If you’re thinking of adding the best RV solar panels to your camper or RV, then you’re probably overwhelmed by the amount of information you’ve found online and you’re not sure what type of system would work for you and your recreational vehicle.
So, what are RV solar panel systems used for?
For most RV owners, there are a couple of main reasons you might be considering adding solar panels to your rig: to charge the coach batteries or to provide electrical power.
To charge the house batteries, the solar power can provide a steady, slow charge to the batteries.
In terms of providing electrical power, this is the perfect solution when you’re in a remote location.
But is it necessary to have solar panels on your RV? For some, this type of setup isn’t necessary, but if you want to go off the grid, go green, or want to enjoy more comforts of home while you’re on the road, then the best RV solar panel kit can make traveling more enjoyable. These kits can also be a good choice if you want to save a little money and cut down on generator use.
Choosing the Leading Solar Panel Kits
Solar panel kits are a cost-effective means of power. The resource is pretty inexhaustible, even on cloudy days or in the winter. It’s quiet, clean, and good for the planet.
But with so many of these solar panel kits on the market, how can you find the best one for your RV?
That’s where we come in. We’ve done our research and tested some of the best-selling models on the market. We paid close attention to how much power each kit produces, the amp hours, and solar panel type. Additionally, because the best systems often come with a higher price tag, we’ve looked at the leading models available in different price points, so you’ll be sure to find a kit that works with your budget.
We have also included a buyer’s guide that will help to familiarize you with the different features to look for, so you can choose the right type of kit for your rig.
Now, we’ll begin with the top-rated model by Go Power called the Weekender. This system features an impressive monocrystalline setup complete with a top of the line control charger, cables, hardware, and more.
|Go Power! Solar |
and Inverter System
|WindyNation Four |
Piece Solar Panel Kit
|Renogy Monocrystalline |
Solar RV Kit
|WindyNation Solar |
|HQST 1 Off-Grid |
RV and Boat Kit
Best RV Solar Panel Kit-Go Power! Weekender Solar and Inverter System
The Go Power Weekender solar panel and inverter kit can easily maintain your RV’s power, allowing you to travel to that perfect out of the way spot to enjoy nature at its best. This powerful system is highly adjustable, easy to install, and doesn’t require ongoing maintenance. The solar panel and inverter system is so powerful, you can run a wide variety of appliances and devices.
Best Monocrystalline Solar Panel Kit-WindyNation 400-Watt Solar Panel Kit
This solar panel kit by WindyNation offers a total of four one-hundred-watt solar panels, charge controller, cables, and all the other gear needed to get started setting up your solar panel kit right away. This versatile system can be used for boats, cabins, RVs, and home use. The charge controller comes complete with a large LCD display where you can monitor DC load draw, system amperage, voltage, temperature, and amp-hours. This system provides up to an average of one hundred and fifty amp hours.
Most Versatile-Renogy 400 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar RV Kit
This solar panel system by Renogy consists of four monocrystalline solar panels which makes for a much more powerful system. This system includes the popular Adventurer charge controller which features an LCD display that allows you to monitor the battery charge level and other important info. The system itself is very easy to set up and maintain. This system can provide more than enough power to allow you to run a variety of appliances such as a TV or coffeemaker.
Beginner-Friendly-WindyNation Solar Panel Kit
This is a pretty basic setup by WindyNation. It includes a one-hundred-watt solar panel, and a control charger, mounting hardware, and the cables and components needed for installation. The included charge controller will allow you to keep a close eye on DC draw load, solar panel status, voltage, and more. This kit provides three hundred and fifty watt-hours, which translates to thirty-three-amp hours. The controller features built-in protection that will prevent battery overload, surges, and short circuits. This kit is perfect for RV or boat use and offers a decent amount of power for a one panel setup.
Best Value-HQST 100 Watts 12 Volts Polycrystalline Solar Panel Off-Grid RV and Boat Kit
This is a solar panel system designed with the beginner in mind. It consists of a single polycrystalline solar panel, so set up is a breeze. However, since polycrystalline solar panels aren’t known for their efficiency, this set is simply not powerful enough to provide enough juice for a variety of appliances. However, it is a great system if you need a little extra power when you’re on the road.
