RV Solar Panels (Everything you need to know)

When people encounter RV Solar Panels, they wonder if they are different from your typical residential solar panel system. This is a valid question since RV setups have varying traits compared to traditional homes. 

This piece is made for people looking to contribute to the green energy movement while saving money on electricity by investing in RV solar panels.

In this article, we’ll talk about recreational vehicle solar panels’ essential decision points, such as economic analysis, system design, installation guides, and the best products available in the market today.

Climatebiz experts design, research, fact-check & edit all work meticulously.

Affiliate Disclaimer

Climatebiz is reader-supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our site.

RV Solar Panels – What Are They?

An RV solar panel system is a more portable version of its residential counterparts. It is a solar system that is either statically installed on top of an RV or deployable on the ground beside it. 

RV Solar Systems have become more accessible since solar panels have become more efficient and cheaper. 

For beginners, solar panels are solar cells placed on a metal panel that collects irradiance from the sun. 

Solar Panels And Irradiance

“Irradiance? Wha-?”

We lost you there for a bit, didn’t we? Don’t worry. We’re just trying to get your feet wet in the world of solar.

The word for today is irradiance. It’s a term used to describe the abundance of solar power in a location. An irradiance unit is expressed in watts per unit area (e.g., foot squared).

Solar resource map.
Source:  https://www.nrel.gov/gis/solar-resource-maps.html


Moving on, the solar cells in each panel absorb the sun’s irradiance to produce direct current (DC) electricity. In the case of RVs, you’ll usually store these DC electric energies in 12-Volt 100 Ah batteries for later use.


To make the stored electricity usable for most RV appliances, you’ll need an inverter to turn it into an alternating current (AC).

Learn more about how inverters convert DC to AC in u003ca href=u0022https://climatebiz.com/dc-to-ac-conversion/u0022 target=u0022_blanku0022 rel=u0022noreferrer noopeneru0022u003ethis articleu003c/au003e.
An inverter that converts DC to AC power - RV solar panels.
An inverter that converts DC to AC power.

As a quick recap, here is what we know so far:

RV solar panels convert irradiance into electricity through solar panels. Solar panels convert solar energy to DC electric energy stored in DC batteries. We then use an inverter to convert DC to AC, making the electricity usable for most AC RV appliances.

Solar panels, batteries, inverters, charge controllers, and cables these are the essential components you need to begin your RV solar panel journey.

Basic RV Solar Panel Essentials
Basic RV Solar Panel Essentials
RV solar panels.
Source: rvingknowhow

How Many Solar Panels Does My RV Need?

You are looking to purchase about 13 to 50 pieces of monocrystalline solar panels with a rated power output of 100 watts up to 400 watts to power 5kW worth of appliances in your RV.

But, before anything else, we advise that you brace yourself.


Because the following two sections will tackle slightly advanced solar energy concepts. It’s a bit tricky, but if you stick with us throughout, we promise that you will be confident in sizing your own RV solar roof by the end.

We recommend taking notes to help retain the information we’re giving you.u0026nbsp;

How To Size Your RV Solar Roof

Sizing your RV solar roof requires a more delicate approach. Each of you probably has a different RV that you are looking to power with solar energy.

Therefore, the answer depends on what appliances you plan to run in your RV. 

To start, we recommend listing “motor-based” units first. These are your air conditioners, water pumps, and refrigerators. 

Other heating appliances such as toasters, water heaters, microwaves, and coffee brewers also contribute substantially to your RV solar system size. 

Lastly, you have your small appliances, electronics, and portable devices such as TV, lighting, fans, gadgets, and stereo. 

Next, you have two options:

Option 1: DIY Solar Roof Sizing

The first one is to look at each appliance’s “nameplate rating,” then add all the watt ratings. 

A nameplate is a label slapped on a device. The information on the plate includes the model and serial number, the manufacturing date, and the location of assembly. 

More importantly, a nameplate provides basic electrical information about an appliance. This is where you can find the power requirements of your device expressed either in watts (w), kilowatts (kW), or horsepower (hp)

It is also beneficial to express all power units in watts. Therefore, here is a conversion table for different units of power

  • 1 hp = 735.5 watts
  • 1kw = 1000 watts

Now, let’s apply these concepts in the figure below to help you master reading nameplates.

