Best RV Solar Panels & Kits: Top Picks for Energy Efficiency
Say goodbye to expensive electricity bills with these reliable and efficient energy alternatives.
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BY Lisa Conant / LAST UPDATED ON April 26, 2021
With renewable energy solutions growing in popularity, lowering in price, and advancing rapidly with more efficient and reliable technology, there’s never been a better time to outfit your RV with solar power. Think of being able to go anywhere you want without relying on crowded campgrounds for power hook-ups. It’s liberating and opens up a world of undiscovered travel possibilities.
Today’s solar panel kits are economical and can be customized to suit your particular power requirements, whether you want to independently power your entire RV, run a few key appliances or devices, or just have a backup power supply for emergencies. The options are plentiful and can be confusing if you’re unfamiliar with electrical circuits and systems. We’ve got you covered with our informative buying guide that will teach you exactly what to look for in solar panels and kits for RVs, as well as in-depth product reviews of some of the top options available.
Renogy makes the best RV solar panels on the market, and this starter kit is perfect for first-time users.
- Renogy solar panels are incredibly lightweight, made with a durable aluminum frame, and have the option to expand with additional panels.
- Users who require a battery will have to buy one separately.
Windy Nation offers the best solar panel kit for the money. This RV solar kit is a great power source at an attractive price.
- This solar panel is affordable, offers a range of different mounting options, and comes with adjustable charge controller settings.
- Might be difficult to assemble for some users, and not all wires are included.
This kit comes with folding RV solar panels, which are excellent for traveling. Go Power! is a great option for RV use.
- This is the most energy-efficient solar panel. It folds and comes with a carrying case, and the kit comes with great pieces like a power controller.
- This is the most expensive option—more than double some competitors.
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Benefits of Solar Panels & Kits for RV
- Save some money. Minus the initial investment, using solar panels saves you a lot. The free power generated will pay for itself within months of use. Since most panels guarantee over 20 years of generating clean energy, you save a ton in energy costs in the long run.
- Save the planet. Whether global warming and energy conservation is an issue you care about or not, there's no denying the positive effects of using renewable energy. So even if you only want to use solar panels for the financial benefit, you can still take solace in the fact that you're doing your part to go green.
- Low maintenance. While other sources of energy can cost you a lot of money in upkeep, solar panels are amazingly low maintenance. The number of parts that can get worn or break is incredibly small, and the panels don't have moving parts, which also reduces any wear and tear that other power sources are prone to.
- Self-reliance. Many people are looking for ways to become less dependent on privately owned resources, like electricity. Off-grid living is being sought by many, and solar panel kits are one of the most budget-friendly and quick ways to make your RV completely self-sufficient.
- Battery life. A lesser-known benefit of solar power is that it has positive effects on your RV’s battery. The added solar power requires less work from the battery, which can lead to a significantly longer battery life.
Types of Solar Panels & Kits for RV
These solar power panels for RVs are made from a single crystal, often a very thin layer of silicon. The panels have an array of smaller square solar cells laid out across its surface. This technology performs better than polycrystalline solar panels in low light conditions. However, due to the costly purification process, this type of panel is often more expensive.
Polycrystalline solar panels are made up of several smaller crystals in each cell. These panels have rectangular solar cells across their surface, and sometimes have a bluish hue to them. Overall, polycrystalline technology is less efficient than monocrystalline. However, it can also be considerably cheaper.
A newer solar technology comes as a thin film. The cells are still made of silicon, but they are much thinner and flexible. These solar cells come with an adhesive backing that almost works like tape. Once again, the efficiency is lower than the others, but it is much more cost-effective. This is what’s used in the best flexible solar panels for RVs.
Renogy got its start as a college project by students at Louisiana State University. Since then, thanks to support from the Louisiana Business and Technology Center, the business has become one of the fastest growing companies. It produces some of the most popular motorhome solar panel kits like its Foldable Solar Panel Kit and Flexible RV Solar Panel.
Windy Nation is a California-based clean energy company. It manufactures wind and solar generators and has a community forum for do-it-yourselfers to offer each other helpful tips and ideas. It offers a wide range of RV solar packages, including the 400 Watt Solar Kit.