RV Solar Panel Buyer’s Guide
The best RV solar panels can be a fantastic way to utilize solar energy. While it’s not the perfect power source, it’s a great option if you’re searching for a way to save some serious cash on energy costs. Additionally, solar panel energy setups are readily available, easy to assemble and provide green, clean, quiet power.
Now, before we dive in, we first want to get it out there that any type of solar panel system is only as good as the sun exposure it gets daily. If you expect to be away from shore power for an extended period of time, then we recommend you invest in the best inverter generator.
Solar Panel Types
A group of solar panels is called an array. Solar panels are designed to capture energy from the sun and pass it through to a charge controller. Next, the energy is fed at the right current to batteries for storage.
PV, or photovoltaic technology continues to improve every year, and with this type of advancement comes improved efficiency. The latest technologies used in high-end applications can reach up to twenty-one percent efficiency. Unreliable sun exposure combined with low efficiency is the reason behind why it takes several panels in order to create a small amount of usable power.
Solar cells are made out of silicon. The construction and the purity are what will determine the cost and efficiency of the panels.
Polycrystalline Versus Monocrystalline
The mono panels have a classic wafer look. The silicon is trimmed on each side before being sliced into wafers in order to increase energy efficiency while also reducing the cost. These panels typically perform much better than polycrystalline panels in terms of low light conditions. They usually cost more due to the added purification process the panels go through.
Polycrystalline panels are blue and feature rectangular cells instead of the wafer-like appearance monocrystalline panels have. Because the structure isn’t quite as pure as the mono panels, these panels aren’t as efficient. If you had one poly panel and one mono panel of the same size, the poly would be the one to produce the least amount of energy. However, poly panels are much more affordable, which is why they’re usually chosen for larger installations.
Thin film is a newer technology in which silicon is applied to a substrate surface. This type of panel is by far the most affordable. However, the lower price comes with a tradeoff in terms of efficiency, offering a six to twelve percent efficiency rating compared to a fifteen to twenty percent efficiency rating for crystalline panels.
The thin film technology allows solar power to be integrated into a variety of objects. The lower price tag makes it attractive for larger installations.
Copper Indium Gallium Selenide
Or CIGS for short, is a type of thin-film solar array that produces an impressive output compared to other types of thin film formats. It has an efficiency range of ten to twelve percent. It also has a lower cadmium content. Cadmium is a type of toxic substance that’s used in making panels. Any type of application that uses flexible formats makes it perfect for applications that are not best suited to rigidity, such as portable or foldable arrays.
Energy that’s produced by panels has peaks and because of this, it’s necessary to control the amount of power that enters a battery in order to protect the batteries from damage and ensure optimal charging power. A controller will perform this function and is also able to handle a large variety of panels attached to a single unit.
The controller also performs many additional functions by understanding the battery’s charge state and how to get the best charge based on the level of the available current from the panels.
Utilizing complex algorithms, a solar controller will work continuously to get every drop of power out of an array and to the batteries for optimal power levels.
Single Phase Chargers
This style of charger provides a single output and charges continuously at the same rate without the regard of the battery’s condition. Usually, they will charge at a higher voltage the whole time they’re connected. This type of charger is perfect when you’re in need of a short burst of current in order to start up a dead battery. However, they don’t do a great job of fully topping off a battery. Once the charger is removed from the battery, the battery will not have time to fully absorb the current and will drop back down to its static internal voltage of around ninety percent as opposed to a full charge at one hundred percent.
The trickle charger also features a single output rating, but it usually has a much lower voltage such as a thirteen-volt range. This charger will slowly bring the battery up to a full charge. This type of charger is commonly found on rigs that usually hook to shore power and just need to keep the batteries topped off. They’re rarely used for a deep charge.
But the real drawback here is that a trickle charger can take several hours to charge up a dead battery. Because of this, the trickle charger isn’t the best choice when you have solar energy which comes in peaks. Charging can take forever because this charger doesn’t charge at a higher voltage.
A multi-phase charger offers the best of both worlds and acts as a trickle charger and a single-phase charger in one. This type of charger comes with many added benefits including the ability to adjust output based on the type of current being fed into it. With a good model, the charger has the ability to broaden the current flow in order to enjoy peak voltage at a much faster rate. In order to help the battery absorb every last bit of power, it can then switch modes.