Brand New LG 7.2cu.ft. Two-Door No Frost Inverter Refrigerator  (GR-B202SQBB), TV & Home Appliances, Kitchen Appliances, Refrigerators and  Freezers on Carousell
A sample, refrigerator nameplate picture.

Concerning our topic, we will get the highest power rating we can find in the nameplate, which would be 140 watts

Option 2: Online Calculators

Some energy solutions companies offer online calculators – if you want a more interactive experience.

For example, Renogy offers a decent online RV solar system calculator (see figure below) but is a bit more sophisticated since it prompts you to estimate when and how long you will use each appliance. 

A sample image of Renogy's online RV solar system calculator - RV solar panels.

How Many Solar Panels Do You Need For Your RV?

Once you have your RV solar system size, you can determine how many solar panels you need to power your entire RV.

For example, roughly speaking, you would need around 13 to 50 panels for a 5kW RV solar roof. The exact number depends on the size, type of each solar panel. Solar panels ratings often fall between 100-watts to 400-watts

If your total power need for the RV appliances amounts to 5kW, you simply divide the total power by the rating of your chosen solar:

For example, 5kW divided by 400-watt per panel will give you 12.5 solar panels. Since they don’t sell half a 400-watt solar panel, we recommend getting 13. 

On the other hand, doing the same process for the 100-watt panel will give you 50 solar panels. That’s a lot!

RV Solar Roof Planning

Now, let’s apply everything we learned so far by helping Bob with his RV solar roof. 

We asked Bob about what he has in his RV, and we got a list. We did our manual nameplate check and got the table shown below.

List of Appliances found in Bob’s RV.

Typical AppliancesRated (Running) Watts
Coffee Maker1100 W
Microwave800 W
Regular Refrigerator / Freezer700 W
Toaster800 W
Laptop and Cellphone100 W
Lightbulbs150 W
Airconditioner1200 W
Total Solar Panel Size4,850 W

We can discern from the table above that we will need about 5kW (based on the 4.85kW) worth of solar panels to accommodate all our loads. 

Bob told us that he decided to go with the 400W solar panels based on his preference. We already did the math, and from our recommendation, he got the solar mounts and installed thirteen (13) 400-watt solar panels on his roof.

Right now, we are feeling pretty confident about our design. However, Bob suddenly drops a question that often blows the minds of newbie solar energy enthusiasts:

“What if there is no sun and I need to run my fridge 24/7?”

We have a solution for that problem. Let’s discuss it and level up your expertise in the solar energy field.

How Many Batteries Will The RV Solar Roof Need?

Running your appliances without a solar energy source is just a matter of answering the question of how many batteries your RV solar roof will need.

Batteries are simple. You produce solar energy during the day, then you store them for later use using batteries, or as the fancy people call it: energy storage systems (ESS). Now that is an excellent way to sound cool in front of your family and friends during thanksgiving.

Let’s backtrack a bit and understand the problems at hand that require ESS solutions.

Read our article on u003ca href=u0022https://climatebiz.com/lithium-boat-batteries/u0022 target=u0022_blanku0022 rel=u0022noreferrer noopeneru0022u003elithium boat batteries u003c/au003eif you aim to take to the sea.
Peak sun hours.

The Challenges Of Solar Energy

The most common challenges of going solar can be summarized into two (2) points: 

(1) Solar energy production depends on the peak sun hours in your location (Climatebiz has a tab on its website containing peak sun hours data).

On the other hand, peak sun hours depend on the amount of irradiance present in your area. This is why the southwestern region in our NREL irradiance map is likely to get more peak sun hours than the north-eastern ones. 

(2) Solar energy is not available before sunrise and after sunset, which causes problems for those running most of their appliances outside sunny hours. 

Batteries Or ESS As A Solution

Installing ESS in your RV solves these two significant problems. 

Now, to help Bob run his fridge 24/7, we need an energy storage device. Common ones in the marketplace today are the 100 Ah, 12V/24V batteries. Batteries are perfect for running electronics when there is no sun around. They can also be used as a backup if a cloud gets in your way during noon.

Assuming that the sun rises at 7 am then sets at 5 pm, we need around 14 hours’ energy to run Bob’s fridge. 

