Rapid advances in solar power technologies enables modern upgrades for RVers of all stripes, particularly those who enjoy free or independent camping.
This attractive upgrade is for a good reason. RV solar panels can help you run the features and fixtures that make your RV feel like a real home away from home no matter where you are, without the noise, smell, and expense of running your LPG generator — that is, so long as you’re somewhere the sun is shining.
Having said that, there’re a lot of questions about how, exactly, to implement an RV solar system to generate power. How do RV solar panels work in the first place, and which are the best kinds to get for an RV roof? How do you hook them up to your onboard system to get the power from the sun into, you know, your lights and cell phone charger?
What is an RV Solar Panel?
RV solar panels are devices that convert light (sunlight) into power (electricity).
For most RV users, there are two main reasons you may consider adding solar panels — or attempting to purchase an RV with them already installed:
- To charge your “house” batteries — Solar power provides a slow, steady charge to your batteries. This is actually the way batteries are made to be charged, which in turn maximizes the life of the battery. It is the same concept as a car battery. If it sits too long, it loses its battery life, and it may not be able to hold a charge even after being charged back up.
- To provide electrical power — Whether or not you are in remote locations, wanting to explore breathtaking views, or as back-up power for emergencies.
So, are they worth it?
While RV solar panels are certainly not necessary, they do have a lot of benefits. If you’re hoping to cut the cord, go off-grid, live more greenly or get off the radar, then installing RV solar panels may help your cause.
RV solar panels can also help extend your battery life, cut down on generator use, and even save money in the long run on propane. Here are some of the benefits to adding a solar-powered system to your RV:
- It’s a cost-effective means of power.
- The resource is pretty much inexhaustible, even during the winter months, and on cloudy days we still see some sunlight.
- It’s clean, quiet, and it is good for our planet. It does not burn fuel, therefore does not put off waste or smells.
- RV solar systems are virtually maintenance-free. No moving parts means nothing to break, and once systems are set up, they can last for decades when well cared for. Plus there are practically no recurring costs. Even if in the future you decide you want to expand your solar panel system, to produce more power. It can easily be done without a whole revamp of your system.
- RV solar panels can extend the life of your battery. Most RV batteries will last anywhere from two to three years, and they are expensive. With using solar power, you can expect that to increase from 50% to 75% longer. That means not having to replace that battery for 6, 8, or maybe even 10+ years — particularly if you upgrade to lithium batteries while overhauling your system.
- RV solar panels allow you the freedom to enjoy living in natural settings with breathtaking beautiful views.
How RV Solar Panels Work
Solar panes work in a fairly simple process. The sunlight hits the solar panels, creating an electric current. The electric current feeds into a charge controller, which controls how much current goes through the battery. The batteries produce DC power, and an inverter changes the power from DC into AC power. AC power is what runs things like your blenders, laptops, and phone chargers.
Types of RV Solar Panels:
Before investing in any of the RV solar panels introduced in the market today, it pays to understand each of its types and how each one works. Here, I have outlined the different types of RV solar panels and some information about each one:
Polycrystalline – Containing a few small solar crystals, the polycrystalline solar panel is often taken from several blocks of silicon. This type of solar panel is commonly used in many recreational vehicles.
While the power it produces is less than one percent of what monocrystalline solar panels produce, it is still a great investment because this power loss is easy to neglect.
Monocrystalline – This type is constructed from one large silicon crystal. Many consider this type as the most effective solar panel considering the fact that it yields a high charge output. It is also capable of producing and supplying a higher amount of power when used in low light conditions.
Amorphous – Also called thin-film panels, this type is created by spreading silicon on a large bed. What is good about these solar panels is that they are not that costly to make. However, they also produce the lowest output of power out of the three.
Also, while this solar panel functions well, it still needs up to three times more roof space than monocrystalline and polycrystalline when providing the same amount of power.
Things to Consider When Choosing Portable Solar Arrays
Another factor you need to consider is the generator’s capacity. The battery storage capacity of the generator indicates the electrical energy it is able to store. It is useful when the sunlight is limited, and your usage exceeds the input of the sunlight.
