- 1 Top 7 Best RV Solar Panels Compared
- 1.1 #1 Renogy 100 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel Suitcase
- 1.2 #2 Newpowa 100 Watt Polycrystalline Solar Panel
- 1.3 #3 Winnewsun 100 Watt SunPower Monocrystalline Solar Panel
- 1.4 #4 BougeRV 170 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel
- 1.5 #5 WindyNation 100 Watt Polycrystalline Solar Panel
- 1.6 #6 Richsolar 100 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel
- 1.7 #7 Mighty Max Battery 100-watt Polycrystalline Solar Panel
- 1.8 How We Decided
- 2 RV Solar Panel Buying Guide
Recreational vehicles consume a lot of power, but if you have one of the best RV solar panels installed you can mitigate a lot of it. Solar panels offer a clean, quiet and renewable source of energy no matter where your RV is parked. For that reason, we have spent over 10 hours researching the best RV solar panel, and out of everything on the market, we’ve chosen the top 7 as the best solar panels.
We elected to stay within the 100-watt panel range because they provide plenty of energy — enough to power most RV setups — at a reasonable price. All panels on this list are suitable for outdoor use, with a couple of them able to withstand even extreme weather. Also, almost all of them are ready to go out-of-the-box, meaning you don’t need much else save a battery for storage.
The panel that stands out the most, and our #1 pick, is the Renogy 100 watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel. It folds up nicely like a suitcase, which makes it easier to stow or carry. Of course, there are several other panels to consider. Keep reading to learn all about the panels that earned a spot on our list.
Top 7 Best RV Solar Panels Compared
#1 Renogy 100 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel Suitcase
Award: Top Pick
WHY WE LIKE IT: Renogy’s solar panel delivers the same 100W power output as one double its physical size and folds up nicely for easy storage and transport. This makes a huge difference when you’re on the go – seasoned travelers will love it.
The Renogy 100-watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel sits at the top of the list primarily because of its unique design. While most panels are nothing more than a flat single or dual panel setup, this Renogy model folds up like a suitcase. Even though it’s bulky while folded up, the panel is still much easier to store or transport. When you’re traveling the open road, or out in the wilds, that makes a big difference. Speaking of the road, read our DirecTV vs. DISH for RV’s: Satellite TV for your Mobile Home article.
The system includes two 50 watt Monocrystalline solar panels which open up to provide more capture space. An aluminum stand folds out so that you can prop up the panel easily. You can attach gel, sealed, lithium and flooded batteries to the panel to charge them up. A 10-foot tray with alligator clips provides a space for the battery to rest while solar charging.Under ideal conditions, the estimated output is 500 watts per day, on par with similarly sized panels. An attached — and waterproof — 20A charge controller helps prevent electric shock hazards during use. 20A is the standard for most charge controllers.
#2 Newpowa 100 Watt Polycrystalline Solar Panel
Award: Honorable Mention
WHY WE LIKE IT: Newpowa’s no-nonsense design means there’s very little to configure out-of-the-box thanks to a pre-installed junction box, diodes and an already attached 3-foot MC4 cable. Just plug it in and go. It also has the lowest price out of all panels on the list.
Newpowa’s 100-watt solar panel comes with several pre-installed components including diodes, a junction box and a cable. That means you can set it up out-of-the-box with relatively little to configure. Generally, these components would need to be purchased and configured separately. Newpowa’s panel eliminates a lot of that, making it ideal even for inexperienced solar users.
A single panel will contribute the same amount of power as our #1 pick, (the Renogy), albeit under ideal conditions. Which is to say sunlight must be hitting all 72 cells contained within the panel, otherwise it will suffer a considerable output decrease. That aside, it’s an incredibly capable power source and will certainly sustain an RV and then some, especially when used alongside additional panels. Speaking of solar, check out the top 10 coolest solar vehicles.
#3 Winnewsun 100 Watt SunPower Monocrystalline Solar Panel
Award: Most Versatile
WHY WE LIKE IT: The Winnewsun solar panel has one of the most unique designs. It’s flexible and lightweight at just 6.5 pounds. Despite that, it offers the same 100-watt power output as the more solid panels. That’s why it’s been named the most versatile, as it’s suitable for a variety of applications — not just RV use. It would also work great on a boat, camping, on the roof of a trailer or even in the bed of a truck. It’s bendable structure means it can conform to any curved surface or edge.
