Everyone is talking about RV solar power these days. From Instagram influencers to YouTubers with massive solar power setups (we included), it’s easy to be inspired and want to take advantage of making your own power from the sun.
But what if the upfront costs of a major RV solar install are too much for your camping needs? What if installing and managing such a technical solar power system seems too complicated and daunting?
If this sounds like you, we have good news! You can still enjoy the benefits of solar energy through affordable and beginner-friendly portable RV solar panels.
Table of contents
- What Are Portable RV Solar Panels?
- How Do Portable Solar Panels Work?
- Benefits of Portable RV Solar Panels Over Permanent Roof Installation
- Cons of Portable Solar Panels
- Are Portable RV Solar Panels Worth It?
What Are Portable RV Solar Panels?
Portable RV solar panels are more compact versions of the solar panels many RVers install on their roof. These compact versions of RV solar panels come in many different shapes and sizes.
Some portable solar panels fold up into a carrying case and tuck away easily for storage. Other portable panels come with stands. These types of solar panels can be thin and flexible or bulkier and rigid, depending on the brand and type.
Portable solar panels are brought out when in use and can be placed anywhere around your rig. You can even place them on top if you prefer, but they are not mounted down so you will always need to pack them away when traveling.
There are many benefits to using portable solar panels, which we’ll explain below.
How Do Portable Solar Panels Work?
Unlike roof-mounted solar panels, portable panels can be placed anywhere around your rig. This allows you to park your rig in the shade to keep it cool, but place your panels in the sun to get power!
Similar to roof-mounted solar panels, portable RV solar panels generate electricity from the sun. They plug into a charge controller or straight into a battery and viola! You have power!
Benefits of Portable RV Solar Panels Over Permanent Roof Installation
From considerations like stealth camping for van-lifers to ease-of-use for those new to solar power, there are many benefits to using a portable setup. Here are the major benefits:
Great for Beginners
If you’re a newbie to all things solar power, it can be really confusing. Portable RV solar panels are great for beginners because they typically aren’t as technically involved. These types of panels are a great way to get introduced to solar power, and they really pack a punch!
Ease of Use
With portable panels, all you have to do when you get to your location is plug them in, set them up, and instantly you have power. It doesn’t require you to install a bunch of hardware or appliances like a full RV solar install would.
When you buy a portable RV solar panel setup, the price is typically much, much lower than a full RV solar install. Many portable solar panels come in a kit that includes everything you need to get started. These kits can include the panels and a battery/inverter combo.
Built-In Charge Controller
This is just another reason these panels are great for beginners and non-techy people! Portable solar panel kits come with a built-in charge controller. The charge controller is what regulates the energy coming in from the sun so you don’t fry your battery. There’s no need to worry about all that stuff with a portable panel kit.
Can Be Moved For The Best Sunlight
In a rig with panels mounted on the roof, you have to be mindful of where you park to get the most direct sunlight. The quality of the sunlight varies throughout the day and provides different levels of energy.
With portable panels, you don’t have to worry about where you park your rig. You can even park in the shade and put your panels out in the sun!
If you have roof-mounted solar panels, you’re probably not going to be moving your rig around all day long to avoid shade. Even tiltable installed solar panels are limited in their direction. On the other hand, you can move portable panels around throughout the day to face them in-line with the most direct sunlight.
Great for Occasional Boondocking or Low Power Users
Typically, portable solar kits aren’t as robust in terms of power output when compared to full RV solar system setups. But, that doesn’t mean they can’t pack a punch!
Portable solar kits are perfect for those who only boondock occasionally, or for those who don’t have a ton of power needs.
These types of solar power kits are also excellent for van-lifers! If keeping your devices charged, having lighting in the evening, and the occasional small appliance use are your main power needs, these kits have the perfect amount of power for you.
Keeps RV Batteries Topped Off
When you’re not plugged into shore power, these portable solar kits are a great option to keep your RV batteries topped off. They are a good alternative to a generator to recharge your batteries when boondocking – especially when used with lithium-ion batteries (we use Battle Born Batteries!)
Can Be Used in Non-RVing Situations
Portable solar panels are great for many things, and since they’re not mounted to your RV you can truly take them anywhere. Depending on the size and type of setup you have, you can take them to the park, use them backpacking or camping, use them in emergencies, and so much more.
Cons of Portable Solar Panels
As with all things, portable RV solar panels do have their cons. Here are the shortcomings of using portable solar panels as a power source:
- Set-up time – you have to set up and take down your solar panels every time you get to a new spot.
- Not all are waterproof – if you don’t have waterproof panels, you have to be hyper-vigilant to changing weather conditions.
- Risk of theft. Since these panels are set up on the ground outside your rig, they can be attractive to thieves and easy to steal.
- No control over the charge controller. Since the charge controller is built into the portable panels, you don’t have the option of choosing a high-quality controller. Since this piece is what protects your battery, it’s pretty important! Go with a reputable brand to avoid damage.
- Not for high-power users. If you plan on using all the electricity that you would when you’re plugged into shore power, portable solar panels are not for you. They simply can’t generate enough power to keep up with heavy usage.
- They don’t work when you’re driving. Since you pack away the solar panels when you’re driving, you’re not generating solar power. Many RV batteries will charge when the rig is running, but depending on your drive time your batteries might get fully charged. This is a downside when compared to a roof-mounted system that works all the time.
Are Portable RV Solar Panels Worth It?
If you have minimal power needs, are a total newbie to solar power, or like the adaptability and portability of free-standing panels, they are definitely worth it.
Portable RV solar panels are a great way to get your feet wet when it comes to using solar power and can be a stepping stone to a full RV solar install, which is especially great if you’re on a budget!
Before we went big on solar, we used a small 100W portable RV solar panel suitcase, and made a video review of it – watch below:
There are lots of options available on the market, and you can Click Here to browse Portable RV Solar Panels on Amazon.
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