hazards or manufacturing defects. Most well-known brands on the market offering up to 5 years of material warranty.
Performance warranty ensures that your panels will perform at about 80-90% efficiency at the end of their warranty period. Most brands offer 25 years and more of a performance warranty.
Like a warranty, the price of a product is also a direct indicator of its quality.
When buying solar panels for your RV, get the most expensive you can afford. With a premium-priced solar panel comes higher efficiency, better performance, and a longer warranty.
Plus, you don’t want to replace your panels every year, so avoid cheaper panels.
The 6 Best RV Solar Panel Reviews
By now, you know what to look for when choosing a solar panel for your RV.
It’s now time to look at reviews of some of the best RV solar panels.
In this list, you’ll find solar panels that are both rigid and flexible, foldable suitcase-type, solar kits, and power stations.
Moreover, all the panels on this list are very efficient, are backed by industry-standard warranty, and at various price points.
Read on for the detailed reviews and ratings.
01. Best Rigid Panel: Renogy 100 Watt Eclipse Solar Panel
If you’re looking for a high-efficiency rigid panel that is both durable and versatile, then the Renogy Eclipse is for you.
This 100-watt monocrystalline panel is both smaller in size and more efficient compared to the other 100w panels from Renogy. You now have more room on the roof and need fewer panels to produce the same power.
The multi-layered lamination along with the corrosion-resistant frame increases durability to provide longer service life. Moreover, it can withstand high wind forces on the highway and heavy snow loads without a dent.
One advantage of a rigid solar panel is that it gives you the freedom to install it on the roof or use it as a portable panel. The pre-drilled holes on the frame make it easy to mount or install tilt arms.
The panels are backed by 25 years of performance warranty to give you peace of mind. However, the price of this panel may put it out of the reach of RVers on a tight budget.
Overall, the Renogy Eclipse is a compact high efficient solar panel that is extremely durable and will last the test of time.
02. Best Flexible: Renogy 100 Watt Flexible Solar Panel with Charge Controller
Mounting rigid panels on smaller campers especially with a curved roof can be difficult. You need solar panels that can flex to accommodate the curve of your teardrop’s roof.
This flexible monocrystalline panel from Renogy is an excellent choice as it comes with an output of 100w and max efficiency of 15%. With a flex of about 248 degrees, it can be installed on waves.
At 4.2 lb, it is the lightest panel on this list. This hands you the option to place it on your RV awning to extend the size of your solar array. This is also a great option for your pop-up-type campers.
Installing this panel is extremely easy as you don’t have to drill holes to mount it on your roof. You can use any type of silicon-based adhesive or waterproof tape to stick to your roof.
Additionally, the bundle comes with a 30A charge controller that you can use to charge your house batteries.
Because flexible panels use soft lamination on top, this makes them highly resistant to impacts from hails. However, the soft lamination also makes them prone to more scratches from cleaning and snow removal.
Overall, if you want a flexible solar panel for your curved roof or want an ultralight panel, then the 100w panel from Renogy is your best bet.
03. Best Foldable: ACOPOWER 120W Portable Solar Suitcase
A foldable solar panel is a great option for campers who don’t have enough space on the roof or don’t like the idea of drilling holes to mount a solar panel.
The ACOPOWER 120w is a lightweight, smart design solar panel that folds up like a suitcase for easy transport and storage. To set up, just open the suitcase, unfold the supporting legs, and you’re ready.
With a max efficiency of 25%, this monocrystalline panel can convert a lot of sunlight to electricity at a time. This portable kit comes with a 20A charge controller, alligator clips to connect to the battery, USB QC 3.0 charger, and various size charging pins.
The 20A charge controller gives you room if you decide to add another suitcase to produce a total of 240 watts. With the multi-port USB charger, you can directly charge your phone, laptops, and other DC appliances.
Additionally, the kit comes with multiple-sized charging pins allowing you to charge any solar power station irrespective of the type or brand.
Connect the panels to your charge controller with the MC4 connectors (included) and start charging your batteries or other devices. The charge controller is designed to charge various types of deep cycle batteries from lithium to lead-acid.