An important tip to keep in mind is that you should not fully drain the batteries as it can destroy them. It is recommended to use only 2/3 of the capacity if it is lead-acid batteries. On the other hand, when it comes to lithium-ion batteries, it can be used until 10% of the capacity is left.
Since you are looking for a quality portable solar generator you need to focus on its durability and ruggedness. A portable generator is developed for providing you power when outdoors. This is the reason why the portable solar generator must be durable and solid. It is imperative that the generator performs well in all weather conditions.
A common mistake made by people is to choose a solar generator with a sturdy case. You should get a generator that has rugged inside.
- Connection options:
Make sure the solar charger is capable of charging the device you own, and that it has enough ports to charge multiple devices if that is desired (and the power to be able to do so! Smaller electronic devices, like those you can usually charge with a USB, need roughly 5V output rating. Larger electronics may require 12V-24V.
- Read-out displays
Best portable solar panels for RVs 2022
Below is a list of our best portable solar panels for RVs in 2020:
- Renogy 100-watt 12-volt Mono-crystalline Solar Starter Kit
- WindyNation 100-watt Solar Panel
- HQST 12-volt 100-watt Polycrystalline Solar Panel
- Go Power! 120W Portable Folding Solar Kit
- ACOPOWER 100-watt Foldable Solar Panel Kit
- Renogy 200-Watt 12-Volts Mono-crystalline Solar RV and Off-Grid Kit
- ALLPOWERS 100-Watt Solar Panel
- Go Power! 80W Portable Folding Solar Kit
- ECO-WORTHY 120W Portable Solar Panel Kit
- ECO-WORTHY 80W Portable Solar Panel Kit
Reviews of the best RV Solar Panels 2022
Renogy 100-watt 12-volt Mono-crystalline Solar Starter Kit
Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Panel is one of the best PV panels to go for is you need to go off-grid. It is easy to install, efficient, durable, robust, and it comes with a manufacturer warranty.
We all know how wonderful it is to be self-sufficient when it comes to power generation. Unfortunately, most energy sources are difficult to harness.
The good news is that solar panels have become more affordable, and have provided an alternative power source for many homeowners, light industries, travelers, and campers. In this review, we look at what to expect from the Renogy 100 Watts Photo Voltaic Panel.
Voltage Output: The Renogy 100-watt monocrystalline panel can recharge one battery 12-volt battery. Of course, you need to connect the panel to a charge controller, then the charge controller to the battery. If you need an output of 24/48 volts, the solution is to buy two or four of these panels, then connect them in series. Such a connection is required when charging a battery bank or for grid-tied installations.
Wattage Output: This 100W panel will supply 500-watt hours per day when sunlight conditions are at their optimum. Just like other panels, you need to install it at such an angle that it gets maximum sunshine. The angle varies all year round, especially if you live closer to the poles. Therefore, you may need to make regular adjustments. If you live closer to the equator, the tilt angle does not change much, and a single optimized installation is all you need.
Assembly and Installation: The panel ships with a pair of 31″ cables with MC4 connectors. Its junction box contains pre-installed diodes. The backside of the panel has pre-drilled holes. Those make it easy to mount and secure it using self-tapping screws.
You are free to mount them on the ground, preferably using a bracket, or on a rooftop when doing an off-grid installation. You may install the panels in residential or rural settings, as well as on trailers, RVs, caravans, boats, motor homes, etc.
Sturdy Construction: The Renogy 100W has an IP65 rated junction box, which offers total protection from destructive environmental elements and low-pressure water jets. The glass protecting the PV cells is anti-reflective, highly transparent, and low iron-tempered glass.
Furthermore, the glass is stiff and has a high impact resistance. You can, therefore, install it without worrying about hailstones, snowfall, or dust damaging the cells.
Efficiency: Only Class A solar cells have been used to make this panel. You will, therefore, get a performance that exceeds the panel’s marked rating. That is a good thing if you will be using it in low light conditions. Furthermore, this panel will outlast other panels that use class B or Class C solar cells to lower production costs.
