Portable Solar Panels For A Camper – What Type of Panel?

Portable Solar Panels For A Camper - Featured Image

Portable solar panels for a camper are a great way to generate electricity. When there isn’t a hook-up around. Not only does it give you the freedom to travel wherever you like. The feeling of being energy self-sufficient when out and about. It also has a certain satisfying sense of getting one over on the power companies. Because you don’t need them or their extortionate electricity bills.

You can leave all that piracy behind for a while. Basking in the glory of free energy courtesy of wonderful sunshine. And if you are a bit of an eco-warrior, knowing you are helping to reduce your carbon footprint. 

What Type Of Portable Solar Panel Do You Use For A Camper?

There are two ways you can use solar panels with a camper each has its advantages and disadvantages. But whichever way you feel is best for you. You will still achieve the same result, that is generating free electricity. But remember the solar panels do not store electricity. They convert sun power into electricity that is then stored in a battery

The 2 ways you can use solar panels to store electricity in a battery for a camper are; 

  • Portable solar panels: These can be a soft fold up type. Or a more rigid suitcase or briefcase type.
  • Installed solar panels: These can be rigid or flexible

There are two types of battery a portable solar panel can charge for a camper:

  • Leisure and starter batteries
  • Portable power stations
Rich Solar 200w - Battery

Installed and portable solar panels will charge leisure and starter batteries.

Portable And Installed Advantages and Disadvantages

Many of the advantages a portable solar panel has are the same as installed solar panels. So it might seem from the tables below that I am favouring portables. This isn’t the case, but they have their own disadvantages. 

Portable solar panels for a camper
Portable Solar Panel AdvantagesPortable Solar Panel Disadvantages
Portability: You can take them anywhere. And they are really easy to store for transportation purposesWeight: They can be heavy, especially the larger 200w portable solar panels.If you have a physical disability or bad back. This might be a problem for you. 
Versatility: You can use it for more than with your camper. For example you can hook it up to a solar power station. To use it at home for power outages, emergencies and saving a little on those electricity billsLimited Power Output: Because they are single solar panels their power output is limited. You can join some together to form a small solar array. But it will be down to solar controller limitations. As most with built-in Solar controllers are 20V. 
Easy To Use: Really easy to set up. Point it at the sun and will start charging.They Need space: This should not be a problem as they fold into the size of a suitcase or briefcase. But if you have a particularly small camper with a full load. You might have to think about it.
Sunlight Time: You are able to collect direct sunlight all day. This is because you can follow the sun around the sky
Waterproof: A portable solar panel with a built-in solar controller. Should be completely waterproof.
Low Maintenance: A portable solar panel needs the odd wipe with a damp sponge. And a visual check over every 6 months.
The Price: They can be much cheaper than installing solar panels. And a lot less time consuming.
Renogy 200 Watt Solar Suitcase Review
Installed Solar Panels

Remember many of the advantages of a portable are the same as installed. I just don’t want to repeat myself

Installed Solar Panel AdvantagesInstalled Solar Panel Disadvantages
Permanently Fixed: This means you do not have to unpack a solar panel or two when you reach your destinationSunlight Time: Because the solar panels are positioned on the vehicle’s roof. The best sunlight capturing time will be when the sun is directly overhead. This will be for about 4 hours per day.
Space Saving: No need to try and find space for a portable when you are travelling.  Shade: Unfortunately if there is even one bit of shade you will have to move the camper
Higher Power Output: You are not limited to one or two solar panels. You could for instance (assuming you had enough roof space) install 4 x 200w panels. This would be an 800w solar array. Maintenance: If the solar panels are dirty you are going to have to get up there with the sponge. You will also have to check the panels and wiring very regularly. 
Longer Term Power Generation: This means you can go further and for longer without having to use the generator.Initial Cost: Yes the initial outlay might not be to your liking, You can reduce it if you are ok with DIY. If not, the installer won’t be cheap.
Silent: The silence will be golden not having to run the generator. Because you won’t hear a peep from those solar panels.
Reduced cost: Once the installation is paid for it’s free electricity all the way. If you use your camper a lot. You should recoup the outgoing quite quickly. Through the fuel savings or even having to use a hook-up.
Fewer Emissions: This can only be a good thing especially if you are camping out in the wilderness. There is enough pollution in the air. Your solar panels will help you reduce your carbon footprint.
This is a promotional video from AcoPower all about their rigid solar panels for installation

Flexible Or Rigid Solar Panels For A Camper?

Flexible solar panels have a big weight advantage when fitted to a camper. For instance a 100w flexible can weigh 4lbs/1.81kg. And a 100w rigid panel 15lbs/6.8Kg. The best advantage a flexible has is it can be fixed to curved surfaces. Some with a bendability of up to 248 degrees. 

Flexible solar Panels
Portable Solar Panels Camper - AcoPower Solar Panels

Flexibles do have their critics who say the panels are not as efficient as rigid panels. They are not as durable, flaking and coming apart under heavy use. Also warping in very hot conditions. Meaning they have a shorter lifespan. And take up more space because they are larger due to being so thin. 

Having said that. They are a fantastic option if you have lots of curves. Flexibles can be easier to install because they are easier to move about. And they can be glued down rather than screwed into the campers roof. Fuel saving because they are a lightweight option. Hey, every little bit helps!!!