The Winnewsun is just as capable as anything else mentioned here, but it employs a bendable design. If you’re talking about versatility and weight, this panel is the most unique. It can be flexed up to 30 degrees while remaining as effective as some of the others on our list; all of the other panels are solid, unbendable and must remain secure. Not all RVs have a flat roof. Many, in fact, have curved edges making it tough to mount a straight, solid panel. This bendable panel is the way to deal with it. It can flex or bend to fit the shape of the RV.
That also makes it ideal for other applications, too. You could install it on a boat, trailer, or even in the bed of a truck. Unfortunately, the Winnewsun panel does not come with a charge controller, but it does have a built-in junction box. The charge controller prevents against electric hazards when connected to a battery, essentially reducing the risk of overcharge. If you plan to use a battery backup, then you’ll need to get one. The junction box, on the other hand, helps reduce heat and increases panel efficiency. Six rust-free grommets are positioned around the edges of the panel to offer a relatively easy way to mount and secure it. It also has a water-resistant finish suitable for use in all-weather, including rain and snow. Now that your vehicle is energy efficient, take a look at the best RV mattress before you get on on the road.
#4 BougeRV 170 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel
Award: Best Value
WHY WE LIKE IT: With BougeRV’s 170-watt output capacity and high-conversion efficiency cells, it’s much more capable and can charge considerably faster than similar options. That means you need fewer panels overall to meet your power requirements. It’s higher capacity also places it at the top of the list for total output.
The BougeRV panels stand out for several reasons. Primarily, the 170-watt output means that the panel will produce quite a bit more power than most of the other 100 watt panels. Even that minor difference can mean faster-charging cycles for batteries and added power overall. It also puts the BougeRV panel at the top of the rankings when it comes to power capacity. Almost all the other panels on this list offer a 100-watt output, and the next step up would be the 200-watt panels. The durable design allows the panel to withstand high-wind conditions and even heavy snow loads. If you’re traveling in colder climates that see more extreme weather the added resistance means you can still use this panel on your trip. If anything happens the 18-month warranty will ensure you can get a much-needed replacement.
Unfortunately, the BougeRV panel does not come with a charge controller so you will need to buy one separately if you’re planning to hookup a battery to the system. As a rule of thumb, you need a charge controller for solar panels that produce more than 5 watts of energy for every 100-amp-hours of battery capacity. It’s to protect the connected battery from overcharge issues. It does, however, have an integrated junction box with pre-installed diodes. Diodes are designed to let current flow in one direction. Generally, they work like a check valve in pipes. With solar panels, bypass diodes are the most important, and they are what’s used inside a junction box. It creates a path of low resistance so that solar energy stays away from any cells that are shaded or low performing. Ultimately, it minimizes heat gain and it reduces power loss making the panel more efficient.
#5 WindyNation 100 Watt Polycrystalline Solar Panel
Award: Best Value
WHY WE LIKE IT: WindyNation’s 100-watt solar panel kit includes everything you need to get started right out-of-the-box. We gave it the best value award because it’s a turn key solution even for the most inexperienced. You get the panel, charge controller, mounting hardware and a 40-foot 12 AWG solar cable with MC4 connectors.
To be perfectly honest, WindyNation’s 100-watt polycrystalline solar panel isn’t much different, comparably, to the other panels on this list. WindyNation’s panel includes a charge controller, mounting hardware and the necessary cables — something much less common in the other panels. While it doesn’t have one of the best prices, it still has one of the highest values because of everything it includes.
Yet, WindyNation’s panel comes bundled as a solar kit with everything you would need to install it including a charge controller equipped with an LCD readout display. Also bundled is the mounting hardware, a 40 foot 12 AWG solar cable and all necessary MC4 connectors. So, depending on the price and your individual needs, WindyNation’s panel might be the better buy. Keep in mind, if you want the panel for other projects outside of RV use you’ll need some additional fuses. That said, the panel is durable and weather-resistant.
#6 Richsolar 100 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel
Award: Best Warranty
WHY WE LIKE IT: The Richsolar 100 watt panel includes a 25-year transferable power output warranty, and 5-year materials and workmanship warranty, one of the longest-lasting and best warranties on our list. If you want quality assurance, the Richsolar panel is the way to go.
The Richsolar 100 watt monocrystalline solar panel is a mid-level device compared to all the other panels here. It has average features, an average price and it doesn’t come with a charge controller. However, it does have one of the best warranties on the entire list covering both the power output and parts and labor. It can also withstand heavy wind and snow loads, making it ideal for all-weather travels.
