You’ve decided to build an RV, and your feelings of excitement are through the roof. Though in the back of your mind, you still feel a bit of anxiety, thinking about the things that go into building an RV. One of these things is probably your RV electric system.
Our Top Picks
Solar Panel Kits
- RV400D RV Solar Kit – Top Pick
- WindyNation SOK-400WP-P30L Solar Kit – Runner Up
- ACOPOWER Solar Panel Kit – Best for Travelling
- GP-PSK-120 Solar Kit – Best Portable kit
- GS-540 Solar Kit – Honorable Mention
- Renogy 100W Solar Panel – Best Overall
- WEIZE 200W Solar Panel – Runner Up
- Renogy 160W Flexible Solar Panel – Best Flexible Solar Panel
- HQST 100P Solar Panel – Best for Low-lit Settings
- Newpowa 200W Solar Panel – Best Polycrystalline Panel
When you’re boondocking or camping off-the-grid, RV solar panels and kits can provide access to the basic amenities of modern living. But figuring out the number of panels for your specific energy needs or finding a kit strong enough to power your rig can be a stressful ordeal.
Rest easy because this guide will clear up your confusion and make RV solar power less hard and more stress-free for you.
But before we dive into it, here is a breakdown of the content that will help you navigate easily through the guide.
- Solar Panels Buyers’ Guide
- The basic setup of RV solar panels
- RV Power Types
- Solar Panel Wiring
- Types of RV solar panels
- What type of solar panel is best for RV?
- How many solar panels do I need to run an RV?
- How much does it cost to put solar panels on an RV?
- Are solar panels for an RV worth it?
- Final thoughts
Best RV Solar Panel Kits
If you are a beginner in solar power or just want to avoid pulling the whole setup together, the good idea is to get a solar panel kit. It’s a combination of solar panels and a battery bank connected via a cable to generate solar power.
Here’s a list of the best solar kits for RV that will cover all of your electrical needs.
RV400D RV Solar Kit – Top Pick
Renogy is the industry’s most recognized solar brand that offers highly reliable solar panels and kits for boats, cabins, trailers, and recreational vehicles. The Renogy400D is a formidable kit equipped with a corrosion-resistant aluminum frame that can withstand heavy wind, snow, and extended outdoor use.
The kit also comes with MC4 connectors and an Adventurer 30A PWM charge controller, built explicitly for RV and camper applications. With the company’s excellent customer support and warranty options, the dedicated PWM charge controller earns the RV400D the highest number of positive reviews among all the RV solar panel kits we reviewed.
The kit comes with nearly everything you need, except a battery bank, to generate solar power.
Pros of RV400D
- A fairly comprehensive solar panel kit
- Sturdy aluminum frame that can withstand extreme weather
- The charge controller is specifically designed for RV applications
- 25-years panel replacement warranty
- Most reviewed solar panel kit
Cons of RV400D
- The kit does not include a battery
- The 4 panels take much of the roof space
WindyNation SOK-400WP-P30L Solar Kit – Runner Up
WindyNation is another popular solar brand known for its reliable products. The SOK-400W solar panel kit is a complete unit that comes with everything you need to start harnessing solar energy. The kit includes four solar panels, a solar charge controller with a battery temperature sensor, a user-adjustable LCD, and all the necessary cables and mounting hardware. One thing that makes the SOK-400WP different from RV400D is the cell type. The SOK-400WP are polycrystalline panels, which aren’t as efficient as their monocrystalline counterparts.
Unlike the Renogy RV400D kit, the SOK-400WP includes four battery banks and a 1500-watt solar inverter to convert DC to AC power. It is a cost-effective option for beginners with little to no solar knowledge and users who want to avoid the hassle of researching and purchasing separate accessories for their RV solar system.
