A Brief Guide to Selecting a Caravan Solar Panel System
Caravan solar systems have become increasingly popular in recent years. It has been suggested that this is either a result of a more environmentally-oriented society or the result of a consumer demand geared towards increased freedom and “off-the-grid” living. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, it would appear that caravan solar panel systems will be here to stay, with 2023 trends leaning towards smaller, more light-weight designs.
Why Use Solar Power?
In addition to being environmentally-friendly and providing the freedom to live “off-the-grid”, caravan solar panels are generally used for one of two reasons:
As a backup to the main battery
As a primary generator
Using Solar Power as a Backup
Many campers choose to use solar panels as a type of “emergency backup” for their primary battery. Like traditional automobiles, caravan batteries can lose power if left unused for significant periods of time, such as in between travels, in storage and periods of non-use due to selected times of the year.
To reduce the chances of their batteries dying unexpectedly, many campers opt to use a small solar panel known as a “trickle charger” to continuously charge their battery while it is not in use. This will ensure the longevity of your battery and also saving your hip pocket.
Using Solar Power as a Primary Generator
Using solar power as the primary means to power one’s caravan is a bit more complex. Essentially, you will want to ensure that you have enough solar energy to power all of your everyday needs such as, hot water systems, 12-volt lighting, pumps and anything else that may be ignited by 12-volt power.
The amount of power you will require will differ depending on your camping habits and lifestyle. For example, campers who are stringent about their power consumption will require much less solar power than those who are habituated to running multiple appliances and electronic devices. When shopping for a new solar panel system make sure you don't opt for the cheapest and first available as they can cause you dramas later on down the track, it's the old golden rule you get what you pay for.
Choosing the Right Solar Panel System for Your Caravan
Depending on your power needs, there are a variety of high-quality solar panels geared towards caravan camping expeditions. There are four different solar panels: fixed, folding, flexible or blankets. For more information on each type of panel and which one is suitable for your needs, see our related guide here.
Here are some examples of options for different vehicle types:
4x4 Solar Systems:
Portable 4x4 option (without battery): Exotronic 200W Portable Folding Solar Panel with 20A MPPT Solar Controller
Portable 4x4 option (with battery): EcoFlow DELTA MAX Portable Power Station (168Ah@12V) Bundle with 160W Monocrystalline Folding Solar Panel
Fixed 4x4 option: Enerdrive 190W Mono Crystalline Fixed Solar Panel
Flexible fixed 4x4 option: Drivetech 4x4 110W Semi-Flexible Monocrystalline Solar Panel
Caravan Solar Systems:
Fixed caravan option: Enerdrive ePOWER 720W Solar and 40A DC to DC Charger Pack
Fixed caravan option with battery: Enerdrive 200Ah Off-Grid 40A AC & DC Charging Bundle, with 720W Solar Panels
Camping Solar Systems:
Portable camping option (without battery): Aussie Traveller 260W Folding Solar Panel
Portable camping option (with battery): EcoFlow River600 Portable Power Station (24Ah@12V) Bundle with 110W Monocrystalline Folding Solar Panel
How Much Solar Do I Need?
Start with your load and work backwards is the common answer to this question. In a perfect world, you want to be pumping in more current from your solar panels than you are drawing out of your batteries. Our recommendation is to purchase as much solar as is practical for you to transport and/or mount on your vehicle. Solar energy is free, and panels are cheap relative to the rest of your system.
How Do I Monitor The Performance Of My Solar Panel?
Most quality solar charge controllers will have an LCD screen showing voltage input at any given time. Victron smart solar charge controllers allow smartphone Bluetooth app connection to view a host of live and historical solar input data. We recommend a quality battery monitor or battery management system which shows the Amps coming in and out of your system. While parked up in full sun, you will get an idea of the performance of your solar array. The Enerdrive ePro plus battery monitor is one of our popular options that will provide this critical information.
What Size Regulator Do I Need?
A solar panel/s must connect to a solar charge controller, often referred to as a solar regulator. There are some useful solar charge controller sizing calculators on the internet. We refer to Victron and Morningstar’s calculators regularly. You simply enter the details of your panels and it will serve up the optimal solar charge controller. Each solar charge controller will have a limiting voltage and wattage input which will help guide you in your selection.
Should I Connect My Panels in Parallel or Series?
So what’s the difference?
Parallel Solar Connections = Increases Amperage (current) and Voltage remains the same.
Series Solar Connections = Increases voltage but Amperage (current) remains the same.
Furthermore, for each additional solar panel added, the Voltage will double.
Pros and Cons
Connecting your solar array in series offers several advantages. Firstly, it allows the use of a smaller gauge wire to deliver the same amount of power to the charge controller, resulting in cost savings and reduced losses due to resistance.
However, there are also some disadvantages to consider. One concern is that having many panels in series can lead to a higher voltage, which may be less safe than operating at a lower voltage. It is crucial to check the input voltage tolerance of your solar charge controller when connecting multiple panels in series, as this will increase the overall output voltage.
To address this, it is recommended to use a Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) solar regulator when opting for a series connection, as a Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) controller may not be as effective. Fortunately, most modern solar controllers are now equipped with MPPT technology.
Another drawback, is the issue of partial shading. If one panel in a series connection becomes partially shaded, it can result in a reduction of output power across the entire solar array.array.
The preferred choice among most of our customers is to connect panels in parallel, especially when dealing with partially shaded conditions as they perform better in such scenarios. However, a drawback of this setup is that it requires the use of a heavier gauge cable to minimise losses caused by resistance.
Maintaining a lower voltage in parallel connections offers the flexibility of choosing either a PWM or MPPT controller. Nevertheless, it's worth noting that in today's market, most reputable controllers are equipped with MPPT technology.
If you require support or have any questions please feel free to contact one of our friendly staff at Caravan RV Camping on 1800 787 278 or www.caravanrvcamping.com
DISCLAIMER* Please note, this advice is general in nature and we strongly recommend consulting the product manual and where relevant, a professional installer.
Solar PanelDo you install caravan solarBy: Barry on 17 July 2023
Hi Barry, unfortunately we don't offer any installations. We can however send out products direct to you or your installer
Solar set upHi all, I have done some research and for our caravan build, 22.5ft, I am certain on 2 X 240amp lithium batteries, leaving room for a third, and 660w/880w solar on roof with a 220w plug in portable. 13mm cable from the car charger and wired to the start battery. What I'm not sure about is the BMS and dc/dc charger. Basically the brains of it all. I herd about wiring the fridge on a separate circuit and running 13mm cable to the start battery. I also want the solar to charge at the same time, as in extra, to the car when running. Can you suggest the correct equipment needed, thanksBy: Brent Holt on 2 February 2023
In order to have the solar charge simultaneously, then you would want to run a separate solar regulator for the panels on the roof. You can purchase a DC2DC charger that also has an MPPT solar reg, and this solar reg might be a good one to use for your portable 220W panel. The Enerdrive DCDC 40A charger is a good option for this. In order to size up your regulator, can you please advise the voltage of your panels and how you plan to wire them. Assuming it is a 12V set up, the panels probably around 18 VOC and connected in parallel, so a Victron MPPT 30 - 50A regular would be a good option.