Some of you might naturally think of using the energy formula:

Energy (watt-hour) = Power (watts) x Time (h)

Therefore, a 700-watt fridge running at 14 hours straight will need 9.8 kWh of energy storage. However, refrigerators and ACs have a significantly lower running wattage. This is because they cycle on and off throughout the day. 

We can assume a third of the peak rated power of the fridge as an acceptable running wattage, leaving us with about 3.3 kWh.  

How Many Batteries Will You Need?

Now, how many 100Ah batteries will you need to supply 3.3 kWh? The answer is just one

3.3 kWh needed by a 115V fridge is equivalent to 28.7 Ah. If you want to confirm the math, the formula for power is:

Power (Watts) = Voltage (Volts) * Current (Amperes)


Current = Power / Voltage

Using our given values, we get:

28.696 Ah = 3,300 Wh / 115 V

Alright! Another tool in our solar design utility belt. Now, for those who hate these kinds of conversions, don’t fret. Here is an online calculator to convert kWh to Ah. 

RV Solar Roof Example Recap And Insights


That was a lot, but you are now officially a solar design ninja – you should be pretty proud that you already have an idea of how to size your RV roof solar and ESS requirements. 

Here’s a recap and key insights on what we know so far:

  • Knowing how many solar panels you will need depends on the power rating of each panel and what appliance you intend to operate inside your home vehicle
  • Analyzing our appliance list above, most of our energy requirements come from motor-based appliances such as fridges 
  • On the other hand heat-inducing appliances such as microwaves, toasters, coffee makers require minimal energy but they do need a lot of power to operate for a short time. Reducing these kinds of appliances or operating them at a time when other appliances are turned off can help you reduce your RV solar roof size
  • ESS is perfect for storing and using solar energy at times when there is no sun.
  • In general, motor-based appliances consume much less than their rated power requirements when operated over long periods.

How Much Do RV Solar Panels Cost?

Full RV solar roofs will cost about $2 to $ 2.7 per watt, while solar panels alone will cost you around $1.5 per watt. Looking at the $ per watt of a product will give you an idea as to whether you’re purchasing a whole package or just solar panels. Expect that the latter will not have any inverter to convert 12V to 120V and a battery to store energy.

Cost Of RV Solar Panels – Setting Realistic Expectations 

In reality, it’s impractical to put up 5kW worth of solar panels on your RV. 30-foot campers usually can accommodate 400-watt solar kits, while bigger RVs can have 600 watts on the roof alone. Most of the time, trailers and RVs will still require some power from the grid to power large appliances. 

We didn’t mention this fact until now because teaching you how to properly size your ideal RV solar roof was the priority before moving to practical problems. 

So, how much do RV solar panels cost?

BrandSizeTotal Cost$ per watt
Solar Home 5 kW$13,500$2.7 per watt
Renogy 100-watt RV Solar Kit100 W$315$3.15 per watt
Renogy 200-watt RV Solar Kit200 W$460$2.3 per watt
Renogy 300-watt RV Solar Kit300 W$630$2.1 per watt
Renogy 400-watt RV Solar Kit400 W$800$2 per watt
ECO-WORTHY 200-Watt Solar Kit200 W$500$2.5 per watt
Expert Power 200-watt Solar Power Kit200 W$300$1.5 per watt
Top solar Solar Panel Kit 100 Watt100 W$140$1.4 per watt

Are RV Solar Panels Worth The Money?

You may have heard some horror stories from your peers that RV solar panels are pricey. This might get you second-guessing if they’re worth the money.

However, as we can see from the table above, it’s not that expensive to begin your RV solar roof journey today. 

If you are still doubtful at this point, we recommend getting started with a 100-watt solar panel kit to use for charging your phone, laptop, lamp, and small electronics during the daytime. The inverters and batteries can come later. 

How about the ROI?

Well, it depends. Solar system ROI ranges from 2.5 to 15 years, depending on where you are on the globe. We talked about these figures in-depth in this article. 

RV Solar Panels are definitely worth the money. Risk-averse green energy consumers can start small with 100-watt solar panel kits then upgrade to a full RV solar roof with a 120V AC inverter and an ESS once they have gained enough confidence. Depending on location, consumers will typically get their money back anywhere from 2.5 to 15 years.

How To Install RV Solar Panels?