Pros of SOK-400WP-P30L
- A complete kit for RVs, cabins, and boats
- It comes with four 100Ah batteries
- 5-years panel warranty and a 1-year warranty on all the other equipment
Cons of SOK-400WP-P30L
- The kit is fully bundled and offers no choice in the equipment
- Some reviewers find the solar cable too short for general use
ACOPOWER Solar Panel Kit – Best for Travelling
If you’re a perpetual nomad, the ACOPOWER solar panel kit will cover most of your basic energy needs. It is a compact kit with laminated panels and a simple folding design that can withstand extreme weather. The kit is particularly useful for campers who regularly transport their panels to power their electronic appliances. The 105W solar monocrystalline panel kit can charge phones, laptops, and other essential devices on the go.
The portable solar kit comes with a 10A PWM charge controller and includes a USB outlet, SAE adapter, and battery clamps, making the connection process a breeze. The suitcase panel design can accommodate all the extra equipment that comes with the unit.
Pros of ACOPOWER 105W kit
- Compact and lightweight
- Simple installation
- Portable solar panel
- It comes with a protective suitcase
Cons of ACOPOWER 105W kit
- Complains of a design flaw with the wiring
- Vague instructions for setup and installation
GP-PSK-120 Solar Kit – Best Portable kit
The Go Power! GP-PSK-120 monocrystalline solar kit offers a convenient battery charging option for those who don’t want to mount a kit to the rooftop of their RV. The unit enjoys a 4.5-star rating for its superior performance. It is easy to assemble and generates around 120 watts of solar power. The kit also comes with a solar adapter, XLR-style solar plug, and a controller that can be used to keep track of the system.
A standout feature of the GP-PSK-120 kit is the carrying case that facilitates the unit’s portability. All you need to do is adjust the folding legs to solar exposure and connect the battery clamps to your battery to power your RV.
Pros of GPS-PSK-120
- Adjustable folding legs
- The battery clamps make the connection process a breeze
Cons of GPS-PSK-120
- Complaints of poor charge regulator
GS-540 Solar Kit – Honorable Mention
The Grape Solar’s 540W kit is an off-grid solar system for RVs, boats, cabins, and small houses. The kit generates enough power to recharge batteries and run all the necessary devices, including lights, fans, pumps, phones, and laptops. It comes with three 180W solar panels built with anodized aluminum frames and a sealed junction box.
The kit also includes a 40A PWM charge controller that works well to keep the batteries from overcharging. Unlike the WindyNation 400W kit, the Grape Solar unit also comes without a battery bank. All the other hardware, such as inverter, charge controller, cables & connectors, and a remote monitoring app and LCD display, come with the system.
Pros of GS-540
- Easy to assemble with a quick-connect guide
- USB ports and outlets
- 5-years panel warranty
Cons of GS-540
- You’ve to build your own panel rack for mounting
Best Solar Panels for RV
If you’re installing a customized solar power system, you’d need to purchase each item separately. Unlike solar kits, a DIY solar panel system requires technical expertise to purchase all the hardware and set them up on your own. The most important component of the setup is the solar panel, which we’ll cover in the following section.
From Fixed 100W panel to extremely flexible monocrystalline RV solar panel, we’ve covered everything that will power most of, if not all, your electrical appliances.
Renogy 100W Solar Panel – Best Overall
The 100W 12V solar panel by Renogy tops our list for the best RV solar panel for several reasons. The panel is compact compared to the standard 100W panels, making it a winner for space efficiency. The compact design also makes it an ideal choice for RVs, campers, and boats.
The 2,881 ratings on Amazon are testament to the panel’s superior performance and customers’ trust in the company. The monocrystalline panel is equipped with a junction box, waterproof male & female connectors, and can be easily expanded to more panels. It also comes with pre-drilled holes to allow for quick mounting on various surfaces.
The highly transparent and anti-reflective glass ensures maximum efficiency of the panel. Add to it the corrosion-resistant aluminum frame, and you get a perfect panel for extended outdoor use.
Pros of Renogy 100W panel
- Withstands strong winds and snow loads
- Highly versatile with pre-drilled holes on the back
- Easily expandable
- Compatible with different mounting systems
- 25-year transferable power output warranty
Cons of Renogy 100W panel
- Slightly heavy
WEIZE 200W Solar Panel – Runner Up
As one of the top solar energy brands, WEIZE provides superior solar panels at a competitive price. The performance trend continues with the WEIZE 200W panel that offers up to 21% efficiency in clear weather conditions. The anodized aluminum frame makes the panel corrosion-resistant and durable in harsh environmental conditions.
