Guide to RV Solar Panels June 2023
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Guide to RV Solar Panels June 2023

Jan 28, 2024

Solar panels can make your recreational vehicle (RV) less dependent on portable fuel and electrical hookups, which is especially helpful in remote areas. RV solar panels can also give you more freedom when planning trips since you don't have to worry about running out of battery charge or generator fuel.

In this article, we at the Guides Home Team outline what you need to know about RV solar panels, including the pros and cons, how much off-grid panels cost and if investing in solar energy for your motorhome or camper is worth it.

Solar panels provide a portable power source that can last for decades, making solar energy a great option for RVs. But like any power generation system, there are pros and cons to using RV solar panels.

The cost of an RV solar system depends on its power generation capacity and battery storage. While smaller solar panel kits are more affordable, a larger system can provide electricity for more devices — but at a higher price. We gathered the following cost estimates based on market research:

RV solar systems cost less than a typical residential installation. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), you can expect to pay around $3,300 per kilowatt (kW) when installing a home solar system. This means the cost of a 6 kW home system is around $19,800 — more than double our estimated cost for a portable system.

If you have an RV with a large enough roof, you can install residential solar panels for a higher power output. However, you will also need a larger battery bank to store more excess energy. You can check out our guide to the best solar companies for more information on residential installations.

While residential solar power systems are eligible for the federal solar tax credit, RV solar panels are not. But portable systems are more affordable to begin with, even without the tax credit.

The solar panels you would use for your home generate energy the same way as RV panels. In general, photovoltaic (PV) cells convert sunlight into electricity, creating renewable energy for you to use. However, the rooftop panels used for homes are generally larger and heavier than those used for RVs. The best residential solar panels also have higher wattages and voltage outputs to generate enough power for an entire home.

The following table compares average dimensions and specifications for RV solar panels compared to residential systems.

As you can see, home solar panels are nearly three times larger than portable panels. The voltage difference may seem small, but keep in mind that home solar systems include multiple panels wired together, which can result in a high combined voltage. For example, a string of 10 panels generating 35 V each has a total output of 350 V.

There are three main types of solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film. This classification applies to both residential and RV panels.

Thin-film or flexible solar panels are a great option for RVs and campers since they can be attached to curved surfaces. These panels sometimes have an adhesive backing, meaning you can paste the panel on the roof of your RV without using mounting brackets.

You can also use monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels to power an RV, but they are more rigid. You can use them if your RV has a flat roof or as part of a portable power station not permanently attached to your vehicle.

The number of solar panels you need to power an RV depends on your energy consumption and the wattage per panel. To estimate your ideal number of panels, you must determine the amount of power or total watt-hours (Wh) needed to power your devices. You can calculate this value by multiplying the wattage of each device by your daily hours of use, as shown below:


Power Consumption

Hours per Day

Watt-Hours (Wh) per Day

LED light bulbs (x4)

40 W

6 hours

240 Wh


60 W

2 hours

120 Wh

Small refrigerator

75 W

24 hours

1,800 Wh

Microwave oven

800 W

15 minutes or 0.25 hours

200 Wh

Portable fan

50 W

10 hours

500 Wh


1,025 W

42.25 hours

2,860 Wh

Based on this example, you need to generate 2,860 Wh per day to cover your electricity consumption. With favorable sunlight conditions, each watt of solar panel capacity can generate around 4 Wh per day. You can divide your daily consumption by this value to estimate your ideal total panel wattage, which equals 715 W of solar capacity.

You would need eight 100 W solar panels to meet your daily solar capacity of 715 W. But if your RV roof is large enough to fit residential panels, typically ranging from 150 to 370 W, you could install fewer panels.

RV owners who want to use solar energy have two options when installing a system: roof-mounted or portable panels. You also have the option of using both systems simultaneously.

Like with any solar array, RV solar systems include many different parts. Most systems have larger components — such as your panels, battery and solar charger — and smaller components like a battery monitor, system connectors and fuses.

Solar panels use an array of PV cells to capture sunlight and generate electricity. Residential and RV panels differ in terms of size and wattage but utilize the same technology. You can attach panels directly to the roof of your RV or set up a portable power station.

