Are you looking for flexible solar panels for RV? Let’s explore what you should look for when you buy, what your options are and what the pros and cons are.
Recreational vehicles (RVs) are the key to freedom on the road – and part of that freedom includes energy freedom. Your battery pack and rigid solar panels will keep you charged up when you’re away from the grid – and flexible solar panels will help you achieve that energy independence.
Your primary energy supply will come from your rigid solar panels since these are most efficient – especially if you can tilt them when you need to get more direct sunlight.
Flexible solar panels will go a long way to supplement your energy needs as part of your overall solar energy system.
What are flexible solar panels?
Rigid solar panels are encased in glass but flexible solar panels for RV are made with flexible materials like plastic. This allows the solar panels to bend slightly.
These types of panels are also called “thin film panels” when the silicon wafers in the solar cells are a lot smaller and therefore less rigid. The downside is that these cells are only 7.5 to 10% efficient, compared to rigid solar cells which are 20%+ efficient.
Flexible panels contain thin wires that allow them to be connected to other panels in either series or parallel so you can multiply your energy production. The array can then be connected to the charge controller that then passes energy along to your battery system for storage.
Benefits of flexible solar panels for your RV
Let’s take a look at why the flexible solar panels are useful and how they can be applied.
Flexibility – yes, the name says it all – the key feature of this type of panel is the fact that you can bend and curve the panels as needed. This is useful for if your RV has a curved roof and you want to get the most out of the available surface area.
The options are really endless – you can set up the flexible panels on any surface of your RV, not necessarily the roof. This means you have greater potential for power generation overall.
It’s important to take care when setting up flexible panels – don’t overdo it or bend them too much since this will damage the cells inside the panels.
A breeze to install
Yes, flexible panels are a lot easier to set up than rigid solar panels. Some simply need some adhesive or epoxy to attach them to a surface and you’re good to go, no drilling or banging required.
Remember to seal the edges of your flexible solar panels with a good sealant to keep bad weather out and to ensure the bond remains tight.
You won’t need to drill many holes into your RV or set up mounting brackets. This has many advantages both for your RV’s structure and the overall look of your RV. You may be able to get away with a single drill hole for the wiring for an entire array of flexible panels.
Flexible panels also weigh less than rigid solar panels. This means you save on fuel costs and your overall RV weight.
Disadvantages of flexible panels
There are some downsides to flexible panels compared to rigid panels.
The flexible panels are significantly less efficient. This means you get much less power output from the same surface area of panel. The thin solar cells in the flexible panels are just not as productive as regular cells.
Flexible panels are usually also made from certain semi-conductor materials which are less efficient.
Did you know that solar panels are, ironically, affected by the heat of the sun? This means that flexible solar panels are more susceptible to this heat loss effect because they don’t have any airflow beneath them to cool them down (if they are stuck directly to the surface of your RV).
Sadly, heat also damages solar panels over time and this has a greater effect on flexible panels.
This leads us to the next disadvantage which is lower lifespan. Flexible panels generally have a lower lifespan compared to rigid panels so you’d have to replace them sooner. Rigid panels should last 25+ years but flexible panels are usually rated to last 15+ years (still pretty good!).
Flexible solar panels are currently actually more expensive than their rigid counterparts, mainly due to the fact that newer technology is more expensive. This will change over time as more companies manufacture flexible panels, economies of scale improve and technology becomes cheaper.
Let’s dive deeper into flexible solar panels
Can you easily break a flexible panel? Yes, they are quite sensitive and you should never set them up in a way where someone could accidentally step on them. The weight of someone standing on them will crack the solar cells and make them stop working. The panels can also be scratched which will mean less sunlight can get to the cells and energy production is reduced.
Handle them with care and treat them with TLC!
Can flexible RV solar panels overheat?
Sadly, yes. When they overheat the panels stop being as efficient as when they operate under normal temperature conditions. If the panels are exposed to extreme temperatures for a long time this will also affect the plastic casing of the panels and reduce the lifespan. Extreme temperatures are a problem!
What are the different ways to install flexible solar panels for RVs?
You should carefully follow the installation instructions that come with your panel kit, although installation is usually very straightforward and involves either velcro, adhesive or some other means of fixing the panels to the RV surface.
Some installations will require screws or rivets – or even adhesive tape. Once you have installed your panels and used them for a few days, do a check to make sure everything is still in place. You may need to use additional methods to secure or seal the panels to make sure everything stays where it should.
Connecting and wiring the flexible solar panels
Once your panels are securely in place you will need to wire everything up. Your panels can be connected to each other in series or in parallel. Each panel will have internal wiring and a connection. Follow the installation and wiring instructions carefully.
PRO TIP: make sure your wiring is measured out and configured BEFORE you permanently fix the panels to the surface!
You’ll need to create an entry hole for the wiring to connect your panel array to the charge controller and battery system. Some RVs have purpose-built inlets or holes you can use so you may not need to drill any additional holes. Remember to ensure the hole is sealed and weatherproof once you are done.
Best flexible solar panels for RVs
Let’s take a look at our pick of some of the best flexible panels you can get today.
Xantrex Solar Max 165 Watt Kit
How cool do these panels look on a yacht? They are definitely rated for extreme weather and are also designed for RVs and campers.
The installation process is easy and uses adhesive to fix the panels to a clean, dry surface. Simply peel and stick the panels.
Once you’ve laid out where you’re going to put the panel, check the wiring and see how you will run them before you stick the panels.
Watch this video for a guide to see how many panels you will need:
Find out more about the Xantrex Solar Max panels.
- Select from 110W, 220W and 330W panels
- Mesh grid monocrystalline with PERC high efficiency cells
- Highly rated for durability, performance and efficiency
- Weatherproof in extreme winds and rain
- Peel and stick 3M adhesive tape
- 5-year product warranty
- Flexible mounting options including roof or any clean, flat surface on your RV
Renogy 200W Flexible Solar Kit
We like this panel from Renogy because it offers excellent energy output from the efficient monocrystalline flexible panels.
The 200-Watt Solar Kit from Renogy is another great pick for RVs.
- Thin and lightweight
- Designed for outdoor use on RVs and campers
- Waterproof kit
- Kit includes 2x100W flexible panels, charge controller, cables and connectors
- Warranties on panels and accessories
Should I get flexible solar panels for my RV?
In our opinion flexible panels can create additional energy output for your RV or camper in areas where rigid panels cannot be installed. This means you can get more free energy from the Sun while exploring the world on the open road.
Remember to consider your energy requirements and the pros and cons we listed above. Flexible panels are great but should be seen as supplementary to your core solar panel system.
We’ve love to hear your thoughts about flexible solar panels and your experience with