The solar panel is equipped with tempered glass and a sealed junction box, making it weatherproof for optimal outdoor performance. The panel features a 2.6ft cable with connectors and produces 5.3-amp power for boats, cabins, and RVs applications.
Like the Renogy 100W panel, WEIZE 200W also comes with pre-drilled holes compatible with Z-brackets, tilt, and side pole mounts. The mounting equipment, however, is not included in the panels.
Pros of WEIZE 200 panels
- High-efficiency solar cell
- Can withstand extreme weather
- Ready for installation
Cons of WEIZE 200 panels
- You’ve to buy a 2 to 1 MC4 connector to hook up the two panels
- It comes without mounting equipment
Renogy 160W Flexible Solar Panel – Best Flexible Solar Panel
Of all the flexible solar panels we reviewed for RVs, the Renogy 160W offers the best performance. It’s lightweight, easy to install, and offers higher-quality than most flexible panels in the market. The monocrystalline panel offers a maximum flex range of 248 degrees which is the best flex range for a flexible solar panel. It also makes the Renogy 160W an ideal option for curved roofs and uneven surfaces.
The panel is approximately 95% thinner than rigid solar panels, making transportation and installation a breeze. Despite the compact design, the panel can withstand air drag, strong winds, and heavy snow loads. It comes with six metal reinforced mounting holes and can be mounted on rooftops, RVs, camper vans, trailers, boats, and curvy surfaces.
Pros of Renogy Flexible Solar Panel
- Up to 248 degrees arc of flexibility
- Easy to transport and install
- Completely waterproof
Cons of Renogy Flexible Solar Panel
- The positive panel lead is too short (5.9 in)
HQST 100P Solar Panel – Best for Low-lit Settings
If you prefer a polycrystalline panel over the more standard monocrystalline units, we’ve got the HQST 100P for you on the list. It’s a high-quality panel that features highly-transparent and anti-reflective tempered glass for efficient power conversion. It also comes with MC4 Connectors and leads for plug & play use.
The panel is water-resistant and can even withstand low-pressure water splash. Since the panel is impact resistant, it can easily handle heavy snow loads and strong winds. Similar to all the other solar panels on the list, this model comes with corrosion-resistant aluminum frames. The overall structure of the panel is designed for extended outdoor use.
An impressive feature of the unit is its high conversion efficiency, even in low-light conditions. So, if you frequently camp or travel to low-light locations with heavy cloud coverage, the HQST 100P can be your best bet.
Pros of HQST 100P
- A highly efficient system even in low-light settings
- Compatible with various mounting systems
- Features a drainage hole and mounting holes
Cons of HQST 100P
- The cord is too short for everyday use
Newpowa 200W Solar Panel – Best Polycrystalline Panel
The 2-piece 100W solar panel by Newpowa also earns a spot on our list for the best off-grid solar panels. It comes with a heavy-duty anodized aluminum frame with the capacity to generate 200 watts of power. The panel’s rugged design protects it from harsh weather conditions like rain, hail, and snow.
The Newpowa RV solar panel is built to effectively handle heavy applications. The installation process is simple without involving any complicated steps. It supports various mounting options, including walls, flat surfaces, and pole installation.
Pros of Newpowa solar panel
- Heavy-duty and reliable
- Simple setup
- 25-year transferable power output warranty
Cons of Newpowa solar panel
- Low-quality junction box
- It doesn’t include some installation items
Most of these solar panels can be expanded into a custom solar system. However, the panels alone are useless unless connected with other solar system components, as discussed in the next section.
The Basic RV Solar Setup
To set up a stable RV solar system, you’ll need solar panels, batteries, and a power inverter. The following chart best depicts the basic RV setup.
The RV solar panels collect solar energy from the sun and use it to recharge batteries. While solar panels and deep cycle batteries are enough to fulfill the basic RV power needs, some RVers want their rig to provide the same amenities as their homes.
