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Living the RV Revolution: Adding Solar Panels

How To Pick the Right Panels for You, Mount Them Properly, and Bring On the Power

For some, it’s an answer to the high cost of maintaining a traditional home. For others, it’s the freedom of the road. But whatever your reason for living the RV life, portable power is a major hurdle you must cross if you want to be free and comfortable.

Not long ago, your only option was to expend massive amounts of gasoline to keep your generator going whenever you stopped for the night. And as you reclined in your folding chair gazing at the glory of a gazillion stars overhead, the drone of your generator was there to remind you that you were an interloper – a mere visitor to the glory that is the natural world.

Well, those days are on their way out, and the era of the solar-powered RV has arrived. Now, you can be one with nature, silently witnessing the beauty of the nighttime wilderness while still enjoying the comforts of a sticks-and-bricks existence.

The only question now is which solar system is right for you, and how in the world do you set it up?

Goldilocks Can’t Help You Here

When it comes to solar panel setups, there are few wrong or right answers. The sheer number of different RV designs and the nearly infinite sets of lifestyle needs preclude us from being able to tell you which one is too big, too small, or just right.

What we can do is give you the information you need so you can find the solar panel system that fits your needs. You’ll need to consider four main factors in your search for the right solar system.

  1. Weight
  2. Space
  3. Use
  4. Cost

And here’s the fun part – you’ll have to give a little in some areas to gain in others.

Granted, with unlimited funds, you could pick up an RV with a massive engine and tons of roof space where you can settle a gigantic solar panel system that’ll power half of a small state for days. But if that were the case, you’d just pick up your phone and order one made – instead of spending your time here learning how to do it yourself.

RV with solar panel

So, you will need to decide which priorities must be met and which can be lowered just a tad.


Few of us have had a chance to hoist a solar panel into the air, so most who do are surprised by the sheer weight of the things.  While relatively thin, solar panels are still made of glass.

Choosing a system that, while powerful, will destroy your suspension in short order and make your gas mileage drop like a rock can be counterproductive. So, you first need to discover how much extra weight you can put on your RV’s roof while retaining the cargo capacity you require to live your life as you wish.


The roof of most RVs, while vast, is often cluttered with AC units, vent openings, and communications gear.  You need to ensure that you not only have the square footage required by your solar system but that it will also accommodate the size and shape of the panels you’ve picked.


Once you understand the dimensions available to you on your RV’s roof, you need to consider how much energy you plan to use while boondocking out in the world.

RV with solar panel

Are you just looking to brew some coffee on a cold night, or do you have a full-time gig requiring multiple computers, a 3-D printer, and two separate satellite dishes?

Whatever your power requirements, always plan for the worst-case scenario to avoid unpleasant surprises.


Some may say that cost should be your first consideration, and they may even be right.  After all, if you can only afford to install a minimal solar panel system on your RV, all the other considerations go out the window.

However, if the boondocking life is a goal rather than a current reality, then understanding what it takes to build the solar system that will let you live your RV dreams in comfort is key.

But if you are anxious to hit the road as soon as possible, you’ll have to let financial reality decide what kind of solar system you install on your RV.

Solar Panel Types – Pros & Cons

Humanity has known about drawing energy from the sun for over 170 years. It wasn’t until the 1950s – when we developed silicon – that the idea started to become a practical technology. Since those early days, solar power has developed in leaps and bounds, and we now have four main types of solar panels that we use throughout the world.

mono solar panel

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

As the name implies, photovoltaic cells of monocrystalline solar panels are made solely of thin wafers of a single silicon crystal. 


They are highly efficient power generators and even work well in low light.


Performance comes at a price – weight, and expense. While you may get unchallenged functionality, your new solar panels will cut deep into your budget and expected fuel efficiency.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Polycrystalline solar panels have cells made of several silicone crystals melted into one cell.


These solar panels are much easier to manufacture, making them far more budget-friendly.


The simpler manufacturing process results in a mild decrease in efficiency. Consequently, low light conditions can be a problem for this type of solar panel, and weight remains an issue.

Amorphous Solar Panels

Amorphous solar panels are exceptionally light panels consisting of a thin layer of silicon cells laid over a backing material.

Nature-Power-Amorphous-Solar Panel with Trickle Charger


These solar panels are highly efficient and relatively inexpensive. Their light weight is also a boon to those who worry about getting every possible MPG from their RV.


These panels require a ton of space. RVs with enough usable open space on their roofs are few and far between, making amorphous solar panels an interesting but often unworkable solution.

Flexible Solar Panels

Flexible solar panels are much like amorphous panels, except these thin panels can bend easily to lay flat on curved surfaces.

flexible solar panel


If there were a more perfect solar panel to fit on the roof of an Airstream trailer, we’d yet to see one. These panels simply glue in place, accepting simple curves with ease while offering excellent power generation – all while using less silicon than any other type of solar panel.


Once in place, these panels are all but impossible to remove. Coupled with their significantly shorter lifespan of only a decade, they are a poor choice if you plan to use your RV for decades to come.

Also, since flexible solar panels adhere directly to the surface of your RV, there’s no air gap to insulate your RV from the heat produced by the panels – which can get rather uncomfortable on warm days.

Mounting Solar Panels To Your RV

All solar panel types (barring flexible panels) use rack systems to mount to your RV’s roof. You can choose between two basic types of mounting systems – static and adjustable.

Static mounts hold your panels parallel to the roof and offer the best performance with the sun directly overhead.

Adjustable racks give you the option of tilting your panels for optimum effect. They can also let you flip your panels out of the way when you need to access your roof surface for maintenance.

rv at the forest

While most solar panels are rated against hail and even careful steps across their surfaces, it’s good to remember that they are still made of glass (think of smartphone glass).

Should they crack? No. But it happens often enough that taking care with your panels is a good idea, and walking on them is best avoided.

Taking The Next Step With RV Solar Panels

Once you have your panels secured to your RV’s roof, it’s time to bring their power into your RV. This process, done right, will give you the freedom to park anywhere there is sunlight and enjoy the comforts of any modern home. Do it wrong, and you’ll endure a nightmare of inconsistent power and water leaks where you can least afford them to be.

Follow here Link to solar panel wiring article to learn more about wiring your new RV solar panel system and join the boondocking life.