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 2020 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): Baintech 180W Folding Solar Blanket
Portable 4x4 option (with battery): Goal Zero Yeti 1000X Lithium Portable Power Station + Boulder 100 Briefcase Pack
Fixed 4x4 option: Enerdrive 2 x 160W Solar Panel with Installation Kit
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): Baintech 180W Folding Solar Blanket
Portable camping option (with battery): Dometic PLB40 40Ah Lithium Battery & 180W Folding Solar Panel Kit
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?
Our customer tends to connect in Parallel.
Parallel connections = Increase wattage and Voltage stays the same
Series connection = Increase Voltage and wattage stays the same
If an array of solar panels is partly shaded then you are at an advantage with a parallel installation. The shade will only take that panel offline. The inverse is true for series connections, if one panel is shaded out on a series connection, then you will lose power from the entire solar array.
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.