To enjoy those amenities, the system needs to be complemented by additional solar power components. These include:
Solar Charge Controller
The solar charge controller is a crucial component of the solar power system. It monitors the battery’s charging capacity and limits the flow of current when the battery reaches its full charging capacity. When the battery bank is full, the charge controller limits the current flow from the panels to the batteries.
There’re two main types of solar charge controllers. The standard Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) controllers limit the flow of current to a charged battery at an economical price. The Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) controllers tend to be more expensive but offer a wide range of benefits.
PWM controllers. They are 30% more efficient and provides greater control over the charging of the batteries.
Solar Power Inverter and Converter
In some cases, it becomes necessary for RVers to convert different RV power types. For instance, if you need to operate an AC-powered appliance using solar energy, you’ll need an inverter to convert the 12 volts DC from the battery bank into 120V AC power.
Below, you can read more about the two RV power types and how they work.
RV Power Types
The electrical system of an RV can seem intricate until you get a basic understanding of how it works. RVs use two types of electric power to run electrical appliances. The power types include:
120-volts AC power
The 120-volts (or 220-volts in some countries) AC power system is typically used in our homes. It’s used for high-power consumption devices like microwaves, televisions, air conditioners, toasters, and other high-voltage appliances.
Most of the campgrounds and resorts provide you with an electrical pedestal or another appropriate receptacle for a ‘shore line’ connection. You can plug into the source using a heavy-duty power cord that comes with your RV. Depending on your RV, the cord can either be a 30-amp and 50-amp system. Smaller RVs, travel trailers, and pop-up campers usually use 30 amps, while larger RVs utilize the 50 amps hook-up.
12-volts DC power
The 12-volts DC system is powered by a battery and runs all the basic RV components and devices. A fully charged battery will power the 12-volts equipment, including the furnace, water heater, most lighting, fans, and USB plugs in your RV. As long as your battery (or battery bank) is charged, you can use everything except the high-voltage appliances rated for AC power.
The DC power system is ideal for RVers who enjoy boondocking or prefer camping off the grid with no electric hookups. In that case, you can use solar panels to recharge your batteries and power your rig.
To put a solar system together, you will need to connect the panels, batteries, controller, and inverter using a solar cable. While there is no wire specifically designed for solar-powered systems, there’re different cables rated for specific uses.
There’re two ways to wire a solar system.
- Series wiring
- Parallel wiring
Wiring Solar Panels in Series
When you connect the positive terminal of a panel to another panel’s negative terminal, you create a series connection. In series connections, the voltages of the panels add up while the amperage remains the same. For instance, if you make a series connection of four panels with a rated amperage of 5 amps and voltage of 12V, you’ll get an output of 48V and 5 amps.
Wiring Solar Panels in Parallel
With parallel wiring, the panel’s positive terminal is connected to the positive terminal of another panel. In a parallel connection, the amperage of the system adds up while the voltage remains the same. For the above example, the system will produce 20 amps at 12 volts.
In case there’s an issue with a panel in series connection, the entire system fails. However, a defective panel does not impact the rest of the panels’ output in parallel connection.
Types of Solar Panels
The amount of energy that a panel harnesses depends on the panel’s cell type, maximum wattage, and structure. Below, we discuss the different types of solar panels based on:
- Cell Type
- Panel Structure
Types of Solar Panels Based on Cell Type
Several years of research and development have led to a range of different types of solar panels. Based on the type of solar cell, solar cells can be divided into three categories. Below, we take a closer look at each.
Monocrystalline solar panel
Monocrystalline panels are the most popular type of solar panels in the market today. The solar cells in these panels contain a single crystal of silicon, also called an ingot. A single monocrystalline panel contains either 60 or 72 solar cells with efficiencies ranging from 17% to over 21%.
Since the monocrystalline solar cell comprises a single silicon crystal, the electrons can flow easily through the cell. The free flow of electrons, in turn, makes the efficiency of the panel higher than other types of solar panels.
The higher efficiency and power rating are also responsible for the high price of monocrystalline solar panels.