Rigid solar Panels

Rigid solar cells are built into an aluminium frame and are topped off with glass. The glass protects the cells from damage. While flexible solar cells are encased in layers of different polymers. Rigid’s are heavy and not very portable. But their lifespan can be up to nearly double that of flexibles. They are more efficient when it is baking hot. This is because all solar panels lose efficiency in very hot weather. But rigids stay cooler because there is more airflow around them. Therefore this makes them more efficient in baking hot sun. 

What Type Of Batteries Can Installed and Portable Solar Panels For A Camper Charge

I know installed solar panels don’t strictly directly charge power stations and power banks. But they can through the campers’ power outlets. It should also be noted that portable solar panels. Need a built in solar controller that is capable of handling lithium-ion. So make sure it is a good quality controller and it says it does.

Portable Solar Panels Camper - Rich Solar Controller
12V Battery Types
  • Lithium-ion
  • LiFeP04
  • Gel 
  • AGM
  • Flooded
  • Crystal
  • LTO
  • Calcium

What Wattage Solar Panels should I Use For A Camper?

Between 50w and 360w for an installation and 50 to 300w for a portable. This will all depend on the size of the camper and how many leisure batteries are installed. I know that many camper owners add another leisure battery to form a small battery bank. So I will give examples of campers with one or two leisure batteries.

Renogy 100w Solar Panels
One leisure battery

Installed solar panels: 150 watts of solar input will be required to charge one leisure battery. However you should always overestimate your power requirements. This is to allow for varying weather conditions. For the best, most consistent results you will need 200 watts. Either a single 200w solar panel or a 2 x 100w solar array.

Portable solar panels: A 100 watt portable panel will keep your battery topped off. 

Two leisure batteries

Installed solar panels: 300 watts of solar input will be required. But you should overestimate it to 400 watts. Either 2 x 200w or a 4 x 100w solar array.

Portable solar panels: A 200 watt portable solar panel will keep your batteries topped off

Remember when it comes to solar input the more the merrier. Because the more you have the faster your batteries will charge. This will also help on cloudy days when full sunlight isn’t possible. 

No leisure batteries

If you don’t have a leisure battery or just can’t be bothered with it all. You can use portable solar panels with a portable power station. The power stations come with a solar controller and inverter built-in. Along with other enhancements such as MPPT to help with solar efficiency. And vary in size from 100 watt to 2000 watt plus. 

Portable Solar Panels Camper - EcoFlow Solar Power Station

For further reading about power stations. Take a look at my EcoFlow 600w Power Station Review. It will give you a good idea what I am talking about

What Does All This Mean If I Have A Camper And Want To Go Solar?

The type of portable solar panel you want to use for your camper will depend on you. If you want to fix panels to your camper you have a choice of flexible or rigid. If you want more flexibility with the solar panels, use. You should go for a portable. There is a price difference between portables and fixed. For instance if you are unable to fit the panels yourself. You will have to take an installers fee into consideration as well. 

Maybe you want to go solar but you feel a completely portable solution is better for you. Because you want to use it at home to help reduce your utility costs. Or in case of power outages and emergencies. Then portable solar panels and a power station would suit you better. 

To help you further with your choice you can take a look at these product review links;

I hope you enjoyed my post and have found it helpful. If you have any questions about solar panels for a camper. Or want to leave your own personal thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment below

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4 Comments on “Portable Solar Panels For A Camper – What Type of Panel?”

  1. Hi and thanks for this. I do have a few questions though and these could equally well apply to a boat with solar panels as a camper with solar panels. I can see there is a trade-off between the advantages of fixed vs portable. With fixed solar panels you are obliged to park, or dock in the sun and not in the shade. But I wonder, would there not be certain circumstances where the additional heat gain on the camper would outweigh the advantage of charging from fixed panels, especially if you are running air-conditioning inside the camper to deal with the heat. Isn’t this potentially a big advantage of portable solar panels – that you can park in the shade and place the panels in full sun? I guess my other question is why you would need to have a separate battery from the regular camper battery? Wouldn’t it make more sense to increase the capacity of the camper battery if necessary, and then run power from there through an inverter if needed?  Thanks, Andy

    1. Hi Andy

      Yes you are correct in saying that the vehicle needs to be in the sun because shade stops them working altogether. So there is a potential advantage using portable solar panels with regard to parking in the shade. And having the portable out in the open to provide charge. As you say especially if it were hot inside the camper or boat. And you were running air-con.

      I am not quite sure what you mean with your second question. So I will assume this is a question to do with a solar power station. Please let me know if I am wrong … The solar power station is a separate entity that you might want to use instead of the leisure battery. Because some people  don’t want to install solar panels. And don’t want to fit a second battery. But want greater battery capacity. They see solar panels and a power station as good value for money.

      This is because of it’s portable nature along with the solar panels. It can be used for more than providing electricity  whilst using the RV. It can also be used at home to charge and power. Helping to reduce electricity bills. So it gives it more than one purpose. 

      Regards

      Steve

  2. Hi Steve
    Thanks for sharing your views on the types of portable Solar Panels to be used by the camper. I could get all the information at one place. You described everything in detail. I enjoyed the advantages and disadvantages of portable and installed solar panels. In my personal opinion, portable panels are more suitable for the campers due to the direction of camper parking as it may be restricted at many places.
    Warm Regards
    Gaurav Gaur

    1. Hi Gaurav

      Yes the direction your camper is parked in can have a big effect. With regard to how much sunshine you can collect and the potential for encountering shade. Plus of course a portable solar panel can be much cheaper than a full installation. So portables can be a great alternative.

      Regards

      Steve

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