Traveling in an RV, especially if you intend to do it long-term, presents many different challenges. It’s the life many people crave: freedom, being on the open road, and seeing the country. But it’s not for everyone.
One of the biggest hurdles you’ll encounter traveling by RV is finding power. This is why solar panels are so popular among RV travelers. You get the power you need, it’s clean and quiet, and it travels with you as you move from location to location. Solar power on an RV is truly a great way to be “off the grid” and self-sufficient.
Of course, RV solar panels are only as good as the choice you make when outfitting your rig but are far quieter and efficient than a standard generator. You have a variety of options and things to consider to create solar energy. Therefore, before you invest thousands of dollars and hit the road hoping for the best outcome, you’ll want to take some time to do your research and learn as much as possible about solar systems for your RV.
How Can You Choose the Best Solar Power for Your RV?
The Different Types of Panels
There are two different types of solar panels, each with its own pros and cons. Monocrystalline panels are made from purified silicon and are the more expensive option. They’re also the most effective option. So, in a sense, you’re getting what you pay for.
Polycrystalline panels, on the other hand, are more reasonably priced, but they aren’t as efficient as their monocrystalline counterparts.
The good news is you don’t need to make your decision based on budget alone. Polycrystalline panels might work for you even if you can afford the more expensive option depending on the number of sunlight hours you’ll have available and the amount of space you have for mounting your panels. You’ll also want to take into consideration the weight of the panels and how much your RV can handle.
Next up, you’ll need to consider your battery. If you haven’t already, you’ll need a deep cycle battery in your RV that allows you to store the power absorbed by your panels. Ideally, your panels will provide enough energy to keep your panels above the max discharge because the last thing you want is to deplete your batteries.
You have three deep cycle battery choices, including:
- Floor or wet batteries that withstand deep discharge cycles and provide high peak draw
- Gel batteries that require less maintenance than flood batteries but are more difficult to charge and not compatible with all units
- AGM batteries that are protected from spillage and suitable for a variety of different situations
In addition to the battery, you’ll also need a charge controller. They offset the fact that solar panels don’t offer steady rates of energy and prevent panels and batteries from damage by regulating the charge.
Finally, you’ll need a power inverter that allows you to convert the power you store from your panels into something usable. To choose the right capacity inverter, you’ll need to think about what items you’ll be powering in your RV.
Installing Your Solar Panel Setup
Once you have all the items you need, you can begin installing your solar panel set onto your RV. This can seem challenging at first, but once you’ve done it once, it’s much easier.
A typical installation includes mounting the panels on the roof of your rig, along with the battery, charge controller, and power bank. You’ll also need to install the inverter that makes it possible to run power to your RV’s appliances.
Choosing the Best Solar Power for Your RV
Now that you have some idea of what you need in solar panel supplies, you can begin your search for the kit that’s going to best suit your needs.
A few of our favorites are as follows:
This kit features polycrystalline panels that weight about six pounds. The kit comes with a battery and charge controller, as well as a solar cable and mounting hardware. You’ll get an average output of about 350Wh per day. It’s a great starter kit for those who are new to RV solar power and comes with an affordable price tag.
Windy Nation offers a wide variety of solar kits, but we think this one ranks best for solar newbies.
The Go Power! system features monocrystalline panels and weighs about 32 pounds. The kit comes with a panel, a charge controller, a pure sine wave power inverter, a remote and installation kit, a switching kit, a solar cable, and mounting hardware. You’ll get about 800 Wh per day of power from this system.
This kit features four monocrystalline panels that weigh about five pounds each. The kit comes with a charge controller, adapter kit, tray cable, connectors, and mounting brackets, but no battery. You can expect 1800 Wh of power per day with this kit.
This panel kit features a monocrystalline panel that weighs about seven pounds. It’s a no-frills option that only comes with the panel, so you’ll need to invest in the battery, charge controller, and other necessary items separately. However, if you’re upgrading from a polycrystalline panel to a monocrystalline option, this might be the best for you.
Another polycrystalline option, this kit has panels that weigh about five pounds and comes with charge controller, cables, connectors, and mounting hardware. You’ll get about 500 Wh of power per day. We like this option because it’s affordable and designed for people who are just getting started with solar power.
Making the switch to solar panel when you’re traveling in your RV is a choice you won’t likely regret. Even with the initial expense and set-up, it’s something most RV enthusiasts, especially those who are in their rigs full-time, are happy they did. And as long as you plan to travel through areas that are relatively sunny, there are few things that will provide the independence and off-grid freedom that’s allowed by solar panels.