flexible solar panels for RV

The 8 Best Flexible Solar Panels for RV on 2022

It might be tricky trying to install rigid solar panels on the curved roofs of an RV. In this case, you would need flexible solar panels for RV. These are bendable and thus can be molded to the shape of your trailer.

While flexible solar panels using for campers are not as efficient and as long lasting as their rigid counterparts, they are still efficient for average power requirements. They are also cheaper and might be a more sensible solution for budget campers, first time RV owners and those who do not travel full-time. 

Learn more about the pros and cons of flexible RV solar panels, how they compare with the rigid type, how to install them and an in-depth review of the best flexible solar kits on the market. This list offers a variety in terms of price, power output, construction and portability to suit different energy demand and installation circumstances. 

Quick Recommendations

The Pros and Cons of Flexible Solar Panels for RV

Flexible solar panels for RV are, well, flexible, meaning they are thin and can be bent to the curve of, say, an Airstream. RV flexible solar panels are a bit different from their rigid counterparts, so there are certain advantages and shortcomings you need to consider when choosing to install flexible solar panels on your RV instead of the conventional rigid panels. 

Bendability is what makes RV flexible solar panels unique, and in certain cases that alone might be the deal breaker, but you need to consider your daily power requirements and other camping circumstances to decide whether bendable solar panels for RV would be the best choice for your energy needs.

flexible solar panels for RV
Photo: RV Life

Easy and No Drill Installation

RV flexible solar panels are thinner and much more lightweight than conventional rigid models, so most can be installed on the roof drill-free using only the right type of adhesive. Furthermore, these flexible panels are designed to bend to the curve of an RV like the Airstream. 

So while rigid panels and the required mounting brackets would protrude from a curved roof, flexible solar panels will stay flush on the rooftop. This neater setup makes them less prone to physical contact with obstacles on the road, like low hanging tree branches.

Overheating

The fact that bendable solar panels for RV stick flush to a curved roof means there’s no room for air circulation underneath the panel. During the summer, flexible solar panels that are constantly exposed to direct sunlight can overheat and can reach up to 150°F. 

Overheating is detrimental to any device in terms of both efficiency and lifespan. Overheated solar cells won’t work as efficiently, so you might experience a loss of power output. 

Lower Power Output and Efficiency

A flexible solar panel is always less efficient than a rigid panel of the same size. Firstly, flexible solar panels for RV are much thinner than rigid panels, so they contain far less material for sunlight absorption. Furthermore, flexible solar panels tend to use less efficient semiconductor materials. 

While rigid solar panels have roughly 16 to 20 percent efficiency, the number for flexible panels range between 7 and 15 percent efficiency. Another reason for lower efficiency is the aforementioned overheating problem.

This is why while standard panels have a capacity of up to 400 watts, most flexible panels would only offer up to 200 watts. There are only a very few options on the market that are rated for 300 watts. This means that to meet the same power requirement, you would generally need more flexible panels. 

Shorter Lifespan

In general, rigid solar panels are clearly more solidly constructed and thus tend to last longer. That’s why the best rigid solar panels on the market can come with warranties from 15 years up to 25 years. Meanwhile, most RV flexible solar panels have a shorter lifespan, with warranties commonly ranging from 1 year and 5 years. 

The Best Flexible Solar Panels for RV: In-Depth Review

If you know what you’re looking for, let’s dive right into this in-depth flexible solar panel reviews of the most durable, reliable and reasonably priced models. Otherwise, skip to the next section to learn the most important buying criteria. 

1. Best Overall: Sun Energise 100W 12V Monocrystalline ETFE Flexible Solar Panel

Topsolar Flexible Solar Panel 2pcs 100W 12V/24V Monocrystalline Bendable

Features:

  • Curved radius: up to 30 degrees
  • Capacity: 100W 
  • Type: Monocrystalline
  • Material: ETFE
  • Thickness: 0.08 inch
  • Weight: 7 lbs

Why we love it:

If you think 0.1 inch is already as thin as possible, here’s some super thin flexible solar panels for RV from Sun Energise that’s only 0.08 inch thick. The only catch is that it weighs 7 pounds, which is more than I expect given this thinness. Other than that, this 12 volt 100 watt bendable panel performs exceptionally well in all aspects, and would provide a reliable power solution for different installation setups and camping needs.

This highly efficient monocrystalline realistically pushes up to 100 watts of power on sunny days, staying true to its output rating. Another huge plus is that these panels are made from the hard wearing ETFE, which allows for more reliable performance over more years of service. 

