Traditional solar panels have a glass surface and metal frame. There are also semi-flexible solar panels available that are lighter and suitable for rounded or irregular surfaces. Both types contain solar cells that generate power from the sun.
Types of Solar Cells
Solar cells are one of three types (monocrystalline, poly-crystalline, and thin film). Here is a brief description of each and why you might choose one over the other.
Monocrystalline Solar Cells
Made with single crystals of high purity silicon, these cells are the most efficient and will provide the best performance per square foot. Priced higher than the other two, monocrystalline cells are the most desirable for RVs.
Monocrystalline solar cells can be identified by their even color and uniform look. Find monocrystalline panels on Amazon
Polycrystalline Solar Cells
These cells are composed of multiple silicon crystals and are less expensive (than monocrystalline) to manufacture. Polycrystalline panels are identified by their uneven speckled blue color and generally cost less than monocrystalline panels.
The silicon crystals used in Polycrystalline panels tend to have a lower purity rating. For this reason, they may not be as efficient as monocrystalline panels. This is not always the case however. Find polycrystalline solar panels on Amazon
The name “thin film” comes from the production process. One or more thin layers of photovoltaic material are applied to a substrate or backing material to make these panels. These are the least expensive types of panels and also the least efficient.
Thin film panels come in a variety of styles, operate well in partial shade, and stand up to heat better than the others. They also have a nice uniform look. You will, however, need 2-4 times the area of thin film panels to match power output of a monocrystalline panel. Find thin film solar panels on Amazon.
In this video, I go through the key features of flexible solar panels available today. Watch the video.
I’ve used both Monocrystalline and Thin Film flexible panels on my RV. The semi-flexible panels have worked very well for my needs. I prefer them because they are not visible from the ground, they don’t obstruct or clutter up my roof (I can walk on them), and they don’t prevent me from accessing anything on my roof.
Fixed vs Portable
Fixed solar panels are permanently mounted to the RV roof and wired to a solar charge controller that charges your battery bank. Portable solar kits like these found on Amazon provide an affordable way to incorporate solar charging without costly installation.
Portable solar kits can also expand or supplement an RV’s existing solar charging capability without needing additional installation.