The batteries are where you’ll store the power that’s generated by the panels. The power is so sporadic that you won’t be able to use it effectively straight from the panel. Since RVs use a twelve-volt system, they’re a natural fit. Usually, the lighting and a variety of appliances can operate at this voltage without the use of additional components.
In most cases, the batteries that are used for solar power applications are usually six-volt batteries instead of the standard twelve-volt. In order to create the twelve-volt circuit, some wiring is needed. Once assembled, there isn’t a need to make any changes except when you’re replacing the battery itself. When you wire a couple of six-volt batteries you can get the twelve-volts you need for the RV’s system in order for it to function properly.
Flood cell: These batteries come equipped with lead plates that are flooded with battery acid which stores the energy. They’re able to better withstand deep discharging cycles, however, they’re also more prone to corrosion. When these batteries are cycled often they tend to build up corrosion on the lead plates. This results in a reduction of available energy and can even cause the battery to short out. These batteries also need more maintenance compared to other types of batteries. However, they offer greater peak amp draw compared to other types.
Gel: A silica gel battery contains a type of gel substance. In the substance, electrolytes are stored and allowed to move between plates. These batteries have a unique charging profile, which can make them difficult to work with. In order to charge they require a specific type of charger controller. If you want to use an alternator it will need to have a special regulator. It provides more mounting options since it’s less prone to leaks or spills and gel batteries can be a perfect option for any low ventilated area. However, the tradeoff is the fact that they’re not the best choice for rapid discharge and usually cost a lot more than other batteries in this category.
Absorbed gas mat: AGM batteries contain a type of unique glass plate that allows the electrolyte to be wicked between the plates. It can also be mounted in a variety of positions and if tipped or broken there are no electrolytes available to spill. This type of battery is often the preferred type for rapid discharge.
Every type of appliance needs amps in order to run. The amp hour refers to the number of amps that an appliance uses when it’s run for a period of one hour. As an example, an appliance that uses four amps in order to operate will require four-amp hours when it runs for an hour. Amp hours are drawn from the batteries, which will look to the solar panels in order to recharge the amp hours used. Because of this, you need to know how many amp hours you’ll use on a day to day basis. Ideally, those amp hours will be replaced by the solar panels, so the number and size of the panels you buy should be based on how many amp hours are used in a day.
In order to determine how many amp hours, you and your family will need daily, estimate how many hours every appliance runs, then multiply that number by the number of amps each of the appliances need in order to operate.
On average, most families will use anywhere from fifty to two hundred-amp hours daily.
If you’re wondering “how many solar panels do I need for my RV?” this will boil down to how many amp hours you and your family need to get by comfortably when you’re on the road. Fortunately, solar panel systems are sold in a variety of sizes.
Portable Solar Panel Kits for Your RV
A portable solar kit will allow you to move the solar panels in order to get the most sunlight, even if your recreational vehicle is parked under some shade. These kits are perfect for RVs and smaller campers and can be used in addition to a larger system. A portable kit will come with cables, which will allow you to easily move the panels around.
In terms of pricing, this can depend on your needs and what your RC setup looks like. Fortunately, these systems are very customizable and what may work for a friend’s RV setup may not work for your own. Most systems start off at around five hundred dollars and go up from there.
Additionally, as solar power continues to become the norm, you’ll notice that the cost of even large systems drops a little each year.
Ease of Use
Most of these systems are very user-friendly and won’t take much time to install. The complexity of the installation process will ultimately involve the size of the RV and the size of the solar panel system.
Click here to learn how to mount solar panels on RV roof.
RV Solar Panel Tips
- If there is enough light to cast a shadow on the ground then the panels should be capable of producing power.
- The panels on your RV need to be kept clean. Dirty panels can have a negative impact on how much light is absorbed. Even a small amount of dust or debris can lower the panel’s power absorption ability. Make checking the cleanliness of the solar panel system on your RV part of your regular routine every couple of days.
- Not all solar panels are created equal. Not every type of solar panel is a good choice for camper or RV use.