Class A Cells: Using Class A cells requires that cells with an imperfect crystal structure be discarded or be set aside for use as Class B or Class C cells. The classification dictates that only the best PV solar cells are used, and therefore increasing the overall production cost. However, you get the best value and guaranteed performance.
The Renogy 100 Watts Solar Panel is one of the best Class A panels based on its features, benefits, and expected performance. On a good day, you will be able to draw over 500 watt-hours of electricity.
It is made of high-quality PV cells, and the construction of the panel is designed to make it last and resist corrosive elements. If you need a panel that you can scale up without calling installation experts, this is it.
Offers Value for Money: It comes with a manual that is easy to follow and cables that don’t require tools to connect. However, you need to use a tool to disconnect them. That design ensures that the cables won’t come off due to vibrations. Overall, once you install this panel, you should expect to get free electricity for over 25 years, with minimal maintenance.
WindyNation 100-watt Solar Panel
The WindyNation 100 Watt Polycrystalline Solar Panel is another panel that you would want to consider. This panel’s capacity to generate power even under cloudy conditions is amazing.
WindyNation 100 Watt 100W Solar Panel for 12 Volt Battery Charging RV, Boat, Off-Grid
Most panels will do a good job on a sunny day but perform poorly as soon as there is cloud cover. If you live in places where cloud cover is a regular thing, then you need to buy this panel, otherwise, it will take a lot longer to recoup your Investment.
This is why we placed it in the second position, in fact, it could have gotten a tie with the HQST 100 Watt 12 Volt Polycrystalline Solar Panel, but the latter is just more popular with most consumers. What makes this panel outperform other panels of its class? Let us have a look at its features and benefits.
Wattage and Power: The WindyNation 100 Watt Polycrystalline panel outputs as much as 600Wh on a good day, and about 300Wh when it’s cloud. To put that into perspective, if you have a battery rated 600Wh, an appliance can draw a current of 20A for twenty hours from that battery continuously.
At 12 Volts, that comes to 240 watts available for 20 straight hours. If you get three or four of these panels, you will get enough power for most of your basic appliances. That is why this panel is among the best for RV, Boats, and camping.
Grade-A PV Cell: Many manufacturers are not keen on the quality of cells they use in their panels. That’s why you find that you may buy a panel you thought was great, but then it turns out, it’s not as good as the reviews say it is. Sometimes, you buy two panels that look similar but when you try them, one outperforms the other under identical light conditions.
If you have been wondering why that happens, this is why: Some manufacturers do not grade their solar cells. The best panels are those that use graded PV cells and make sure they only use Grade A PV cells.
Better Performance: Grade-A cells outperform the marked wattage rating on the panel by about 10% because of their superior quality. Grade-B cells have a performance that is identical to the marked wattage rating, while Grade-C performs 10% less than the marked wattage rating on the panel. The difference in performance is caused by micro-imperfection in the design of the cells.
You cannot identify the imperfection by looking at the cells with your naked eye. That is why Windynation tops this list, they use laser scan to identify imperfections on cells and grade them accordingly. Furthermore, they choose only Grade A cells for their panels. That’s why their panels are able to generate power more power than their respective marked ratings.
Anodized Corrosion Resistant Aluminum Frame: Solar panels are made of metal frames to protect the modules from compression and tensional forces. While metals offer better mechanical protection, they need some structural modification to resist corrosion. Windynations panels are made of anodized aluminum to make sure that the panels can withstand corrosive weather elements for more than 30 years.
For consumers, that means they can leave their panels outdoors even in humid and salty conditions without worrying about corrosion. The anodized aluminum also helps to protect the cables attached to it from corrosion attacks, something that is common when you attach copper cables to iron frames.
It is Efficient: The WindyNation 100 Watt Polycrystalline panel has a high efficiency due to the superiority of their PV cells. They perform optimally at 45 degrees Celsius, take or give two degrees. While most panels will fail to deliver any power when partially covered, this panel will still work even when partially covered by shadows.
Size and Weight: Size matters especially when you need to install several panels on your roof. That’s why you will be happy to know that this panel measures 40 inches long, by 26.4 inches wide, by 1.2 inches high. That’s a small size when you consider the power it outputs, and that it’s a polycrystalline panel.