One thing to note, however, the suitcase and charge controller can handle light showers. But it’s the USB charger that is not waterproof and will short out if wet. Additionally, you’ll have to set it up and put it back after every use.
Overall, if you don’t like the idea of drilling holes or don’t have enough roof space, a foldable solar panel suitcase is your best option.
04. Best Monocrystalline Kit: Renogy 200W Solar Panel Starter Kit with MPPT Controller
Sizing a charge controller after getting solar panels can be difficult, especially if you’re a beginner.
Instead, you can get an RV solar kit that comes with a solar panel, right size charge controller, cables, and mounting brackets.
The one we’ll talk about is from Renogy that comes with two 100w solar panels, a 20A MPPT charge controller, cables with MC4 connectors, and Z-mounting brackets.
The monocrystalline panels are high-efficiency rigid panels that can convert up to 21% of the total sunlight received. The mounting brackets give the panels sufficient clearance to air cool the panels and increase performance.
The panels come with both mounting and drain holes. The drain holes allow water to drain off easily during rain. The junction box, along with the MC4 connectors, are waterproof too.
The 20A MPPT charge controller is large enough that you can use a total of 400 watts of panels if you plan to upgrade. It can charge various types of deep cycle batteries (both 12 and 24 volts).
For me, this is a great starter kit, but the inclusion of a right size inverter and battery would make it complete.
Overall, if you want a monocrystalline solar kit, then the one from Renogy is the one I suggest.
05. Best Polycrystalline Kit: WindyNation 400W Solar Starter Kit with AGM Battery
If you’re looking for a powerful solar setup to run all your 12v RV appliances, then have a look at the solar starter kit from WindyNation.
The package comes with four 100w polycrystalline solar panels, a 30A PWM charge controller, and four AGM batteries (each 100ah). The kit also comes with mounting brackets, MC4 connectors, and cables.
This 400 watts starter kit is designed for bigger RVs with large power demands. The panels can provide up to 1700 watt-hours of power a day under ideal conditions.
The PWM charge controller comes with an onboard display that prints out various critical information about the whole system. With the 400 ah battery, you can last weeks while powering all your 12v DC appliances.
Including a right size inverter would make this kit best for both worlds (DC and AC).
Overall, if you need a large solar power system just to run your 12 volt systems, then the starter kit from WindyNation is just for you.
06. Best Solar Generator: Jackery Explorer 1000 with Solar Panels
The Jackery Explorer 1000 is a complete solar setup to power your DC and AC appliances that come in a portable package.
They are a perfect option for dry campers who don’t have large power needs, most importantly, don’t like to go through the hustle of wiring and sizing the solar setup.
This portable solar power station comes with two foldable 100w solar panels to charge the Explorers 1002 ah lithium battery. The panel cells are 23% efficient, making charging the battery pretty quick.
The availability of multiple DC outlets allows you to charge many gears at once. The inverter is powerful enough to power AC appliances like refrigerators, TV, blenders, etc.
The Explorer is parallel compatible, meaning you can connect two power stations to double the power. It comes with one DC carport which enables you to charge the power station using your tow vehicle while driving.
However, one downside to this power station is its price. It is pretty expensive which makes it out of many budget RVers reach.
Overall, if you have a small camper that doesn’t have enough space for regular-sized solar, then the Explorer 1000 power station is for you.
RV Solar System Components
Now you know what are the best RV solar panels in the market today and found the right solar panel for yourself.
It’s time to install the panel and enjoy boondocking.
But, before we take a look at how to install an RV solar panel, we need to know what other components are needed.
Apart from the panels themselves, there are a few more components needed to make the solar power system work.
Charge Controller: This is a device that helps regulate the flow of electricity to the battery while charging. It also helps prevent overcharging the battery.
House Battery: These are deep cycle batteries that are used to store the electrical power produced by the solar panels.
Battery Monitor: They are like the fuel gauge in your car, but instead of fuel level, it gives you various information about your batteries. The amount of draw, battery level, charging status, etc.
Power Inverter: This converts the DC power from your battery to AC power to run your house appliances like TV, coffee maker, blenders, etc.
Electrical Cables: They are the veins that will connect the whole system.
