Saturday, June 3, 2023


All about solar: Types of panels, buying tips, and more

Solar panels are the backbone of your RV solar system. Choosing the right panels for your needs will maximize your solar system’s efficiency, performance, and return on investment. Solar panels consist of multiple individual solar cells that convert sunlight into energy. Several panels can be joined together to create a “solar array” that generates more power. The solar panels generate direct current (DC) electricity used to recharge the RV batteries.

This is always a misconception when talking with RV owners. We end up having to explain that solar panels do not make alternating current (AC) electricity, known as shore power. Solar panels are only used to charge the batteries, so besides choosing the right solar panel, it is equally important to have the right batteries.

Types of solar panels for RVs

There are three types of solar panels commonly used in RV applications, each with its own benefits and drawbacks:

  • Amorphous panels are older solar panels and are often found in first–generation RV installations. While inexpensive, they are fragile, inefficient, and take up the most room. They also degrade quickly when exposed to sunlight and can lose up to 30 percent of their power–generating capabilities in their first year of service. Today, amorphous panels are not widely used in new RV applications.
  • Polycrystalline panels are more robust than their amorphous counterparts. They require half the space to produce the same power; however, polycrystalline panels can vary widely in quality and performance.
  • Monocrystalline panels are considered the most efficient RV solar panels, with energy efficiency rates typically in the 15–20 percent range. They perform better in high-heat and low-light environments, making them more versatile for RV operators. While more expensive than polycrystalline options, monocrystalline panels are more durable and typically last longer.

Rigid vs. flexible panels

Rigid solar panels, built using a frame surrounding tempered glass covering the solar cells, are the most common option for RVs. Flexible panels, in contrast, have the collecting material embedded into a thin mylar film affixed to an aluminum substrate. Rigid panels are very durable and typically have longer warranty periods than flexible panels. While flexible versions may be up to 80 percent lighter, they are much more susceptible to damage. Flexible panels are usually reserved for specialty applications, for example, when panels need to be molded to curved surfaces or accommodate height or weight constraints.

RV solar panel buying tips

  • Cheap solar panels are usually constructed with a lot of cut cells—they may be less expensive, but they’re also less efficient. Full, complete solar cells perform better and are worth the additional cost.
  • Look for panels with the highest-rated wattage for their size. A smaller footprint means a more efficient panel.
  • Watch out for manufacturer claims of wattage output. The best manufacturers will provide a minimum output for their panels, as opposed to a maximum. Always ask your seller to document their panel output range (plus/minus percent).

We hope you find this information helpful and look forward to helping you with all your RV solar needs.

Read more from Dustin.


Dustin Simpson
Dustin Simpson
I have worn many hats in the RV industry through the years. From an RV Technician, Warranty Administrator, Parts Administrator, Parts Manager, Service Manager and now Business Owner. I have even been deemed an RV Expert by the California court system, working on behalf of the customers, dealers, and manufacturers. My repair facility has been servicing customers at the same location since 2003. What sets us apart from the dealerships is we are here to fix and maintain what you have, and not sell you a new one. Whether you own a million-dollar unit or an entry level, my message to you will be the same, it needs to be maintained.


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1 month ago

This was very helpful broadly for many people I’m sure. The basic understanding for people is that the solar is to charge your batteries versus running your microwave (example) directly. I have solar on my DP and I simply view it as trickle charging my batteries when the sun shines. Right or wrong, that’s how I look at it. It’s simply a solar powered battery charger that keeps the house running a little longer when on the road without the generator running. If we are dry camping, it is extending the battery life between full charges using the generator by a couple of hours per day maximum. No solar array for an RV gets you off the grid or your generator 24 hours per day if you have an electric fridge and an LED television, let alone the occasional air conditioning need. I LOVE MY SOLAR because I embrace it for what it is. A Sun powered battery charger.

Neal Davis
1 month ago

Thank you, Dustin! This article is EXTREMELY HELPFUL! We traded RVs last summer. We expected to not keep the previous RV beyond 6 years, so we chose to NOT invest in solar. However, we anticipate the new RV also being our last RV and having it at least 10 years, hopefully longer. Thus, solar IS now a consideration. Our new RV shipped with AGM house batteries. When they need to be replaced, we anticipate replacing them with lithium batteries. We possibly may add solar panels at that point, depending on what additional changes in the electronics of our RV are necessary to accommodate them.

1 month ago

Ive tried to find a multi-vendor online database of solar panels that include length and width in the filterable data, in addition to other parameters. It seems like anyone trying to best-fit panels to their RV roof and system would need such data. No luck so far.

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