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Best solar panels for RVs 2021
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Best solar panels for RVs 2021

15 mins 19 Apr 2021
Solar industry has grown significantly in the last decade – there are so many panels and brands around! Of course, competition is good for the quality of products, but for customers it may end up being confusing. How are they supposed to choose between all these panels when each of them claims to be 'the best'? This is why we've decided to compose a list of solar panels for RVs where every model stands out, but in its own way.

Solar power is a great choice for an RV

So, why has solar power become so popular among boondockers? RV solar panels:

  • make no sound, produce no smell
  • work everywhere the sun is shining
  • require almost no maintenance
  • pay for themselves overtime
The most popular solar panels for campers range from 100W to 200W, because the energy needs aren't usually high. A system of 300-500W usually satisfies daily energy needs of an average boondocker. However, if you feel like you need more, go for more powerful and efficient modules, as there isn't always much space on the RV roof.

Proper installation is especially important for RV solar panels. If your vehicle hits a bumpy road and PV modules aren't fixed properly, this road trip may become the last for them. PV modules on top of an RV also get dirty quicker than on a house roof. Give them a scrub every now and then to maintain a good power output.

Of course, a solar installation needs more than just panels. An RV usually has a house battery that powers all the appliances in the vehicle. There is also a charge controller to protect the battery. Some appliances, like a laptop or a microwave, need alternating current, so you would have to buy an inverter for them as well. Some manufacturers try to minimize the number of system components: for example, a Panasonic 330W panel already has a built-in microinverter that turns DC from panel to AC on the spot.

Looking at solar panel reviews: size, weight, power

When there are plenty of choices, some prefer looking for expert reviews to be able to compare different options. So, what should you pay attention to in RV solar panel reviews when looking for a system for your own camper van? Check specifications first. The most important characteristics of an RV panel are:

Size.
Space is always a concern with RVs, so examine your roof and measure out the spot that can be used for panels. The average size of a solar panel is 65 x 39 inches.

Weight. Check the maximum weight that the roof of your RV can withstand. 40 lbs is an average weight of a solar panel.

Power output. The power that you need depends on your energy needs.RV solar panels usually perform at 60-80% of their rated power because it's hard to get a perfect positioning and angle for a module, so it often makes sense to buy a few extra watts.

Panel type.
Solar panels for RV can be monocrystalline, polycrystalline or thin-film. Crystalline modules are efficient and long-lasting. Thin-film panels, on the other hand, are cheap and flexible which makes them good for an RV roof with difficult configurations.

Efficiency.
Efficiency determines how much sunlight a panel can turn into electricity. The higher it is, the better. The average efficiency of crystalline modules ranges between 17% and 19%. Thin-film panels usually have an efficiency of 10%-13%.

There are more details to consider when it comes to solar panels for an RV. Reviews mention all sorts of things: shading tolerance, performance at high temperatures, warranties and durability. The importance of these parameters depends on the climate in your area. Is it hot out there? Will your panels be overshadowed? Do hurricanes occur often in your land? Pay attention to those advantages of different models that are relevant to your situation. Now let's look at a few examples of what we think are the best panels for an RV in 2021.

Panasonic 330W: Comes with an inverter

Panasonic 330W: Comes with an inverter

A monocrystalline Panasonic 330W solar panel is combined with a microinverter Enphase IQ7 that converts direct current from the module to alternating current right on the spot. Enphase IQ7 uses maximum power point tracking (MPPT) technology to make sure that the energy production of a Panasonic 330W solar panel is maximized. Panasonic solar panel 330W has an efficiency of 19.7% and it's possible that you would be able to power everything in your RV just with one module. The main drawback of Panasonic 330W panels is their price, as it is often the case with Panasonic products. However, the quality of this Japanese manufacturer is always superb.

Dimensions: 62.6" x 41.5" x 1.6"
Weight: 43 lbs

Canadian Solar 315W: Don't fear the clouds

Canadian Solar 315W: Don't fear the clouds

Canadian Solar panels are known for their outstanding performance even on cloudy days – they barely lose efficiency in bad weather. This 315W Canadian Solar module is no exception. What is more, Canadian Solar 315W panels are especially durable. Canadian Solar panels are made to withstand the wind of 180 mph (4000 Pa), while for others 140 mph wind (2400 Pa) is already too much. The manufacturer also notes better shading tolerance than average and rated efficiency of 19.26%. The cost of Canadian Solar 315W panels is quite affordable – $168.66 for a module.

Dimensions: 65.9" x 39.1" x 1.38"
Weight: 40.8 lbs

Trina 320W solar panel: Cheap and powerful

Trina 320W solar panel: Cheap and powerful

Chinese manufacturers usually focus on the efficiency of a panel and its low cost. This idea applies to Trina 320W panels. While being relatively cheap, these PV modules offer 18.8% efficiency with a 10-year product warranty and 25-year performance warranty. One Trina solar panel 320W can be enough to power everything in your RV. The design deserves special attention – black cells and black frame look very stylish. Keep in mind, however, that this panel is relatively large and a little heavy.

Dimensions: 66.85" x 39.53" x 1.38"
Weight: 49.6 lbs

Panasonic 325W: Heatproof

Panasonic 325W: Heatproof

What makes Panasonic 325W solar panels stand out is their impressive efficiency at high temperatures. Solar panels tend to lose about a 1% of their efficiency per degree after it's hotter than 77 °F. Panasonic 325W panel loses only 0.258% per degree which is one of the best results in the industry. On top of that, you get 19.4% efficiency, 25-year performance warranty and degradation rate lower than average – Panasonic 325W module loses only 0.26% of power compared to 0.7% of a regular solar panel. The downside of Panasonic 325W solar modules is high price.

Dimensions: 65.30" x 43.70" x 1.57"
Weight: 40.81 lbs

Panasonic HIT 330W: Best shading tolerance

Panasonic HIT 330W: Best shading tolerance

Panasonic HIT 330W solar panels offer outstanding shading tolerance – one of the best on the solar market. All due to bypass diodes. Normally there are 2 or 3 bypass diodes that split a panel into sectors and allow every sector to produce energy independently. Every Panasonic 330W HIT panel is equipped with 4 bypass diodes. As a result, if a solar cell in one sector is shaded, the performance of a Panasonic HIT 330 Watt module drops only by 25%, whereas a panel with 3 diodes loses 33% of its power output. Diodes are costly, so it's no wonder Panasonic 330W solar modules are more expensive than others. However, they can be a great choice if you worry that panel on top of your RV might be overshadowed by some part of a vehicle.

Dimensions: 62.5" x 41.5" x 1.5"
Weight: 41 lbs

Trina 330W: Chinese innovations

Trina 330W: Chinese innovations

Trina solar 330W is a really high-tech panel. Chinese engineers implemented a few innovations into the construction of a panel, like half-cut and multi busbar cells. As a result, Trina 330W panels show low power losses and are very reliable, because multi busbar cells decrease the risk of microcracks in the panel. Trina solar panel 330W is cheap and one module is often enough for a small trailer. A model comes with a 12-year product warranty and 25 year performance warranty as well.

Dimensions: 66.5" x 39.2" x 1.38"
Weight: 39.7 lbs

Conclusion: Use the strong sides of your panels

As you can see, all 'the best' solar panels for RV have their own 'superpowers': one excels in low-light conditions, whereas the other has an especially good shading tolerance. Choose solar panels whose strong sides will give you the greatest output.
Illustrations – Marina Fionova
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