The 8 Best Solar Panels for RV – 2022 Buyer’s Guide

Last Updated on May 12, 2022 by Chris and Lindsay

Let us help you pick out the best solar panels for RV living to keep you powered up while you’re on the road!

Having great solar panels is important, especially if you plan to spend any amount of time dry camping or boondocking in some of the most beautiful places in North America. In fact, we consider solar panels one of the first RV must-haves that you should consider and we do not know why anyone would travel in 2022 without them!

When we first started RVing in 2018 we knew that we needed solar panels as we planned to drive from Alaska to Argentina and we knew we wanted to be self-sufficient along the way. But we did not know where to begin with selecting the solar panels and other RV power system components that we needed, like RV batteries, inverters, charge controllers and battery monitors.

Fortunately, we were able to do enough research to at least find an RV solar panel kit to get us started. Installation was simple enough, though we admit we didn’t know why we hooked up the solar panel power system the way we did.

And we found for the first year on the road our solar power kit provided us with a decent amount of power to keep us comfortable. However, we realized shortly into our second year on the road that we needed to upgrade our existing solar panels because we were really missing out on capturing and using solar power.

You don’t have to be an expert to install solar panels on your RV, campervan or travel trailer. In fact, we’ll break down the very basics for you to give you confidence that you can select the best solar panels for your RV, install them on your own and enjoy an RV lifestyle where power is one less thing you have to think about while traveling.

In this post, we’ll help you understand the basics of what you want to look for in building a solar power system for your campervan, RV or travel trailer. We’ll also share our top RV solar panel recommendations, including the ones we have chosen for our own Class C RV, and why you will want to consider each.

You’ll find that we’ve broken down this post to include the top 2 choices for 4 different types of solar panels that may interest you: rigid solar panels, flexible solar panels, portable solar suitcase panels and RV solar panel kits

You will also notice that Renogy products are featured for each type. This is because Renogy is a worldwide leader in RV solar technology and we don’t think you can go wrong with anything the company produces. In fact, we use Renogy solar panels in every one of our RVs over the years.

Affiliate Disclaimer: This post may contain links to products we think you’ll like. If you purchase any of the products through the links below we’ll receive a small commission. As full-time RVers, we know our RV products well and only recommend those that we either own or would consider owning ourselves.

OUR TOP SOLAR PANELS RECOMMENDATIONS FOR RVS

BEST FLEXIBLE

Renogy 100 Watt Flexible Panel

Can flex up to 248 degrees

Can be installed on curved surfaces

Our Pick

Renogy 100 Watt Mono Rigid panel

Compact design

Made with durable and corrosion-resistant aluminum

Great low light performance

Great customer service


Best SOLAR KIT

Renogy 400 Watt Solar Starter Kit

Excellent build quality


High-quality charge controller

Simple and straightforward installation


TYPE

DIMENSIONS (inches)

WEIGHT (lbs)

PRICE RANGE


RIGID

43 x 20 x 2

14.3

$75 - $125

RIGID

33 x 27 x 2

13.2

$75 - $100

SUITCASE

33 x 22 x 3

46.7

$750 - $850

SUITCASE

22 x 22 x 3

19.4

$250 - $300 

STARTER KIT

43 x 20 x 2

14.3 each

$600 - $800

STARTER KIT

41 x 20 x 2

12.1 each

$500 - $600

FLEXIBLE

48 x 21 x 0.1

4

$175 - $225

FLEXIBLE

48 x 22 x 0.1

4.2

$100 - $150

Our Honesty Disclaimer: In the course of living in our RV full time for over 4 years we have thoroughly researched all of these products before making the choice on our own. So we’ll give you honest information that allows you to make the best decision for which product is right for you.

The Best Solar Panels For RV and Campervans

While there are a lot of choices out there for the type and size of solar panels, we think these 8 solar panels are the best options for your consideration. You will find them grouped by rigid solar panels, flexible solar panels, portable solar suitcase panels and RV solar panel kits.

