Solar power is becoming more and more popular among RV owners. Its benefits are numerous, not to mention that solar panels don’t require much space and can easily be installed on almost any type of RV, big or small.
That said, there is a wide array of products available and it can be difficult to choose the best solar panels for RVs.
To help you out with this matter, we’ve picked our top recommendations in each category to help you decide, no matter your RV situation.
Here’s a quick overview:
- 2x 100W Panels
- 2x 20Ah Batteries
- 1x 600W DC to AC inverter
- 1x 30A Charge Controller
- 4x 300W panels
- 18 Volt output
- 1x 40A Charge Controller
- Mountable on curved surfaces
- 500W output
- 518Wh capacity
- 100W foldable solar panel
- Can be transported by one person
Benefits of adding solar power to your RV
If you’re considering adding solar power to your RV, you’re likely already aware of some of the benefits.
Solar panels provide a sustainable and renewable source of energy that is environmentally responsible.
They are quiet and efficient, they don’t produce any waste or emissions, and they’re odorless.
Additionally, they are low-maintenance and have practically no recurring costs. If you need more power, they’re easy to upgrade in the future.
A trickle charger, which the solar panel system powers, can even extend the life of your RV’s battery.
RV solar panels also give you the ability to live in beautiful natural settings while having all the comforts of home.
You can refrigerate and cook food using the sun’s energy, and you can keep your batteries charged up for extended periods of time.
Best solar panels for RVs
Solar panels have many different types and technologies, each with its own benefits and drawbacks.
From rigid, flexible, and portable systems, to the different panel types of monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and amorphous panels.
Although there are many benefits of adding solar power to your RV, it is important to know what type of solar panels are best for your RV needs and budget.
Let’s take a look below at the main distinctions between the different panels as well as our top recommendations.
Rigid solar panels
Rigid solar panels are the most common and most well-known style of solar panels. Here the element is mounted inside of a rigid aluminum frame.
These are simple to construct and maintain since they rely on readily accessible technology and there shouldn’t be any moving parts, i.e. less possible points of failure.
They’re nearly indestructible and quality units can survive harsh weather conditions with ease.
Pros of rigid solar panels
- Long lifespan of approximately 25 years.
- Durable with an aluminum frame protecting the cells.
- Wind and weather resistant with the tempered glass covering the cells.
- Efficiency is very high and they tend to cost less per watt than other panels.
Cons of rigid solar panels
- Cost, even though the tech isn’t brand new, the manufacturing process is still quite costly.
- They are fixed and usually can only pivots upwards on RVs.
- Weight, with the average weight being 20 lb (9 kg) for a 100W panel.
- Tricky installation compared to other panels, requires brackets/stands, drilling, and fastening.
Rigid Solar Panel Options
The ECO-WORTHY complete solar panel kit is a fantastic option for a rigid solar panel kit for your RV because everything you need to plug-in appliances is delivered as standard.
Also included are two 20Ah Lithium batteries to store the excess power generated for when the sun isn't quite playing along.
The kit has the potential to be expanded, with 2 additional monocrystalline panels and/or 2 extra batteries, making it extremely easy to add even more solar power.
The easy expansion of the system and the great value this kit represents earn it our top pick.
The kit from Renogy is a good place to start if you're looking for a low-budget alternative.
It offers you everything you need to get started, including a monocrystalline solar panel, charge controller, connections between the panel and controller, and the mounting kit.
You will need to buy a battery and inverter to complete the system though.
Flexible solar panels
Flexible solar panels are some of the latest tech currently in the solar panel industry.
These are lightweight, simple to use, and adapt to almost any surface they’re placed on.
This makes them ideal for anybody with an Airstream or other retro-style camper or RV that would find it difficult to mount a rigid panel.
Pros of flexible solar panels
- They can be easily transported, weighing on average around 5 lb (2.3kg) per panel.
- They can be placed on almost any surface since many can bend close to 50°.
- They may cost the same as rigid panels but installation costs are much more affordable.
- Can be easily removed to be used elsewhere compared to rigid panels.
- Tend to perform better in low light conditions compared to rigid panels.
Cons of flexible solar panels
- When handled incorrectly they can flex too much and break.
- The life span of flexible panels is between 3-5 years when used constantly.
- You will need a stand for it to mount to when not installed on a roof.
- They tend to develop harmful micro-cracks faster than rigid panels.
- When the panel is partly in the shade the efficiency drops a lot more than rigid panels.
