5 best RV solar panels and buyer’s guide
Editorial note: This is an unbiased review: we have no financial ties with any of the companies mentioned, nor do we earn money from affiliate advertising. The content of this blog is based on research and information available at the time of writing.
There’s few things quite like going out into the Great Outdoors to escape it all. But nothing snaps you back to reality quite like having a noisy gas-generator going in the background.
To make your RV camping experience the quiet getaway you’re looking for, you may want to consider getting RV solar panels. Not only do they keep the noise level down, they keep your pollution down, too!
However, finding the right RV solar panels can be tough. That’s why we’ve broken down what you should look for when buying them and reveal our top picks for the best RV solar panels on the market.
On this page
Top picks for RV solar panels
|Solar kit||Key features||Price|
|Renogy 400 Watt 12 Volt Solar Premium Kit||(4) 100 W panels, charge controller, mounting equipment, cabling||$799.99|
|WindyNation 100 W Solar Panel Off-Grid Kit||(1) 100 W panel, charge controller, mounting equipment, cabling||$439.99|
|Go Power! 130 W Portable Solar Panel Kit||(1) 130 W foldable solar panel, charge controller, cabling, carrying case||$499.68|
|HQST 100 W Polycrystalline Solar Panel Kit||(1) 100 W solar panel, charge controller, mounting equipment, cabling||$99.99|
|Renogy 100 W 12 Volt (V) Flexible Solar Panel and Charge Controller||(1) 100 W flexible solar panel, charge controller||$230.35|
What are RV solar panels and how do they work?
Harness the power of the sun with RV solar panels on your next camping trip. Image source: RV Master Techs
RVs have batteries within them that are able to power lights and small appliances, but they won’t last very long. If you want to be able to use things like your microwave and TV, then you’re going to need an external power source. That’s where RV solar panels come in.
RV solar panels work like a regular home solar system - the solar panels convert sunlight into electricity. Except instead of the solar panels powering your home, they charge your RV batteries.
You can also get additional batteries that the solar panels can charge, so you have even more electricity available to you when you’re camping.
An RV solar panel system consists of 4 main components:
- Solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity
- A charge controller to prevent your battery from overcharging
- An inverter to convert the DC solar electricity into usable AC power
- A battery to store the electricity
Do you really need RV solar panels?
While RV solar panels are great, they aren’t necessary. In fact, most RV campers probably don’t need solar panels - if you spend most of your time camping on campgrounds with power hookups, then RV solar panels probably aren’t right for you.
But, for all of the boondockers out there, RV solar panels are a great, cost-effective investment. Boondocking is when you camp off-grid, outside the amenities of campgrounds, including electricity. In this case, RV solar panels can come in handy. They allow you to keep your batteries charged, and you can charge additional batteries for backup power, as well.
Also, because the solar panels slowly charge your batteries, they can end up prolonging your RV battery life. Plus, unlike conventional generators that you may use to help power your RV, you don’t have to worry about buying propane for every trip. Once you invest in RV solar panels, there are almost no additional operating costs unless equipment needs to be replaced.
Learn more: Pros and cons of solar generators
How much do RV solar panels cost?
How much you spend on solar panels for your RV depends on what you need from your solar system. If you use a lot of electricity, you’ll need to purchase more equipment, which will raise the overall price of your RV solar system.
You can find RV solar panel kits for as little as $100 or upwards of $1,000. It really depends on your energy needs. When you’re just starting out, you can get an RV solar panel starter kit between $200 and $500.
Kits in this range will usually include a charge controller, solar cables, and one or two solar panels, which is a great jumping off point when you’re first getting into solar. But, you’ll probably still need a generator to supplement your usage. Once you gauge how the solar panels are working for you, you may need to buy more panels.
What to consider when buying RV solar panels
There are a few key things to keep in mind when looking to buy solar panels for your RVs.
Your power consumption
In order to find what solar panels are going to work best for your RV, you need to figure out how much power you consume when you’re camping. Based on that, you’ll be able to determine how many solar panels and any additional batteries you might need.
Most RV campers use about 20 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity a day. The more appliances you have, the higher your electricity usage will be, and thus the more solar panels you will need.
In most cases, however, two or three solar panels will usually produce enough energy to run most of your small appliances. If you want to run large appliances like a refrigerator or an air conditioner, you’ll need a generator or additional panels and batteries.