Boasting a curve radius of 30 degree, you can securely mount these Sun Energise solar panels with silicon glues, adhesive, double sticky tapes, Velcro or zip ties, thanks to the four holes on the corners of each panel. I find this flexible solar panel to be more substantial and well made than other competitors at the same price point. 

2. Best High Capacity Flexible Panels: Alrska 12 Volt Monocrystalline Flexible Solar Panel

SunPower 110 Watt Flexible Solar Panel

Features:

  • Curved radius: up to 30 degrees
  • Capacity: 100W, 150W, 180W and 200W
  • Type: Monocrystalline
  • Material: ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE)
  • Thickness: 0.1 inch
  • Weight: 4 lbs

Why we love it:

If you have high power demand and need the flexible solar panels capable of higher power output than the most common 100W units, Alrska has the highest performance panels on the market at a reasonable price. In addition to 100W, Alrska 12 volt monocrystalline panels also offer 150W, 180W and 200W options for larger RVs with power-demanding appliances. 

I have two 200W panels, and I find these to be honest with regards to capacity rating. Two are plentiful for powering all necessary creatures of comfort, plus one or two luxuries like a portable dehumidifier or a portable air conditioner in the summer, and a furnace in the chilly months. These reliable panels will keep your battery charged and your rig powered for comfortable camping, even on long boondocking trips. 

These efficient monocrystalline are made from the more durable ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE). Another feature that contributes to this product’s substantial construction is the TPT bottom layer that allows for better structural integrity as well as better heat dissipation. This will prevent overheating to some degree in hot weather, thus ensuring more reliable performance in more extreme temperatures as well as a longer service life. 

All in all, these thin and lightweight flexible solar panels for RV are a breeze to install on any irregular surfaces of a motorhome, and are surprisingly reasonably priced for all the great things they offer. I had not heard of the brand Alrska before, but was convinced to try this product out by the long positive reviews on Amazon, and I’m glad I did.

3. Most Affordable: Solar Cynergy 120watt 12volt Monocrystalline Flexible-Bendable Solar Panel

ExpertPower 100W Flexible Solar Panel

Features:

  • Capacity: 120W 
  • Type: Monocrystalline
  • Material: PET

Why we love it:

If you’re a budget camper or a first time RV owner wanting to try out off-grid camping, the 120W flexible solar panels for RV by Solar Cynergy would be a versatile and highly affordable option. This panel is monocrystalline, but note that it is made from PET instead of the more durable ETFE. 

A few buyers have complained about this unit quitting within 1.5 years, but this seems to be the minority. That said, if you’re a full-time camper, you might be better off getting a more expensive unit that’s made from ETFE for a longer lifespan. Otherwise, this affordable flexible solar panel might be a sensible investment for those who have not committed and only want to try things out. 

I find that this panel puts out decent power for my needs, but in general I think it pales in comparison with the other more expensive options in this list in terms of capacity. It would be more realistic if this panel were rated from 100 watts instead of 120 watts. For the price though, I think many campers would still get a lot of benefits from it. 

4. Topsolar 2pcs 100W 12V/24V Monocrystalline Semi-Flexible Solar Panels

WindyNation 100W 100 Watt 12V Flexible Thin Lightweight Monocrystalline Solar Panel Battery Charger for RV

Features:

  • Capacity: total 200W from two 100W panels
  • Type: Monocrystalline
  • Material: ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE)
  • Weight: 4 lbs
  • Thickness: 0.1 inch

Why we love it:

If you want lightweight and thin flexible solar panels that can be easily installed on irregular surfaces, this two pack 100 watts kit from Topsolar would be a versatile and affordable option. It’s only 0.1 inch thin and weighs almost 4 pounds per panel, which is almost like nothing. They can be effortlessly secured on the roof using 3M VHB Adhesive Tape or Eternabond Tape.

What I appreciate the most is that these are honestly rated, unlike some other panels I’ve tried that claim to be 100 watts but in reality offer less. I get pretty good wattage from all of my Topsolar panels. For instance, during mid-day late summer in Northern California, I easily get around 90 watts from each. This is pretty efficient given the amount of sunlight I get, which is partly thanks to them being monocrystalline panels and partly due to the fact that these panels are made from ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), which offers higher light transmittance and a longer lifespan.

Another feature I like is that the TPT back plate is conducive to heat dissipation, thus reducing the overheating problem to ensure more stable performance. These bendable solar panels for RV are waterproof and dust resistant, so they are easy to clean. 