Flexible Solar Panel Options
The flexible solar panels from ZYTNB are very durable being able to withstand high winds with no problem, plus snow loads of 5400pa (that's almost approx. 110 pounds per square foot of snow!).
This durability means that the panels will last longer before they need any repairs or replacements; in addition, the lightweight IP67 waterproof design puts these solar panels at a mere 1.85 kg per panel.
The panel is well protected in a thick fabric pocket and easy to carry making them great for RVs or campers.
The kit does not include a battery or inverter, but because of its durability and energy-generating potential, it's our top flexible solar panel pick.
The ACOPOWER 110W 12V Flexible Solar Panel provides a flexible and portable system to power your RV or other off-grid needs at a low cost.
This lightweight solar panel can be flexed up 27 degrees, making it perfect for curved roofs like those found on coaches.
The monocrystalline cells that make up this product are some of the most efficient out there, and the ETFE Design means it will be durable and lasting even in the harshest outdoor conditions.
Portable solar panels and solar generators
Portable solar panels accompanied by solar-powered generators are a market that’s expanded rapidly in recent years.
With the efficiency of modern panels, the power generated by portable solar panels is comparable to some fuel-operated generators. Some companies even market their portable solar panel kits as solar generators.
These systems tend to be all-in-one solutions that you can take with you wherever you go. The solar panel provides the power, while the generator doubles as a power bank and inverter for charging and powering your electrical devices.
Pros of portable units
- Clean renewable energy.
- Almost silent compared to fuel-powered generators.
- Low maintenance.
- Portable and can be disassembled and assembled in a few minutes.
- You can park your RV or camper in the shade while the panels can be in the sun.
- The inverter boxes can be used as a power bank when not plugged into the panels or the sun has set (or on days when there isn’t much sun).
- Can be charged via solar panels or AC outlets.
Cons of portable units
- The price per watt generated is much more than other solar options.
- With their limited size, they generate less power than other panels.
- As they’re more portable, there is a higher likelihood of damage when being moved.
- Limited power storage due to the inverter/battery box.
- Need additional power leads as the panels aren’t directly connected to the RV.
Portable solar options
The Jackery Solar Generator 500 is our top pick because of its strong construction and simple user interface, which are both excellent.
When the base station is fully charged, it'll keep a small cooler cold for up to 7.5 hours or recharge your phone 53 times when the solar panels are connected with full sunshine.
The solar panels can recharge the base station to 80% in 7.5 hours and the whole system can also easily be upgraded by purchasing additional panels.
For the price, you can't do much better than the Powkey 200W solar generator.
When folded, you have two cases: One containing the inverter and battery bank that is about the size of a notebook, and the other containing the solar panels folded up to just about the size of an old briefcase.
This set features an array of easy-to-use ports to charge a variety of electric devices simultaneously, and the panel included provides a higher conversion rate than standard panels with an efficiency of up to 22%. The durable design makes this set great for camping, hiking, and RV trips.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Monocrystalline solar panels are characterized by their black PV cells with rounded edges.
They have a higher conversion efficiency than polycrystalline, which means they produce more kilowatt-hours of electricity per square foot when installed in larger areas like rooftops or fields.
While they’re the most efficient solar panel type, these high-quality single-crystal silicon cells are also expensive to make as it’s a very complex manufacturing process.
Pros of monocrystalline solar panels
- Highest efficiency compared to other solar panel types.
- Requires less space to produce more power.
- Has the longest lifespan and most companies warranty them for 25 years.
- They perform better than polycrystalline units at lower light levels.
Cons of monocrystalline solar panels
- They are the most expensive type of solar panel.
- Performance decreases as the outside temperature increases.
- A lot of waste material in the production of solar cells, means these are less environmentally friendly.
Monocrystalline panel options
This Renogy 100W 12V Monocrystalline Panel is the perfect off-grid power solution for your RV or cabin.
Made with high purity silicon cells that are coated in advanced encapsulation material, this monocrystalline panel has multi-layered sheet laminations to enhance performance and provide long-lasting durability.
It also comes with pre-drilled holes on the back making mounting as simple as possible.
The 100-watt output, tilt mount brackets, and good pricing makes this our top pick.
These small and lightweight panels can provide power in any setting - even if there aren't any access points.
While 30W isn't a lot, you will still be able to power some LED lights with this panel and the 23.6 x 13.5-inch size isn't going to take up a whole lot of space.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Polycrystalline solar panels come with straight-edged blue PV cells, these have a lower efficiency than monocrystals which means that you need more of them to produce the same amount of power, however, they also cost less because their manufacturing process is simpler.
