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Best RV Solar Panel Kits

There are three main ways to power your RV: shore power (city power), generators, and solar power. In this post we’re going to focus on solar power. If you want to learn more about shore power and generators take a look at these articles:

RV solar panel kits are the cleanest and quietest way to charge your battery bank when camping off grid. In this article we’re going to cover why you should install solar on your RV, how many panels to get, and the best kits to by.

IMAGE PRODUCT DETAILS  
200w rv solar panel kit
200W Renogy Solar Panel Kit
  • 100W (x2) Monocrystalline Panels
  • 30A PWM Charge Controller
  • 30ft. Solar cable, MC4 connectors, mounting brackets, cable entry gland
View on Amazon →
rv solar panel kits with battery
200W WindyNation Solar Kit with Batteries
  • 100W (x2) Solar Panels
  • 30A PWM Charge Controller
  • 40ft. Solar cable, MC4 connectors, mounting brackets
  • 100Ah (x2) AGM Deep Cycle Batteries
View on Amazon →
installing a solar panel kit on an rv
400W WindyNation Solar Kit with Batteries
  • 100W (x4) Solar Panels
  • 30A PWM Charge Controller
  • 40ft. Solar cable, MC4 connectors, mounting brackets
  • 100Ah (x4) AGM Deep Cycle Batteries
View on Amazon →
adding a large diy solar panel kit to an rv motorhome
800W Renogy Solar Panel Kit
  • 100W (x8) Solar Panels
  • 40A PWM Charge Controller
  • 20ft. Solar cable, MC4 connectors, mounting brackets
View on Amazon →

Why Install A Solar Panel Kit On Your RV?

Solar power is a clean, renewable energy source. It takes no gas or fuel to produce. And there’s no noise pollution to annoy fellow travelers.

The best part about solar is that you can generate it anywhere there’s direct sunlight. It’s extremely portable and inexpensive to maintain after the initial set up. Solar electricity especially comes in handy when boondocking or spending a lot of time camping off-grid.

How Does An RV Solar Panel System Work?

RVs have both AC and DC power systems. Solar panels can be used to charge the battery bank which runs the DC Power System.

A solar panel system requires three parts: solar panel, charge controller and battery bank.

rv solar panel to charge controller to battery bank

What can you power with DC Electricity?

  • LED lights
  • Vent Fans
  • 12v water pump
  • 12v TV
  • Cell phones

What can you power with AC Electricity?

  • Dishwasher
  • Air conditioner
  • Coffee Pot
  • Hair dryer
  • Vacuum cleaner

When To Use A Solar Panel Kit On An RV

Use solar panels when camping off-grid or boondocking. Solar panels can supply power to your battery bank; no fuel required. Later you can use the batteries to activate DC powered electronics like lights, water pumps, vent fans and cell phones.

Solar panels make a great supplementary power source. It’s a cheap way to help recharge the batteries while driving, parked at a campground, or stored outdoors. That means you’ll also be using less shore power or generator fuel overall.

Use solar panels on small camper vans or DIY conversions. Camper van builds are popular in the van life movement and typically have small electrical requirements. For this reason, many van lifers choose to power their entire camper using solar power alone!

Solar Power Limitations

Unfortunately, RVs require a lot of power. And while it’s possible to run everything in your RV off solar alone – it’s not practical. This would require tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment and you would need access to more square footage than is available on your roof.

Appliances like your dishwasher, air conditioner, washing machine and hair dryer require AC power to operate. They are not a good candidate for powering with solar alone.

Nonetheless, don’t let solar limitations discourage you from adding a few panels to your RV. If you’re one to travel off the beaten path and camp far away from shore power, the benefits outweigh the initial costs.

How Much Solar Power Do I Need For My RV?

The more solar panels you have, the faster you can recharge the battery bank.

If you are camping off solar power alone: You should perform a power audit. That means you’ll write down a list of all the items you need to power. Then, add up the Watts for each item and the estimated hours per day of use. Finally, you’ll end up with your estimated daily watt hours and minimum solar panel size.

 We’ve built a calculator to help you do this

If you are supplementing the RV electric system: It’s up to you! The more solar panels you have, the less shore power you’ll need to use. Bigger is better in this case (budget aside) but there is no harm in going small.

What Comes In A Solar Panel Kit?

