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RV Solar 101: Solar Panels

How they work. Solar panels are made up of individual solar cells that convert sunlight into energy. That energy comes in the form of direct current (DC) electricity, which is used to charge and replenish your RV’s batteries. Typically, several panels are joined together, creating a ‘solar array.’

What to look for. There are three common types of solar panels — amorphous, monocrystalline, and polycrystalline.

While amorphous panels are the least expensive, they are the least efficient and take up the most room. They can also lose up to 30 percent of the power-generating capabilities in their first year—they actually degrade when exposed to sunlight!

Polycrystalline panels take up roughly half the space to produce the same power as their amorphous counterparts, however, they can vary widely in quality. Look for panels with the highest rated wattage for their size. A smaller footprint means a more efficient panel.

While monocrystalline panels are also available with different grades of cells, they are almost always more efficient than poly panels. They also typically last longer, making them the wallet-friendly choice.

Rigid versus flexible panels

Rigid panels are more commonly used than flexible panels. Rigid panels are made with tempered glass, are very durable, and typically come with much longer warranty periods.

Flexible panels are usually reserved for specialty applications — when the panels need to be molded to curved surfaces, or when where there are height/weight constraints. While flex panels may be up to 80 percent lighter than rigid panels, they are much more susceptible to damage.

For cost, durability, and warranty length, it’s tough to beat the value of rigid glass panels.

Buying tips

  • Don’t be tempted by cheap panels. They are usually made with a lot of cut cells—they may be cheaper but they’re less efficient. Full, complete solar cells perform better and are worth the additional cost.
  • Watch out for manufacturer claims of wattage output. The best manufacturers will provide a minimum output for their panels, as opposed to maximum output. Always ask your seller to document their panel output range (plus/minus percent).
Solar Panel Comparison


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