Polycrystals suffer more under higher temperatures and their output can drastically decrease on hotter days.
The PV cells of these “poly panels” or multi-crystalline panels are made up of many silicon crystals that come together during manufacturing to form a single cell.
Pros of polycrystalline solar panels
- Cheaper than monocrystalline panels.
- They are just as durable as monocrystalline panels.
- Less waste when manufacturing as they don’t use one single silicon crystal.
Cons of polycrystalline solar panels
- They are less efficient than monocrystalline panels.
- Need more area to generate the same power as monocrystalline alternatives.
- Life expectancy is generally lower than that of monocrystalline panels.
- Less efficient when the temperature outside increases .
Polycrystalline panel options
The panel is designed for 12 volt systems but can be wired in series to increase the voltage to 24 volts or 48 volts.
This is quite a large panel, having a total length of 58.3 inches (147cm), so make sure you have enough space on your RV beforehand.
Even though polycrystalline panels have a shorter lifespan compared to their monocrystalline counterparts, this panel from RICH SOLAR comes with an extensive warranty (incl. a 25 year - 80% efficiency rate) to give you peace of mind, making it our top choice.
The HQST 50W Polycrystalline Solar Panel is the best choice for those who want to maximize their solar energy with minimal investment.
The system is 12 volt but can be wired in series for 24/48 volt battery charging.
Amorphous Solar Panels
Amorphous panels are one of the most invested solar panel technology today, mainly because they can be made at a very cost-effective rate compared to the other two.
The efficiency of the panels has greatly improved over the years bumping their solar charge efficiency from 11% to close to 20%.
These solar panel types are very popular in solar motion sensor lights, garden lights, and battery chargers/maintainers, but they’re making strides in the world of offgrid electricity generation.
Pros of amorphous solar panels
- Thin and flexible (also when mounted in frames).
- Lightweight construction.
- Low conversion efficiency.
- Construction methods are perfect for mass production.
- Has a lot of potential for further improvements.
- Low production costs.
- Performs the best in poor lighting conditions compared to the other two.
Cons of amorphous solar panels
- The lifetime of the panel is the shortest of the three due to the degradation of the photoelectric efficiency.
- The power output isn’t as stable as the other two.
- Not as efficient as the other two.
Amorphous panel options
The Battery Tender 17 Watt may only have 17W of output but the 3 stage battery charger is the reason why it has a higher price.
It controls the charge to the battery, prohibiting overcharging, discharging, and keeping your battery at the exact voltage it needs to be, thereby prolonging the life of the battery.
The Sunforce 18 Watt panel is perfect for those looking for a minimal RV or camper adventure.
It can charge a 12-volt battery directly with no other components needed. And the 7-amp charge controller prevents overcharging.
Frequently asked questions
How many solar panels do I need to run an RV?
Most people will need between 100W and 400W in their RV to power most of the appliances and electronics.
This can differ depending on how many appliances you have, if you have the A/C on, and what other electronics you have charging.
You’ll find that most large panels are around 100W, so if you are running a frugal system, one solar panel could be all you need. The more energy you then consume will dictate how many more units you’ll need on your RV.
Are solar panels on an RV worth it?
Yes, they do have their downsides, but generally speaking the positives outweigh those tenfold. You have more freedom, unreliant on the rest of the world, with solar panels providing power.
You can camp at locations with no power infrastructure and still have the comforts of electricity thanks to those solar panels.
If you are going to be parking exclusively in campsites with power facilities for you to connect your RV to, then large solar kits are probably not going to be worth it for you though.
What are the most efficient RV solar panels?
Monocrystalline solar panels are the most efficient panels for RVs and we recommend the Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel.
While monocrystalline solar panels are the most efficient they are also the most expensive due to the more complicated production process compared to polycrystalline panels.
Final thoughts on the best solar panels for RVs
The best solar panels for RVs are the ones that will work with your RV’s needs.
Whether you need a portable solution or something more rigid, there is an option out there for you.
Your power consumption may also dictate which type of panel to get, so make sure to take this into consideration when choosing how many panels you want and what size they should be.
For a rigid rig, we recommend the ECO-WORTHY Complete Solar Panel Kit.
For a flexible setup, we recommend the ZYTNB 1200W Flexible Monocrystalline Kit.
And for a portable solution, we recommend the Jackery Solar Generator 500 with solar panel.
We hope these insights help guide your decision on the right solar panel set up for your rig.