PRODUCT

WHAT WE LIKE

WHAT TO CONSIDER

OUR RATING

EDITOR'S CHOICE

Renogy 100 Watt Solar Panel

  • Compact design

  • Made with durable and corrosion-resistant aluminum

  • Great low light performance

  • Great customer service

  • Sometimes slight manufacturing differences between panels

  • May wait on hold with customer service for a while

BEST BUDGET SOLAR PANELS

HQST 100 Watt Solar Panel

  • Very similar in design to Renogy panels for less money

  • Rugged and durable

  • Customer service is subpar

BEST SUITCASE SOLAR PANELS

Zamp Solar Suitcase 140 Watt With Charge Controller

  • Excellent build quality

  • Amazing customer service

  • Made in the USA

  • Plug and Play

  • Very high price point

  • Need to buy a larger controller to add more panels

BUDGET SUITCASE SOLAR PANELS

Renogy 100 Watt Foldable Solar Suitcase

  • Rugged protective case with handle and latches

  • Quick and easy setup

  • Some consumers mentioned cables being installed incorrectly

BEST SOLAR KIT

Renogy 400 Watt Solar Starter Kit

  • Simple and straightforward installation

  • High quality panels that are built to last

  • Has all parts necessary for install

  • Some consumers had issues with the controller failing

BUDGET SOLAR KIT

HQST 400W Solar Panel Kit

  • Easy to install

  • Durable panels that can withstand rain, wind and snow

  • Includes all parts for installation

  • The PWM charge controller seems to be of lower quality

BEST FLEXIBLE SOLAR PANEL

Renogy 100 Watt Flexible Panel

  • Can flex up to 248 degrees

  • Lightweight

  • Durable considering it's flexible

  • Can be installed on curved surfaces

  • Some issues with quality control

  • Mounting may be tricky

BUDGET FLEXIBLE SOLAR PANEL

Newpowa 100 Watt Semi-Flex Solar Panels

  • Has reinforced mounting holes

  • Reliable panels for a great price

  • Not as flexible as other flex panels

Rigid RV Solar Panel Options

A rigid solar panel is your classic panel. These typically are 12-volt, with an aluminum frame and pre-drilled holes for easy mounting. Rigid panels are great for more permanent installation on any RV.

EDITOR’S CHOICE: Renogy 100 Watt Solar Panel

The Renogy 100, one of the best solar panels for RV use, comes with everything ready to power up your next adventure past the city limits.

It is smaller than other Renogy 100-watt panels but packs the same power output, making it a favorite for those looking to save some space without sacrificing performance.

Renogy has made its name providing portable solar power, and this model is a high-performance version of their standard solar panel kit. The panel comes prepped for installation with holes already drilled into the back of the mainframe.

We like that, as the entry model for Renogy and perhaps the most popular solar panel among the RV community, the panel construction consists of high-quality parts and multiple layers of lamination, extending each cell’s life.

The RV solar panel isn’t as easy to set up and takedown as some suitcase models on this list, making it not the best choice if you’re looking for portable solar panels.

Instead, It would work best for looking to up their power output by installing solar panels into mounting brackets on the roof of the RV, adding on a solar controller, and letting the monocrystalline solar cells take care of the rest.

On the downside, Renogy has commanded the market for some time and the price point for this solar panel is higher than most on a per-watt value. And while many people complain about Renogy customer support, we’ve had nothing but good things to say about it… though we’ve spent quite a bit of time on hold at various points.  

BONUS SAVINGS: Shop directly through Renogy and use coupon code “CalledToWander” at checkout to save an additional 10% off your Renogy purchase.

WHAT WE LIKE THINGS TO CONSIDER
* Compact design
* Made with durable and corrosion-resistant aluminum
* Great low light performance
* Great customer service
* Sometimes slight manufacturing differences between panels
* May wait on hold with customer service for a while

BEST BUDGET SOLAR PANEL: HQST 100 Watt Solar Panel

You don’t have to redefine the industry to call your product one of the best RV solar panels and kits.

The HQST 100 Watt solar panel system took a look at what similar RV solar kits were capable of and bet that they could offer the same amount of power for a bit less money.

This solar panel is the result of that work. The monocrystalline solar panel is a lightweight, corrosion-resistant aluminum frame and built to last in a permanent installation.

We like that, dollar-for-dollar, this 100-watt RV solar panel can do everything that virtually any other model is capable of. But if you haven’t circled your solar RV energy set-up as a big-ticket expense, this option can save you a few bucks while still getting your batteries charged.

