A gimmick or free electricity on the road? We present you with the best solar panels for RV and answer the ultimate question: Are they worth it at all?
When I first saw solar panels slapped on an RV I immediately thought of one of my all-time childhood movies “Race the Sun”. It’s about teenagers who build their solar car to race across Australia.
Now, as a camping and RVing enthusiast, I realize that solar panels can’t power the RV but can make my trip much more convenient and sustainable.
But what sort of problems will solar panels solve in your RV?
Coupled with a capable solar battery, I use them to power the appliances and lighting in my RV. This allows me to camp away from crowded campsites and become fully independent of the grid.
What is more, it allows me to camp sustainably and offset the carbon emissions of my RV by using a renewable source of electricity.
Wattage: 175 watts | Panel Type: Monocrystalline | Water Resistance: IP67 | Weight: 6.2 lbs
The Renogy 175 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel has everything I expect from a top-shelf solar panel for RV use.
It weighs only 6.2 lbs so I confidently fixed six of these to my RV roof.
What is more, they are extremely flexible, so they’ll adapt to any trailer style. That’s a big consideration for me.
Scroll down to the Flexible vs. Rigid Solar Panels section to read my opinion, but in short, if you have the budget — go for flex.
The Renogy 175W has great solar efficiency thanks to transparent dots on the surface that capture sun rays even when coming at an angle.
In my use, even on a hazy day on Washington state shore, two of these panels provided well over 200 watts.
Why Do I Like It?
I glued four of these panels to my RV roof while the remaining two are movable — I use mounting eyelets to rig them on the trailer side that receives the most sunlight.
Wattage: 200 watts | Panel Type: Monocrystalline | Water Resistance: IP65 | Weight: 16.1 lbs
On a bright sunny day, the Bluetti PV200 charges my AC200P solar generator in about 5 hours.
If you’re not big on DIY and mounting stuff, you’d be happy to hear that you can get these up and running in less than 30 seconds.
Unfold, connect, and prop it up.
Now, this can be a deal-breaker to some — there are no mounting eyelets or any other way to fix this panel permanently to your RV roof.
I guess you could glue it with silicone or use EternaBond tape, but since there’s no rim, you’ll have to cover some of the solar cells as well.
So why is this solar panel on the list at all?
Because not every camper needs a mini solar power plant on the roof. Most users only need to charge a few gadgets like a laptop, camera, phone, and drone.
These people use portable solar generators and pair them with portable solar panels, which they prop up on a sunny spot, while their RV stays in the shade.
Why Do I Like It?
Not all places are accessible by RV nor they should be. I can take these solar panels down to the beach and keep the party going.
Wattage: 100 watts | Panel Type: Monocrystalline | Water Resistance: IP67 | Weight: 4.2 lbs
This solar panel for RV is just 0.08 inches thick which is 90% thinner than any rigid solar panel in the 100-watt range.
The best way to fix this to your RV roof is to use silicone adhesive or EternaBond tape.
Like on the 175W version, there are six eyelets but they are too small for mounting screws.
So you best use them with rigging cords for non-mobile applications.
If you want lightweight and reliable RV solar panels that will power your basic devices, you won’t find a better-priced option.
Why Do I Like It?
These solar panels are just 48 x 21 inches which give me plenty of options to combine and mount them, either along or across the roof axis.
Wattage: 100 watts | Panel Type: Monocrystalline | Water Resistance: IP65 | Weight: 9.1 lbs
They are reliable, compatible only with other Jackery products, and have an army of loyal customers.
Solar Saga 100W is beautifully designed, like every Jackery product. It folds in half and has two comfortable carrying handles in case I need to deploy them away from my RV.
Keep in mind that Solar Saga is a 100% portable solar panel, just like Renogy PV200.
This makes it perfect for boondockers who prefer to keep their vehicle in shade and need powering only a few essential gadgets.
I’ve used two Solar Saga 100W solar panels with Jackery Explorer 1000 and after 8 hours of charging I could run a mini fridge for 17 hours.
Unlike the Renogy PV200, this solar panel for RV comes with four mounting eyelets so you can fix it to your RV roof or side.
Unfortunately, these panels are only compatible with Jackery power stations.
Plug and play.
Why Do I Like It?
Solar Saga 100W comes with USB-A and USB-C cables. In a pinch, I can charge my phone and laptop directly from the panel.
Wattage: 800 watts | Panel Type: Monocrystalline | Water Resistance: IP32 | Weight: 112.8 lbs
They packed eight rigid-frame 100-watt monocrystalline panels with the Rover 60A charge controller and a Bluetooth module.
