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How Long Will Your RV Solar Panels Last?

How Long Will Your RV Solar Panels Last?

You may be on the fence about solar power in your RV. Thorough research is ideal when deciding whether you want to go solar in your RV. It’s best to know how long your RV solar panels will last. 

There’s a steep learning curve when you start working with a different electric power source, and you’ll have to be adaptable to make a comfortable transition. Learn more about what solar power in your RV means, and do a little research on the subject now. Let’s dig in!

Aerial image of RV parked in a driveway with solar panels installed
Expect degradation from sun and weathering on your solar set-up.

What Are RV Solar Panels?

Solar systems are not only for houses or commercial properties. In fact, solar power is extremely useful in mobile applications like van setups, mobile generators, and RVs. 

Sunlight has a lot of energy in it! In fact, almost all the energy on earth comes from the sun. Yep even the energy in your gasoline was originally sunlight, converted into chemical energy by plants, then condensed into the very energy-dense fuel over millions of years. Solar panels skip the millions of years and make usable electricity immediately!

In a working solar setup, you’ll have solar panels to collect the sun’s energy, a solar charge controller controlling the flow of electricity, and your RV batteries. The batteries connect to your RV’s electrical system, and you’ll have power while you camp. The system may get a little more complicated, as you may need to add an AC/DC inverter to the mix. 

We have installed tens of thousands of watts of solar over the years and now live completely off grid mostly on solar energy. In fact, I am writing this right now and running this website on solar!

Ultimate RV Off-Grid Solar System Build - 2760 Watts of Solar ☀️ 11Kwh Battery, on a 32' Fifth wheel

How Long Will Your RV Solar Panels Last?

How long your solar panels last depends on many factors like the type and how you maintain and use them. Generally, glass panels can last approximately 25 to 30 years. Installing them in an RV setup makes sense regarding the panels’ lifespan. They will likely outlast the lifetime of your RV, so you won’t have to worry about saving for replacements. 

Do Panels Become Less Efficient Over Time?

Solar panels become less efficient over time. The process is solar degradation. Over time, the weather and sun exposure affects the panel’s ability to function. A high-quality glass panel will degrade at about 0.5 percent per year. Many solar panel spec sheets note the degradation rate of your panels or the power warranty period, which is typically 25 years or 80% capacity. 

A solar panel usually needs replacement at approximately 80 percent efficiency. After 25 to 30 years, your panel won’t simply stop working. It may be that the panel isn’t working well enough to keep up with the energy usage. 

Flexible or plastic-based panels typically last much less time, however. Because these panels tend to get hotter and the plastic encapsulation materials are not as durable as glass, they tend to break down in 5 to 10 years. If they are bent too much, they also frequently get cracks and brakes in the internal wires, which can cause improper operation. While most of these panels will still last the life of an RV if taken care of, you may see performance degradation sooner than glass panels.

Pro Tip: Ensure you get the perfect solar panels for your RV with this Buying Guide for the Best RV Solar Panels.

portable solar panels in the sun
Portable and flexible solar panels like these will not last as long as glass panels. These panels are designed to be set up and taken down as needed and not used full-time. The plastics that encapsulate the cells will not withstand years in the sun like glass alternatives. It does not mean they are no good, however, just different use cases.

How Often Should You Replace Panels? 

You shouldn’t have too many issues with your solar panels. Manufacturers build them to be durable, and they have no moving parts to maintain. You should only have to replace a panel if it is not producing enough energy or if the panel breaks somehow. 

Flexible panels are much less durable and should be checked occasionally for signs of physical damage or sun degradation.

Do Solar Panels Deteriorate Over Time? 

Solar panels suffer degradation over time. The most significant cause of panel degradation is exposure to the sun and weathering. 

Light-induced degradation is unfortunately unavoidable. In the first 1,000 hours of use, there is an adjustment period for your solar cells. 

On average, the photoconductivity diminishes, reducing the efficiency of the panel from 1 to 3 percent. After the adjustment period, the cells stabilize, and the exposure degradation slows considerably. 

Close up of RV rood with solar panels installed
Your RV solar panels will last approximately 25-30 years.

Do Solar Panels Need a Lot of Maintenance? 

Solar powering systems don’t typically need much maintenance throughout their lifetimes. The initial installation and setup is the most challenging part of working with solar power. 

You can usually find long-term warranty coverage for your solar equipment. This will save you the hassle of worrying about issues with your panels. 

You’ll need to clean the panels occasionally. You may need to brush leaves or debris from the panels, but that’s all you’ll usually have to do to keep them working. 

Pro Tip: Make installation easy with these Best Ways for Mounting Solar Panels on RV Roof.

Do Panels Need to Be Cleaned?

Yes, you should clean your solar panels. The cells in the panels need exposure to the sun’s rays throughout the day, and a dirty panel could impede its efficiency. Most experts recommend cleaning your panels once or twice a year. However, if you’re in dusty conditions, more frequent cleaning may be helpful.

However, you don’t have to do the job yourself. It’s essential not to use harsh chemicals on your panels. A gentle soap and water mix is enough to keep your panels fresh. If you don’t want to do it yourself, there are professional cleaning services that can do the job quickly. 

RVs parked at campsite with solar panels installed on roof and in front of RV
We have been coming back to our property and plugging into these panels for many years with nothing more than an occasional cleaning.

Can Solar Panels Be Damaged By Hail? 

Manufacturers build their products to withstand harsh weather, but there are exceptions to the rule. Low-quality panels can be more susceptible to cracking or shattering in heavy hailstorms. You can’t be sure that hail will never damage your panels, but they should withstand small hail outbursts. 

Personally, we have experienced golf ball-sized hail more than once, and our vents and air conditioner cover broke. We also got dents in our truck. But the solar panels were fine.

solar panels hail

Are Solar Panels Worth It On an RV?

If you use your RV’s power often, investing in solar is worth it. If you’re a person who only ventures in the RV once or twice a year, you may not want to invest the money to start the setup process. However, adding one panel to a small camper won’t be very expensive.

Do you think adding solar panels to your RV would be worth it? Drop a comment telling us your thoughts!


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Mark

Sunday 4th of September 2022

Very good article, Thank you! We plan on hitting the road next year and travel the US for a year or two. Although our itinerary will remain fluid, we have made some plans to help keep our Camping costs down. Some of that (small) will be boondocking. With most of our time being connected to facilities, we believe our generator will get us through those times when the electric cord is cut. However, I am educating myself with the knowledge and ability to add a portable Solar setup on the road, if we decide we need it after all. This article gave some good insights and great references. Again Thanks, Mark

Mortons on the Move

Saturday 1st of October 2022

We're glad you found the article helpful! Good luck with your travels. :)

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