This RV solar panel comes with pre-drilled holes ready for installation in a sunny area of your recreational vehicle and is built to be left alone once installed for a simple portable solar power system.

On the downside, customer service for HQST is known to be subpar. However, installation for this solar panel is literally plug and play so it’s highly doubtful you’d ever have to hop on the phone to speak with a rep.

WHAT WE LIKE THINGS TO CONSIDER
* Very similar in design to Renogy panels for less money
* Rugged and durable
* Customer service is subpar

Portable Solar Suitcase

Portable solar panels are great if you don’t have the ability or desire to permanently mount a solar panel to your RV roof. These options come with the solar panel and the charge controller so they are literally plug and play.

Portable solar panels can either stand alone as your only power source, or you can use them to supplement your RV solar panel system that is permanently mounted on your roof. In this case, you can park in the shade to keep your RV cool and run your portable solar panels into the sunlight to capture solar power.

BEST SUITCASE SOLAR PANELS: Zamp Solar Suitcase 140 Watt With Charge Controller

The cream of the crop, Zamp’s portable solar panel kits have established themselves as one of the best RV solar panels by generating more solar power than the competition without sacrificing weight or portability.

The portable solar panel comes with a 5 stage solar charge controller to help avoid overcharging, and the company backs up its device with a 25-year warranty.

There is a reason this portable solar panel is the most expensive suitcase on the market. If you want to spare no expense to bring permanent renewable energy solutions into your home on wheels, the Zamp Solar Suitcase will get the job done.  

We like that Zamp Solar built all materials used in construction to withstand the test of time, which does add a few pounds onto the device. Users find it a small price to pay for peace of mind.

And we also like that Zamp manufactures all of its solar components in the United States. This comes at a premium, of course. But they’re the only solar panel you can get that is made in the USA.

Some RV companies have gone as far as to include Zamp portable solar-ready ports in their vehicles, making the charging process as simple as acquiring the best portable solar panels for the job.

The best RV solar panel kit consists of everything that can fit inside the durable carrying case the panel can be slid into when it’s not needed.

On the downside, you will pay a pretty penny for any Zamp products such as these. But if you are looking for the best, particularly when it comes to a portable solar panel kit, this is your best bet.

WHAT WE LIKE THINGS TO CONSIDER
* Excellent build quality
* Amazing customer service
* Made in the USA
* Plug and Play
* Very high price point
* Need to buy a larger controller to add more panels

BUDGET SUITCASE SOLAR PANELS: Renogy 100 Watt Foldable Solar Suitcase

This portable Renogy 100 Watt solar starter kit comes with its carrying case as well as one of the best solar panel charge controllers, essential for monitoring the performance of your recreational vehicle and its solar charging capability.

And you’ll find that this portable solar power system folds and stores neatly into any nook & cranny available in your RV.

What is more, this solar power kit is ready to use as soon as you connect the solar panel to your battery charger and instantly begin absorbing the sun’s rays.

We like that the designers built the suitcase for easy maneuvering with latches and a handle, so the 26 pounds of extra luggage is not a chore. Unfold the briefcase, and your solar kit takes the form of two 50-watt monocrystalline solar panels that can power up to 20 amp hours, all with the convenience of an easy-to-install solar charge controller so you can see how your battery is holding up.

This solar starter kit is one of the best RV solar panels for anyone looking for a budget to bring an entire solar system through the doors of their RV.

We also like that Renogy now includes a solar charge controller with this portable power kit, an upgrade to previous kits where the biggest complaint was that the solar suitcase was not ready to use out of the box. This upgrade means that you are ready to plug-and-play whenever you need your solar.

BONUS SAVINGS: Shop directly through Renogy and use coupon code “CalledToWander” at checkout to save an additional 10% off your Renogy purchase.

WHAT WE LIKE THINGS TO CONSIDER
* Rugged protective case with handle and latches
* Quick and easy setup
* Some consumers mentioned cables being installed incorrectly

RV Solar Panels Kits

RV solar panels kits are a one-stop shop for getting started with building your solar system. The kit comes with solar panels, a solar charge controller and often the fuses, wires and mounts for installing the panels.

We like RV solar panels kits because they are typically priced much lower as a kit than all of the parts individually. They also include everything you need to get started. And they are great for anyone who is not really sure where to begin with installing a solar panel system on their RV.