Polycrystalline Solar Panel
Polycrystalline panels, also called multi-crystalline panels, are popular among users who want to build a solar system on a budget. Their blue speckled color distinguishes these panels with squares and uncut angles.
Polycrystalline panels are built by melting raw silicon, which is a cheaper and faster process than the one used for monocrystalline panels. This translates into a lower efficiency (15% to 17%), shorter lifespan, and a lower cost.
Amorphous Silicon (A-Si) Solar Panel
The A-Si solar panel is a type of thin-layer solar panel that uses triple-layered technology. They are highly flexible and can handle higher temperatures. The main issue with amorphous solar panels is that they take up a lot of space, making them unsuitable for RV installations.
A-Si panels are cheaper than the mono- and polycrystalline counterparts, but they have a shorter lifespan and an efficiency rating of 10% to 13%.
Rigid vs. Fixed Solar Panel
Solar panels are either rigid or flexible, depending on the structure of the panel. Here is how the two differ from each other.
Rigid Solar Panel
Rigid solar panels are made with an aluminum frame protecting the tempered glass and are the most commonly used panels. They are known for durability and can typically withstand extreme weather conditions, including rains, winds, and hail storms.
These panels are installed in sturdy brackets and can be angled for maximum solar exposure. Rigid RV solar panel is relatively heavy and installing too many of them may create air drag and reduce your fuel efficiency in the long run.
Flexible Solar Panel
Flexible solar panels are adaptable panels and weigh much less than rigid panels. They are ideal for curved surfaces, non-traditional RV shapes, campers, and light vehicles. Their incredibly low profile makes them the best option for a stealth solar system.
Flexible solar panels need secure installation; otherwise, the air drag may take them off the RVs’ roof. They are prone to scratching and, therefore, less durable than their rigid cousins.
Fixed/Mounted vs. Portable Solar Panels
As the name suggests, Fixed solar panels are permanently mounted to the RV’s roof. They need to be mounted and connected only once and require little to no maintenance. Fixed panels are highly durable and can withstand some environmental beating.
Portable solar panels are a great first step for beginners at solar energy. These panels can be moved around and placed anywhere the sun is shining. A major advantage of portable solar panels is that they can be placed anywhere in the sun while you camp in the shade. As the portable panel harnesses solar energy, you can use a heavy-duty power cable to recharge your batteries.
What Type of Solar Panel is Best for RV?
Now that you’re familiar with the different types of solar panels, you may be wondering which type of panels can serve your RV best. Here are a few factors you need to consider before selecting a solar system to answer this query.
How often do you go off-grid?
If you’re boondocking and regularly camping in areas with no electric hookups, then we suggest that you get mounted panels with a monocrystalline solar cell. You only have to install them once and never worry about their maintenance. Mounted solar systems are rigid and can handle all kinds of weather conditions and low-pressure water jets.
Do you want the convenience of home?
If you’re a full-time RVer, you may want to install fixed RV solar panels with a power inverter to convert the 12V DC power to 110V AC power. This will enable you to recharge all your AC-powered electronics while you’re on the road.
How often do you’ve overcast days?
If you’re camping in locations with heavy cloud coverage, the good idea is to get solar panels that work well in low-light conditions. A portable solar panel is an ideal choice for those who frequently park their RVs in the shade. You can easily transport and install it in a place where the sun is shining.
Consider your RV’s roof
A plain RV roof can accommodate almost all types of solar panels. However, you’ll be limited to flexible panels in case your vehicle has an uneven surface. They are lightweight but less efficient than rigid panels. A major issue with flexible panels is that they can be taken off by air drag unless you firmly install them.
Consider the expandability of the system
If you plan to expand your RV solar system in the future, make sure to carefully place and install your solar panels. You may also need to avoid a solar kit because they usually limit the option of expansion.
The best solar panel for an RV is the one that suits your specific needs. With these factors in mind, you’ll be able to choose a suitable RV solar panel.
How Many Solar Panels Do I Need to Run an RV?
