Portable Solar Panels Or Installing a Fixed System?

Last Updated on February 13, 2024

Key Takeaways:

  • Portable or fixed solar system: it all boils down to your unique requirements, budget, and personal preferences.
  • Determining Power Output: RV solar systems’ power generation (200-1000 watts/hour) depends on panel size, efficiency, sunlight, and appliance consumption.
  • Calculating Power Needs List appliance wattages and daily usage to size the solar system, adding extra capacity for variability.
  • Portable vs. Fixed Systems: Portables offer flexibility but require setup; fixed systems are always ready but need installation and roof space.
  • Types of Solar Panels: Monocrystalline, polycrystalline, thin-film, and amorphous panels vary in efficiency, cost, and suitability.
  • Cost Considerations: Solar system costs range from $1,000 to $10,000+ depending on size, quality, and installation complexity, plus professional fees if needed.
  • Benefits of Solar Power: Despite upfront costs, solar systems offer energy savings, self-sufficiency, and eco-friendliness, making them a wise choice for RV owners.

The power output of a solar system for an RV is determined by multiple factors. Among them, the size and efficiency of the solar panels, the amount of sunlight available, and the power consumption of the RV’s appliances are the most significant.

On average, an RV solar system can generate between 200 watts to 1000 watts of power per hour. This is sufficient to run basic appliances such as lights, water pumps, and small electronic devices. However, if you intend to use more significant appliances like air conditioners or refrigerators, you would need a more substantial solar system with additional panels and a higher-capacity battery bank to store the energy. To ensure your power requirements are met, it is crucial to assess your energy needs and choose a solar system accordingly.

How Do I Calculate My Power Needs?

To accurately determine the power requirements of your RV, the first step is to make a comprehensive list of all the electrical appliances and devices you plan to use. This includes everything from lights, furnaces, TVs, water pumps, slides, and any other appliances or devices that will require electricity.

Once you have a list of appliances, you need to determine the wattage required to run each appliance or device. You can usually find this information in the owner’s manual or on the device itself.

Next, estimate the number of hours you plan to use each appliance or device per day. This step is crucial in determining how much power you will need to generate every day.

For instance, if your refrigerator requires 120 watts to operate, and you plan to use it for 8 hours per day, you will need to generate at least 960 watts daily (120 watts x 8 hours).

After calculating the total wattage for all your appliances and devices, you can use this information to determine the size of the solar system required to generate enough power to meet your needs. However, it’s recommended to add some extra capacity to your solar system to account for cloudy days or any other factors that might impact the efficiency of your solar panels.

Portable solar panels or installing a fixed system?

When deciding between a portable solar panel and a fixed solar system for your RV, it all boils down to your unique requirements, budget, and personal preferences. If you’re unsure which option is ideal for your RV, it’s advisable to consult an RV solar consultant to get professional advice and assistance in selecting the most appropriate solar setup.

Here are some advantages and disadvantages of both portable and fixed solar systems:

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Portable RV Solar System Setup

If you’re looking for flexibility in capturing sunlight and don’t have space for a fixed solar system on your RV roof, portable and foldable solar panels can be a great alternative.

Portable solar panels are usually made up of one or more solar panels mounted on a frame that can be easily transported and set up wherever needed. They can be connected to your RV’s battery bank using a charge controller and cables.

One significant advantage of using portable solar panels is their adjustability, which allows you to optimize their position for maximum sun exposure throughout the day, leading to increased efficiency. Additionally, you can easily store and transport them when not in use, which helps protect them from damage and theft.

However, there are also some drawbacks to using portable solar panels. They may take up more space in your RV when not in use, and you’ll need to set them up and take them down each time you use them, which can be inconvenient. Portable solar panels may also have lower efficiency than a fixed solar system since they are typically smaller and may not be able to generate as much power.


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  • Portable solar panels offer flexibility as they can be easily moved around to capture sunlight at different angles and positions.
  • They can be stored and transported with ease, taking up minimal space when not in use.
  • Additional panels can be added to increase power output, and the system can be expanded as per your needs.
  • You can start with a smaller solar panel setup and later add more panels as required.
  • Portable solar panels are often less expensive than fixed solar systems.
  • They are versatile and can be used for other purposes like camping and powering other vehicles.


  • Portable solar panels require more setup and take-down time as compared to fixed systems.
  • They may occupy more storage space inside the RV.
  • Portable solar panels may not be as efficient as fixed solar systems as they are typically smaller.
  • They may not be as durable as fixed solar systems.
  • Regular monitoring and adjustment of panels are required to maximize their output.
  • Additional cables or adapters may be necessary to connect the panels to the RV’s battery bank.


