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Flexible solar panels campervan. SunPower 110W Flexible Solar Panel

Flexible solar panels campervan. SunPower 110W Flexible Solar Panel

    Best Solar Panels for Camper Van Conversion and RV

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    Solar panels and an electrical system for our DIY camper van conversion take van life from merely surviving in the vehicle to, dare we say it, living in luxury.

    There’s a lot of info out there on the different types of solar panels. We think this post will help you decide which panels to buy after you digest the technical info.

    We must first define our needs and priorities for the panels:

    • Effective panels that work with no faults and minimal maintenance
    • Cost efficient, no reason to pay more than we need to
    • Long life span, as evidenced by long manufacturer warranty
    • Minimally visible, maximally stealthy.

    We give you background and how-to info so you can make an informed buying decision. Our guides are based on technical research and practical experience building our van on a budget, and now living in our van full-time. If you’re already savvy, or just want the recommendations.

    Our Favorite Flexible and Rigid Solar Panels for Van RV

    Our Favorite Flexible Solar Panel

    Renogy 175 watt 12v Flexible Monocrystalline Panel

    Flexible solar panels are easier to install, lighter weight, and stealthier. They are pricier at about 450.60 per watt, and about 9% larger. If we did our conversion again, we would go for these flexible panels. Reports are that flexible panels can have very short (less than 3 years) lifespans in very hot areas. This is because they can overheat since there is no airflow due to their flush mounting. In milder areas lifespan is 5-10 years. BUT, they still have a 25-year power output warranty.

    (get 10% off all Renogy items with our link and promo code. Search item “175DB”)

    Our Favorite Rigid Solar Panel

    Rigid solar panels are cheaper than flexible panels and may have a longer life span. Our recommendation of these panels by Hightec Solar might be off the beaten track. Their pricing is about

    Are Solar Panel “Kits” Worth It?

    Many manufacturers sell Solar Panel Kits that include panel(s), a charge controller, and a couple cables.

    • Solar Panel
    • 30 Amp “Wanderer” PWM Charge Controller
    • 20ft 10AWG MC4 Adaptor Kit
    • 8ft 10AWG Tray Cable
    • MC4 Branch Connector
    • Mounting Brackets

    Kits are only a better value if you actually want the components they are supplied with!

    Select the right Solar Charge Controller for your panels. Check our Guide to Solar Charge Controllers →

    Here’s why we don’t recommend solar panel kits:

    flexible, solar, panels, campervan, panel
    • Solar kits rarely a meaningful discount compared to buying the components individually.
    • Kits are often sold with inferior PWM Charge Controllers, compared to MPPT Charge Controllers which deliver about 10-20% more power (source). For us, that additional solar output with an MPPT Controller is worth the extra cost, since it doesn’t require any extra panels or wiring.
    • The cabling included with kits is not necessary what you’ll need. The wire lengths might be wrong. The gauge and lug size of the tray cable, which connects to the battery, might not be right for your system. The cables with the kit wouldn’t have worked for us (gauge was too small)!

    .92/watt compared to about 450.30/watt from Renogy. While they are not a name brand, they have over 14,000 positive feedback on eBay (they aren’t on Amazon), and offer a 25 year warranty. We are very happy with the panels, they are sturdy and output the advertised power. The shipment arrived safely in a few days. We were stoked to come across this deal, and are happy to recommend them.

    Update: Two years after purchase, and the panels are still producing strong!

    Are Rigid or Flexible Solar Panels Better?

    Let’s educate ourselves before jumping into lists of panels to choose from!

    If we could do our van conversion over again (and maybe we will. someday), we would choose flexible solar panels. Rigid solar panels, being cheaper, are an easy choice for large fixed solar installations like a house rooftop. For a vehicle with unique installation difficulties and where every pound matters, the extra cost is worth it with cheaper/easier installation, and improved gas mileage. Comparing Renogy’s 175w rigid vs. 175w flexible panel, the flexible is about 15% more expensive.

    flexible, solar, panels, campervan, panel

    Advantages of Flexible Solar Panels

    Easier to Install – VHB tape or adhere to the roof and forget it

    Lighter Weight – 6 pounds vs 26 pounds

    Stealthier – can’t hurt, right?