With this kit on your RV roof, you’ll be able to harvest about 3.5-4 kWh of sunlight a day. The panels have a heat-dissipating back sheet that ensures smooth output performance without hotspots.
I was happy to discover that every panel comes with pre-drilled holes in the back frame and Z-brackets for mounting solar panels on the RV roof. When you mount it on the roof, this panel doesn’t go anywhere.
But it was the charge controller that sweetened the deal. If you have a large RV and want every convenience of a mobile home, Rover 60A allows you to slap another 8 solar panels and boost your system to 1600 watts!
Using the Renogy DC Home App I can always check what’s going on there, as the controller sends power data directly to my phone via Bluetooth.
This way I can always tell how much power is produced, how much I use, and even if there’s something wrong with the system. Pro-level baby!
Why Do I Like It?
Apart from making my RV virtually independent from the grid. These solar panels for RV make a great home outage solution. When the power goes out, just move to your RV and continue whatever you were doing.
Wattage: 100 watts | Panel Type: Monocrystalline | Water Resistance: IP65 | Weight: 15.8 lbs
When I saw the price range I was suspicious at first. Especially since you get all the cables, Z-brackets, and — listen to this — a 20A charge controller.
The heart of this system is a rigid-frame monocrystalline solar panel with a waterproof IP65-rated junction box.
It means your wiring is completely protected from dust particles and low-pressure water jets.
Still, as with all IP65-rated panels here, you don’t want to leave the junction box or connectors in the rain.
Remember: The panels are weatherproof but the rest of the equipment is not.
So why isn’t this solar panel for RV on the top of the list?
First, I wasn’t aware till I tried it that this charge controller works only with lead acid batteries. Also, the wiring connectors look and feel flimsy, so I don’t know when I’ll need to replace them.
On the other hand, the screws that hold charge controller wires in are so tiny and so tight that I can hardly unscrew them without stripping them.
All in all, with a few tweaks this could be a solid and inexpensive RV solar panel for someone getting into the world of solar power.
Why Do I Like It?
With a more versatile controller and new wiring, the Topsolar 100W solar panel can be an inexpensive building brick for a full-size RV solar system.
Wattage: 100 watts | Panel Type: Polycrystalline | Water Resistance: N/A| Weight: 19 lbs
This solar panel is even cheaper and comes with a better 30A charge controller, so you can add more solar panels in the future.
The P30L charge controller that is in the box can handle up to 4 x 100W solar panels in a 12V system and up to 8 x 100W panels in a 24V system.
On the downside, when my panel arrived, it came without any connectors and mounting hardware.
I’ve emailed customer service and they sent the missing stuff with no questions asked.
Still, I had to buy at least two fuse holders and fuses (automotive ATC-type will do) and the 30-amp gauge wires to connect the P30L to your battery bank.
Why Do I Like It?
If you want to stick a couple of solar panels on your RV roof that will survive whatever weather throws at them and still have enough money for the next 3 road trips, these are the panels for you. Just keep that electric gear tucked inside.
RV solar panels are similar to home solar panels. But instead of powering your home, they use the power of the sun to charge your RV battery.
When your RV is on the road or parked in a sunny spot, the solar panels on the roof absorb energy from the sun.
Then you can use the RV battery to power lights and small appliances in your camper.
If you add more batteries that the solar panels can charge, you have more electricity available when camping.
Whatever vendors want you to believe, there is no such thing as RV panels. Many companies market their products as RV solar panels but only because those panels are suitable for RV use.
These include both portable solar panels which have multiple ways of permanent or semi-permanent attaching to your RV roof as well as flexible solar panels that you can fix flat to curved surfaces and reduce the drag whale on road. Flexible solar panels are a bigger investment but provide a higher ROI back with high-efficiency rates.
I also want to say that solar panels are not a magic pill.
This “free” and clean power sounds much better than the fuel generator.
But when I say free I mean the sunshine. The hardware can be quite expensive. Sure, prices of solar equipment have gotten a bit more reasonable in recent years, but if you want quality, you still need to pay a hefty sum.
You need a couple of pairs of 100-watt panels, and deep-cycle solar batteries to store power and charge the controller that keeps them from overcharging. Then there’s the inverter that turns the DC power into AC power that most appliances use.
When you add those up, you can be looking at a $1,500+ investment up front.
Also, collecting solar power is much more complicated than hooking up to shore power at a campsite. You need to know how much power you need on a daily basis and size your system accordingly.
