Many RV users will know the frustration of being without power for your necessities on board. Why not take advantage of the free and green energy provided by the sun and invest in some solar panels? Being fully exposed to the elements, your RV is perfectly placed to benefit from soaking up solar energy which you can then store and use when you need it. In this article we review some of the best products on the market, and take a look at what you need to think about before purchasing a solar panel for your RV.
Best 100W Flexible Solar Panel for RV
ALLPOWERS 100W Solar Panel Review
If you decide the benefits of flexible solar panels are right for your needs, then this product from ALLPOWERS could be what you’re looking for. It is both lightweight and easy to mount, whilst also offering some of the greatest solar conversion efficiency thanks to its use of monocrystalline panels. As a result, this solar panel truly packs a punch in terms of energy output, so you won’t be needing to call on the generator to keep your RV battery alive, even on overcast days.
Importantly, this device has both short-circuit and surge protection technology to ensure you, and the devices in your RV, are kept safe and sound. With dimensions of 42x22x1.5 inches, you will need to consider if you have an appropriate location for this on your RV’s roof before purchase. If you do, you won’t have any trouble installing it thanks to the four reinforced metal mounting holes which make it easy to install with just screws and washers, without blocking any of the panels!
This durable model with water-resistant solar panels and water-proof junction box will help you turn your RV into a green-powered driving machine in no time.
Q&A: How should I connect two or more of these, if I want to increase voltage?
A: If you wish to increase voltage, then you should connect them in series. For amperage, connect them in parallel. However, make sure you do not exceed the controller capacity!
Q&A: Can I use the USB ports to charge without having a 12V battery connected?
A: Yes, you can use the USB ports for charging without a battery being connected.
Best 100W Lightweight Flexible Solar Panel for RV
Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Extremely Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel Review
This unbelievably flexible unit from Renogy is brilliant for those with challenging mounting spaces, such as RV roofs. It also has a surprisingly long lifespan in comparison to other flexible solar panels thanks to EFTE material it is made from, which also helps with solar energy conversion. If you’re planning on some mega-mileage journeys then this super-lightweight model will help to keep your dollars in your pocket with more miles per gallon.
Despite its extreme flexibility and lightweight (of just 4lbs), this unit has been built to withstand quite a beating, so you can count on it to be a sturdy device come wind, rain or snow! It also deals well with overcast weather thanks to its high performing monocrystalline panel.
Unfortunately, this device does not come with mounting hardware, so will need to buy this separately. However, it is a really powerful charger with so much else to give that you won’t find any other bad word to say about it for this price.
Q&A: How often should I clean these panels?
A: You should make sure to clean the panels at least once a year to ensure you are getting maximum efficiency.
Q&A: Can I use a collection of these to power standard plug-in electronics?
A: Yes, but you would need to buy a 12-volt battery, a charge controller, and use an inverter to do this.
Best 100W Stand-alone Portable Solar Panel (great for camping)
ACOPOWER 100W Foldable Solar Panel Kit Review
If you are not too keen to try your hand at mounting your solar panel on to your RV, or are just planning to use solar power for camping trips, then you could always consider getting a stand-alone solar panel. In truth, you can’t get much better in that regard than this little number from ACOPOWER which comes complete with a handy suitcase for ease of transport.
This 2-piece high-efficiency monocrystalline solar panel also comes with an easy to use charge controller as well as MC4 connectors, making it easy to hook up to more panels if more power is what you are after. The useful inbuilt stand and intuitive setup means that its easy as pie to get your campsite powered up before you’ve even laid down the groundsheet of your tent.
This charger works well with a variety of batteries including for deep cycle, AGM, flooded and Gel battery types and protects against both over and under-charging, as well as overheating. It is quite big though so don’t expect to take it on a long hike, although this extra size does give it the capability to easily keep an RV battery charged when off grid.
Q&A: Would I need to buy additional parts to charge a deep cycle 12V RV battery?
A: This product comes complete with the necessary clamps to do this.
Q&A: Will this charge my lithium generator battery?
A: It will indeed, so long as you use an appropriate connector.
Best 200W Rigid Solar Panel for RV(2 x 100 Watt)
ECO-WORTHY 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Panel Review
If you decide rigid solar panels meet your energy and security requirements, then this super durable, weatherproof frame and panel from Eco-Worthy, with consistent 100W output power thanks to its highly efficient monocrystalline panel, would be a great choice. The aluminium frame helps the panels last for years, whilst this device is also compatible with both on and off-grid inverters, providing great flexibility for your needs. The sleek design also means this appears less cumbersome than many comparable rigid solar panels.