    Advantages of Rigid Solar Panels

    Cheaper – compared to flexible panels, rigid are about 25% cheaper from Renogy, 40% cheaper from Hightec Solar

    efficient – rigid panels are ~9% smaller for the same wattage output

    Longer life span – rigid panels get airflow underneath them, preventing overheating. Flexible panels can have very short (less than 3 years lifespans) in very hot areas. In milder areas lifespan is 5-10 years. BUT, flexible panels still have 25 year warranties

    By the way, if you buy rigid panels, you’ll encounter a lot of potential ways to mount them. Check out our Guide to Mounting Solar Panels on the Camper Van where we run down the options and document our step-by-step mounting process.

    Getting Started with RV Solar

    It is imperative to have a general understanding of how solar panels work in a motor-van. You will need to understand the various types of solar panels, batteries, inverters, etc. You should also be able to understand and choose the most appropriate solar mounting method. It is highly advisable to read your solar equipment manuals before setting out to install the solar panels.

    The information should serve as a reference when installing your flexible solar panels, and refer to specific product manuals for detailed instructions.

    Understanding the basic setup of an RV solar system

    By now, you would have devised your game-plan on how the installation would layout. You must get your wiring diagram ready, size your solar system, choose the right panel kit to work for you, and choose your batteries according to your estimated power consumption.

    Materials needed

    • 3M VHB double-sided tape 1″ width (check our best adhesives guide here)
    • MC-4 Multibranch Connector pair (To wire the panels in parallel with a PWM charge controller. Do not buy this if you have your panels connected in series.)
    • Right angle cable gland 3/8″
    • 15′ Extension Cable Pair with MC-4 Connectors 8AWG
    • Isopropyl alcohol
    • 3mm aluminum composite sandwich
    • layer of polyethylene
    • 3M Hi-Strength 90 Spray Adhesive
    • 30A MC4 Inline Fuse Holder Fuse
    • Renogy 30A ANL Fuse Holder with Fuse
    • Blue Sea Systems Blade Fuse Box with Negative Bus
    • 12V Lighter Socket Outlet
    • 18 AWG Red/Black Strand Wire (40ft)
    • Wiring (Red Black) with Ring Terminals
    • 16-14 Ring Terminals (100-pack)
    • 16-14 Female Quick Disconnects (100-pack)
    • Heat Shrink Butt Connectors Kit
    • Battery Cable (2 4 AWG, various lengths)
    • Rubber grommet kit
    • Primer
    • Solar Battery

    Attaching Flexible Solar Panels – Step by Step Guide

    Installing flexible solar panels without drilling holes, we apply a thin layer of clear all-purpose silicone on the bottom of each panel for added strength and security.

    You can opt for this method instead of using a strong adhesive, to be able to remove the panels in the future for maintenance or other reasons if needed.

    • Determine the location of the solar panels on the roof of your RV. Look for a flat and unobstructed area that receives maximum sunlight throughout the day.
    • Clean the area thoroughly to remove any dirt, debris, or grime that might interfere with the adhesion of the solar panels.
    • Measure the dimensions of the solar panels and mark the location of the mounting points on the roof of your RV using a pencil or marker.
    • Apply a layer of adhesive sealant to the marked areas on the roof of your RV. This will help create a strong and waterproof bond between the solar panels and the roof.
    • Carefully place the solar panels on the marked areas and press them down firmly to ensure good adhesion.
    • Secure the solar panels in place using mounting brackets or screws. Make sure the brackets are firmly attached to the roof and the solar panels.
    • Connect the solar panels to the charge controller using the provided cables. Make sure the cables are properly connected to the positive and negative terminals of the solar panels and the charge controller.
    • Connect the charge controller to the battery bank using the provided cables.
    • Test the system to make sure it is functioning properly. You should see a positive charge on your battery bank and a green light on your charge controller.
    • Enjoy your new solar-powered RV and the freedom it provides to travel off-grid and enjoy the great outdoors!

    Related Guide: How do solar panels work on a van? (an in depth look) How much solar do I need for my van? Best adhesives for flexible solar panels

    Step 1 – Preps.

    Place your solar panels in position on top of your van roof and measure your initial setup.

    With a marker pen, mark the positions of the cables and the general layout of the solar panels.

    It is imperative to cross-check all your initial mockups and know where your cables would run inside the van.

    Step 2 – Drill a hole for the cable outlet.

