In this post you will discover:
- What is the best type of solar panel for RV
- Important information about:
–Pros and cons of amorphous silicon solar panels for RV
–Pros and cons of rigid monocrystalline solar panels for RV
-Pros and cons of flexible solar panels for RV
–Pros and cons of super flexible solar panels for RV
- What size solar panel do you need for your RV
Solar panels that are to be used for mobile solar power systems should be of high quality.
‘High quality’ means a well-known brand. Although using cheap or secondhand solar panels is always an option, we do not recommend you to mount such panels for your caravans, campers, RV, and motorhomes.
Solar panels are made of silicon.
They can be crystalline – either monocrystalline (made of a single crystal) or polycrystalline (made of many silicon crystals) – or thin-film (made of non-crystalline silicon).
Here is a list of solar panel types that are gaining popularity for use on RVs:
– Amorphous silicon panels – they were among the very first solar panels and are still used today.
They are cheap, of low efficiency and fragile. Nowadays such panels are only used in small solar kits.
– Rigid monocrystalline panels – the most widely spread panels in solar kits.
These panels are considered the most reliable and durable but are also the most expensive. They are recommended for dry camping and boondocking.
– Flexible solar panels – semi-rigid monocrystalline solar panels that have a shorter warranty since they can more easily get damaged by a mechanical impact.
Due to their flexibility, they can be easily installed on curved roofs.
Flexible solar panels are more lightweight than rigid ones.
– Super flexible panels – also known as thin-film panels.
The main drawback of these panels is their low efficiency in providing solar-generated electricity.
Panels of low efficiency require more roof space to be mounted on. Certainly installing them on the ground as a portable solar array is also an option.
Flexible solar panels are thin-film panels produced using a special production technology.
Flexible solar panels have a couple of benefits.
They are thin, flexible, and lightweight. They are less expensive than conventional solar panels and are easier both to handle and install.
The latter also means that you don’t need a heavy and bulky mounting system to hold the panels but rather install them directly on the roof of your RV instead.
Certainly, this has its disadvantages – the less space between the panels and the roof, the more heated your vehicle will get.
A well-known drawback of flexible panels is their lower efficiency compared to typical solar panels.
If a classic crystalline solar panel has an efficiency of between 15 and 20%, the efficiency of its flexible counterpart can be as low as around 10-11%.
Due to the high energy needs of a household, such panels are typically not recommended to use in residential solar power systems.
Flexible solar panels are an excellent choice for RV and boats where much lower power consumption often goes hand in hand with the requirement for durability and low weight.
Another distinctive drawback is the short guarantee which typically amounts to one-third of the crystalline panels guarantee (10 vs. 25-30 years).
Mind that, when talking about the space available, it’s not only the solar panels you have to consider.
Apart from the solar panels, you might also have other objects on your roof limiting the space for the solar array, such as antennas, power units, etc.
In this regard, flexible panels are easier to place than rigid ones that are always larger.
The fragility of the glass comprised of rigid panels is another disadvantage you should consider in case of unfavorable weather or falling objects.
To determine which solar panel for RV to choose, you should be aware which factor among several ones is the most important for you.
Here are the key factors you have to consider – size, efficiency, operating temperature, and price.
Monocrystalline panels have the highest efficiency but also the highest price.
Thin-film panels are the least efficient and to produce the same amount of power, you typically need twice more space compared to monocrystalline ones.
Thin-film panels, however, perform better at hot temperatures and are more lightweight.
Therefore, the best solar panel is the one that matches best your specific case and daily electricity needs.
What size solar panel do I need for my RV?
What size solar panel for RV to install depends primarily on your daily use of electricity.
We could think of your daily power consumption as a battery bank of a certain capacity, which, however, also has a limited lifecycle.
Now, the solar array installed on your RV can be regarded as a facility extending the lifespan of such a battery.
Any battery should be neither overcharged nor overdischarged, so a load analysis and a proper system sizing should be performed before you make a decision on what solar panels to buy.
As there are solar panels of various wattages, first you need to assess the size of the mobile solar power system matching best your daily needs, and then to compare your calculations with the main specifications (peak power, voltage, current, operating temperature, and physical size) of particular solar panels available on the market.
Above all, you should be aware whether the particular panels you have chosen are not recommended to install on RV.
This means that such panels could not possibly perform well (due to various reasons), and for this reason, some vendors do not provide a guarantee for panels mounted on RVs.
In such a case, you have another option – use portable solar power kits. They require a good, unobstructed spot and that is easy to find.
Anyway, we recommend you to consider solar panels from vendors specialized in producing solar power equipment for RVs and campers.
In conclusion, you should consider whether you really need a solar panel system on your RV.
Here are some cases where you could do without a solar power system on your vehicle:
– You are going to camp not far away from hook-ups or near populated areas. Indeed in such cases, and especially when your daily electricity needs are low, you don’t need a solar power system but rather a good leisure battery which to charge from time to time at hook-ups instead.
– You go camping for just a couple of days (such as weekends). With such a short trip you can simply do without some of the devices you use occasionally.
– You are about to go to places of extremely hot climate and intend to use solar power for air conditioning.
Using solar power for air conditioning (as well as for any heating in general) is not cost-efficient.
In such a case, trying to camp near hook-ups or using an AC generator instead looks much smarter.
If you, however, make a decision to invest in adding solar power to your RV, you should be well aware of the basics of solar system components.
Furthermore, it is vital to carefully select these components, so that you meet both your electricity needs and the available budget.
Finally, your system should be properly sized in order to provide you with the expected output and optimal performance.
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