A great benefit of this product is that it is easy to install and connect additional panels as per your energy needs, thanks to the inclusion of MC4 connectors which come attached with 3-feet worth of cable. If you need to charge 24 or 48-volt batteries, then just make sure to connect the extra solar panels in series. The fact that this product comes with an impressive 25-year performance warranty will also leave you smiling for years to come.
The monocrystalline panels and bypass diodes mean you can even garner power in shady environments and also add to the longevity of this product. Without doubt, this top quality product will provide your energy needs for years to come, wherever the road takes you.
Q&A: Would this power a 240V TV off the mains?
A: You could do this if you have a solar charge-controller, appropriate 12V battery and a DC to AC inverter. Alternatively, there are many newer model TVs capable of running off 12V DC input which include a transformer, so this would be good to go.
Q&A: How would I need to connect these to provide 300W 12V +- charging capacity?
A: You would need to connect 3 of these panels in parallel (with three leads) in order to meet these requirements.
Best 300W Polycrystalline Solar Panel(3 x 100 Watt)
HQST 100 Watt 12 Volt Polycrystalline Solar Panel Review
If you’re looking for a rigid solar power panel on a budget then you would be wise to take a look at this unit from HQST. This super-sturdy solar panel can deal with pretty much anything you can throw at it weather-wise and manages to achieve a surprisingly good conversion efficiency rating despite its polycrystalline panels. This is thanks to the multi-sheet laminations, which both improves cell output and lifetime. With a 25-year warranty for power output, this polycrystalline model should not be sniffed at.
This unit comes with mounting holes to help with fast-mounting, although you will need to buy your own mounting system separately. Because it uses polycrystalline panels this is not as good in overcast or shady environments, but the bypass diode system goes some way to minimizing this inefficiency and shouldn’t put you off. It also comes complete with MC4 leads if you come to need more output energy with time.
If you are looking for amazing efficiency for a ludicrously affordable price, then you could do worse than to give this polycrystalline model the central stage in your off-grid power supply.
Q&A: What do ‘bypass diodes’ do to reduce inefficiency?
A: Bypass diodes ensure that cells that aren’t generating power, such as those under shade, do not dissipate the overall power generated by cells adjacent to shaded cells
Q&A: Could I use this to charge my phone directly?
A: The output of this unit is 22 volts compared to the 5 needed for a phone -so, plugged in directly, this would destroy your phone! If you wanted to use this for your phone, you would need to by a charge controller.
Best Type Of Solar Panel for RVs
When considering the best type of solar panel to buy for your RV it is not surprising if you feel overwhelmed by the choices on offer or confused by the complicated language that seems to accompany their product descriptions. Here we go through some of this terminology to make sure that you are well informed when making your choice on the best type of solar panel for your RV.
What is meant by Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline and Amorphous?
You will notice when browsing through the available portable solar panels for RVs that they are described as either Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline or Amorphous.
Amorphous is the cheapest option, being made up of a thin film of silicon, and are much larger than their crystalline counterparts. When it comes to RVs it is likely that this type of solar panel will be much too large for the vehicle you want to mount it on, as well as being less efficient, difficult to attach and less durable.
So Monocrystalline or Polycrystalline? This is the burning question. Monocrystalline solar panels are made of a single-crystal silicon that is cut into wafers. Whereas Polycrystalline solar panels are made of multiple fragments of silicon, which are melted together and then cut into wafers to create the solar panel. It is the use of single-crystal silicon that makes the distinction between these two solar panels. This attribute means that Monocrystalline solar panels are more efficient as the electrons that create the flow of electricity from the sun have more room for manoeuvre.
Monocrystalline solar panels inevitably come with a higher price tag due to their optimum efficiency in sunlight, as well as being the best option in shadier conditions. Given the limited space available for solar panels on your RV, we recommend that a Monocrystalline solar panel will be the most economical option, as you will be able to maximise the production of electricity from these super-efficient panels.
However, if you are on a budget, Polycrystalline solar panels are not without their benefits. While they will produce less power than Monocrystalline panels, they may be a good option if you are not going to be relying on solar power regularly, or are guaranteed to be using your RV in very sunny climates.
Should I choose a flexible or a rigid solar panel for my RV?
The next thing you need to think about is whether you want a flexible or a rigid solar panel for your RV.
