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Solar Panels for RV Battery Charging – 8 Quick & Easy FAQs

| Updated Mar 2, 2021

Answers to your most frequently asked questions about solar panels for RV battery charging.

As many of you know, I’ve had solar panels on my RV for a long time now. So, it’s not surprising that I get asked a lot of questions regarding them. 

I felt it was fitting to take some time and answer the most common questions I receive about solar panels for RV battery charging. These are in no particular order, but here we go: 

1. How do Solar Panels Work?

Solar panels convert energy from the sun to usable power and electricity. RV solar panels for RV battery charging are growing in popularity.

For more technical details, check out my article How Solar Panels Work.

2. How effective are solar panels for RV battery charging?

The answer to this question will vary, as it will depend on the circumstances. 

The effectiveness depends on the number of panels you have, the amount of watts each can produce, and the amount of sunlight they're exposed to. 

If you do your homework, you can buy the right system of solar panels for RV battery charging and not have to worry about getting stranded without energy.

3. How do RV solar panels charge in cloudy weather?

This is another one of those “circumstances.” RV solar panels have many benefits; however, perhaps the biggest downfall is that they don’t charge well in cloudy weather. 

I’m not saying they don’t work at all; I’m just saying they won't produce the same amount they would in full sunlight. 

Usually, you can just minimize your energy usage and be fine. However, some RV destinations, especially in the North, have limited sunshine at certain times of the year. In those cases, it helps to have an RV generator on hand. 

Solar panels do their best when the sun is directly overhead.

Here is a great resource of the Best 30 Amp Generator Reviews.

4. How do you clean RV solar panels?

Solar Panels for RV Battery Charging - 8 Quick & Easy FAQs 1

We use solar panels for RV battery charging, and we seldom have to clean them. Ran usually takes care of any dirt or debris that accumulates. Though, be sure to refer to your specific manufacturer recommendations.

Dirt doesn't affect solar panels as much as you might think. Research has shown that even in California, where they go months without rain, you’ll only see a 3% to 5% reduction in yields. 

The best part is that solar panels pretty much take care of themselves. However, when you do clean them, make sure to be very careful because if you scratch one, it can affect the panel’s integrity. 

When I clean my solar panels, I use a seven-foot ladder to get up there and just run a stream of clear water over them to loosen the dirt. 

After they’ve been hosed off, I wipe them down with a terrycloth rag, and they are good to go for another six months or so. 

5. Does hail damage solar panels?

The short answer is yes. 

However, most manufacturers certify their panels to withstand hail that’s up to an inch in diameter that falls at 50 miles per hour. 

Keep in mind that this is just a general statement; you’ll need to see your own type of panels’ ratings.

If the hail is very small and not falling hard, then your panels will be fine. In fact, you’d be surprised how resilient they are against heavy rain and high winds. 

6. What are framed solar panels?

Rigid or framed solar panels are firmly fixed and hard. They are what most people think of when they picture solar panels for RVs. 

These are constructed using aluminum frames and glass panes. So, if you’re looking for solar panels for RV battery charging, framed panels are a popular option. They withstand harsh weather and have a high resistance to extreme heat. 

The downsides to fixed panels include are added weight to your rig, some consider them eyesores, and they can be tricky to mount around antennas, AC units, and other items on your roof. 

Furthermore, they are made from glass which can break. So, you have to be careful in low clearance areas because these panels do stick up above the roof. 

7. What are flexible solar panels?

Flexible panels are a great option when shopping for solar panels for RV battery charging. They are also known as thin-film panels and are the newest type to hit the market. 

Most people like this type because they are extremely lightweight, and you can install more of them in larger spaces without adding weight to your rig. 

This type of panel is still made from silicon, but they are made from far less and are still able to generate the same amounts of energy as with rigid panels. 

These panels are usually installed right onto the RV roof; thus, some people prefer them because they’re sleeker and blend in better. 

It’s also worth noting that some companies will tell you it’s okay to walk across flexible panels; this is not true. Doing so can actually cause them to develop small cracks under pressure. This will not only reduce the power output, but it also shortens their life. 

Some say another consideration with this type of solar panel is the heat buildup. You can combat this by leaving more space between each panel, but they note that your RV can be a hot place in the summer if you don’t. Personally, we've had no such issues.

Finally, these panels are glued directly to the roof of your RV, so they can be difficult to remove if you decide to replace them. 

8. Should I get solar panels for RV battery charging?

In the end, solar power is a great option for weekenders and full-time RVers, and especially boondockers! They can free you from noisy and less environmentally-friendly generators, plus give you more freedom on the road.

Just be sure to choose the right solar panels for RV battery charging for your particular rig and needs. Taking the time to research and determine your needs will ensure you produce the right amount of power to keep you charged and rearing to go!