BEST SOLAR KIT: Renogy 400 Watt Solar Starter Kit

This 400-watt Renogy solar panel kit is an entire RV solar panel kit ready to power your vehicle.

It contains twice the power as Renogy’s cheaper options and comes with everything you need to make sure you have high-quality solar power wherever the journey takes you.

Anyone who wants a one-stop shop for their entire solar system should consider this Renogy option. The RV solar panels can charge a variety of different battery types and power output.

We like that this kit includes a great MPPT solar charge controller, unlike other kits that either don’t include a controller or include an inferior one.

All cords and connectors for the kit come with your dual-panel setup and manufacturers include an upgraded charge controller capable of efficient charging of up to 30 amp-hours.

The portable solar panels come easy to install, and the solar power has mounting brackets included if you’d rather make it a permanent power source. These heavy-duty solar panel kits with a charge controller can handle most RV owners’ power needs with ease. 

On the downside, 4 panels can be bulky so you’ll need to put thought into how you want each solar panel arranged on your roof. Additionally, this kit provides branch connectors for wiring in parallel. But if you wanted to connect these panels in series you would need different connectors.

BONUS SAVINGS: Shop directly through Renogy and use coupon code “CalledToWander” at checkout to save an additional 10% off your Renogy purchase.

WHAT WE LIKE THINGS TO CONSIDER
* Simple and straightforward installation
* High-quality panels that are built to last
* Has all parts necessary for install
* Some consumers had issues with the controller failing
* Includes branch connectors for parallel, not series, connections.

BUDGET SOLAR KIT: HQST 400W Solar Panel Kit

There’s a pattern forming with the best RV solar panel on this list.

Each Renogy solar option is likely to be mirrored by the folks at HQST, who once again offer up a version with similar power output to a more expensive model at less cost. 

This 400-watt monocrystalline solar panel kit is designed specifically for first-time solar users, and designers made sure to make the solar panels for camping as simple as possible.

If price is a factor, these solar cells are one of the best solar panels for RV and will give you everything you need to jumpstart your RV solar panel system. 

We really like that the solar panel kit comes with everything you need to hook up the behemoth into a permanent mounting bracket set up as well as all necessary components to use the included solar charge controller to monitor the amount of power your RV solar panel provides.

We also like that this kit is one of the best and cheapest complete starter kits on offer.

On the downside, this kit comes with a PWM charge controller instead of a more efficient MPPT controller. However, as a starter kit the controller will do fine for you and you can always upgrade the charge controller later if you feel you need to.

WHAT WE LIKE THINGS TO CONSIDER
* Easy to install
* Durable panels that can withstand rain, wind and snow.
* Includes all parts for installation
* The PWM charge controller seems to be of lower quality

Flexible Solar Panel Options

Flexible solar panels are great options for RV life if your RV roof is slanted. These are typically great options for vans or other non-traditional RVs where the roof will not accommodate a more rigid aluminum frame of the standard solar panel.

We have also seen a flexible solar panel installed on the sides of vans and other RVs as a way to capture even more solar power output.

BEST FLEXIBLE SOLAR PANEL: Renogy 100 Watt Flexible Panel

Most traditional RV solar panels have been co-opted for use in RV’s but were originally designed to charge tiny homes or off-grid set-ups.

This flexible 12-volt Renogy 100 Watt was built to encapsulate everything necessary to excel in the modern flexible solar panel space.

The solar panel weighs only 4 pounds and can be bent to 248 degrees, giving you greater control in installation and implementation than ever before.

Polymer materials were employed over conventional solar panel construction to give you a solar panel kit like nothing else, all at only a 10th of an inch tall.

We like that this 100-watt flexible solar panel kit is a combination of years of developing the highest quality solar panel materials retrofitted to fit into the van life space. If you don’t want the whole world eyeing the solar panel kit on the roof of your recreational vehicle, this panel won’t be visible to passersby.

We also like that this Renogy portable solar panel has all the benefits of flexibility without sacrificing performance and would be a great addition to any off-grid of the best RV solar systems. Renogy didn’t make these using polycrystalline solar panel technology. Instead, this version uses the more efficient monocrystalline panels for RV use.

On the downside, installing flexible solar panels is different from the traditional aluminum-frame solar panel. So you’ll want to look into ways to mount these to your RV or van.

