From my own experience as a campervan owner I can only confirm that investing in a solar system is money well spent.
We need electrical power, whether it's for lights, music or to charge your laptop and other devices. If you spend a lot of time off-the-grid, you will need to find a way to charge your batteries to keep you going.
You can do so by using a portable power generator or running your RV's engine (provided you have a charging system in place). However, both methods have disadvantages. They both require fuel, and if you don't need to drive, it may seem a waste of energy to start your engine just to charge the batteries.
Solar panels generate electricity by absorbing sun's rays. That means you can charge your batteries on a sunny day, which you can later use as the sun sets.
They can be a great source of energy, but it's important to understand that their performance is affected by external conditions. For example, they won't be of much use on a cloudy day or when you park your RV under a tree.
Also, in winter the sun is much lower on the horizon, and stays there for fewer hours each day (in northern hemisphere). That means that if you want to RV full-time, you are likely to need other sources of energy.
Let's start with the panels. They come in different shapes and sizes, from a small panel that will charge your smartphone's battery, to a complete off-grid PV (photovoltaic) system for your home.
Two main types available are mono- and polycrystalline. Monocrystalline panels are more efficient, offer more output per space. Polycrystalline panels are cheaper.
Battery pack. Although using solar panels alone is entirely possible for some applications, you will need your batteries to store the energy generated by the panels.
Solar charge controller. There are two main types - cheaper PWM controllers and more efficient MPPT controllers, which can get more power out of similarly-sized panels in most conditions.
Power Inverter. You will need one (or two, for different loads), as long as you want to use any AC devices, e.g. your laptop, induction cooker or a fridge. The most important factors to consider here is the maximum power output you need, and whether an inverter is a pure sine wave inverter or not.
You will need to estimate your daily energy consumption, and calculate how many Watts of solar panels you will need to charge your batteries.
Also you will need to understand what is the maximum load your system is supposed to take. For example, if you want to be able to use your induction cooktop or a coffee maker, you will need more panels, bigger batter pack and a more powerful inverter to handle it.
Solar panel kits are aimed at those who want to build their own solar system for their home, RV or a boat. They usually include most of the necessary components and parts you will need, as well as instruction manual to help you with the installation process.
That is especially helpful if you are new to solar panels and would like a performing solution without having to spend endless hours figuring out all the details. We have listed some popular solar kits here.
These solar panels are not getting increasingly popular just because you can bend them to a certain degree. They are also very light and much thinner than regular aluminum-framed solar panels. This is hardly a selling point when you are building a solar system for your home. However, on an RV, a smaller camper van or a sailing boat, flexibility, low weight and small size is all that matters.
If your rooftop is curved, there is simply no way you can install a framed solar panel over the whole area. Even on a flat roof, the advantage of a very low profile of a flexible solar panel is that your solar system will be hardly noticeable.
Portable solar panels have multiple applications, from camping and small off-grid systems to RV and marine projects. They usually come with a pre-installed charge controller (be sure to check on those) as well as cables, so all you need to do is to open the panels up, adjust the tilt angle, and hook them up to your battery.
This is a perfect solution if you can't or don't want to install any solar panels permanently, or if the space on your RV's rooftop is too small to accommodate any extra panels. In this an easily deployable solar suitcase such as listed below can prove invaluable. It will provide a source of extra juice to charge your batteries, so that you can use your electronics and other appliances longer.