You might not know exactly how much power your RV uses, and that’s okay. You can always purchase a basic RV solar kit and do a test run to see how it meets your needs. Then, you can expand the system to include more panels or batteries if need be.
When you get solar panels for your RV, you can use them one of two ways:
- Manually set up portable solar panels
- Mount the panels on your roof
For most boondockers, manual setup is relatively easy. You simply lay out your solar panels, connect them to your battery, and face them towards the sun. Then, simply move the panels in the direction of the sun every couple of hours to increase solar production. Keep in mind, however, it is something you have to set up and put away each time you go to a site.
Roof-mounted RV solar panels are also an option if you don’t want to set up portable solar panels. However, you won’t be able to park your RV in the shade, as the roof will need to be exposed to sunlight. You also won’t be able to turn the panels towards the sun to get a little extra juice. Roof-mounted systems could be slightly more expensive, but their convenience can be beneficial to full-time boondockers.
Type of solar panels
There are three main types of solar panels: Monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and amorphous panels. Monocrystalline are the most efficient, and the most expensive. If you are limited on space, then monocrystalline panels are definitely the panels for you. Polycrystalline panels are slightly less efficient than monocrystalline panels, so they are a little bit cheaper.
Amorphous solar panels are flexible, thin-film solar panels. Although they are the cheapest option, they are the least efficient. This means you would need more of them to produce even close to what the mono or polycrystalline panels produce. Plus, they must be installed directly onto your RV’s roof using glue, which can cause damage and make them difficult to remove.
In our opinion, going with a monocrystalline or polycrystalline panel is the best choice for switching your RV to solar power. However, if you have an RV with a curved roof, like an Airstream, then flexible amorphous solar panels might be the best way for you to have a roof-mounted solar system.
If you are using solar panels with your RV, you’ll probably want to get some additional battery banks to store your solar energy. Most RVers choose 12v batteries. You can get lead acid batteries or lithium-ion batteries for your RV, but each comes with their own set of pros and cons.
Lead acid batteries are the most commonly-used batteries for RV campers. They’re cheap and durable, which is what makes them so popular. However, they usually need to be replaced after 5 years, and depending on the type of lead acid battery you choose, it might require regular maintenance.
Lithium-ion batteries are substantially more expensive than lead acid. However, they last much longer, store more energy, and are more efficient. For people who are boondocking full-time, lithium ion batteries are worth the extra money.
But, if you are only using the batteries for a few trips a year, you can get away with a couple of lead acid batteries.
Reviewed: 5 best RV solar panels
We picked our 5 top solar panel kits for RVs and motorhomes to help you narrow down your search.
1. Renogy 400 Watt 12 Volt Solar Premium Kit
Price: $799.99 Buy Now
Renogy’s 400 W solar kit is a great all-around starting point for RV solar. Image source: Renogy
Renogy’s 400 Watt solar kit gets our pick for best overall RV solar kit. It comes with four 100 watt monocrystalline solar panels which have a 25-year production warranty and an efficiency rating of 21%.
The kit also includes a 40 Amp MPPT solar charge controller, four Z-Brackets for mounting, and Renogy’s Bluetooth module, which lets you monitor and manage the system from your smartphone.
- With 400 watts of power, this kit will cover much of your energy usage
- Easy-to-follow instructions make DIY installation a breeze
- High efficiency
- Solar panels, solar charger, cabling, and brackets included
- Fair price
- Batteries not included
- Large, might not have room for four panels on roof
- Cables might not be long enough for larger RVs
2. WindyNation 100 Watt Solar Panel Off-Grid Kit
Price: $439.99 Buy Now
Best: Runner up
The fact that WindyNation gives RV owners the option to purchase a battery with their solar kit is a huge plus! Image source: Amazon
WindyNation offers a 100 watt, 12 Volt solar panel kit that is great for boondockers who don’t use a lot of power. The kit includes one panel with a power output of 100 watts, a 20 amp PWM charge controller, four Z-brackets for mounting, cabling, and solar connectors. It also includes a 100 Amp-hour absorbed glass matt (AGM) lead-acid battery.
According to WindyNation, this panel will produce 3.5 kWh of electricity per day. That isn’t a lot, but the charge controller included is able to handle up to four 100 watt panels, so you can expand the system in the future. This kit’s great online reviews and included equipment are what make it our best overall runner up RV solar kit.