    Identify a location where you would run your solar leads through and drill a hole for it. Make it large enough to fit your grommet.

    Check that your cables are long enough to reach your solar charge controller easily. You don’t want any tension in them.

    To protect the cables from the drilled hole’s sharp edges, you need to add a grommet, thus waterproofing the van’s inside simultaneously. The hole should be the closest to the charge controller to avoid wire crisscrossing the van’s living space.

    It would help if you chose the perfect grommet that fits the hole size drilled and lets your cables go through without any issue.

    Step 3 – Apply a sealant to the holes to prevent water ingress into the van roof.

    You can use Sikaflex 151 Sealant to seal your grommet properly.

    Step 4 – Layout panels on the ground and verify electrical connections.

    This is the first part that should be done before installing solar panels as it gives you a general idea of the layout.

    Lay your panels on the ground and check if all attachments are there. By doing so, you can connect the panels in your desired orientation, parallel, or series connections. You can gather your solar panels in the exact position you planned and ensure everything works before putting them on your roof.

    You should be familiar with wiring options for your solar modules, parallel or series, and the resulting voltage from such connections. This is important to note as some connection combinations have a bearing on the solar panels’ rated output.

    Make one final system check. You also want to have all your tool ready and your equipment organized in the best possible manner to have a smooth installation process.

    Video Walk-Through

    Solar Panels are a crucial element for anyone desiring to live off the grid. It’s the same for van life. If you say freedom, we say solar power! A system like the one we described lets you power your appliances (fan, lights, 12V fridge, etc.) and charge your batteries with either your solar panels, alternator, or shore.

    When installing solar power on your RV or trailer, you have two options—you can bring your rig to the pros, or you can bite the bullet and DIY.

    We’re not going to lie—installing a solar system can seem overwhelming. Unless you’re willing to dig into your system’s particulars, do the research, and diligently read the instructions that come with your solar kit, you probably shouldn’t attempt it at home.

    However, we trust that anyone can do it. You need to be motivated and organized.

    Here are some of my favorite van build tools:

    Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful as you build your own campervan. Here are some tools that I use daily while living on the road that made my life easier. I hope you’ll also find them as useful as me. These are affiliate links, so if you do decide to purchase any of them, I’ll earn a commission.But in all honesty, these are the exact tools that I use and recommend to everyone, even my closest friends and family.

    Electricity: When I first started my van life journey, I was using the Renogy 200W RV Kit, and I’ve recently upgraded my setup to the Renogy 400W RV Kit. I’m fully autonomous regarding power now, thanks to this upgrade. I don’t know why I didn’t choose this option from the beginning.

    Quick Fixes: Whenever I need to fix something inside my van, I use my multitool from Victorinox. It’s compact and comes with a leather pouch that lets you store it wherever you want. Whenever I need more tools, I get my Cartmann toolset out.

    Power tools: If you’re converting a van, you’ll need some serious tools for the building process. I can assure you, good power tools can make a huge difference. You’ll save time and avoid a lot of frustration while having some professional-looking final results. I personally went big with the full combo set from DeWALT.

    To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations about van build, check out this resource that I made for you!

    Most Efficient Flexible Solar Panel for RV Buyer’s Guide

    Rig owners are constantly worrying about how they’re going to get enough energy for their RVs. One solution to this issue would be investing in a solar power system. But you need the right parts to ensure your solar system’s effectiveness.

    As you might expect, solar panels are a vital component in your rig’s solar system. Rig owners tend to prefer flexible options rather than rigid as they’re better suited for off-the-grid living. The following discussions will show you what to look for when buying these types of panels.

    Buying the best flexible solar panels for RV can be a tricky process due to the dangerous situation subpar options can cause. As a result, buyers should always look to purchase choices made from high-quality materials.

    The lower-priced, less durable products will tempt some buyers, but these options aren’t going to meet your expectations. These models will likely lead to a replacement in only a few months.

    I should also mention that flexible solar panels are classified into two variations based on the manufacturing stage materials. I’ll discuss both below to ensure you have a better idea about which type works better for your needs.

    Thin Film Solar Panels

    A good starting point would be understanding that the solar cell, or photovoltaic cell, is an electrical device capable of converting light energy into electricity. On thin-film solar panels, these photovoltaic materials are set onto the body’s surface.