Step 1: Read the User Manual and Check Your Components

Whether it’s your first time installing RV solar panels or not, you should always begin by checking the instruction manual for each piece of equipment you buy. You should also verify if all the components are complete and come with no defects. 

RV solar panels or kits usually come with a list of components included and directions on how to combine everything safely. This is essential since there are times when mounting processes are specific to the type of panel you purchase (e.g., rigid vs. foldable).

Step 2: Wiring Your Solar Panels

Once you have mounted the solar panels, the next thing is to wire them. RV panels are usually wired in series since they are typically small sizes. After wiring your panels, you can run the cables into the RV, feeding them into the charge controller. 

You can choose to run them through existing holes like plumbing pipes or vents, or you can drill new holes if this makes more sense.

Step 3: Connect all the components

At this point, you should have your panels mounted adequately and the solar cables dangling inside your RV. Depending on the kit you purchased, the last thing you have to do is mount and connect the charge controller and inverter. If you have a battery, integrate it into the system as well. 

Again, nothing beats reading the instruction manual on how everything fits. By the end, a complete RV solar roof should look like the figure below. Remember that inverters and batteries are always optional depending on what you want to operate via solar energy.

A sample of a complete RV Solar Panel Setup
A sample of a complete RV Solar Panel Setup

10 Best RV Solar Panels On The Market Today

1. Renogy 400 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel 

Main Features:

  • Cost: $480 ($1.2 per watt)
  • Compact design monocrystalline solar panel
  • Comes with a PWM charge controller
  • Complete starter kit
  • System is modular so you can expand your system when needed
  • Option to add a Renogy Bluetooth module to the Renogy Wanderer-Li charge controller for smartphone app interfacing.
What we liked
  • Remote monitoring and control via a smartphone app (additional purchase needed)
  • Easy to install
  • Expandable
  • Value for money
  • Lightweight
  • This kit needs the charge controller near the solar panel. You can choose to buy an extension cable when needed.
  • Mixed reviews on post-purchase tech support
  • No mounting brackets

2. Renogy 200 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline RV Solar Panel Kit 

Main Features:

  • Cost: $450 ($2.25 per watt)
  • Compact design monocrystalline solar panel
  • Comes with a PWM charge controller with Renogy Bluetooth module for smartphone integration
  • Has compatible mounting brackets 
What we liked
  • Easy to install
  • Lightweight
  • Remote monitoring and control via a smartphone
  • A bit expensive
  • Mixed reviews on tech support

3. DOKIO Foldable 100 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel 

Main Features:

  • Cost: $200 ($2 per watt)
  • Easy operation. Just unfold your solar panel then place it on the ground
  • Portable with carrying bag
  • Durable and corrosion-resistant
What we liked
  • Easy to set up
  • Portable
  • Great value for those in need of a foldable panel.
  • Weatherproof
  • A bit heavy (18.5 lbs)
  • Mixed reviews on the design. Some people think that the legs of the panel are substandard.

4. Foldable Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline 

Main Features:

  • Cost: $220 ($2.2 per watt)
  • Adjustable
  • Corrosion-resistant
  • Compatible with lithium-ion and flooded batteries
  • Built-in LCD charge controller with safety features
What we liked
  • Easy to set up 
  • Portable
  • Great value for those in need of a foldable panel.
  • LCD charge controller with safety features
  • Chance to get a defective suitcase.
  • Heavy (28.6 lbs)

5. EF ECOFLOW 110W Solar Panel with Portable Power Station

Main Features:

  • Cost: $950 ($8.63 per watt)
  • Portable ESS and extra battery included
  • Fast-charging
  • Sleek and modern look
  • RV-compatible 
  • Has various charging ports to power all types of devices
  • Can support 1200 running watts at any moment
What we liked
  • Fast-charging
  • Efficient solar power conversion
  • Wide device compatibility
  • Portable ESS on the go. Designed for outdoors.
  • Modular and expandable
  • Modular design but exclusive compatibility to other ECOFLOW products only
  • Expensive ($8.63 per watt)

6. Jackery Solar Generator 1000

Main Considerations:

