Looking to build a campervan capable of off-grid living? Then utilizing solar power is one of the most important things you can do to truly become energy independent. But which are the best camper van solar panels?
In this post, we are going to look at some of the most popular camper van solar panels being installed on van conversions today. We’ll delve into rigid panels, flexible panels, suitcase-style panels, and convenient all-in-one solar kits.
But not only that, we’ll also look at some of the important factors to think about when shopping for your van panels.
So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!
Top 4 Best Van Solar Panels
Best Overall - Newpowa 180W
We installed two of these Newpowa solar panels on our campervan roof and they have been providing the bulk of our battery charging solution ever since.
We selected these panels because, when placed side-by-side length-wise, they fit perfectly on the roof of our van with minimal wasted space around the edges of the roof.
When we planned the solar panel placement on our roof, we realized that the more popular Renogy 100W panels were too space inefficient for a camper roof.
Going with the 80% larger Newpowa panels meant greater space efficiency AND less holes to drill in our roof because fewer overall panels were required.
These panels also come with a 25-year power output warranty. So what’s not to like?
100% we would buy again for a second campervan build.
Need To Install Your Van Solar Panels? Read This:
Best For Easy Installation - Renogy 100W Flexible
These Renogy Flexible solar panels are a great option if you are looking for a simpler solution to installing solar panels on your campervan. Follow the video tutorial below and you can secure the panels using only tape. No drilling needed!
These razor thin panels also mean not only are they better for aerodynamics, they’re also less visible from the street side. This makes flexible panels a good option for stealth camping.
Unfortunately, what we don’t like about flexible panels is that the surface of these panels tends to scratch over time, leading to faster wear and tear. Also, flexible panels are prone to overheating, thus reducing efficiency overtime.
If we HAD to purchase flexible panels, we were get them from Renogy due to their strong US-based customer service and return policy. But otherwise, we prefer rigid solar panels.
Best For Stealth - 100W Suitcase Panels
If stealth camping is a primary concern for you, consider looking into a suitcase-style solar panel for your camper.
When not needed, simply fold the solar panel away and store it inside your van. There won’t be any evidence of a solar panel installation anywhere outside your van.
Unfortunately, this also means you won’t be able to harvest any energy while the suitcase panel is folded and stored. For this reason alone, we would not recommend suitcase panels over the traditional rigid and flexible solar panels.
Best All-In-One Solar Kit - Renogy 200W (Or 400W) Solar Kit
For many people, buying all the individual components to build their solar system is simply too confusing and not interesting. If that sounds like you, Renogy has put together their own 200W all-in-one solar kit.
In addition to the solar panels, the kit also includes all the small devices and obscure components needed to complete the installation process. Simply plug and play!
Best of all, the Renogy warranty is some of the best in the solar panel market.
What To Consider When Buying Camper Van Solar Panels
When it comes to solar panels and campervans, there are five important factors to think about.
1. Total Watts For Your Solar Array
It’s critical that the total wattage of your solar panel array is able to sustain your daily energy usage. But how many watts is enough?
100-watts? 300-watts? More?
That answer is entirely dependent on how much electric power you require to power and charge all your electronic devices (lights, laptop, heater, etc).
In general, unless you’re running a bare bones electrical system, we would recommend at least 200-300W worth of solar panels.
Interested to learn more? Series vs Parallel: Which Is Best For Solar Arrays?
2. Dimensions Of Solar Panels & Van Roof
If you really want to get technical, knowing the actual dimensions of your vehicle’s roof is a good place to start.
Once you know the roof dimensions, you can look up the dimensions of the different solar panels available and get an idea how they would fit on your roof.
This is exactly what we did when planning our solar build.
Using Adobe Illustrator, we simply superimposed the dimensions of the Newpowa solar panels on a rectangle area representing our Ford Transit roof. We saw that the panels would neatly fit in the rear end of our van with plenty of distance away from our MaxxAir vent fan.
3. Is Stealth Important?
How important is stealth camping for you? Only you will be able to answer that question. If it’s a top priority for you, rigid solar panels may not be your best option. Even without a roof rack, rigid solar panels can be seen and identified from the roadside to people who know how to look out for them.
Aka: The police and potential thieves.
If camping discreetly is your thing, look into flexible solar panels or even suitcase panels to meet your needs.
Related read: Why Stealth Vans Are A Terrible Idea
4. Warranty (aka Longevity Of Panels)
If you intend to be traveling/living in your campervan for longer than a year or two, you should prioritize solar panel build quality. Personally, we would stay away from flexible panels due to the tendency for the panel’s surface to scuff and scratch. Longevity of flexible panels is also questionable due to their inability to properly dissipate heat.
Rigid solar panels for your campervan should be the ideal choice if long term vanlife is in your plans.
5. Drill Holes On Roof? Or Nah…
If you decide to go with rigid solar panels, you’ll either need to install a roof rack or drill the panels directly onto your van’s roof. But with holes comes the risk of leaks when it rains. And leaks are nobody’s idea of a good time, especially for vanlifers.
In our Installing Solar Panels post, we took great pains to make sure our drill holes were water tight. And so far…so good.
But if drilling holes in your campervan’s roof makes you queasy, flexible solar panels might be the way to go. Further up in this post, we linked to a YouTube video with instructions on how to install flexible solar panels on a RV roof using only tape. No screws were used.
Are Tilt Mounts Worth It For Van Solar Panels?
You might have seen other blog posts and videos regarding the use of tilt mounts for van solar panels.
In the video below, this RV channel demonstrates that you can get up to 30% greater harvesting efficiency by tilting your panels towards the sun. This can be particularly useful during the winter time when the sun takes a lower arc across the sky.
But…our opinion? Just skip the tilt mount. Why?
1. Parking nightmare: Tilt mounts only tilt in one direction. Which means you’ll have to park your campervan in exactly the right way so that the panels can be tilted towards the sun. That’s a hassle.
2. Constantly on the roof: Always climbing up and down the roof to adjust the tilt mounts sounds like a pain.
3. Higher center of gravity: Tilt mounts also force the solar panel to sit higher up vs. traditional Z-mount brackets. This would make the solar panels even MORE visible from the streetside.
Final Thoughts: Are The Newpowa Panels The Best Camper Van Solar Panels?
In our case, the larger Newpowa solar panels are a fantastic fit for our camper van.
Being 180w each means we only needed to install two panels instead of three or four smaller panels. And the dimensions of each panel is perfect for us since, when placed side-by-side, the two panels fit neatly together on our camper van roof with little wasted space around the edges.
If you’re looking to buy rigid solar panels for your camper, we have zero hesitations recommending our Newpowa panels.
And if you have any specific questions regarding our experience with these solar panels, please leave us a comment below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.