Just a fair warning.. I love solar panels! Something about the freedom of traveling anywhere off the grid and knowing that I’m generating power just from being in the sun puts a smile on my face.
Solar panels on RV’s can be very intimidating and be overwhelming, however manufactures these days have started to really break in the market of providing customers with solar power kits that are simple to install.
Again, we personally love solar panels on our rig, it’s a great feeling being off the grid for an extended amount of time without worrying about the batteries. It also provides a piece of mind having a backup charging system. And how couldn’t you fall in love with not hearing those generators running?! I want some peace and quiet!
Another great reason we love solar panels is the cost reduction of energy bills when charging your batteries.
I personally have been intimated by solar panels before, but since finally pulling the trigger and purchasing a kit I’ve never looked back. Just remember that it doesn’t take a wizard to figure these things out, at the end of the day it’s a battery charger!
Before we get into our favorite kits, please be aware that not all solar panels are created equal. There are several cheap knockout off brands that come out of china and should be avoided at all costs.
If you get the right solar panels they’ll last 25-30 years and keep their efficiency over 70% their entire life span!
Below we try to steer you clear of cheap, junky solar panels and get you started on the right track, so you can be converted like us. Even though they’re tons of panels on the market we focused on good brands with a great reputation and tried to give several options for people with different budgets and needs in their solar panels.
Without further adieu, lets begin!
|Our Favorite||Best Starter Kit||Best Power|
Renogy has become a pretty well known company in the RV charging business. I haven’t seen any downsides to any of their products, including their batteries.
This kit is absolutely perfect for someone getting into solar panels. Its is simple which is key especially when hooking up your first solar panel kit.
It comes with two 100 watt monocrystalline solar panels coming in at a dimension of 47.3 x 21.3 x 1.4 inches.
It also comes with a charge controller, adapter kit, z-brackets for mounting, a cable entry housing (this will help installing and running cables from the roof), and an optional Bluetooth module for monitoring and parameter changes from your phone.
This kit also comes with a diode bypass which will help keep the power from fluctuating when in shade.
And for the most frequent question we get asked: Yes, these panels will absolutely be sufficient for full time RV living.
|Great starter kit||Price is somewhat high|
|Great power, will charge batteries quickly||Bluetooth can be confusing|
|Monocrystalline panel||Directions unclear for some|
|Great customer service|
This is great affordable entry level solar panel kit. It comes with everything you need to get started in solar.
It includes one 100 watt solar panel, an LCD solar charge controller and all the hardware and great manual to install it easily.
We recommend this as an entry kit because you can easily add more solar panels to this system if you get into solar and realize you want or need a little more power. The charge controller allows up to 4 panels which mean you could push 400 watts to the controller if you would like.
This kit also comes with 40 feet of 12 AWG solar cable so you wont come up short on wire when installing it.
The dimensions of this system are 40”x26.4”x1.2” and weighs 17 pounds, so it’s a great small, light weight panel to get you started.
|Great installation kit||Have to download instructions|
|LCD controller (can upgrade)||Will have to buy fuses|
|Good price for wattage|
|Good customer service for trouble shooting|
Eco worthy has developed a great little simple solar panel kit, that offers quality of more expensive brands.
This panel can produce up to 800 watts per day (great for one panel) and contains a by-pass diode to help with shaded areas.
Like the other kits it comes with a panel, LCD power controller, installation brackets, and 16 foot of solar cable.
One thing to watch out for with this kit, is the charge controller. This charger has had some complaints but when we looked it over it seems perfectly fine.
For the price you can’t get into solar panels for much cheaper unless you really want to risk it and get a low quality panel.
|Great entry price||Charge controller fluctuates|
|Comes with features seen in more expensive models||Kit is shipped in multiple packages|
|High quality build|
|Charges batteries quickly|
Renogy has made our list again with this power house starter kit. If you’re looking to charge several batteries or really become independent of running your generator, look no further.
This solar panel kit comes with 4 100 watt monocrystalline solar panels that can hit up to 2000Wh per day! This kit will fully charge a 200Ah battery from 50% in 3 hours, not bad.
It comes with a great charge controller, that can sense battery reversal, prevent battery overload and prevent overcharging and discharging.
This kit comes with all the pre-drilled brackets, two 20 foot cables and two 10 foot tray cables.
This kit is really great, it’s a power house for the price, lots of people use this kit to power big applications in homes.
The customer service for this company is also superb (trust me I know personally).