Two or three of these will fit perfectly on your RV roof. It weighs only 8Kgs or 17.6 pounds. You can therefore be able to install it on your own without any assistance if need be. However, when installing solar panels, it’s best to have someone assist you, especially if you will be climbing a roof.
Sufficient Voltage and Current: On a good sunny day, these panels will deliver as much as 21.60 volts on open circuit and 17.4 volts when connected to a load. The short circuit current is 6.32 amperes while the operation current is 5.75 amperes.
Multiple Applications: This panel is meant for use a source of power, it’s not a solar tile or fabric. Having said that, you can use it to supply electrical power to your home, RV, boat, cabins, or campsite. Unlike a diesel power generator, you don’t need to fuel a solar panel or service it after several hours of use. Overall, you will love this panel for its amazing and reliable performance as a clean source or electrical energy.
If you use polycrystalline panels in less than perfect conditions such as when they are partially covered by snow, shade, or dust, they outperform the mono-crystalline panels. Overall, this silent guy is among the best power producers you can have, both as backup and a primary source of power. You should definitely not hesitate to add it to buy it. It’s worth every cent you will spend on it.
HQST 12-Volt 100-Watt Polycrystalline Solar Panel
This solar panel features a high-transparency and low-iron tempered anti-reflective glass, therefore can resist impact and withstand snow loads and high winds at a certain level.
The junction box has maximum protection against tough external elements including low-pressure water jets and environmental particles, thanks to its IP65 rating. Mounting and securing the panel are made simpler, as the back portion comes with pre-drilled holes. You can use a wide range of mounting systems for the panel whether these are pole or tilt mounts, as well as Z-brackets.
The ideal power output per day is 500 Wh, but this largely depends on the sunlight’s availability. To reduce power drop, there are bypass diodes, so you can rely on this unit even in low-light conditions. Other impressive features of this product include the multiple layers of sheet laminations that encapsulate the cells and the aluminum frame with the corrosion-resistant feature, which all result to the long life span of the unit.
If there is one issue that is kind of a disappointment about this product, it would be the packaging. There were some customers who were not pleased with the packaging as there were damages to it. While the item arrived on time, it would be best if much attention was placed on the packaging to ensure an excellent customer satisfaction level.
Renogy 200-watt 12-volts Mono-crystalline Solar RV and Off-Grid Kit
Would like to have an off-grid power source? One that is capable of supplying enough power to light a few bulbs, power the TV, and other light electrical appliances.
Well, you should consider this Renogy 200 watt panel. Renogy specially designed it for off-grid users who need to power their RVs, boats, trailers, cabins, and sheds.
From this solar kit, you get independence, an environment-friendly and quiet power source. It comes complete with a complete starter kit that enables you to install it yourself without help from solar installers.
Wattage: This solar panel kit consists of two 100-watt solar panels that generate 200 W of power. On a good sunny day, you will get 1000AW from this solar kit. The accessories that come with these 200-watt solar panels have minimal losses, which mean you get 99% of the power generated. The 20 ft 10AWG MC4 Adapter kit efficiently transfers all the power generated by the panels to your battery bank or for use by your electronics.
200-Watt Efficient Solar Panel: These 100-watt Renogy Mono-crystalline Solar Panels have an efficiency of about 20%. They convert about 20% of the sun’s energy that falls on them to electricity. That is the highest efficiency that the present photovoltaic solar technology gives us. They have a high efficiency because Renogy uses pure monocrystals of a silicon ingot. A Mono-crystalline Solar Panel has an efficiency that ranges from 15%-20%.
Physical Size of Renogy Panel: Each 100-watt solar panel measures 47x21x3 inches. Together, they weigh 47 pounds. They are designated as size PMW. Using the formula (Length X Width X Number of Panels) / 144 to get their surface area occupancy in Square Feet, these solar panels will occupier 13.71 square feet.
Compact Design: I consider a space occupancy of just 13.71 square feet for a 200-watt Panel to be optimum. Whether you install them on home roofs, RVs, or Boats, you will not run out of space.