    It’s also worth noting that thin-film panels contain layers, which are about 300 times smaller than those on silicon solar models. This thinner construction makes them more efficient and flexible. These products are even somewhat bendable and rollable.

    In fact, the material can be set on many surfaces, including glass, metals, and fabrics. These thin-film panels end up being a lightweight, durable option, making them much easier to use and store.

    Crystalline Silicon Solar Panels

    The second type of panels is much more commonplace in today’s market. You’ll find these panels are made with two materials, polycrystalline and monocrystalline. At first, both of them were considered too thick to have any flexibility.

    But manufacturers figured out a way to create some flexibility without losing their photovoltaic capabilities. It was a simple matter of cutting them into significantly thinner slices. The result was a top-tier flexible solar panel perfect for curved surfaces, such as RV roofs.

    As most rig owners know, flexible panels have a specific issue when it comes to durability. These panels tend to last less than their counterparts. For instance, a regular glass solar panel can last 25 years, while a flexible model only stays effective for about four years.

    But what they lack in lifespan comes with an improvement in other areas like adaptability. This durability issue should implore rig owners to look for options with higher lifespans. Most manufacturers will put info about their longevity in their descriptions. Some brands even guarantee a 5-year lifespan or money back.

    Your panel’s efficiency will depend on many factors, but the most vital is its charging efficiency. It’s necessary to examine and read up on this aspect before making a final choice. This action is the only way to ensure your chosen model will charge energy effectively and quickly.

    I would suggest reading through the customer reviews for each option. These flexible solar panels review sections should provide some much-needed insight on their performance. It’s an easy way to determine whether an option is capable of meeting your expectations.

    Additional Features

    You’ll have to make some decisions when it comes to your chosen model’s features. For instance, a buyer who wants a more adaptable panel that can fit onto many surfaces should buy thin-film panels. But buyers looking for a more durability option should consider crystalline silicon types.

    On the other hand, some rig owners might find themselves looking for models with high-probability. Built-in protection against weather conditions is another high-valued extra feature. The price of these products will have an impact on your decision, as well.

    It’s essential to consider all these factors before buying your perfect flexible solar panel. These little details will go a long way in ensuring you’ve made the right choice for your rig’s solar system.

    Flexible Solar Panel FAQs

    Our FAQ section will attempt to answer any questions left uncovered by the previous section. It should fill in the remaining information gaps to ensure you make a Smart buying decision. After reading it, there’s no reason to believe you’ll still wonder what option fits your needs.

    Who is this for?

    Before a person understands who these products will benefit, they need to know how they work. Flexible solar panels function by gathering up green energy through a method called the solar photovoltaic process.

    This process is different from what you’d expect from a standard solar panel used on a regular household. In fact, flexible solar panels are made to be lightweight, which ensures they’re easy to store and transport when traveling.

    You can also expect them to be durable because of their off-the-grid usage. These panels will face many elements and terrains, which bring forth different challenges: temperature changes, dangerous weather, and bumpy roads.

    Each of these challenges can directly impact your solar panels, such as causing problems with its energy gathering process. As a result, flexible solar panels have built-in protections to avoid these issues from occurring.

    Aside from their ability to survive off-the-grid living, these panels represent a solution to a rig owner’s primary concern. It provides a way to have a stable energy supply for your equipment and devices regardless of where you intend to travel.

    Best flexible solar panels end up being perfect for RV owners who intend on traveling in off-grid locations. It’s a simple way to ensure these rig owners always have the energy needed for their various devices and applications.

    Advantages and disadvantages of using flexible solar panels for RV

    Several benefits come from purchasing flexible solar panels. I’m going to discuss some of them below to ensure you understand why buying them might be Smart. I’ll also talk about one disadvantage or two.

    But let’s start on a positive note with the advantages. After all, it’d be wise to figure out whether flexible solar panels are a good option before worrying about their downfalls.

    The most obvious advantage comes right from their name, flexibility, as these models are significantly more flexible than rigid options. But what you might not know is this flexibility isn’t only about their bending ability. Flexible solar panels are also flexible when it comes to how and where you can use them.

    On the other hand, the standard metal-backed solar panels are usually installed rather than set up. These devices need a reliable framework and some type of mounting solution (semi-permanent or permanent).