The only downside to this kit, which is a big deal is you need to buy male/female solar panel cable connectors which isn’t a big deal.
|Powerful||Need to buy cable connectors|
|Favorite solar panel company||Better for higher budgets|
|Great customer service|
|Great charge control controller|
How do solar panels work on RV’s?
To describe it in the simplest way possible:
Sun hits the solar panels and transfers the energy through the solar panel wires to a “solar controller” which regulates the power to your battery or battery bank.
From here you have the ability to tap into DC power (think plugins for your car, like a phone charger that stick in your cigarette lighter), however to use more common appliances you would find in your home you will use a power converter which converts the DC power to AC power.
Once your power has been regulated, and now converted, the electricity runs to your fuse box/breaker box to your outlets! Pretty simple huh?
As always, we highly recommend monitoring those batteries! You can find several great options that won’t set up back very much.
Different types of RV panels
Below I’m going to tell give you a brief description of the different types of RV solar panels but I will warn you that its not a one fits all scenario. Like most things for your rig, your budget is dependent on what your buy.
Amorphous Silicon– Sounds weird right? This is basically a thin film laid across glass. The great thing about these is the flexibility and also very cheap! Unfortunately they are not as efficient as the other methods we’ll mention.
Take away: These are great if you have a ton of space on top of your rig, and are looking for decent power, but for small areas we’d probably go with something else.
Crystalline- Next up is crystalline panels, the two types we’ll focus on due to being the most common from in RV’s is:
MonoCrystalline- This is the big dog when it comes to highest efficiency when it comes to converting sunlight to power.
Although depending on the brand and design efficiency can vary but overall these deliver the highest output and also take up the least amount of space!
PolyCrystalline- This is a more budget friendly version of monocrystalline, but works great in direct, bright sun. You’ll see this form in a lot of cheaper applications.
What to look for in RV solar panels
Efficiency– Efficiency in solar panels really ties into the previous topic on types of panels and their size. As long as you choose a high quality Crystalline solar panel, efficiency will be more dependent on time of day, sun/clouds, and temperature (higher temps=lower efficiency).
Wattage– A general guideline is 100 watt solar panel will produce 30 amps per day, 200 watts will produce 60 amps per day.
So typically to generate a decent amount per day, getting multiple panels will be your best bet.
Ok so how many watts will I need?
Well there’s two ways to go about this. Energy calculators are rarely accurate so the most accurate way is to measure how much voltage you use during a normal trip.
Another way you can do this is physically calculate how many amps all of your devices draw during a trip.
I can tell you from my experience that most people (not being too conservative, but also not running a crazy amount of appliances) typically can usually power the rig’s gear with 300 watts give or take.
Reliability– Solar panels are notoriously reliable, this isn’t much of a concern for us. I believe having a more reliable battery monitor is more important as well as converter. Stick to one of our recommendations and you’ll be fine.
Durability– Solar panels on RV’s are pretty dang durable. Most will withstand high winds, snow, temperatures you name it.
The one thing I can’t say enough though is clean your panels! This will help prolong their life and also increase how efficient they are at charging your batteries. I cant count how many times I’ve looked at peoples panels and they’re covered with bird droppings, sap and dirt!
Warranty- This is an important topic when shopping for solar panels. Most companies will provide extensive warranties when the RV panels are MADE for RV’s. If you purchase knock off panels not intended for RV’s theres a high possibility that you will have no warranty on your system.
When we select our panels, the warranty is one of the first things we look for. We plan on having these panels for decades as you should as well.
Ease of installation– Ah installation, what separates the strong from the weak, as I’ve mentioned before, do not be scared of putting up your panels. It is not as scary as you think.
To keep installation simple and sweet, we like to chose panels that are meant to be installed on RV’s, have an installation kit, and a reputation for not being difficult.
Even though some kits differ than others the general steps are:
- Mount the solar panel brackets to the frame
- Run the wires (most people use their ventilation system (think refrigerator vents)
- Connect to a charge controller and inverter
As always read your installation guide for the best methods suited for your panels.
My 2nd favorite part about solar panels is the maintenance, its basically zero.. Since you don’t have to worry about moving parts, there really isn’t anything to do other than keep them clean. I check the cables once a year or so to make sure I have a good connection but that’s about it!
We sincerely hope you’ve gained some insight on buying solar panels after reading this guide. Although there are dozens of panels and companies on the market we stuck to reviewing brands and products we feel will suit your needs.
If you have any questions, please feel free to drop a comment below and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Happy Camping 🙂