Portable vs. Roof Mounted Solar Panels for RV’s
What is the best solar solution for me?
Installing solar panels on the roof of your RV, van, or motorhome can be a great way to address your energy needs and stay comfortable on the road. When it comes to selecting solar panels for your mobile lifestyle, there are two main options to choose from: portable and roof-mounted solar panels. Which is best? There’s not a one-size fits all answer, so let’s go through the benefits of each.
What are Portable Solar Panel Systems?
Portable solar panel systems give you the ability to generate and store your own electricity using lightweight, portable solar panels, charge controllers, batteries, and inverters. Instead of mounting to the roof, portable solar panels are available in a few different forms, from folding suitcase panel kits that can be set up on the ground to flexible panels that can be hung from your vehicle or other vertical surfaces.
Like roof mounted panels, portable solar panels are made up of many solar cells made of silicon. Panels have both a positive and a negative layer, which creates an electric field. When sunlight hits solar panels, they create an electric current. Panels are then connected to a charge controller, which controls how much current goes through a battery. Batteries store and produce DC power. In order to use household AC appliances, such as blenders, laptops, and phone chargers, an inverter is used to change the power from DC into AC power.
Also, for those with smaller energy needs or just need access to back-up power in case of emergencies, solar stations, such as Renogy’s Lycan Powerbox, are a great solution. They eliminate the need to worry about extra inverters, batteries, or wiring. It’s all included.
What are Roof-Mounted Solar Panel Systems?
Roof-mounted solar panel systems are available in a flexible or rigid form. Both are secured to the roof of your RV or van with bolts, brackets, and mounting hardware. Rigid panels are very durable. Renogy’s roof-mounted panels include a corrosion-resistant aluminum frame that is great for extended outdoor use, allowing the panels to last for decades. Flexible panels offer a more low-profile look and passersby won’t even be able to tell you have solar on your vehicle.
Are portable systems cheaper than roof-mounted systems?
Depending on the size of the system, portable solar power systems can be comparable in cost to roof-mounted systems. Because you’re not having to mount the panels on a roof, you will save on any time or installation costs you may have incurred with a roof-mounted system.
However, per watt costs for portable solar panel kits are typically a little bit higher than roof-mounted solar panel kits.
Pros of Portable Solar Panel Systems
If you don't think you are going to need a lot of solar power, or you cannot justify installing roof mounted solar panels, portable solar power systems are a great option.
You can move them between vehicles or home.
A benefit of their portability is you can use it for multiple rigs, from your car or van to an RV. They can also be a great addition to a disaster preparedness kit.
You have more freedom with how you park.
With roof mounted panels, you’re often limited to which direction you park because you have to make sure the panels on your roof get maximum exposure to sunlight. With portable panels, you can place them wherever you need to.
It’s a great way to dip your toes in the solar waters if you’re not ready to mount panels on the roof.
If you’re new to solar panels and want to test it out before going through the full process of installing panels on the roof of your van or RV, portable solar panels are a great way to start harnessing the power of the sun.
Cons of Portable Solar Panel Systems
You have to set them up every time.
Because your panels aren’t mounted on your roof, you’ll have to set them up whenever you’d like to start charging your batteries. It’s not as convenient as just flipping a switch. If you’re looking for a convenient solution, roof-mounted panels may be the way to go.
You can’t charge your batteries while you’re not present without risk of theft or damage.
One major benefit of roof-mounted panels is being able to charge panels while you’re away from your vehicle. However, if you’re concerned about theft or damage to the panels from weather or other outdoor elements, portable solar panels may not be the best option for you.
Which is Best for Me: Portable or Roof-Mounted?
I’m a weekend road warrior: Portable solar panel system
Portable solar power systems typically generate less energy than roof-mounted systems, but because you’ll only be camping on weekends, they should be more than enough to keep you charged on the open road.
I’m a boondocker full-time: Roof-mounted solar panel system
If you’re someone that often stealth camps in parking lots of urban areas, or in rest areas or other public areas around other people, a portable solar system may not be the best solution. That being said, if you typically camp in remote areas, such as BLM land or national forests, a portable solar system could be a great solution for you. Keep in mind though that you’ll be able to install more panels on a roof to cover the maximum amount of energy needs. You also won’t have to worry about setting up enough panels outside your vehicle and exposing them to wildlife or the elements. Renogy has a range of roof-mounted kits for RVs available too.
I camp at RV parks and campgrounds with full-hookups: Portable solar panel system
If you’re typically camping in areas with access to shore power, you may not need a big roof-mounted system. Being able to set out panels if and when you need them to charge your batteries can be a great way to address your energy needs as an RV dweller.
I live in a cabin off-grid: Roof-mounted solar panel system.
If you live in a cabin or tiny home with steady energy needs, we’d recommend looking into a rooftop installation. Mounting on the roof eliminates the need to have to worry about regularly handling different components, such as panels, and it’s also more cost effective for large systems to invest in a rooftop mounted system if you have the energy needs and capabilities. Renogy has a range of kits for homes and cabins.
There’s never been a better time to go solar thanks to affordable, reliable products available from Renogy. Roof-mounted and portable panels are both great options for RV’s, vans, motorhomes, and small cabins. Depending on your specific needs and lifestyle, you’ll be able to choose the best solution for you.