Flexible solar panels – pros and cons
Flexible solar panels consist of a thin film of solar cells which are attached to a thick plastic sheet. They are incredibly lightweight and, true to their name, flexible. Their flexibility allows them to be bent to a 30-degree angle, which means they can fit the shape of your RVs roof and then easily be glued on. They do not fall short when it comes to power either and can generate as much electricity as rigid solar panels.
Flexible solar panels are a good option if you want easy installation, don’t want any excess weight when you are travelling and prefer to keep your RV looking beautiful as these solar panels are inconspicuous and can barely be seen once installed.
One of the main disadvantages of using flexible solar panels is their inability to prevent heat build-up. As flexible solar panels are fixed flatly onto the roof of the RV it is impossible for air to flow underneath them which means they rely on the inbuilt aluminium substrate to prevent overheating. Where this technique has failed there have been reports of flexible solar panels breaking from overheating in cheaper models.
This doesn’t mean that flexible solar panels are a write-off, rather, that they are a better option if you are using your RV for short camping trips and then store your RV away from direct sunlight in the garage when you’re not using it. They are also a good option for smaller RVs due to the limited amount of roof space available.
Rigid solar panels – pros and cons
This is where the rigid solar panel comes in, they are more durable than flexible solar panels and the best option if you are going to be using your RV on a more regular basis. With a sturdy aluminium frame and tempered glass that covers the solar panels, these panels are bolted to the RV roof and then can be tilted at an angle and manoeuvred for maximum sun exposure.
Rigid solar panels are more complicated to install than flexible ones and there is the danger that you may damage the roof when drilling in the required holes to attach the solar panel, particularly if your roof is made of fibreglass. They are also heavier than flexible solar panels and more of an eyesore as they stick out on top of the roof, rather than resting flatly. Roof space is also an important consideration as rigid solar panels take up more room and may not be the best option for smaller RVs.
That being said, once installed the advantages of rigid solar panels do outweigh those of their flexible counterparts and they are the best option if your RV is of a larger size and you are planning on relying on solar power frequently.
They are far more durable and are less susceptible to the elements and environments they will be exposed to when travelling. They are also far more heat resistant as the space beneath them means air can flow through – an important factor in ensuring the efficiency of a solar panel as they don’t like getting too hot. Rigid solar panels are able to last for many years and the difference in warranties provided for flexible and rigid solar panels highlights this point. Many rigid solar batteries will come with a 25-year warranty, whereas for flexible solar panels you’ll be lucky to get 5 years.
The needs of RVs and their owners are different, so it is important to weigh up the pros and cons of both flexible and rigid solar panels in order to decide which of these best fits your requirements.
How many volts do I need?
Before purchasing your solar panel it is a good idea to check the power requirements of what you are wanting to power with it. You can use an energy calculator (which you can easily find online) to work out how many amps per day you use in your RV and then decide how many panels and what size panels you will need to sufficiently cater to these power needs via solar energy.
It is best to work out these power needs on an individual basis so that you can get the right number of solar panels and correct voltage for you. However, to put it simply if you are wanting to power the devices in your RV on a day to day basis it is likely that you will need multiple solar panels of a higher voltage (possibly 3-4 solar panels rated at 24 volts). Whereas if you are using your RV less frequently, and for shorter trips, one solar panel should be sufficient, rated at 12 volts.
How do I mount my solar panel onto my RV?
Having purchased your solar panels you now need to take on the task of mounting them onto your RV. This may seem like a daunting undertaking, but with correct instruction and the right equipment, you should be able to do this independently.
If you get in a muddle with such practical tasks it is a good idea to select a solar panel for your RV that comes with a panel mounting kit. This will include all the bolts or adhesive needed to attach the solar panel with instructions on how to complete the installation.
Not all solar panels come with such equipment, however, but a trip to the local hardware store will soon mean you have the bolts, brackets and adhesive you need to get your RV ready to soak up solar energy.
When it comes to purchasing a solar panel system for your RV there are lots of things to think about. In terms of the types of solar panels available, Monocrystalline are the most efficient solar panels on the market. However, if your budget is at the lower end, Polycrystalline solar panels offer a good value alternative – but don’t expect them to work as well in shadier settings.
It is also important to think about the size of your RV and how frequently you will be relying on solar power as the main energy source – this will help you to decide between flexible or rigid solar panels, as well as the voltage required.
While the upfront cost of implementing solar panels onto your RV may seem steep, it is a worthwhile investment as you will be reaping the benefits from this renewable energy source for years to come. You will also be able to rest assured that your energy consumption is helping to save the environment.