    In comparison, flexible solar panels don’t, which makes them perfect for an RVing situation. After all, these panels can be set up on the ground and bungeed to a tent or RV. This flexibility makes them versatile and useful when traveling.

    Lightweight Constructions

    As I mentioned earlier, flexible solar panels will be lighter and thinner than a standard rigid model. A 100W flexible model will be nearly 70% lighter and 95% thinner, which is more suitable for an RVing lifestyle.

    Certain RV roofs might have issues bearing the weight of a traditional solar panel. This is where having ones with a flexible design come to your benefit. After all, nobody wants to pay for roof repairs.

    Rigid solar panels are considered portable, but these models are much harder to move than flexible options. You can even stack flexible planes in your rig’s storage space and take them out when needed.

    This benefit allows RV owners to set them up at their campsite, lay them out on the ground next to your rig, or hang them from a rack or hook. As a result, you won’t have to move your motorhome when trying to follow the optimal angle and sun’s position.

    Ease of Installation

    Flexible solar panels have an easy installation process because they can be placed in many different locations. On the other hand, rigid solar panels would only offer one option, bolting them down to a surface.

    This sole option would be excellent for homes and other permanent installation situations. But RVs are always on the move, which would make this permanent placement problematic. Therefore, flexible solar panels tend to come with metal grommets on their edges.

    You can use these grommets to secure the panel onto almost any surface. For instance, you can hang them from your rig with hooks, use a rope to tie them onto the roof or dangle them from a conveniently located pole or tree.

    Honestly, these devices are so light and thin that moving isn’t much of an issue. It makes finding the perfect placement for your flexible solar panel much easier and less taxation. In other words, this task won’t end up being a workout.


    After reading this article, finding the best flexible solar panels for RV shouldn’t be too difficult. It’s a simple matter of using what you’ve learned, and the right choice should become clear. There’s nothing more to it.

    These new solar panels will then become an excellent energy source for your travels. But if any question comes up, feel free to use our comment section. I’ll make sure to answer any post as soon as possible.

    Do Flexible Solar Panels Overheat?

    There’s a notable difference in the likelihood of overheating when considering flexible solar panels vs. rigid. However, this is primarily due to the way you mount each type. Flexible solar panels tend to lie flat against the surface they adhere to, exposing them to this radiated heat in addition to their own heat from sun exposure.

    On the other hand, the more substantial mounting hardware required to use rigid panels also raises them and allows airflow to cool the bottom of the panels. This typically results in less common overheating. Of course, flexible panels can also take advantage of this cooling if mounted with space. This removes one of their primary benefits: the ability to conform to any shape with a low profile.

    How Much Do Flexible Solar Panels Weigh?

    Most flexible solar panels weigh roughly four to five lbs each, with different models varying slightly within this range. That’s far less than traditional panels, which usually weigh between 30 and 50 lbs. This difference can really add up, especially for mobile solar setups or systems with many panels. Therefore, when considering flexible solar panels vs. rigid, those looking for lightweight solutions should opt for flexible ones.

    Mounting methods will vary from brand to brand, but the easiest models like our flexible Battle Born energy kits may already have adhesive tape on the back. This leaves owners to simply peel off the protective backing and stick the panel wherever they want it.

    In other cases, you’ll need double-sided tape you apply yourself. Alternatives include Velcro-style adhesives for those who want to remove their panels occasionally. Some have also had success gluing panels to mounting surfaces. Take care to avoid long-term damage to the object you attach the panels too if you opt for this.

    Finally, you can attach some flexible solar panels like traditional panels by screwing them into the mounting surface, either directly or with additional mounting hardware. This versatility is one of the flexible solar panels’ most significant advantages.

    How Do I Choose Between Flexible Solar Panels vs. Rigid?

    The choice of flexible solar panels vs. rigid ones is a personal one that requires a careful assessment of a few factors. These include not only your power needs but also your panel location and, of course, your budget.

    It’s crucial to remember the downsides. Flexible panels will cost more than rigid ones, have lower power generation efficiency, and likely need to be replaced sooner. Despite all this, flexible panels can be an excellent choice for those who need to install them in unusually shaped places or who require low-profile panels for mobile use. This is, perhaps, their most valuable feature as it allows many uses that wouldn’t be possible with traditional panels. Those looking to build, expand, or update a personal solar power system should consider all these factors to help them understand whether flexible panels are right for them.

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