- A power drill to make holes on the roof
- A caulking gun and glue to seal the holes to prevent leaks
- A screwdriver set to drive the screws
How to Install Solar Panels on An RV Roof?
If you have purchased portable RV solar panels, then you don’t have to worry about installing them on your RV roof.
However, if you don’t like the idea of moving the panels and want to permanently mount them on your roof, then read on.
In short, there are two ways to install solar panels on your RV roof.
One, you pay a professional to do it for you, which will cost you additional installation fees. Two, you can install the panels yourself.
I like the second way because this will help me learn more about the whole solar system, help troubleshoot and make it easy to maintain.
Installing solar panels on your RV roof isn’t rocket science.
It is pretty straightforward, and the most non-technical RV owner can do it yourself.
Here is a step-by-step guide to install the solar panels yourself.
Installation Process for Rigid Panels
Step 1: Inspect your roof of any visible damage, as it is easy to fix damages before installing the panels.
Step 2: Map out the floor space available to lay down the panels. Make sure nothing is obstructing the panel.
Step 3: Mark and drill holes for the panel mounts. You can either lay them flat on the roof or use adjustable mounts. Using the caulking gun, seal the holes.
Step 4: Screw in the panels and connect the cables to the charge controller.
Note: You don’t have to drill holes if you have flexible panels. You can fix them on your roof using special adhesives.
RV Solar Panel Maintenance
Investing in solar for boondocking is one of the best investments, as high-quality panels can produce power for over 25 years and more.
Unlike RV generators, solar panels require very little maintenance to retain their peak working condition.
During the dry season, the maintenance will be a bare minimum. All you have to do is keep the panels clean of dust and other debris so that maximum sun reaches the cells.
The rainy season makes the maintenance process much easier as the rainwater washes all the dirt off the panels. Just keep the panels titled and let the rain wash away all the dirt.
Maintenance frequency increases during winter as overnight snowfalls can completely obstruct sunlight from reaching the cells.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use Solar to Power my RV Air Conditioner?
If you have a large enough solar power setup that produces enough wattage to start and run your RV rooftop AC unit, then yes, you can run it. However, you cannot run the AC continuously for long periods because of its large electrical draw.
How to Make your Solar Panels more Efficient?
To get the most out of your panels, make sure they have the right tilt angle to receive the maximum sunlight. Clean your panels of snow and dust. Make sure to park your RV in a place where nothing is obstructing the sun’s rays.
Are Solar Panels Waterproof?
Because solar panels are meant to be installed outside, they are designed to withstand harsh weather conditions. Therefore, yes, your RV solar panels are waterproof and won’t be damaged by rain showers.
What is the Average Life Expectancy of Solar Panels?
Generally, good-quality solar panels will easily perform for over 25-30 years. The panels will produce at least 80% of the rated power after about 25-30 years.
Additionally, proper care can further enhance both the performance and life of the panels.
Can you Use Residential Solar Panels on an RV?
Technically, yes, you can use residential solar panels on your RV and vice versa. Solar panels produce DC power irrespective of the type.
However, residential solar panels are bigger and heavier compared to RV-specific panels. This means fewer panels and increased weight on the roof.
Brief Rundown of the Best RV Solar Panels
If you’re looking to buy a compact rigid panel that is both efficient and reliable, then the Renogy 100w Eclipse is for you.
For small camper owners with a curved roof, look at this 100w flexible solar panel from Renogy.
If you don’t like to drill holes on the roof of your RV, then you need portable solar panels like the ACOPOWER 120w solar suitcase.
The Renogy 200w starter kit is the perfect option for beginners who don’t want to go through sizing different solar components.
This 400w polycrystalline solar kit from WindyNation is an excellent option for RVs that comes with a large 12v system and appliances.
A portable power station like the Jackery Explorer 1000 is ideal for RVers who need a complete solar setup (both DC and AC) in a portable package.
There is a lot that goes into when choosing solar panels for your RV. Having the right-sized solar set up along with a portable generator is an absolute must for boondocking.
The RV solar panels we reviewed in this post are top-notch and will be great for beginners planning their solar journey.