Scott Solar Setup on RV

Fixed RV Solar System Setup

A fixed solar power system is a widely preferred and efficient option for RV owners who want to have a dependable source of solar energy. A fixed solar system is usually composed of one or more solar panels mounted on the roof of the RV, complete with a charge controller and cables that link the panels to the RV’s battery bank. The panels are attached to the roof using brackets and screws, which can be sealed to prevent water leaks.

The primary advantage of a fixed solar system is that the panels are always set up and ready to use. This implies that there is no need to worry about the setup and dismantling of portable solar panels each time you use your RV, which can be a laborious and inconvenient process. Moreover, fixed solar panels are often more efficient than portable ones because they can be larger and more powerful.

However, installing a fixed solar system requires some planning and preparation. You must ensure that your RV roof can withstand the weight of the solar panels, and you must locate an appropriate position for the charge controller and wiring. Additionally, you may need to drill holes in your RV roof to secure the panels and run cables, which can be a challenging task for some RV owners.

If you’re not comfortable with the installation process or have limited roof space on your RV, a portable solar system may be a better option. Nevertheless, if you want to have a reliable and efficient source of solar power for your RV, a fixed solar system can be a great choice.


  • A fixed solar system is always in place and ready to use.
  • They tend to be more efficient than portable solar systems.
  • They are more durable and require less maintenance than a portable solar system.
  • They can increase the resale value of your RV.
  • Fixed solar systems can be customized to meet your specific power needs.
  • They may come with warranties and technical support from the manufacturer.


  • They are typically more expensive than a portable solar system.
  • They cannot be moved around to optimize sun exposure.
  • Installation can be difficult or impossible for some RV owners.
  • Installation may require drilling holes in the roof of the RV.
  • Fixed solar systems may increase the height of your RV, making it harder to drive under low-hanging branches or bridges.
  • They may not be suitable for all RV models or sizes.

Types Of Solar Panels

RV solar systems can utilize various types of solar panels, each with its own unique advantages and drawbacks.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels:

Pros: The most efficient type of solar panel, generating more power per square foot than other types, and can work effectively in low light conditions.

Cons: More costly than other panel types, can be fragile, and may not perform optimally in high temperatures.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels:

Pros: More affordable than monocrystalline panels, with lower manufacturing costs, and performs well in high temperatures with a long lifespan.

Cons: Lower efficiency than monocrystalline panels, and larger in size than other types of panels.

Thin-Film Solar Panels:

Pros: Lightweight, flexible, and can be installed on curved surfaces, and performs well in low light conditions with a long lifespan.

Cons: Less efficient than other types of solar panels, may degrade over time, and more susceptible to damage.

Amorphous Solar Panels:

Pros: Performs well in low light conditions, is lightweight, flexible, and can be installed on curved surfaces.

Cons: Less efficient than other types of solar panels, can degrade over time, and may be more expensive than other panel types.

The selection of the ideal solar panel for an RV solar system depends on a variety of factors, including your specific needs and priorities. If efficiency is your top priority and you have a larger budget, then monocrystalline panels may be the most suitable option for you. In contrast, if you’re looking for a more cost-effective alternative, polycrystalline panels could be a good choice. If you require a lightweight and flexible solar panel option, thin-film and amorphous panels may be ideal. It’s crucial to consider your power requirements, budget, and the amount of available installation space while selecting the most appropriate solar panels for your RV.

How much does it cost to install a solar system in an RV?

The price tag for installing a solar system in your RV may vary considerably based on several factors. These may include the size and type of the solar system, the level of installation complexity, and the specific components used.

A basic solar system for your RV can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 on average, depending on the quality of the components and the size of the system. This may comprise one or more solar panels, cables, a battery bank, a charge controller, and any mounting hardware that may be necessary.

If you’re planning to install a more extensive or complicated solar system, then the cost can significantly increase. For instance, a high-end solar system with top-quality components, larger solar panels, and multiple batteries can cost $10,000 or even more.

Aside from the cost of the components, you may also need to factor in the cost of professional installation if you’re not confident in installing the system yourself. The installation fees can vary considerably based on the complexity of the installation and the rates charged by the installer.

While the cost of setting up a solar system in your RV can be a substantial investment, it can offer several benefits such as energy savings, self-sufficiency, and an environmentally-friendly option. Before making a decision, it’s important to carefully evaluate your energy requirements and budget and to seek advice from a professional installer or solar expert to assist you in choosing the ideal components and system size for your RV.

Last update on 2024-05-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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