With the Richsolar panel, you get a 25-year transferable power output warranty for output levels, and 5-year parts and labor warranty for the hardware. That gives you plenty of time to order a replacement if something goes wrong after buying one, or several.
Besides, it comes as a solar power kit with all necessary MC4 connectors and has a built-in waterproof junction box. However, you will need to purchase a charge controller separately if you wish to safely use this panel with a battery backup.
#7 Mighty Max Battery 100-watt Polycrystalline Solar Panel
Award: Best Budget
WHY WE LIKE IT: Rounding out the lower price range, the Mighty max Battery 100W panel has the second best price tag on the list. At just under $80 you could get two of these panels for 200W of total output, which is the same price as most of the panels listed above. It also includes heavy-pressure support for inclement weather, so it’s ideal for anyone looking to nab a low-cost yet equally efficient all-weather solar option.
We awarded the Mighty Max Battery 100-watt polycrystalline solar panel as the best budget panel because of how cheaply priced it is. It’s just as efficient as any of the other panels on this list, but at nearly half the cost you could grab two panels for the price of one and have double the power output.
It includes a junction box to ensure efficient energy generation from the panels, yet it does lack a charge connector. You’ll need the connector if you want to hook the panel up to a battery backup. It also features an aluminum frame that can withstand heavy pressures (up to 5400Pa) like extreme wind and snow. Only a couple of the panels on this list have the same durability.
How We Decided
To weed out some of the less desirable options we looked at several core features that signify a good solar energy panel. Durability placed high in the list. All of the panels you see here can be used outdoors. It should be noted that only a select few can withstand high-pressure situations such as extreme wind and snow.
Viability and efficiency also matter. How much energy do the panels produce under ideal conditions? Every panel we chose for the list produces at least 100-watts of power, which should equate to about 30-amp-hours per day. That’s enough to sustain most RV setups even with a small arsenal of appliances. Models with solar panel kits scored well. On our list of the best solar panels for RVs, all of them also include a junction box, which ensures the cells contained within the panel are efficient even when shaded. Some include a charge controller, which is necessary for use with battery backups.
Finally, there are the convenience-related features. That pertains to things like portability — such as being able to fold up a panel into a compact form — LCD readout displays, integrated mounting tools, and much more. All the panels listed have pre-drilled holes for mounting — or in the case of Winnewsun’s bendable panel, grommets.
RV Solar Panel Buying Guide
The Most Important Features to Consider
If you’re looking for solar panels to complement your RV set up, here are the features you should focus on first and foremost:
- Power Output
Take a moment to consider just how much power you need? Are there only a few lights or a small appliance to worry about? Are you trying to retain enough power to run your TV, game console, radio, and a gaggle of electronics out in the middle of nowhere? Ultimately, your power requirements should help you determine the effectiveness of available solar panels. Match it up with the panel output to estimate whether or not you’ll be able to survive. Depending on sunlight, a 100-watt panel will produce about 6 amps of power per peak-sun-hour which equate to nearly 30 amp-hours per day. For comparison, the average RV setup consumes anywhere from 75 to 150 amp-hours per day. At that rate, you would need about two to three 100 watt panels to sustain your power draw.
Because solar panels are designed to be placed outdoors, many of them are constructed using water-resistant materials and methods. The real problem comes from exposure to moisture and the elements. Metals tend to rust or corrode over time and if that happens to a solar panel it’s going to be a lot less durable, not to mention power output is going to decrease significantly, as a result.
- Charge Controller
A power controller will prevent electric shock events and hazards such as overcharges or short circuits. Essentially, they serve two major purposes. First, controllers create a safe system by reducing the risk of fires. Second, they increase the efficiency of energy passthrough. A suitable controller provides enough capacity to protect both the battery and the solar panel alike.
While it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker if a solar panel does not come bundled with accessories, they can vastly improve usability. For instance, panel mounting brackets and hardware ensures you don’t have to buy anything extra to install the unit to your RV.
Over time, solar panels tend to lose efficiency and that cannot be avoided. However, there is the possibility that some panels will lose their efficiency shortly after purchase due to defects in the hardware. For that reason, it’s important to protect your investment, which means watching for a suitable warranty. In the world of solar panels, there are two types of warranties. A power output warranty ensures the panel is producing the promised power levels for a certain period. Alternatively, a materials and workmanship warranty — sometimes called parts and labor — protects the hardware itself and everything contained within.