RV solar panel kits come with solar panels, charge controller mounting brackets, and wire connectors. Some come with batteries included but that’s not the norm.

You can use your current battery bank with any solar panel kit. If you want to purchase batteries separately, read our post on best batteries for solar storage.

Is Your RV Pre-Wired For Solar?

Newer RVs come pre-wired for solar. That means the internal wiring between the solar panel to charge controller, and charge controller to battery are already in place.

You still need to purchase a solar panel kit for these to work. Essentially, this type of system just makes solar panels easier to install.

RV Solar Panel Kits vs Portable Solar Panels

If this is your first time installing solar on an RV: We recommend purchasing a solar panel kit. That’s because you’ll need to buy a solar panel, charge controller and wiring anyways so you might as well get them together. You can also be assured all of the parts are compatible.

The price difference between buying a solar panel kit vs individual parts is negligible unless you’re trying to build a highly customized system.

Solar Panel Kit With Batteries vs No Batteries

If your RV already has a battery bank: There’s no need to upgrade. Batteries are expensive and have plenty of life. You can always do that at a later date.

If your RV does not have a battery bank: It makes sense to purchase a solar panel kit with batteries included. This is helpful because you’ll know all of the system parts are sized correctly and compatible.

If you want to customize a DIY solar panel system: It’s time to do some research! Batteries are the most expensive part of a solar system. There are many decisions you can make regarding size, type, and chemistry makeup. We recommend reading these resources to learn more:

Must-have solar panel kit accessories

Standard solar panel kits come with nearly everything you need. But if your RV is not pre-wired for solar, you may need to purchase some longer wires to run between the components. There are also a number of other parts that will make the install process cleaner and improve solar panel efficiency.

Solar panel extension cable: Extra wire used to connect the solar panels to the charge controller.

Solar cable entry glands: These are little weatherproof parts that help route solar panel cables through the RV roof. They clean up the install by holding the wires in place and preventing leaks from getting inside.

Lap Sealant: Use this to weatherproof your install and fill any gaps or holes you may have made in the roof.

Cable clamps: Help with cable management on the roof and throughout your motorhome.

Adjustable tile mounts: Give you better solar panel efficiency. If you can tilt your panels directly towards the sun throughout the day, you can gain as much as 20% more energy out of the solar panels. These can be mounted with or without z-brackets.

Telescoping ladder: Use this to get on the roof of your RV or camper van if you don’t have a ladder installed. This is useful when tilting or cleaning the solar panels.

Extendable scrub brush: It’s imperative that the solar panels be kept clean from dust and debris to continue working properly. Extension brushes make this much easier to do.

How To Install Solar Panels On An RV

This solar installation video from Tiny Home Tours represents a good walkthrough of how to install solar panels on your RV. If you’re building a DIY solar system or doing a full installation on something like a camper van, check out these solar panel wiring guides:

Building A Customized DIY RV Solar Panel Kit

Building your own solar panel kit takes a lot of research and willingness to learn. The main components you’ll want to focus on are solar panels, charge controllers, and batteries.

You can find in-depth guides on every part of a solar panel system on our electricity main page. Listed below are our recommended components:

Best Solar Panels For An RV

IMAGE PRODUCT DETAILS  
best solar panels for an rv diy kit
Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline
  • 100W Monocrystalline Solar Panel
  • Includes waterproof junction box and MC4 connectors
  • Pre-drilled holes for grounding
View on Amazon →
solar panels for diy rv kits
Newpowa 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline
  • 100W Monocrystalline Solar Panel
View on Amazon →

Best Charge Controllers For An RV

IMAGE PRODUCT DETAILS  
best charge controller for a solar panel kit
Victron
  • 30A
  • MPPT Charge Controller
  • Additional Sizes: 10A - 100A
View on Amazon →
installing a solar charge controller on an rv
Renogy
  • 30A
  • MPPT Charge Controller
  • Additional sizes: 20A - 100A
View on Amazon →

Best Batteries For An RV

IMAGE PRODUCT DETAILS  
including an agm battery in a solar panel kit
NPP
  • Comes with a two year warranty
  • Made With High Quality Materials
  • Comes in 100Ah, 150Ah, 200Ah sizes
View on Amazon →
deep cycle battery for a solar panel kit
Battle Born
  • 8 year full replacement warranty and 2 year prorated
  • 100A continuous output. 200 amp surge output
  • Comes in 100Ah size
View on Amazon →

Frequently Asked Questions

What are popular RV solar panel brands?