Before you even consider installing solar panels on your RV or camper, you should figure out your everyday energy needs. Calculating your average power consumption combined with the wattage of individual panels and solar exposure are the major factors to consider when evaluating the required number of panels.
You can calculate your average power consumption by analyzing the amount of energy required for each device. Here is a list that will give you an idea of the wattage drawn by different appliances.
Most RV solar panels generate around 100 to 400 watts of power. This means that if you’ve a 400-watt solar system in direct sunlight for 6 hours a day, it will generate (400-Watt x 6 hours) 2,400 Wh of solar power each day.
If you want to operate the basic RV appliances (light bulbs, fans, water pump) and a few electronics like TV, modem, and laptop, then a single 12V battery with 300 Watt of solar panels would suffice. If you include energy-hungry appliances like a fridge and a microwave, you might want to add 1 or 2 100 Ah batteries and increase the total output solar wattage to 400-600 watt.
These are the minimum requirements to keep the basic appliances up and running. When it comes to solar power, more is always better.
How Much Does it Cost to put solar panels on an RV?
When installing solar panels on an RV or a camper, you often have two options. You can either purchase a solar panel kit that comes with the necessary equipment for the solar system. The kit’s cost starts from under $100 for basic RV solar applications and can reach up to several hundred or even thousands of dollars for heavy-duty setup.
You can also buy all the gear separately and connect them to power your electronics. The cost of such a system depends on the price of individual equipment. Below is a list of the hardware and a rough estimate of the cost for each gear.
- Solar panel: $70 to $500+
- Batteries: $100 to $1,200+
- Charge controller: $15-$400
- Solar adapter: $15-$50
- Inverter or converter: $150-$350+
- Mounting hardware: Less than $50
Smaller solar panels are incredibly affordable and can be found for less than $100. These panels can meet the basic RV energy needs (LED light bulbs, fans, etc.) but aren’t suitable for high-powered appliances. To run power-hungry devices, you can add a few hundred bucks and get one or two 100-Watt panels along with the mounting hardware.
If you’re living entirely off the grid or love boondocking for an extended period, then you’ll need to spend upwards of $1,000 on the panels and another $1,000 on the associated hardware. Most brands offer panel warranties of up to 25 years and additional warranties for the solar setup’s associated hardware.
With the enormous upfront cost, many RVers ask if solar panels for RVs are worth the investment. Let’s find out the answer!
Are Solar Panels for an RV worth it?
One of the biggest concerns when camping or boondocking is access to electric power. While some campgrounds have electric hookups, some of the most breathtaking locations either don’t provide access to power sources or limit their use. With solar power, you no longer need to worry about power as long as the sun is shining.
Solar power is a popular option among RVers for many reasons. Below, we share some of them.
A major benefit of solar panels is that they produce clean energy. Since the RV solar panel system doesn’t have any moving parts, it does not create any mechanical noise when producing energy.
No maintenance required
RV solar panels require little to no maintenance to generate electricity. You only need to install them in the direction of the sun and connect them to the batteries. They are lightweight and portable, which makes them ideal for camping or boondocking.
The cost of solar panels is constantly dropping
A decade ago, a standard 6kW solar system’s cost was more than the average cost of an RV. But the cost of per watt solar energy has significantly plummeted in the last ten years. Thanks to the advancements in technology, solar panels and the associated hardware like controllers and inverters are witnessing a constant decline in prices.
While the upfront cost may still seem a lot initially, the investment will likely pay off in a few years. Based on these reasons, RV solar setup is definitely worth the investment.
Solar panels have gone from rarity to a nearly ubiquitous commodity within a decade. As the technological landscape is constantly improving, we can’t be sure what tomorrow may have in store for us. However, if you were to buy a solar kit or panel today, we highly recommend those listed above.
These solar panels and kits will make sure that you’ve enough power to feel comfortable while you’re on the road. They will give you peace of mind and make you experience the amenities of your home even when you’re away from it.
With a bit of solar knowledge and the necessary equipment at hand, you’ll be able to easily set up the system. However, if you’ve no prior experience with electricity, we advise you to consult an expert before messing around with any of the equipment.
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