- Comes with a lead acid battery
- Cabling and mounting equipment included
- Charge controller allows for future system expansion
- High user reviews on Amazon (4.5 out of 5 stars)
- Only one panel, so it won’t cover all of your electricity usage right off the bat
- Inverter not included
- Warranty information not clear
3. Go Power! 130 Watt Portable Solar Kit
Price: $499.68 Buy Now
Best: Portable RV solar setup
Go Power!’s kit may not have the ability to mount to your roof, but it’s perfect for those just looking for portable solar power. Image source: Amazon
Go Power!’s 130 watt portable solar kit is great for RVers who don’t want to install a roof-mounted solar system. The foldable, 130 watt panel is easy to store and to deploy with its adjustable legs and carrying case. The kit also comes with a 10 Amp PWM charge controller, cabling, and battery clamps for recharging. The panel has a 25-year warranty.
Go Power! gets our pick for best portable RV solar kit because it is lightweight, foldable, and comes with a storage case. Plus, it can be paired with an existing rooftop system or just as supplemental power. What more could you want from a portable solar panel?
- Portable, easy setup at only 28.7 pounds
- Panel is foldable for easy storage
- Built-in charge controller
- No installation required
- Must set up every trip
- Inverter not included
- Will not cover all of your energy needs
- Not compatible with lithium batteries
- High price
4. HQST 100 Watt Polycrystalline Solar Panel Kit
Price: $99.99 Buy Now
Best: Polycrystalline solar kit
HQST’s polycrystalline kit lets you test out RV solar without having to spend a fortune on it. Image source: Amazon
The HQST 100 Watt polycrystalline solar panel kit is a great RV solar starter kit. It includes one 100 watt panel, a PWM charge controller, connector cables, and Z-brackets for mounting. You can purchase the kit with either a 10A or 20A charge controller, but the 20A charger will bump up the price a little bit.
- Great value
- Charge controller included
- Options to upgrade charge controller make it possible to expand solar power system in the future
- Polycrystalline panels are less efficient
- Too small to produce the amount of power needed to run an entire RV
- Inverter not included
5. Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Flexible Solar Panel and Charge Controller
Price: $230.35 Buy Now
Best: Flexible solar panel for RV
Renogy’s 100 W flexible solar panel makes it easier to add a few solar panels to your roof. Image source: Amazon
Renogy not only makes great rigid solar panels, they make flexible solar panels that are great for RV owners, too. This kit includes one 100 watt flexible monocrystalline solar panel and a 30A charge controller. The panel can be installed using silicone structural adhesive on the backside of the panel.
This is our pick for best flexible solar panel because Renogy is a reputable brand, so they can likely help you if there are problems or warranty issues. It also has outstanding reviews on Amazon.
- Renogy is a reputable brand
- Can be installed on irregular surfaces, like the roof of an Airstream
- Remain flat against the roof so the panels are barely visible
- Includes charge controller
- Does not include cabling
- Does not include adhesive needed for installation
- Does not include inverter
- Amorphous panels have lower efficiency ratings, which can lead to low production
- Not large enough to power an entire RV
Keep your camping trip clean with RV solar panels
As you can tell, there is a lot you need to consider before buying RV solar panels. With limited space and limited power output, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what you need from an RV solar system.
If you’re a frequent boondocker, it’s worth it to at least pair your generator with a set of solar panels. The RV solar panel kits we listed are sure to be a great starting point for transitioning to solar energy.
But why stop at your RV? You can save on energy costs and help the environment by powering your whole home with a residential solar panel system. Our solar panel calculator can tell you how much solar can save you on your specific home!
- You can keep your lights on even when you’re off the grid by installing RV solar panels.
- RV solar panel systems are made up of solar panels, a charge controller, a battery, and an inverter.
- If you normally camp at designated campgrounds, RV solar panels might not be for you. But if you are boondocking off-grid, solar panels can really help improve your trip.
- RV solar panels vary in cost, but most starter kits cost between $200 and $500.
- When buying RV solar panels you need to consider your power consumption, your system setup, the type of solar panels, and the type of batteries you want to use.
Author: Catherine Lane | SolarReviews Blog Author
Catherine is a researcher and content specialist at SolarReviews. She has strong interests in issues related to climate and sustainability which led her to pursue a degree in environmental science at Ramapo College of New Jersey.