It also means you’ll have to park in full sunshine for most of the day. In other words, you can forget about parking your RV in a nicely shaded campsite where you can throw a barbie and pass a few cold ones.
Don’t get me wrong, solar power is great and worth the investment, especially if you like to boondock on public land away from the grid.
It’s just that for the most part, if you want the maximum power, you need to:
First, you need to know how much energy you use in your RV in a day. There are two ways to do this. The first one is easier and the second one is free.
The easiest way to tell your daily consumption is to install a battery meter like this Renogy 500A Battery Monitor. Before installing solar panels, go camping without hookup charging along the way and the monitor will give you the amount of energy you use with ±1% accuracy.
This way is 100% but requires a bit of math and planning. In short, you need to find out what each appliance or device in your RV consumes and multiply that by the number of hours you expect to use it.
For example, you have one TV that consumes 100 watts. You guess that you’ll watch TV for about 2 hours per day. So 100W x 2h = 200Wh a day.
You can do the same for every electrical device you want to power while you’re boondocking and you’ll get a rough estimate of the total watt-hours you need. Add a 20% for safety and from there you can estimate how many panels you need.
If you plan to cook outside and only use electricity for things like lighting, TV, and charging your phone or laptop, two or three 100W solar panels and a 1200Wh battery will do.
However, if you want to power your fridge or AC you’ll need more panels and batteries.
Now when you’ve measured or calculated the amount of energy you need daily, there is one more thing to consider:
How much energy do solar panels provide to your battery?
You need to achieve a balance here.
Install too many solar panels without enough battery storage and you're wasting both money and energy that can’t be stored nor used.
On the other hand, slap one solar panel and a row of batteries, and you won't be able to charge them all while the sun's up.
Let’s now calculate energy generation and storage needs.
For example, a high-end 100W solar panel will generate an average 350Wh per day. Keep in mind that this varies by location and time of year.
You also need to know how many batteries you need to store the power that your RV solar panels generate. One 100Ah 12V battery has about 1200Wh storage capacity.
I say it again: Your solar panels for RV will only give you the listed number of watts under perfect conditions.
Perfect conditions = direct sun shining directly at the panel.
On a rainy day, you’ll be lucky to get 100 watt-hours from your 100W solar panels. The same goes for parking in the shade.
It’s also challenging to estimate the amount of energy you’ll use in a day because days are different. One day you might be outside from dawn to dusk, enjoying nature, hiking, canoeing, and whatnot. The next day might be rainy and you’ll stay inside your RV working on your laptop or watching TV for hours in the evening.
So whatever you do, estimate high.
How much your RV solar panel system will cost depends on what you expect from your solar system. Setting up your RV with solar power is not a cheap project.
On the bright side, there are great solar panels for RV available at any price point.
If you mainly use your RV over the weekend, you most certainly don’t need a solar system that can power a house.
In that case, I recommend buying a solar system that will allow you to use the sun to charge phones, turn on the lights, and power a few outlets.
If you’re not confident about using your RVs original wiring, you can pair your solar panels with a solar generator that already has multiple outlets for both 110V and 12V power.
Solar generators already have a battery and inverter inside, so you only need to plug in the appropriate solar panels for RV.
Here are a few good combos:
If you like to spend several weeks traveling in your RV, I recommend you build a more capable RV solar system.
Higher-end components are better built which leads to fewer maintenance issues. Manufacturers often offer RV solar panel kits that contain everything you need to build a full-fledged solar system for your RV.
For example, the Renogy 800W 12V/24V Monocrystalline Solar Premium Kit costs $1,399.99 and includes eight 100-watt solar panels and Rover 60A MPPT Charge Controller.
But then you also need an inverter like this Renogy 1000W 12V Pure Sine Wave Inverter for $254.99.
And you need a deep cycle discharge battery. If you want to make the most out of those 3.4 or 4 hours that the sun is directly above, you’ll need at least a 2000Wh battery. For example, this Renogy 12V 200Ah Lithium Iron Phosphate Battery costs $1,129.
Now let’s take a look at how to set up RV solar panels in the simplest possible way.
For starters, a solar system for RV has a few basic components:
And that’s it.
But how to hook up solar panels to RV batteries?
You can’t charge the RV battery with solar panels directly. First, you need to hook solar panels to a charge controller and put a battery monitor in between the controller and the RV battery.
It might sound complicated but it isn’t.
Let’s begin with RV solar panel installation.
Depending on the kit you bought, you’ll either have to use Z-brackets or screws or silicone adhesive.