Solar panels only produce energy during the daytime and cannot store electricity by themselves. But you can store solar electricity for nights and cloudy days using a battery bank. An energy storage system is necessary if you want to use solar power while RVing, especially in remote areas. RV batteries can store your system's excess energy production for later use.

There are different types of solar batteries, including lithium batteries and lead-acid batteries. Check out our guide to the top batteries for solar energy to learn more.

An inverter is a device that converts electric power from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC), enabling your appliances to utilize solar energy. Having an inverter is necessary when using solar power — PV panels and batteries both use DC power, while most home appliances require AC power.

Connecting solar panels directly to a battery bank without a specialized device to control the charging process can damage both components. A charge controller regulates the current supplied to the battery bank while preventing overcharging. There are two main types:

For example, you could use an MPPT controller to charge a 12 V battery bank using home solar panels with an output of 40 V. But this is not possible with PWM battery chargers since the solar panel and battery voltages have to match.

You can typically install RV solar panels on your own using a portable, low-voltage system or by purchasing a solar kit specifically designed for DIY. However, make sure you read all product instructions carefully.

On the other hand, if you intend to use larger residential panels on an RV roof, you should contact a professional solar installer. These solar modules are not designed for DIY installation and can be dangerous due to the higher voltages and wattages.

Solar panels are ideal for motorhomes and travel trailers constantly off the grid since you can generate electricity full-time in any location with decent sunshine. RV panels can also help you save on electrical hookups and generator fuel costs, representing hundreds of dollars annually.

However, if you’re boondocking or an occasional campground RVer, portable solar panels might be better than a permanent roof installation. You can use portable panels to power your electrical appliances at any time (like an air conditioner in the summer), even when you’re not traveling in your RV.

Ultimately, the cost of your solar panels will depend on the size system you need — a larger system with more power generation and battery capacity will cost more. While you can purchase RV solar panel kits with a capacity of 100 W to 400 W for less than $600, portable power stations can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000.

With favorable sunshine, a 200 W solar panel can produce around 800 Wh of battery charge per day. This amount of electricity is enough to run an 800 W appliance for one hour. Higher-wattage appliances deplete stored energy faster, and lower-wattage appliances can run for a longer time.

*Note: The above appliance examples are sourced from the solar company Unbound Solar.

Yes, using solar provides a clean and energy-efficient alternative to traditional power sources like propane. This can be accomplished if you have enough solar panels to generate the daily watt-hours required by your RV. You will also need a battery system large enough to store this charge. You can also use both solar panels and shore power at the same time.

It depends on the total wattage of your solar panel system and the sunshine available. Under favorable conditions, 100 W panels can generate around 300 to 400 Wh per day. Larger residential panels can generate more than 300 W each, equaling a daily output of over 1,000 Wh.

Leading brands like Renogy can last more than 25 years and are covered by a product warranty in the event of malfunctions. However, low-quality panels have a much shorter lifespan.

You can buy RV panels online directly from solar manufacturers or on marketplace platforms like Amazon. For example, the Renogy 100-watt panel offers an ideal size for RV use.

Leonardo David is an electromechanical engineer, MBA, energy consultant and technical writer. His energy-efficiency and solar consulting experience covers sectors including banking, textile manufacturing, plastics processing, pharmaceutics, education, food processing, real estate and retail. He has also been writing articles about energy and engineering topics since 2015.

Tori Addison is an editor who has worked in the digital marketing industry for over five years. Her experience includes communications and marketing work in the nonprofit, governmental and academic sectors. A journalist by trade, she started her career covering politics and news in New York's Hudson Valley. Her work included coverage of local and state budgets, federal financial regulations and health care legislation.

less than $600 $2,000 to $5,000 Monocrystalline: Polycrystalline: Thin-film: Thin-film: LED light bulbs (x4) TV Small refrigerator Microwave oven Portable fan Roof-mounted solar panels: Portable solar panels: Pulse width modulation (PWM) charge controllers Maximum power point tracking (MPPT) charge controllers: Device Wattage Appliance Examples* Operating Time with 800 Wh Leonardo David Tori Addison