BONUS SAVINGS: Shop directly through Renogy and use coupon code “CalledToWander” at checkout to save an additional 10% off your Renogy purchase.

WHAT WE LIKE THINGS TO CONSIDER
* Can flex up to 248 degrees
* Lightweight
* Durable considering it’s flexible
* Can be installed on curved surfaces
* Some issues with quality control
* Mounting may be tricky

BUDGET FLEXIBLE SOLAR PANEL: Newpowa 100 Watt Semi-Flex Solar Panels

Another quality option in the flexible solar panel sphere, Newpowa provides 100 Watt solar panels full of durable, lightweight, shapeshifting silicone cells capable of boosting your battery bank.

The semi-flex system is similar in weight to Renogy’s flexible solar panel option.

It includes all cables necessary to hook up the solar panel to your existing charging system, making it an excellent plug-and-play solar energy option if you are hunting for a good solar panel replacement.

This portable solar kit can be permanently mounted with pre-drilled holes included, or set up and taken down as needed.

We really like that you can mount the solar kit in more ways than traditional, rigid solar panel systems without sacrificing performance. The rig is capable of fully charging your coach battery even on overcast days.

We also like that with a 5 year warranty to back up the proposed durability of this unit, choosing Newpowa’s solar energy panels option will provide you with a multifaceted solar charging system. 

On the downside, there have been quite a few complaints that the power output is not as advertised and that the panels do not last more than 3-4 years. But for the price you may find yourself more than satisfied with this option.

WHAT WE LIKE THINGS TO CONSIDER
* Has reinforced mounting holes
* Reliable panels for a great price
* Not as flexible as other flex panels

RV Solar Panel Buying Guide

Investing in an RV solar system is not cheap. But if your goal is to provide your RV, campervan or travel trailer with enough free solar energy to power all of your wants and needs then the investment does pay for itself in the long run.

If you are reading this post you likely know that you want to install solar panels on your RV. But if you are undecided, or are leaning toward saving your money to put toward something else, know that you do not HAVE to have a solar system to make life on the road possible.

Having a great generator to provide backup power or driving your RV are ways you can recharge your batteries without solar. And you can also be very, very good about keeping track of the amount of energy you use and do simple things like switching to LED lights to conserve energy.

But we would never consider traveling, let alone living full time in our RV, without having solar panels.

Here are a few things to consider when shopping for RV solar panels.

Benefits Of Installing RV Solar Panels

You’re likely reading this post because you have an idea of why it is important to have solar power for your RV. But just to give you a few more ideas and reassurances, here are a few more things to think about.

Power Self-sufficiency

Our number one reason for installing solar on our RV is power self-sufficiency. While there are some limitations to the amount of solar energy you can collect and the power output you can expect, for the most part, a decent solar panel kit comes with everything you need to be self-sufficient on the road.

Whether you plan to spend most of your time boondocking or only a few days per month away from a power connection, solar panels give you the ability to not worry about recharging your batteries… for the most part.

Of course, there are limitations to how much power you can generate. But in general, it is far easier to be self-sufficient for boondocking or dry camping when you have a solar power system.

Cost savings in the long run

While cost-savings is more applicable to home-use solar panels than to RV solar setups, you will find that the upfront expense of installing a solar kit is easily offset after just a few months of camping without the need to plugin to shore power at a campground or to spend fuel running a generator.

Battery life extended

The best deep cycle RV batteries are designed to be discharged to a certain point and then recharged regularly. Batteries depend on consistent charging after discharge.

So a good solar controller ensures that the solar energy collected by your panels is properly provided to your batteries to help maintain their health. This will extend the life of your RV batteries and save you money in the long run.

Environmentally-friendly

Solar energy is free to collect, abundant and, aside from the manufacturing of the components, environmentally friendly.

Unlike generators which burn fossil fuel and emit greenhouse gases or shore power, which relies on traditional power plants to supply energy to the power grid, solar energy is as clean as it comes.

So if you are worried about protecting the environment, this is even more reason to install solar on your RV, campervan or travel trailer.

Low Maintenance

Solar panels are incredibly easy to maintain. Unlike maintaining a generator, you simply need to clean the panels every few weeks with a standard household glass cleaner and paper towels.