If you’re going with screws, mount the brackets and set your panel where you want it, and mark the holes for drilling.
Now, this part is super important. You’ll be drilling through your RV roof so you don’t want any water to leak inside.
I used a Dicor Roof Sealant. Just apply some sealant over the markings so that when the screw goes in it pulls into that membrane and makes a watertight seal.
If you're gluing the panels or using the tape make sure the adhesive makes a complete seal around the edges as you don’t want any moisture or dust to accumulate under your flexible solar panels.
If the wires you got in the solar panel kit are too short, you can use an extra IP65-rated junction box.
From there, lead the wires into a circuit breaker. I prefer circuit breakers to fuses because I can disconnect the panels from the rest of the system with a flick of a switch.
Now, remember, you don’t want to hook your panels to the charge controller until you’ve hooked up the battery.
Connecting the battery is quite simple. You’ll need a fuse in between there, so from the positive side of the charge controller go to the fuse and form there to the positive side of the battery.
And on the negative side, first, lead a wire from the battery monitor shunt to the charge controller and then from the battery monitor to the negative side of the battery.
Once you hook up the charge controller to the battery, it’s going to power up the display. From there you can finish hooking up the solar panels to the charge controller and turn on that little breaker.
And that’s pretty much it. Now you can see what’s coming from solar panels into your battery.
Both rigid and flexible solar panels have the same job but they are built for different applications.
Usually have a metal frame and are encased in sturdy glass. This makes them much heavier, but also much more durable.
In the past, rigid solar panels were considered more efficient than their flexible counterparts. However in recent years, technology has advanced, so now they’re an equal match.
However, two things haven’t changed:
Finally, rigid solar panels have less tendency to overheat. Flexible panels sit directly on the RV roof so there’s nowhere for the heat to escape. Rigid solar panels have raised mounts that allow airflow all around them. On the downside, the mounts produce more drag on the road, which translates to more fuel spent.
So to sum up:
Are much thinner and built like laminate materials so they are bendable to an extent. This makes them perfect for curved or streamlined surfaces like boat hulls, RV roofs, etc.
Since they are glued or screwed down to the RV roof they don't create any drag while on the road.
Flexible panels also weigh much less, which makes them perfect for RV and marine use. No one wants to put more weight than they already haul around.
These perks combined make flexible solar panels for RV much easier to install on your rig. In some cases, you won’t need any tools but a tube of silicone adhesive or EternaBond tape.
Flexible solar panels are also more portable. Removing and storing rigid solar panels is much harder. I’ve never heard of anyone in my RV community doing that.
On the other hand, you can easily remove flexible panels from your RV roof to slide them into any bay for storage.
So what do we have so far?
If you ask me, solar panels for RV have either to be flexible or portable. Rigid solar panels are not just 70% heavier, but also require more complicated mounts, not to mention the additional drag on the road.
I’ve added two rigid-frame options at the bottom of this list just because they’re so affordable.
Yes, you can run an RV on solar power. If you need to power just basic RV systems, you can start with solar systems and a battery bank. However, if you want to power the appliances you’d use in your home, you need an inverter to allow you to use a 110-volt system.
The hardest part about boondocking in my RV is water conservation and power conservation. Solar panels can help with the latter.
Yes, you can run RV air conditioners with solar power. But keep in mind that Ac units suck up a lot of power so you’ll need lots of solar panels and a large battery bank.
You need two 100-watt solar panels to run 50 amps a day in your RV.
Yes, off-grid solar systems are designed to work day and night 24/7.
A generator is always cheaper upfront, but then you have to stop to refuel it, plus you get constant noise and the smell of diesel. RV solar panels are more expensive upfront, but once you clear the bill they keep giving as the power source is 100% free. In addition, you’ll rarely have to do anything about them, while the generators need regular maintenance.
RV solar panels are definitely worth the investment.
Some of you will choose an inexpensive RV solar “starter pack” with a simple charge controller and a lead acid battery.
Enough for charging a few devices between shore hookups.
You may want full independence from the grid and splurge on 8x100W flexible solar panels + pure sine inverter and LiFePO4 battery with 3500+ discharge cycles.
Others will go for maximum flexibility and rig up portable solar panels for RV and use a solar generator unit that is both inverter and battery in one.
Let’s be honest — in any case, the upfront price is higher than what you’d pay for the fuel generator.
But once you’re past the price point, everything is pure gain — both for you and the environment.
Also, let me ask you this:
What price are you willing to pay to ditch the nasty exhaust fumes and harness the clean and free energy of the sun?