RV Solar Panels – Everything You Need to Know

Solar power is a popular source of energy for everything from homes to cell phone chargers to even cars. Its popularity is likely due to several factors – it allows you to get power in more remote areas, like while you’re camping. It doesn’t cost anything after the initial setup, and it’s eco-friendly. So if you’re considering solar panels for your RV, you’re not alone. In fact, there is a lot of advice out there. Here’s what you really need to know.

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Why have RV solar power?

Most RVers who have solar for RV use it for one of two things – to charge their “house” batteries, or to provide electrical power.

  1. Solar panel for RV battery – Solar power can provide a slow, steady charge to your batteries. This is better for your batteries – when they sit unused too long, they lose battery life and eventually need to be replaced. 
  2. RV solar electric – if you’re in a remote area, off-the-grid, or if you just want a backup source of power for emergencies, solar power is a good option.

Solar power is a great option if you like boondocking or dry camping in remote areas. You’re assured of having a power source, even if you don’t have any other amenities. It can also save you money – you’ll have a big cost at the beginning, of course, but afterward you have almost no costs. Since the panels are just…well…panels…there are no complicated parts that break, and upkeep is minimal. 

What are the different kinds of solar panels on RVs?

There are three basic kinds of solar panels for an RV. They are:

  1. Mono-Crystalline – made from a single crystal. Individual cells are a thin wafer of silicon crystal.
  2. Poly-Crystalline – several smaller crystals combined to make a panel
  3. Amorphous – thin film panels combined to make a panel. Cells are made of a thin layer of silicon which are attached to a backing material.

What are the best RV solar panels?

RVers are always conscious of space, so when considering the best solar panels for RV, you need to think about cost, effectiveness, and space. Poly-crystalline panels are the most popular. They take up half the space of amorphous panels, and produce just slightly less power than mono-crystalline. However, amorphous panels are the cheapest and have a high-efficiency rate. Mono-crystalline are also efficient and usually produce more power in low-light conditions than the other two. It’s going to depend on which of those characteristics are most important to you. 

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Do I want rigid or flexible solar panels for RV?

RV flexible solar panels, thinner film panels, are the latest and greatest solar panel for RV. They’re extremely lightweight, and you can install more of them without adding additional weight, like you would with traditional panels. They’re still made of silicon, but they don’t use as much while still generating just as much energy as more traditional panels. Because they’re thinner, they’re also less noticeable and more aesthetically pleasing.

On the downside, they tend to come with a 10-year warranty, instead of the 30 years covered by more traditional panels. Also, as flexible panels heat up, that heat is transferred onto the roof – a great thing in winter, but it can be a problem in the summer. The panels are also glued to the roof, and it can be hard to remove them later and could even damage either the roof or the panels. Along with that, flexible solar panels for an RV roof can’t be moved, so when you need to do roof maintenance, you have to step on them. Most companies say their panels are built for this, but it does sometimes cause small cracks which can reduce their power output and shorten their lifespan. 

Rigid solar RV panels are hard and firmly fixed in place. Rigid RV solar panel panes are constructed with glass in an aluminum frame. They are more durable than the thinner, flexible panels and hold up to the rigors of travel. The panels are also more environmentally friendly when it is time to dispose of them. Rigid RV solar panels are more heat-resistant, and cost less to install. You can mount them to a hinge so you can take care of roof maintenance without stepping on your panels. 

However, rigid solar panels on RVs weigh more, adding more weight to your RV. They are more noticeable, and they can be harder to install between AC units, antennas, and other things on the roof. They are also made of glass, and while the glass is regulated to withstand high winds, hail, and extreme temperatures, it is possible for it to break. 

What does it take to install RV solar panels?

For installing most solar panels for RV use, you’re going to need:

  1. The solar panels
  2. A charge controller to regulate the flow of electricity to the batteries
  3. A battery monitor to keep track of levels
  4. Inverter to convert DC power from the panels into AC power for things like the coffee maker, phone chargers, vacuums, and TVs
  5. Wire harness to carry the charge from the panels to the batteries

How many solar panels do I need for my RV?

Panels come in various watt sizes, so the number of solar RV panels you need will depends on your power requirements. You can also get two smaller panels that equal the same watt size as one larger one, if you need to split them up because of space issues. To determine what size system you need, you can use an online calculator like this one by Go Power, or you can use AMSolar’s System Sizing by actual use

What about portable RV solar panels? 

Portable solar panels for RV let you move your panels around to get the most light, even if you’re parked under trees. They’re a good option for smaller campers or RVs, or you can use them in addition to a larger, permanent system. Portable kits come with cables so you can move them around. 

Final Tips:

As long as there’s enough light to cast a shadow on the ground, your solar panels can produce power. Also, keeping them clean will ensure that they’re generating as much power as they can. Be sure to check often that your panels are clean so you’re getting the most out of them.

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