Do You Use Solar Panels for RV Battery Charging?

Share in the comments what solar system you use, and if you're happy with your investment!

Solar Panels for RV Battery Charging - 8 Quick & Easy FAQs 2
We love camping season!

Curious about the gear, gadgets, accessories, and RV products Mike & Jennifer use and recommend?

On this RV Lifestyle Travel blog, our RV Podcast, and our RV Lifestyle YouTube Channel, we mention all sorts of RV-related products and gear that we use, So we created special page links to them. We update this all the time.  CLICK HERE to go to it directly. 

Mike Wendland

Published on 2021-03-02

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

16 Responses to “Solar Panels for RV Battery Charging – 8 Quick & Easy FAQs”

November 01, 2023at3:00 pm, Retta Mills said:

I have an RV that is fully solar.. The shore line charges the solar and the unit runs constantly off the batteries.

March 23, 2023at9:39 pm, bill allen allen said:

Be careful of the load applied when solar panels are being used. Several times in good sun when using DC for the frig, laptop, and interior lights, the load exceeded the 10 amp fuse in the dual solar panel circuit.

March 24, 2023at8:37 am, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Thank you for the tip – Team RV Lifestyle

June 05, 2021at5:23 am, Best RV Battery For Boondocking (2021) - 2boomersandababy said:

[…] That concludes our list for the best RV battery for boondocking! You may also want to check out Solar Panels for RV Battery Charging- 8 Quick & Easy FAQs. […]

March 08, 2021at10:14 am, John LaVake said:

My 1998 Roadtrek sits in a storage lot for months. I put solar panels on primarily to keep up the engine battery and house battery during storage times. I installed a regulator that charges the two batteries independently. It works very well.

March 02, 2021at11:22 pm, Gus van Driel said:

Thank you Al. Good advice, I hadn’t thought of that.

March 02, 2021at10:07 pm, Susan Shaver said:

I am so surprised you didn’t mention inverters and then batteries to store the solar power! Solar Panels alone are not helpful.

March 07, 2021at1:54 pm, bill w said:

“not helpful” is a rather binary answer… it really all depends on the user. some require more AC power then others, some less. the more 12VDC appliances you have, the more solar could help. Right now it just keeps my batteries topped off while in storage; when i hit the open road i will upgrade to a second 100 watt panel for a bit more battery help.
Cleaning mine really helped more than i expected – they were quite filthy.
(your mileage may vary)

March 02, 2021at5:00 pm, Al Grosser said:

Be aware that car wash wax is designed to block UV-B light to protect your vehicles finish. Unfortunately it will also effect the light getting through to your solar panels. This is especially true for vans that can fit in a standard car wash or if you go through a truck wash. Make sure you don’t have wax applied to your solar panels.

March 02, 2021at10:28 pm, Gus van Driel said:

That’s a great comment Al. I had not thought about that.

March 02, 2021at12:00 pm, Cary Alburn said:

Solar panels are beneficial, but in RV use, they are simply a battery charger. In many ways, they have been oversold in the RV market, as if they’re a cure for wasting electrical energy. The typical RV panel is 95-100 watts, which is only about 7 amps at high noon on June 21st in southern Arizona. Any other day, any other time, any other place, their output will be less. Park under trees, and they’ll do next to nothing. Compared to the stock alternator of almost any vehicle (85 to 180 amps, with some available to 250 amps), that’s a drop in the bucket. Even if the RV’s roof has room for 6 panels, that’s only 42 amps at best.

Do they work? Yes. I’m happy with the two solar panels on my PleasureWay Ascent’s roof. They’re a definite benefit. But it’s still necessary to be conservative with electrical use. Unless hooked to shore power, an RV’s electrical system cannot be used like one uses a house’s electrical system.

March 02, 2021at11:27 am, Ned said:

I have 2 40 watt panels. Should I hook one up to the main battery and the other to the house battery?

March 08, 2021at10:20 am, John LaVake said:

I hooked up a regulator that can charge two batteries independently. When one is fully charged, it switches all charging to the other battery. Works very well.

March 02, 2021at11:00 am, Jeffrey S Oja said:

Another blog on the use of portable solar panels would be helpful.

March 02, 2021at9:16 am, Janene Duffy said:

Where do you recommend getting the solar installed in Southeast Michigan? What else will I need to make them useful for a 50 amp fifth wheel with two air conditioners and other typical electrical devices? Do you recommend getting them professionally installed?

Thank you!

March 02, 2021at7:12 am, Tim Grinwis said:

Where do you recommend getting the solar installed in Southwest Michigan? What else will I need to make them useful for a 50 amp fifth wheel with two air conditioners and other typical electrical devices? Do you recommend getting them professionally installed?

Thank you!

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