They are not the most powerful units out there, but at this price range, this is an excellent option for the economical campers who do not have demanding power needs. Do note that this product does not specify the curve radius, although in my experience it should work with something under 22 degrees. 

5. SunPower 110 Watt Flexible Solar Panel

Solar Cynergy 120watt 12volt Monocrystalline Flexible-Bendable Solar Panel

Features:

  • Curved radius: up to 30 degrees
  • Capacity: 110W 
  • Type: Monocrystalline
  • Weight: 4.4 lbs
  • Thickness: 0.1 inch
  • 2 year product warranty and 5 year power warranty

Why we love it:

Here’s another honestly rated flexible panel that’s totally worth the money. This SunPower panel is easy to install and can be bent to 30 degrees, which should be sufficient for any irregular surfaces you might be dealing with on an RV. 

This monocrystalline flexible solar panel is rated for 110 watts, which I find to be true using my power meter for testing in various conditions. In mid summer at high noon under direct sunlight, you can easily get at least 96 watts from these reliable panels. If you like to go on off-grid trips that last over a week, having a couple of these can keep your portable air conditioner running without you having to crank the generator. 

Do note that while a few reviewers complain about visible imperfections on the surface of the panel, which I also experience, I still find my panels performing well and holding up well outdoors. SunPower stresses that their panels use a durable laminate that may have small creases and indentations on the panel’s surface from manufacturing, but this do not affect performance in any way. Should you still be concerned, 2 year product warranty and 5 year power warranty might give you some assurance. 

6. ExpertPower Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel with Maxeon Solar Cells 

Flexible Solar Panel 100W 12V Monocrystalline Semi-Flex ETFE Solar Panel Charger Off-Grid for RV

Features:

  • Curved radius: up to 30 degrees
  • Capacity: 50W or 100W 
  • Type: Monocrystalline
  • Weight: 4.4 lbs
  • 2 year product warranty and 5 year power warranty

Why we love it:

This product is not as popular as the previous two options, but it does not pale in comparison with regards to weatherproofing capability, bendability and power output. There are two available options, 50 watts and 100 watts, both of which I find to be honestly rated. As long as you have a fair and conservative estimate of your daily power consumption, these panels can reliably keep your appliances powered and your battery fully charged, even on off-grid trips.

What sets these flexible solar panels for RV apart is that while it can also be installed on curved roof using adhesive, this ExpertPower is built on a solid copper foundation, which is resistant to power loss via cracking and corrosion, as well as being able to withstand varying temperatures and weather conditions. 

7. WindyNation 100W 12V Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel

Alrska 180 Watt Flexible Solar Panel for RV

Features:

  • Curved radius: up to 30 degrees
  • Capacity: 100W 
  • Type: Monocrystalline
  • Weight: 4 lbs
  • Thickness: 0.1 inch
  • Special feature: blocking diodes

Why we love it:

In addition to bendability and honest power output rating, this WindyNation 100W monocrystalline solar panel boasts a blocking diode to eliminate battery discharge or draining at night, thus maximizing your house battery’s health and lifespan.

Being super thin and lightweight with a curve radius of 30 degrees, the panel can be easily mounted using adhesive or Velcro. There are also stainless steel grommet mounting holes in each corner available for attaching fasteners. To make for absolutely idiot-proof installation, the kit arrives ready for installation with 12 AWG solar cable leads with PV Connectors pre-attached.

This WindyNation 100W monocrystalline solar panel is pretty well made. I got almost 4 years out of mine, while there are many others who even got over 5 years out of theirs, although this might depend on what kind of harsh weather your panels are exposed to. What I also like about WindyNation is that they respond well to customers should you have technical questions or require a replacement. 

8. Winnewsun 100W Bifacial Flexible Solar Panel 

Winnewsun Flexible Solar Panel Bifacial Flexible Solar Panel

Features:

  • Capacity: 100W 
  • Type: Monocrystalline
  • Weight: 4 lbs

Why we love it:

What’s special about this 100W monocrystalline flexible panel is that both sides of the bifacial solar module can generate power. This means that instead of mounting these panels on your rooftop, you can put these up vertically next to a white reflective backdrop, like the side of a white RV, so that both sides of a panel can receive sunlight. Depending on your typical light condition, this vertical setup might give you a bit more power output than a traditional roof mount installation.

While I don’t find this panel to do better than other 100W options on this list in terms of energy production on a sunny day, it is quite sensitive to dim light on cloudy or rainy days, so it might squeeze out more in less than ideal conditions.