  • Cost: $1,499 ($7.50 per watt)
  • Portable ESS with 1002 Wh or 46.4 Ah capacity at 21.6V
  • Fast-charging
  • Sleek and modern look
  • RV-compatible 
  • Has various charging ports to power all types of devices
  • Can support 1000 running watts at any moment
What we liked
  • Fast charging
  • Efficient solar power conversion
  • Wide device compatibility
  • Portable ESS on the go. Designed for outdoors.
  • Modular and expandable
  • Modular design but exclusive compatibility to other Jackery products only
  • Expensive ($7.5 per watt)

7. Newpowa 200W Monocrystalline

Main Features:

  • Cost: $200 ($1 per watt)
  • Higher cell efficiency
  • Better irradiance conversion rate
  • 25-year warranty
What we liked
  • Lightweight for rated power (27.56 lbs for 200W)
  • Easy to install
  • High efficiency
  • Great customer service
  • Great value
  • No mounting brackets included
  • No charge controller included

8. HQST 100W 12V Monocrystalline Flexible Solar Panel 

Main Features:

  • Cost: $139 ($1.39 per watt)
  • Flexible to install
  • Flexible but ensures efficiency, durability and safety
  • Waterproof and dustproof
What we liked
  • Ultra-lightweight design (4lbs)
  • Great value
  • Super flexible
  • High efficiency
  • One year warranty
  • No mounting brackets included
  • No charge controller included

9. Topsolar Flexible Solar Panel 100W 24V/12V 

Main Features:

  • Cost: $139 ($1.39 per watt)
  • Flexible to install
  • Flexible but ensures efficiency, durability and safety
  • Waterproof and dustproof
What we liked
  • Ultra-lightweight design (4lbs)
  • Great value
  • Super flexible
  • High efficiency
  • One year warranty
  • No mounting brackets included
  • No charge controller included

10. RICH SOLAR 100 Watt 12 Volt Polycrystalline Solar Panel 

Main Features:

  • Cost: $87 ($0.87 per watt)
  • Standard solar panel
  • Built with strong high transmission anti-reflective coated tempered glass and anodized aluminum frame.
  • 25-year limited power output; 5-year material and workmanship.
What we liked
  • Easy to install
  • Great value for money
  • No Mounting bracket
  • Bare solar panel only
  • A bit heavy (17.5 lbs)
  • No charge controller included

The Bottom Line

By now, choosing the Best RV solar panel in the market should be the least of your worries. Rather, ask yourself – which features do I value, and how much am I willing to pay for them?

For example, we think that going with the Jackery or ECO Flow products is a no-brainer for people who value convenience and modern-looking solar panels with ESS. It costs 3 to 4 times the standard solar panel plus storage, but we think they bring tremendous value to the right people.

Newbies who are just dipping their toes in the water can go with the Renogy, Newpowa, Top Solar, or Rich Solar brands, then upgrade their module from there.

It’s hard to make a grave mistake choosing your RV solar panel. It all boils down to preference and budget.

Final Thoughts

You made it! Congratulations. As you can see, RV solar roofs aren’t that difficult to install. It’s just a matter of calculating your total RV load, sizing a practical solar system, and installing it. 

Enjoy your solar electricity savings! 

Gustav Cruz
Gustav Cruz

Gustav has a Bachelor of Engineering and is currently practicing as a senior-level electrical engineer specializing in research. He is eager to deliver his analyses in a comical fashion while providing you with the right amount of scientific information. He believes that, with a bit of help, a well-informed decision is rewarding to make, it saves you money, and it is a win-win for all - the planet included.

Show all Most Helpful Highest Rating Lowest Rating Add your review
  1. All of your suggested solutions use 100w (mostly) and 200w panels. Would it not make sense, in order to maximize the available space, to use some of the larger capacity panels available, such as the REC 365w or 400w panels?

    • Avatar
      Kyle Browning June 7, 2022 at 11:25 am

      Hey Jim, this tends to be quite relative and depends on your application. We tend to recommend smaller solar panels for RV/campervan installations as this allows the most “flexible” use of space. Perhaps you want to position your panels in a particular pattern that allows room for vent covers or rooftop storage.

      • Kyle,
        Thanks for the reply. I understand wanting to be flexible in planning layout and voltage/amperage limits for your system. I have a 40′ 5th wheel for which I am designing a system. The larger wattage panels seem, to me, to offer a smaller footprint for equivalent wattage. I asked the question mostly to determine if there were any suitability issues or reasons other than the said flexibility that would exclude them from consideration.