Flexible Connection: The Renogy 200-watt panel supplies 12 volts if connected in parallel. You get 24 volts if you connect the panels in series. The default mode is the parallel connection that delivers 12 Volts and a higher current supply, of course subject to varying sunlight conditions.
Application: The Renogy 200-watt panel is rigid, encased in glass, and framed. It offers the highest performance when installed properly. This solar panel kit is most suited as a power source for RVs, Boats, Home power backups, cabins, trailers, and sheds. Renogy guarantees that you will be able to generate power even under low sunlight conditions.
Weight of the Renogy Solar Panel: This panel weighs 47 pounds. That is light enough for you to mount it on rooftops of vans, boats, and homes without damaging the roof.
Power Tip: You have to use this mono-crystalline 200W solar panel with a micro-inverter. Unlike the central string inverters, micro-inverter prevents the entire circuit breakdown when shade or snow partially covers the mono-crystalline solar. If you are not expecting any obstruction, you may use string inverters.
Why it is an excellent choice
Do you need a solar panel kit that is easy to install, will serve you for several decades and uses highly efficient technology in its photovoltaic cells? That is what you will get from the Renogy monocrystalline 200w solar panel.
What is more is that you can scale it up to 400 Watts with just two additional 100W panels. That is why I consider these to be the best 200W mono-crystalline panels you can buy.
ALLPOWERS 100-watt Solar Panel
ALLPOWERS 100 Watts 12V Solar Panel is a thin flexible and bendable panel. Unlike the rigid panels we have discussed in these top 10 best solar panels guides, you can bend it at a 30 degrees smooth curve. There are times when efficient but rigid panels such as the Renogy 100 Watt Solar Panel would work just fine.
However, if you are going to install your panel on uneven surfaces or store it in tight spaces, you may need one that is lightweight and bendable. The ALLPOWERS 100W panel is designed for such scenarios. Let us look at some of its other features.
Made in the USA: The ALLPOWERS solar panel is made in the United States, and as you may expect from the high-quality American standards, its efficiency can be as high as 23%. When you compare that to the industry average of 15%, you realize that this is the right panel to buy. Higher efficiency means that you get a faster Return on Investment. It also means that even when the sun isn’t shining at its brightest, you will still get a decent power output from this panel.
more power than Average Panel: Overall, expect to get more power from a smaller panel compared to the traditional PV panels. If you live in places where there is average or abundant sunshine, then you need to get this panel. You can install it on your car, tent, cabin, trailers, boat, RV, truck, or any uneven but firm surface. It can supply as much as 500 watt-hours per day.
Superior and Durable: The regular panels made of glass and aluminum can resist compression and bending forces. However, their rigidity also means that you can’t use them in confined spaces where you need them to bend a little bit. Moreover, you cannot install them on uneven surfaces. That’s why the flexible and bendable ALLPOWERS panels are convenient and easy to install.
Versatile Design: Since they can bend and flex, it’s able to withstand forces that would otherwise fracture glass-aluminum panels. Therefore, those features make it superior and durable for installations where flexibility is required. Furthermore, because they are fully sealed, they are not susceptible to corrosion caused by water elements.
Powerful and Lightweight: The ALLPOWERS panels can provide over 100 watts although it weighs only 4.7 pounds or 2.15Kg. The Sun Power thin-film technology is used to make this panel enables it to continue outputting power even when the panel is partially covered by shadows. The frameless design helps to cut down the overall weight of this panel while giving it the useful flexibility need to mount panels in limited and uneven surfaces.
Flexible Mounting: The lightweight design makes it quite efficient to use with a tracking system that can keep this panel focused on the sun all day. Overall, when it comes to weight and power, expect less weight and more power from this panel, making it among the most powerful and portable panels.
The ALLPOWERS Solar Panel is flexible, lightweight, and over 23% efficient. It can output up to 100 watts at 12 volts under optimum light conditions. Furthermore, it generates power even when it’s partially covered.
That is the ideal panel is at certain times of the day shadows partially cover the surface where you intend to install your Solar panels. Overall, this panel is best suited for installation on curved surfaces, and mounting surfaces that cannot support heavy loads.
I would recommend it if you need a flexible and lightweight panel.