Once you’ve installed the solar panels you can pretty much forget that they are there and go about pursuing the Abundant Life on the road.

Top RV Solar Panel Brands

One of the most challenging things about researching which solar panels to purchase is determining the quality and reputation of the brands that manufacture them. You may come across incredible deals on solar panels but not recognize the brand name.

To help you in this regard, here are a few companies you can count on to make quality solar panels. You can’t go wrong with any of these companies.

Renogy

Renogy is by far our favorite solar panel manufacturer. We did extensive research before we purchased our first solar panel kit from them and were not at all disappointed in the quality of the product or the technical support we later required on the road.

You’ll find that we recommend several Renogy products among the best solar panels for RV living.

In fact, we’ve developed a relationship with Renogy where we can offer you 10% discount on products you buy if you shop directly with them and use our coupon code “CalledToWander” at checkout. Note that we’ve found their direct prices including our discount are quite comparable to shopping elsewhere.

Windy Nation

Windy Nation is another reputable solar panel manufacturer that you can trust to provide quality products. Whether you’re shopping just for panels or for the components required to install them, you can’t go wrong if you find a great deal on Windy Nation solar system products.

Zamp

If knowing that your solar panels are American-made is important to you then you’re going to want to consider purchasing Zamp solar panels. Zamp is a great company that manufactures its solar panels in Bend, Oregon and is committed to great customer service.

HQST

The more you research solar panels the more you will come across the idea that HQST and Renogy are the same company. While this is not exactly true, it is true that Renogy manufacturers and processes orders for HQST.

There is minor differentiation in some of the specs of different products offered and different users report different efficiencies between Renogy and HQST. But if you find a good deal on HQST you can count on great products. Just don’t count on customer service if you need help or have issues.

Newpowa

Newpowa offers a huge selection of solar panels in a wide range of shapes, sizes and power outputs. If you come across any Newpowa products you’ll find their pricing is competitive with other brands, as is their quality and customer service.

You can’t go wrong with Newpowa if you find a great deal on solar panels or other solar components they manufacture.

Choosing the Right Solar Panels

Choosing the right solar panels for your RV, campervan or travel trailer comes down to a few key criteria. Because there is such variety in the solar panels available on the market it can seem overwhelming to even begin shopping for them.

But after we walk you through these criteria we’re confident you’ll have a better understanding on which solar panels are best for your RV.

install the best solar panels for RV on your roof

Your Power Needs

The most important consideration before purchasing solar panels is determining how much power you actually need. While a good rule of thumb for solar power is “the more the better,” the reality is that you only have so much space and need for solar power.

If you are just getting started with RVing then you may not have a clue how much power you will use, what size batteries you need and how many solar panels you will need to keep up with your energy consumption.

So starting out you will likely want to consider a kit with 200-300 watts of solar. But if you’ve been on the road for a while you know more or less how much energy you’d like to collect with your panels, so you can figure this out as well.

There are some fancy calculators out there to help you figure out your energy use.

Pro Tip: To be honest, we’ve never used any of the calculators and have only just based our solar panel needs on the idea of fitting as many panels as we could afford to pair with as much battery storage as we can fit.

Cell Type – Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline SOLAR Panel

A big mistake in shopping for solar panels is ending up with the wrong cell type. While there are 3 types of solar panel cells – monocrystalline, polycrystalline and amorphous – the first two are more commonly available and often confused.

Monocrystalline panels are the most efficient and thus more expensive of the three kinds. In short, they are made of the highest quality silicone, which is cut into sections and placed in the panel to allow maximum energy absorption. Monocrystalline panels have a longer lifespan, nearing 25 years, and require fewer panels and thus less space per watt.

Polycrystalline panels are more affordable because they are less efficient. They are made of lower-quality silicone that does not collect solar energy in the same way. As a result, it takes more panels to generate the same amount of power as monocrystalline panels.

Amorphous solar panels are very lightweight and seemingly flimsy. They are much more inexpensive than their counterparts and require more panels to capture the same amount of solar energy. They also have to be mounted more permanently to your RV roof in order to remain in place.

Pro Tip: We recommend only shopping for monocrystalline solar panels. The difference in price between mono and polycrystalline panels is not worth the loss of efficiency between the two. In this case, you get what you pay for.

