One Mans Journey...
First, let me say, I've always known that I would be adding Solar to the RV.
I call this a "Journey" because of the revelations (more like realizations) I've had along the path to buying a Solar System for my rig.
It all started innocently enough...
I decided to buy a small Solar Panel to keep my battery charged while the RV was in storage. Basically, I did not want to pull that big, heavy, battery out of the rig and store it in my garage between trips (using a Battery Tender to maintain the battery's health and longevity). So, I started looking at small solar battery maintainers (trickle chargers) in the 1 watt range and they were running about $30. I decided to look at the 5 watt Solar chargers and they were running $5 to $10 more, moving up to a 5 watt charger made sense because a 12v Deep Cycle battery can really soak up the electrons.
It's about this point that I decide spending $50 for a small trickle charger, that won't contribute to my battery's health or longevity and may actually accelerate the battery's demise, is a waste of money and could actually harm my battery. So, I decide to look at the portable "brief case" style Solar Panels. Now, Portable Solar Panels would allow me to start Boondocking a few days at a time in good weather and expand our camping options with some dry camping.
Moving up to the portable Solar panels puts me in the $70 to $90 price range with about 30 watts of Solar power. While the portable option allows me to consider Boondocking, it also fails to meet my original need, which is to charge the battery while the RV is in storage (a portable Solar panel could easily disappear, when deployed, while in storage).
About this time in my search I come across the Renogy 50 watt Solar panel for $85. Now this will work, all I need is a cheap Solar charge controller and some wire and I am in business, I will have Solar on my RV and I can keep it charged while in storage. I thought I had solved my problem.
Unfortunately, I let the thought run through my head "well, 50 watts is nice, but wouldn't 100 watts be better?" So, I continued my search looking at 100 watt Solar solutions.
Here is where my search for Solar gets interesting, up to this point I had considered all my options as disposable, stop-gap measures to get me by until I purchased and installed a "proper" Solar system. If I decided to install a 100 watt Solar panel, this would become the foundation of my "proper" Solar system. Mind you, I still wanted to do this as cheap (frugally) as possible.
Deciding on a 100 watt Solar panel was the easy part, 100 watt panels are plentiful and they are competitively priced. Since this was going to be the foundation for my "proper" Solar system I wanted to choose a quality panel at a budget price. In my search I was able to find 100 watt Solar panels for less than $1 per watt. Solar panels priced at a dollar per watt has been the "holy grail" of the Solar industry for quite some time. These panels were available from "wholesale" Internet vendors for $ .96 per watt. While the price for these wholesale panels is great, none of them have been tested or proven atop an RV.
Back to Renogy...
Renogy Solar panels have been installed on many RVs the past few years and they have proven to be durable and reliable. So now the question is which type of Renogy Solar panel? Monocrystalline or Polycrystalline?
Monocrystalline panels are more sensitive to light and have been known to produce power on moonlit nights and under the lights at Wal-Mart, this would also be an advantage for both early morning and late afternoon sunlight, especially if you do not plan to tilt your Solar panels.
Polycrystalline panels are slightly cheaper but, are also slightly less efficient turning sunlight into storable electrons.
The next consideration is a Charge Controller...
While you could, conceivably, hook your Solar panel up directly to your battery you would soon find out that your battery will simply die an early (and ugly) death.
You will need a Charge Controller to control/limit the amount of power going into your battery (batteries) to keep it properly, and safely, charged. There are two types of Charge Controllers, PWM and MPPT. The PWM controllers are very affordable (cheap) and the MPPT controllers are more expensive (pricey). Without going into technical details a PWM controller will work very well for a one or two panel system (actually up to 400 watts) while a MPPT controller is more efficient, especially for larger systems (300 watts plus).
I decided to go with a medium priced PWM controller (Renogy) with the knowledge that I can always upgrade to a MPPT controller whenever I get around to expanding my system beyond two to three panels.
So, where did I end up? I decided on the 100 watt, Renogy, Monocrystalline Solar panel pared with a Renogy PWM charge controller (medium priced). I will also need to purchase mounting brackets (the Renogy brackets seem sturdier than most others) and fuses to protect the system along with heavy gauge wiring/cables to transfer the electrons from the roof to the battery.
Currently, February 2016, I can get everything I need to install a, Good quality, 100 watt Solar system on my RV for around $200 (US). $200 is very affordable for a really good Solar system. You can easily recover the entire cost of your Solar system with just one week of boondocking. Also, I can easily add up to 3 additional 100 watt panels without needing to replace/upgrade the charge controller.
February 2016 Update:
Amazon had a Sale...
The price on the Renogy 100 Watt Monocrystalline Solar panel dropped to $125.
So, I bought the whole system, Renogy Solar panel, Renogy Charge controller, Renogy Mounting bracket, 50 feet of 10 ga Solar (Sun resistant) cable and fuses all for less than $200 !!!