Goal Zero was founded by a passionate humanitarian named Robert Workman after a life-changing trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo to help impoverished people. The company’s mission is to provide portable solar energy sources that empower people and keeps them connected. It makes innovative products like the Venture 30 Solar Kit.
Solar Panels & Kits for RV Pricing
- Under $200: Smaller solar panel kits and singular solar panels can be found at under $200. These kits are limited as far as power output goes but are great for smaller solar energy needs. The individual panels, sold without any additional pieces, are great for expanding the solar panel setups you already have.
- $200 to $450: Some of the best solar panel kits for RV use can be found at this price range. Typically, these include one or two 100-watt solar panels plus kits for installation. These setups often come with handy additions like controllers and adapters.
- $450 and up: Once you start getting into these higher prices, you're typically buying similar items as the $200-$450 range but in bigger quantities. These can come with four or more 100-watt solar panels and the additional pieces required for setup.
Solar charge controllers are what manage the amount of power that is stored from sitting in the sun. These are essential for preventing overcharging of a battery during the day and reducing any loss of power overnight. They are currently made in MPPT and the newer PWM technologies. While PWM is better for power management, it is significantly more expensive.
If your energy usage increases or you just want to expand the items you have running on solar power, a useful feature is expandability. Some solar panel kits allow you to add additional solar panels to generate up to 400 or 800 watts, depending on your camper trailer solar setup.
Having a solar panel is no good if you can't set it up. It's important to pay attention to what is necessary for installation and what parts come included. Some helpful features are pre-drilled holes, mounting brackets, and the overall portability of the solar panels.
- Amount of Power. Before buying any solar panels, it's best to know how much power you need so you know what to buy. Just charging your RV's battery only requires a small setup, but the more amenities you have, the more you might need. If you aren't sure, it's best to start small and increase later if required.
- Weight and Size. Some solar panel kits are very heavy. Depending on where you plan to secure your solar panels and what kind of RV you own, the overall weight and dimensions of the panels could be a determining factor.
- Efficiency. The different ways in which solar panels are made affect efficiency and cost. If you're limited on space but don't mind spending more money, then buying a high-efficiency monocrystalline panel is a good idea. If you have room to spare but don't want to spend as much, then investing in amorphous or polycrystalline panels could be a better option.
Best Solar Panels & Kits for RV Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- If you plan on permanently securing your solar panels to your RV, then make sure you're careful about placement and positioning. The last thing you want to do is frequently adjust them after the fact.
- Be aware of positioning in terms of sunlight. Having your panels obstructed or tilted in the wrong direction will result in not getting the full usage of your solar panels.
- Don't assume that a specific RV solar panel kit comes with everything you require. Because everyone's needs are different, every kit comes with different parts. Read product descriptions and lists to know precisely what you'll receive and what you’ll need to purchase separately.
- If you don't live in a particularly sunny area, it might be worth it to spend the extra money to buy monocrystalline solar panels. They work much better than the others in low light.
Q: Can I use an RV solar panel to power my AC unit?
If you have a solar panel/battery/inverter set-up that generates enough power, you can use it to power your AC unit. Remember that AC units are huge power drainers, so you likely won’t be able to run your unit non-stop for days at a time.
Q: How much power do I need?
This is a tricky question, as everyone has different power needs or desires. If you want to completely power your RV, you’re going to need more solar panels and batteries than if you just want to run a few essential appliances, tools, or lights. Check out this helpful article that discusses how to calculate your power needs.
Q: Is my solar panel weatherproof?
Manufacturers make their solar panels waterproof, knowing that they will be outside in the rain. Different companies have varying levels of weatherproofing on their additional pieces, like controllers and brackets.
Q: Am I getting the most out of my solar panels?
To get the most out of your solar panels, position them in a location that receives the greatest exposure to direct sunlight—for RVs, this is usually on the roof. Try not to park in shady spots or in places where access to direct sunlight is blocked. Also, be sure to periodically rinse off any dust or debris that might cause your panels to charge less efficiently.
Now that you know all you need to know to start going green with your RV, it’s easy to see why we chose the Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit for our top pick. The kit is priced exceptionally well and comes with everything you need to get started. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, we like the WindyNation 100 Watt Solar Panel Off-Grid RV Boat Kit. It’s a reliable and efficient system without a cringe-worthy price tag.