Type – rigid vs flexible Panels

Regardless of the type of solar cells, you will also have to choose between rigid solar panels or flexible ones. As the term suggests, rigid solar panels are solid and typically require mounting brackets to secure them to the roof.

Flexible solar panels, on the other hand, are able to bend to some degree. Typically flexible solar panels will be polycrystalline or amorphous and thus less efficient than rigid monocrystalline panels.

Pro Tip: We suggest rigid panels for more permanent installation on your RV. Once properly installed they require minimal maintenance and you can essentially forget that they are there.

Mounting – fixed vs portable/suitcase Panels

Typically you have an idea whether you are looking for fixed, or mounted panels, or portable panels. But if you weren’t sure, there is a difference between those that you must more permanently mount and those that you can set up only when you need them.

An advantage of fixed panels is that once you install them you no longer have to worry about them. You simply have to park where you can expect the sun to shine and let the panels do all of the work.

On the other hand, if you are unable to find sunshine under which to park – as perhaps when camping in a forest – then having fixed panels can be a detriment to capturing solar energy.

Portable solar panels solve this by allowing you to set them up wherever and to move them as needed throughout the day. There are both rigid and flexible versions of portable panels and a solar kit can be as compact as a suitcase, which is referred to as suitcase panels. These typically have longer wires that allow you to swing the panels around your RV as necessary to chase the sun.

The main disadvantage of portable panels is that you have to set them up and break them down each time you want to use them. And they are also typically much less efficient panels.

Pro Tip: You can design a solar power system that combines fixed and portable panels if you are not certain which will suit you best. You will simply need to leave room in your wiring plans for a connection between the two such that you can rely on your fixed panels most of the time and supplement your energy needs by connecting your portable panels and moving them around as necessary.

Dimensions and Weight

Another important factor in selecting the best solar panel setup for your RV is determining the dimensions and weight that you are comfortable installing on the roof of your RV.

For us, this was always tricky. RV roofs have all sorts of vents and other obstructions on the roof, making it difficult to plan a blank page solar system setup. Sometimes you have to get creative about which panels will fit where.

Pro Tip: Unlike RV batteries, you can combine panels of different wattages so that you can configure your solar setup using several panel dimensions if necessary. We have always kept our panels the same. But when we upgraded our power system in our truck camper we did add a 3rd Renogy panel that was more modern, smaller and efficient than the other two and we had no issue.

Efficiency

Efficiency is important on a number of levels. When it comes to solar panels, you’ll want to consider what will give you the “most bang for your buck.” In other words, if you’re going to allow the panels to take up space on/in your RV then you want that space to count.

Most solar panels will have efficiency at 15-20% or more, which increases quickly as the technology improves. As referenced, monocrystalline panels are more efficient than polycrystalline and amorphous panels.

There may also be other factors in the manufacturing of the panels but keep in mind that lower-priced panels may be much less efficient, and thus often larger, than higher-priced ones.

Pro Tip: We are unabashed fans of Renogy’s monocrystalline panels in part because we know that the quality of their manufacturing and the type of solar cell means more efficiency. But efficiencies vary so little that you won’t find a product on our list that isn’t outside of the margin of efficiency of the others.

Expandability

While you won’t need to consider this factor when choosing a particular solar panel, you will want to consider it for your whole RV solar system. Most of us start out trying to cover as much of our roof with solar panels as we think we can afford.

But even in our latest solar setup, we have left some room to be able to add more panels if we find we really need the extra energy collection. We’re also leaving open the idea of being able to connect a portable panel or two somewhere down the road.

Note that expandability is more a function of your MC4 connectors and how you arrange the wiring and fusing of your panels together than it is in which panel you purchase.

Pro Tip: Always plan for more panels. Even if you are able to maximize your roof space on your initial install, consider that in 2-3 years those panels could easily be replaced with smaller, more efficient panels. Expandability includes the ability to modify an existing solar setup.

Things to Know Before Installing A RV Solar System

Now that you know what to look for in selecting the best solar panels for your RV, here are a few other things you need to consider before you install them.

Other components of Your Solar System

Solar panels do not work on their own. And you can’t connect them directly to your battery. You’ll also want to consider how you use this energy off-grid as you collect in through the panels.

