Fixed Solar Panels vs Portable Solar Panels: What’s Best For You?
RV solar power is becoming increasingly common, and most new models at least provide some type of solar-friendly setup. This type of power is popular because it allows you to recharge your battery, even when you’re camping somewhere that doesn’t have electrical hookups. It’s perfect for boondockers and those who want to reduce their carbon footprint.
But if you want to add solar panels to your RV equipment, you’ll need to choose between several different types. One major choice is whether you should opt for permanent rooftop panels or a portable setup that can be easily moved and rearranged. Both options that their pros and cons, so you’ll need to carefully compare them before you make your choice.
Let’s take a deep dive into the world of RV solar power. Both hard-mounted and portable setups have been effective for campers, and the technology continues to become more powerful and efficient. You’ll get decent performance from both. But depending on your needs and preferences, one option may be better for your situation. Let’s take a closer look!
Hard-mounted solar panels
This type of RV solar power is exactly what it sounds like. They are permanent panels that are attached to the roof of your RV. The panels may be rigid or flexible (depending on your preference), but they generally remain locked in place once they’ve been installed.
One of the best parts of these panels is the convenience factor. Once they have been installed, you rarely have to think about them again. They’ll continue to passively power your RV, and you won’t need to deal with setting them up or taking them down at your various campsites.
Can charge while you drive
Another great benefit to these panels is that they can continue to operate while you drive your RV. As long as they’re exposed to sunlight and the battery/inverter is active, they will be able to charge up. This helps you maintain a constant flow of power and gives you a nice supply to dip into if the weather is cloudy/rainy.
Doesn’t take up space in your campsite
Because these panels are mounted on the roof of your RV, they won’t take up any space inside your vehicle or in the campground. You’ll be free to make the most of your space without accounting for bulky panels that need to be set up separately. In fact, you’ll often forget that the panels are even there because they have such a low-profile design.
Safe from theft
Finally, hard-mounted panels are also easier to protect because they are so far off the ground. Portable systems are easy to kick over or accidentally damage. The closer they are to the ground, the less safe they are. It’s also possible that other people might try to steal the portable solar panels if you leave them lying around. But if the panels are on the roof of your RV and are permanently attached, it’s not worth the effort to try to steal them.
Must be properly installed
One drawback of hard-mounted panels is that they must be properly installed. These attach directly to your roof, so they permanently change your RV. This can be good or bad, but it can be a pain if you decide to remove them later on. The installation fee also adds to the overall cost of this RV solar power system, so it’s more expensive than the alternative.
Size is limited
Because these panels are mounted on the roof, you only have a limited amount of space to work with. This can be a problem for particularly small RVs because the panels are often not big enough to power all the necessary features. You won’t really have the option to expand the number of panels either.
Can be limited by your parking spot
If you have hard-mounted panels, you’ll also need to be very thoughtful about where you set up camp. Parking in shady spots may be more comfortable but you won’t be able to charge and power your vehicle in this situation. You’ll need to do more campground research in order to find spots that are compatible with your solar panels.
Difficult to readjust
The solar panels are also fixed in place once they’re been installed. You won’t really be able to rotate or adjust them, unless you want to move your entire RV. Generally, they can charge up just fine in the flat position, but they may not be as efficient as models that can be adjusted to better absorb sunlight.
Portable solar panels
Portable solar panels can be set up away from your RV and are easy to attach and detach. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and designs, but there are plenty of models that work well for RV usage.
Can move them throughout the day for optimal charging
One of the best parts of portable panels is their portability. These do not need to stay fixed in a single location, so you can find the spot with the best sunlight coverage and rotate/move them throughout the day. That way you can fully take advantage of the power of the sun.
Wider range of parking spots
Speaking of the setup, portable panels allow you to park in a wider range of campsites. Your RV itself can stay in the shade, while you position the panels in a nice sunny spot. You can get all the benefits with none of the drawbacks.
Cheaper and doesn’t require installation
These panels are a great choice for those who want to dip their toes into RV solar power but don’t want to make a full commitment. They tend to be cheaper than their hard-mounted counterparts, and they don’t require any installation or special setup. You’ll save money with this type.
Add or remove panels as you see fit
Portable panels also come in a wide range of sizes. You can create an array that’s as large or small as you want, which is something you can’t really do with a roof-mounted setup. If you want to power your RV solely with solar energy, you may need to use a lot of panels. But the option is available to you, so it’s a nice perk.
Can be used for other purposes
RV roof panels connect directly to the electrical wiring/vehicle battery. This creates a nice seamless system, but it also means that the solar power cannot be used for anything outside of the vehicle. If you want to supplement your home/apartment’s electricity usage, portable panels are a nice solution! They’re more versatile and can be used to power things apart from RVs.
Requires setup and takedown
One of the major drawbacks of a portable system is the time it takes to set everything up and take it down. Generally, the process is relatively quick, but you’ll still need to devote some time to this task. If you need to pack up in a hurry, it can be a real hassle to break camp when this is on your to-do list.
Bulky to transport
The panels are also relatively bulky, and you’ll need to find a place to keep them when you travel. Rooftop panels just sit on top of your vehicle where they’re out of sight and out of mind! But the panels can take up a lot of room, especially if you use a large rig.
Cannot charge while you travel
Because you need to pack them away while you drive, they will be inoperable during this period. Unlike rooftop panels, they cannot charge up when your RV is in motion. This means that it takes longer for them to fully power your vehicle.
More likely to be damaged or stolen
Finally, portable panels are at a higher risk compared to their hard-mounted counterparts. These are often loose and exposed on the ground. They can easily be damaged by children, pets, or any items that might blow around in the breeze. Thieves will also see these as an easier target, and there’s a chance that your portable setup will be stolen if you are not at your campsite.
See what other RVers are saying
Both hard-mounted and portable solar panels can offer plenty of benefits to campers. But they also come with their own problems and complications.
In general, hard-mounted panels are better for full-time RVers and those who want to boondock. Portable systems are preferable for shorter trips and are great for those who want to test out RV solar power before committing to a permanent system.
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