How To Select The Best Flexible Solar Panels For Your Budget 

Most campers opt for flexible solar panels primarily because of their bendability and no-drill installation. That said, as this type of solar panel comes with unique pros and cons, you need to find the right balance between bendability, easy installation and other crucial criteria in order to pick the best flexible solar panels for your particular RV, your power needs and camping environments. Below are important considerations to keep in mind:

Curve Radius

Usually, when you’re shopping for a rigid solar panel, you would pay the most attention to power output and efficiency. However, when your RV has a curved roof and you want to mount solar panels on top, the first thing you want to look at is the flexibility of the panel, that is the maximum curve radius at which the solar panel can be bent. 

Most flexible solar panels for campers these days have around a 30 degree upward bend. You should check how curved your RV roof is first before starting to compare different products. 

Capacity 

While standard panels have a capacity of up to 400 watts, most flexible panels would only offer up to 200 watts. There are only a very few options on the market that are rated for 300 watts. You should estimate your average daily power consumption and how many hours of direct sunlight you normally get to calculate the number of watts you would need from your solar system. 

Efficiency

A more efficient RV solar panel would produce more electricity with the same amount of sunlight. When it comes to efficiency, the higher the percentage the better. 

Flexible solar panels for RV are less efficient than their rigid counterparts at converting direct sunlight into usable electricity. While rigid solar panels have roughly 16 to 20 percent efficiency, the number for flexible panels range between 7 and 15 percent efficiency.

If you want the most efficient flexible solar panels, look for monocrystalline panels.

The cells in these panels are made from a single crystal, allowing the electrons to have greater mobility and thus generate a greater flow of electricity, all else being equal. In comparison, the cells of polycrystalline solar panels are made of multiple silicon crystals, which makes them less efficient at generating electricity.

Flexile monocrystalline solar panels are black, while polycrystalline panels are blue. 

Bypass Diodes and Blocking Diodes

Many unwanted things can happen when a solar panel receives little or no direct sunlight. To prevent these scenarios, a flexible solar panel should have certain special features, namely bypass diodes and blocking diodes. 

The best RV flexible solar panels should have bypass diodes, so that a panel’s photovoltaic cells still stay in use even if the panel is not exposed to direct sunlight. In addition, you should look for flexible solar panels with blocking diodes, which will prevent current flowing back from the panels into the battery when there is little or no light. 

Thickness and Weight

Another criteria that would affect how bendable a flexible solar panel is is its thickness. The thinner a model is, the more bendable it is and the more lightweight it is, which makes installation easier. In general, most flexible solar panels only weigh about 20 percent of an average rigid panel of the same size. 

Mounting Method

Another advantage of a thinner and lighter solar panel is that you would more likely be able to securely attach it to your roof using only the right type of adhesive without having to drill holes for mounting brackets, should you want to avoid drilling at all cost. 

Do note that the type of adhesive you should use depends on the material of your roof membrane. Quite many flexible solar panels for RV do not include adhesive in the kit for this reason, so check this information in the manual to make sure you get the right adhesive.

However, if you often travel on rough terrain, I would recommend using mounting brackets for a more secure installation, which need to be screwed onto the studs on your roof. This way, you won’t ever need to worry about your investment flying off on bumpy roads. 

Surely this takes away the easy installation of flexible RV solar panels, but on the upside, mounting brackets would allow for heat dissipation, which would allow your flexible panels to perform better and last longer. Furthermore, if you can find the right mounting accessories for your particular curved roof, you can still bend the panels to match the curve of the roof, so the whole setup would still be neater and less protruding than one with rigid panels. 

Material and Construction

It is understandable that rigid solar panels generally are built to last longer than flexible solar panels for RV. The best rigid solar panels on the market can come with warranties from 15 years up to 25 years. Meanwhile, most flexible solar panels have warranties commonly ranging from 1 year and 5 years. 

In general, bendable solar panels for RV made of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene or ETFE are more durable than those made of polyethylene terephthalate. Polyethylene terephthalate is thermoplastic polymer resin, commonly known as PET, which is used widely in consumer products thanks to its reasonable durability. Meanwhile, ethylene tetrafluoroethylene is a fluorine-based plastic that is corrosion resistant and hard wearing even in extreme temperatures. 

How to Install RV Flexible Solar Panels? 

Check the manual to see if your RV flexible solar panel kit can be securely mounted on the roof using only adhesive or if it requires screwing. Even if the manufacturer states that using adhesive is sufficient, you can always buy mounting accessories separately to make sure your investment won’t fly off the roof when you’re driving on rough terrain. 