When planning your solar panel setup you’re going to want to look at the entire system, which would include the following:

Solar Charge Controller

A solar charge controller is absolutely necessary. The controller moderates the energy collected by your panels and delivers it to your battery bank in quantities and times it is best.

Most solar panel kits will include basic charge controllers along with the panels. But whether you purchase a kit or piecemeal your own solar setup be sure to invest in a solar charge controller.

There are two kinds of solar charge controllers: PWM and MPPT.

MPPT controllers are much more efficient and thus the only ones we recommend. They can also handle higher voltage and thus are better for bigger and more complex solar setups.

However, PWM controllers are slightly more affordable and often included in basic solar panel kits. Usually, you can get away with a PWM controller if you are going to have a small, simple setup of 1-2 panels connected in parallel.

READ NEXT: If you aren’t purchasing a solar panel kit, read this post and be sure to invest in the best solar charge controller you can afford.

Battery Bank

Clearly, you aren’t turning on the lights in your RV without a battery bank. Whether it is one battery or a dozen, you want to make sure you have the best RV batteries that you can afford and have space to carry.

The panels will connect to the solar controller and the solar controller will connect to the battery bank to complete the cycle of recharge.

READ NEXT: Not sure if you have the best batteries for your RV solar setup? Read THIS POST to learn more about the best RV batteries on the market.

Battery Monitor

A battery monitor is not necessary. But it is a HUGE convenience, especially among those of us who live on the road full-time and consume large amounts of power throughout the day.

While most charge controllers will have an LED screen that indicates the rate of flow of energy into your batteries, a battery monitor ties into your battery bank and will give you a more accurate reading of both of the energy coming in and the energy you are using.

We falsely relied on our solar controller and inverter to tell us our battery state of charge for nearly 2 years before we added a battery monitor to our solar setup.

Power Inverter

An inverter is also not necessary. But we would not consider boondocking without one because you cannot use your 120v power outlets without an inverter. An inverter takes all of the 12v (or 24v) energy stored and turns it into 120v power.

Thus you can plug your standard household chargers and appliances into the inverter and draw upon the energy stored in your batteries from your solar panels.

READ NEXT: Want to stay powered up even when you’re not plugged into shore power? Read THIS POST to learn more about the best RV inverters on the market.

Other parts you need

Aside from the components mentioned above you will need to consider the following parts as you install your panels. Note that most solar panel kits include many of these parts.

  • MC4 connectors
  • Mounting brackets
  • In-line fuse
  • Cable entry housing mount

Wiring (series vs parallel)

If you plan to include more than one solar panel on your RV then you will need to determine how you are going to connect those to your solar controller.

While in theory, you could have multiple charge controllers to go with multiple panels, the reality is that you should only buy one charge controller capable of handling the input from the panels you install.

You can wire solar panels either in parallel or in series, depending on a range of factors.

Wiring in Parallel

In short, the easiest thing to do is to wire in parallel. In this case, you will use branch connectors to combine the positive wires from each panel in one wire and the negative wires from each panel into another wire. Then you bring the one positive and one negative wire into your solar controller. Connecting panels in parallel will double the amperage (current) while keeping the voltage the same. This requires that you have a short run of wires between the panels and the controller.

Wiring In Series

On the other hand, when you connect your panels in series you will double the voltage but keep the amperage the same. This means that you can use thinner wires and run longer distances between the panels and the controller.

You achieve wiring in series by connecting the positive of one panel with the negative of another. A downside to this setup is that shade on one panel connected in series will affect the entire string of panels.

To complicate things further, with a larger solar setup you can connect in series and then in parallel. Assuming you have 4 or more panels you would connect two pairs in series and then connect those pairs in parallel.

This is definitely a more complicated topic that you can investigate further in this article.

Fuses & Connections

Along with these considerations you’ll definitely not want to overlook the importance of having fuses properly installed throughout your solar panel system. A fuse protects appliances from burning out in the event of a power surge.

Fuses are attached to the positive wires of solar components and we recommend that you install them in the following places:

  • Between the panels and controller
  • Between the controller and the battery bank
  • Between the battery bank and inverter (if applicable)

Solar power systems make adding fuses as easy as snapping one in line with your other MC4 connectors. Determining the size of the fuse required depends on a variety of factors so you will want to do further research prior to installing your solar setup.

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