The following companies are frequently used by RV travelers when building a solar panel kit:

What type of solar panel is best? Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline

A 100W solar panel is 100 watts no matter the technology. You will hear that one type is more “efficient” than another, but that mostly determines the size of the panel.

Monocrystalline solar panels take up less space but are usually more expensive. Polycrystalline panels are cheaper and larger per watt.

Both of these solar panel types are a great choice for an RV.

Which is type of solar panel is best? Flexible vs Rigid

Flexible solar panels are lightweight and low profile. They are easy to install and good options for teardrop trailers or boats that have curved surface areas to cover.

There are a few downsides to using flexible panels on an RV. For one, the softer material makes them more prone to scratches. They install flat on the roof (without a frame) meaning they can’t be tilted directly towards the sunlight. Finally, without a frame, no airflow can get underneath the panels. That makes them heat up faster and overall less effective.

Because RVs have flat roofs and don’t benefit from being a stealth camper, we recommend purchasing rigid solar panels.

Where to place your solar panels

Solar panels are extremely sensitive to shade. Each of the little squares on your panels are wired in a way that if one of them is shaded, the whole row can’t produce energy. That means energy can be reduced by up to 90% if a certain 10% of the panel is covered.

Solar panel placement is critical in an RV. Make sure they are placed in a way that any vent fans, roof boxes, chimneys or air conditioners will not be casting a shadow on them throughout the day.

How do you wire solar panels? Series vs Parallel

wiring solar panels in series vs parallel

  • Wiring solar panels in parallel keeps the voltage the same but increases the amperage going into the charge controller.
  • Wiring in series increases the voltage but keeps the amperage the same.

In most cases, by default we recommend wiring your solar panels in series as long as your charge controller is able to handle high voltages (an MPPT controller). Higher voltage gives you a more efficient system and it will work better in low light or overcast days.

If you have an area of your roof that will always be shaded (say from an AC unit) and have no way to avoid putting a panel there, you will benefit from wiring in parallel. This makes the shade reduce the output of a single panel rather than the whole string.

You can read more about solar panel wiring in this post.

What size charge controller do you need?

As a general rule of thumb, we recommend at least 7.5 Amps for every 100W of solar. Going bigger is not an issue for charge controllers- 10 Amps per 100W is a good baseline. Larger charge controllers also allow you to add more solar at a later date. Read more about charge controllers in this post.

What are the best batteries for solar storage?

In an RV, the best batteries for solar storage are deep cycle. They can be charged and discharged frequently making them ideal for long-term use.

There are four types of deep-cycle batteries: Lead-acid (FLA), Absorbed Glass Matt (AGM), Gel, and Lithium Ion.

Each of these batteries comes with a long list of pros and cons as well as different maintenance schedules. You can read more about batteries for solar storage in this post.

You cannot mix and match batteries. They must be the same size, type, brand, and age to perform correctly.

What are converters, inverters and inverter chargers?

Converters are used to convert AC power to DC power. You can use these to charge your battery bank with shore power.

Inverters convert DC battery power into useable AC power. They allow you to charge household electronics off the battery bank.

Inverter chargers are a combination of the two. They can charge the battery bank with shore power as well as power AC electronics.

All RVs come with a converter. It’s common to install an inverter when adding solar panels to your motorhome. You can learn more about these types of chargers in our post about converters, inverters, and inverter/chargers.

Can you run an RV air conditioner on solar power?

Most solar panel systems are not large enough to run an air conditioner. You would need upwards of 10,000 Watts and a lot of battery power to accomplish this. We recommend investing in an RV generator if you need to run an air conditioner.

Wrapping It Up

Solar panels are a great addition to any RV. They provide quiet, clean energy that can be used just about anywhere. Solar panel kits are an easy way to install solar on your camper without the hassle of building your own DIY system.

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This Post Has One Comment
  1. I don’t understand the current state of RV air conditioners. 10,000 watts? Full house A/C units can consume that much (but many don’t). I’m installing a small residential mini split that gives 10,000 BTU’s of cooling and consumes about 800 Watts. A good sized RV solar system can handle that and slowly charge the batteries.

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