RV Solar Panels FAQs
Why Use a Solar Panel for Power?
Provided there's enough sunlight, you can connect a solar panel to your RV battery or even to various electronics using a power inverter. That allows you to remain wherever you are — even super remote locations — while retaining access to conventional power. Also, because solar energy is clean and renewable, it's a much more eco-friendly resource than fuel or outlet-based electricity.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Inside the solar system-panels are components called photovoltaic cells which are specifically designed to capture solar energy and convert it into usable electricity. Each cell has a positive and negative side, and the electrons are held in the P-N junction — located in the middle. When sunlight strikes the surface of the panel it passes through to the cells. The electrons contained within them become excited, which generates a direct current (DC). The total amount of electricity generated by a solar panel depends on the size and number of cells contained within. Bigger and more numerous cells mean a higher output. Efficiency, on the other hand, is largely related to the placement of the panels which is why they should always be in direct sunlight whenever possible. They should also be cleaned regularly to maximize their potential.
Why Do You Need Charge Controllers?
If the panels generate electricity, what are the charge controllers for and why do you need them? The controller is designed to limit the electricity going to a connected system or battery, to prevent overcharge. The controller unit ensures that the battery is charged to a safe level — up to a preconfigured voltage-regulation set point — and then the current is reduced to prevent damage. It eliminates the need to constantly supervise the system, while also preventing electric hazards and, by proxy, fires. In other words, it’s safer.
What Type of Battery Should I Use?
A conventional automotive battery is not recommended if you're going to be installing a solar panel. Instead, you'll want to either connect or use what's called a deep-cycle battery. These types of batteries are designed for repetitive usage and charge cycles, often at levels below 50 percent or more. It also means they can retain their capacity despite constantly being depleted and recharged, which is something that causes accelerated wear on a traditional battery. Deep-cycle batteries also tend to have a larger reserve capacity which is a bonus. A solar battery bank or energy-storage system is also a good investment since it lets you capture and store electricity to use it at another time.
How Do I Determine Solar Power Requirements?
When solar panels are operating, they convert the sun's radiance into electrical energy, which is measured in kilowatt hours. As stated previously, a 100-watt panel will produce nearly 6 amps of power per peak-sun-hour which equate to nearly 30 amp-hours per day. Most RVs consumes anywhere from 75 to 150 amp-hours per day, which means you'll need about two to three 100 watt panels to sustain your power draw. The more electronics and power-hungry devices you install, the more solar panels you will need. That's precisely why RVs are meant to be as minimal as possible, while still providing modern living conveniences. As for how to determine exactly how much power you need, you do this by comparing the amount of power used to the amount of power stored by your solar generation system. You will need to use a battery monitor first to double-check what you're using throughout the day. Don't plug into any power sources while you measure this and don't recharge batteries if you can help it. To calculate your needs, just divide the total by how much you use. For instance, if you use 100 amp-hours during two days of camping, then you would need to generate 50 amp-hours per day. That would require at least two 100 watt solar panels. If you sometimes use more than 100 amp hours and require additional power, consider purchasing a portable solar panel to hook up to your main system when needed.
How Do You Clean Solar Panels?
For solar panels to remain effective they must also remain free of dust and debris, and that means cleaning them regularly. In most cases, cleaning a solar panel is no different than cleaning a window. However, be sure to review the manufacturer’s instructions, because sometimes they will recommend an ideal solution — some panels shouldn’t be cleaned with household chemicals. It’s also vital to remember that solar panels can get extremely hot when they are placed outside in direct sunlight. You should never try to clean them after they’ve been used or placed outside for a time, as you could burn yourself. Always do so before setting them up, or after they’ve had some time to cool down.
What's the benefit of purchasing a solar panel as a kit?
If you need RV solar panel system, solar panel kits are a smart purchase. RV solar kits will include everything you need to get started. The best kit comes with the panel plus a charge controller, mounting hardware, solar cables, and connectors. For added convenience, opt for models that come as a solar power kit. The GO POWER! Solar Extreme Complete Solar and Inverter System, for instance, offers everything you need to hook up and get your system up and running.
What does PWM stand for?
PWM stands for Pulse Width Modulation and can be thought of as an (electric) switch between the solar panels and the battery.
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