Another important note is that the type of adhesive you should use depends on the material of your roof membrane. Quite many bendable solar panels for RV do not include adhesive in the kit for this reason, so check this information in the manual to make sure you get the right adhesive.

The general steps for installing flexible solar panels for RV roof are as follows:

Step 1 – Attach the panels on the roof

If your flexible solar panels only require adhesive, you would only need to decide where the panels will be installed and mark the positions with tape or marker. Make sure your air conditioner, vent, or satellite dish will not cast shadows over the panels. 

  • If you want to use a mounting bracket to screw the panels more securely to your roof, make sure to screw onto the studs, which is a 2 to 3 inches wide gray line going width wise on most RV roofs. 
  • Drill pilot holes into the studs and fill with sealant to create a water-tight seal.
  • Attach the panels to the mounting bracket and screw the brackets in, then apply a coat of protective sealant on top and around the brackets to weatherproof everything.

Step 2 – Wire the panels together and run the power cable inside

If you have only one panel, just run the power cables inside through the fridge vent or beside the plumbing pipe or through any holes you made. Then apply sealant to seal the entry port. 

If you have more than one flexible solar panel, wire them together in series, parallel or in series-parallel, then run the remaining power cables of the array inside the RV. 

Step 3 – Connect the charge controller to the solar panels and the battery

Check the manual of your RV flexible solar panels to see whether you must connect the charge controller to the panels first or to the house battery first. Mount the charge controller to the wall as close to your batteries as possible, then make connections with the battery and the power cables you previously ran inside. 

Step 4 – Connect the inverter to the battery

If you want to power some AC-power appliances like a microwave, you will need to mount an inverter near and connect to your house battery, with the negative terminals connected first. 

Flexible Solar Panels For RV: FAQs

How much do flexible solar panels for RV cost?

This largely depends on the power output, efficiency and construction quality of a particular model. Flexible solar panels for camper with a capacity of 50 watts often cost just under $100, while the common 100 watt panels can cost anywhere between $100 and $200. The most powerful flexible solar panels that are rated for more than 100 watt would cost north of $200. 

How long do flexible solar panels for RV last?

In general, rigid solar panels are clearly more solidly constructed and tend to last longer. That’s why the best rigid solar panels on the market can come with warranties from 15 years up to 25 years. Meanwhile, most flexible solar panels have a shorter lifespan, with warranties commonly ranging from 1 year and 5 years. Also, RV flexible solar panels made of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene are more durable than those made of polyethylene terephthalate.

Should I wire my solar panels in series or in parallel?

If you want to leave the total amperage of the whole setup unchanged while doubling the voltage, wire your solar panels in a series. In essence, you’re creating one bigger panel, then connect it to the charge controller. The major downside is that if one panel is in the shade, the total amp output will be equal to the output of this low performing panel. Another downside is this setup will require a charge controller rated for higher voltage, which is more expensive.

Conversely, connect your panels in parallel if you want to double the amp output but leave the voltage unchanged. Each panel is connected to the charge controller separately, so in essence, each panel operates on its own. This means that if one panel is in the shade, the other panels in the array will still operate at maximum capacity unaffected. A downside is this setup requires more expensive higher gauge wirings.

In case you want to double the voltage as well as the total amperage without having to buy a more expensive charge controller and gauge wires, you will need to create multiple series, then connect these series in parallel. 

What will a 100W solar panel run?

A single 100 Watt solar panel can only power small devices that do not consume a lot of power, including WiFi routers, LED lights, fans, cell phones and laptops. Depending on how many electrical devices you typically need to keep powered at the same time, you might need a single 100 Watt solar panel or more than one of those. 

How many 100W solar panels do I need to charge a 12 volt RV battery?

To calculate how many wattage worth of solar panels you need to charge your battery, you will first need to calculate the amp rating of your battery based on its capacity, which is measured in ampere hour. 

Let’s assume your 12 volt house battery has a capacity of supplying 200 amp-hour of power per day, that is during the standard 20 hours of available use. Divide 200 amp-hour by 20 hours, we get the amp rating of the battery, which is 10 amps.

This battery pulls 10 amps at 12 volts during charging, so you need a solar system with a capacity of at least 12 volts x 10 amps = 120 watts to properly charge this battery. The rule is to always have more than what you need at any given time, so you need to get at least two 100W solar panels.

Two panels is the minimum if you only need to top off your house battery plus maybe power your LED lights or charge your smartphone from time to time. If you want to power more appliances at the same time, calculate your average power draw to estimate the wattage you need from your solar system.

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