Solar panels can be a fantastic addition to your electrical system, allowing you to enjoy the comforts of your RV without the need for shore power. But you may have one hefty concern before forking over the cash for your new system–how much do solar panels weigh? Let’s take a look at the answer and what it means for your RV.
How much solar panels weigh varies depending on your use and the type of panel. In general, it’s around 30-50 pounds for a standard rigid board. However, lightweight, flexible models are also available, some of which weigh less than 10 pounds per panel.
When considering how much solar panels weigh, you must understand that the panels you’ll be using for your RV system may not be the same as you’d see on a house. Because RVs move around, these systems also have different installation processes and are often portable.
Residential solar panels also have the strength of an entire roof supporting them, compared with your much smaller and less rugged RV roof. For this reason weight is not usually an issue for residential installations. However RVs are always weight constrained.
Because of these fundamental differences, RV solar panels can weigh significantly less than residential solar panels. Most top choices come in under 20 pounds per panel, and some lightweight models are less than 5 pounds each.
Keep in mind that even though these panels weigh less, they also make less energy because they are smaller. The benefit to these smaller panels is that smaller installations can be made as well as the flexibility of where they can be mounted on the roof.
Solar panels come in various styles that can significantly impact how much they weigh. Here are the three types you’ll run into.
Polycrystalline solar panels are a more affordable option that you may recognize from their bluish hue. They’re made of multiple crystals that form when molten silicon cools.
Because this is a more straightforward manufacturing process than other types, it’s cheaper, but the panels are less efficient. In pounds, they range between the mid-30s and low-50s per panel. Because they are less efficient they tend to weigh the most per the amount of energy they produce.
Monocrystalline solar panels form through a similar but more refined process. These single-crystal panels are more expensive to purchase but are more efficient over their lifetimes. Monocrystalline solar panels generally weigh 30-50 pounds per panel for a residential panel that puts out 350-400 watts.
RV Monocrystalline solar panels in the 200 watt range weigh around 20 pounds each for glass versions.
Monocrystalline solar panels can be made in a semi flexible form factor. These panels reduce weight by eliminating the glass and frame. This type can weigh up to 80 percent less than rigid glass panels. While the weight savings is a great benefit these flexible panels do have some drawbacks.
Pro Tip: Learn more about flexible solar panels in our What You Should Know About Flexible Solar Panels Performance post.
Amorphous panels are an innovative, newer type of solar panel. They generate power through a photovoltaic film, allowing them to be much more flexible. These also weigh significantly less than monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels.
Amorphous solar panels usually weigh under 15 pounds per panel, with some models under 10 pounds.
This type of solar panel tends to have lower efficiency and shorter lifespans than the other types. If extreme flexibility and weight are important to you, this option may be ideal, although they typically come with a higher price tag.
The number of panels you’ll need varies depending on each panel’s wattage and your overall power needs. Before investing in a solar system, consider your daily electric needs–your lights, air conditioner, appliances, etc. Find out how many watts each uses and multiply this by the number of hours you use each device or system.
Once you know your total watt-hours, you can figure out how many panels you need. Multiply the wattage of each panel by the number of hours each day you expect to use them. The resulting number is the total watt-hours generated, which should match or exceed your daily watt-hours usage.
We wrote an extensive article, walking you step-by-step through the process of calculating your solar power needs. If you need additional guidance, you’ll find it here: How Much Solar Power Do You Need for Your RV?
If you’re relying on your solar panels as your primary or only power system, err on the side of extra power generation if you can fit it in your budget. After all, you might not get as much sun as anticipated or consume more than expected.
There are many benefits to using solar panels for power, so be sure to weigh them against all of your power options.
The biggest benefit is freedom. If you have a self-sufficient system, you’re no longer tethered to the grid! It will also dramatically expand your boondocking potential without the need for a gas-guzzling generator.
Solar panels are an immaculate energy source compared to generator power or many types of fossil-fuel shore power sources. If you’re looking to lessen your impact on the environment, this is a great option.
Generator power is also noisy. If that roar bothers you, solar panels present a completely silent option to preserve your peace and quiet.
The answer depends on several things – including your camping style, type of RV, the vehicle’s age, and your budget. As we mentioned, frequent boondockers looking to eliminate generator dependence can benefit from the clean, quiet, portable power of an RV solar system.
Your budget also plays a significant role here. Solar panels can be pricey upfront to buy and install. Plus, you may have to retrofit the rest of your RV electrical system to accommodate this newer technology.
If you’re trying to live the RV lifestyle without spending a lot of money, solar panels might not be worth it, regardless of how much they weigh.
To sum up, let’s revisit the question of the day: how much do solar panels weigh?
As you can see, the answer isn’t simple, but it varies depending on your situation and electric needs. While weight is a pressing issue for RVers, newer, lightweight, flexible panels expand the possibilities beyond traditional, heavier polycrystalline panels.
As always, make sure you know your rig’s weight limits before investing in any significant solar panel system. Solar panel manufacturers always should list the panel weights so you can calculate how much weight you will be adding before placing your order.
Here’s to enjoying many sunny days ahead!
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