Solar panels absorb sun rays and convert them into electricity.
So, you will get the required amount of power from such panels when there is more sunlight.
It’s the reason solar energy is ideal for keeping your caravan’s leisure battery charged.
It also provides juice to low power devices like trackers and alarms stored in the vehicle for months.
Guide to Choosing The Right Caravan Solar Panels
Solar vs Generator for Caravan
What do you imagine when you think of a perfect holiday? Are you exploring some forest, hiking an undiscovered trail or relaxing on a hilltop?
But, have you thought about the power requirements of your caravan. You can use a generator, but it releases carbon emissions to pollute our environment.
On the other hand, solar panels are affordable, effective and environment-friendly. So, lets know how you can choose a solar system for your caravan.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
You might think that the caravan solar panel is daunting, but it’s straightforward to understand. A solar system comprises four major components: panel, regulator, inverter and battery.
The panel absorbs a photon from sunlight and converts it into DC, which charges the battery via a regulator. The regulator makes sure that the cell is set correctly.
An inverter is responsible for converting the energy to AC. Typically, a motorhome solar panel system generates a charge of around 17 to 18V.
Types of Solar Panel
You will find three different varieties of solar panels:
1. Monocrystalline: Also called single-crystals, monocrystalline panels are manufactured using a single silicon crystal cut into multiple wafers. As these panels are made of pure silicone. So, you can quickly identify these panels due to their dark black appearance. As monocrystalline panels are built with pure silicon, they durable and space-efficient as compared to the other two versions.
Such high-quality design and efficiency comes at a price. So, the monocrystalline panels are expensive primarily because much silicone is wasted to produce one.
2. Polycrystalline: As you can understand from its name, polycrystalline solar panels comprise multiple silicon crystals. First, all the silicone fragments are melted, and then they are poured into a square mould. Hence, these panels are pocket friendly because the wastage of silicone in their production is minimal.
Talking about the downsides, polycrystalline panels consumes a lot of space. Plus, they are less efficient because their silicone quality is inferior. Moreover, these panels have lower heat tolerance. It means they cannot perform well under high temperatures.
3. Thin-film: Made of delicate layers, these panels are the latest development in the world of solar energy. The thin films do not need any film bracket, which makes them light and easy to configure. These panels are available in three standard cell counts of 60, 72 and 96.
However, they are less efficient when compared to mono or polycrystalline panels. But, we expect that this technology will grow over time because its production cost is lower than silicone panels.
All the techniques mentioned above are used to manufacture solar panels. You can find them in three different form factors.
Freestanding panels: You can chase the sun using a freestanding or portable solar panel. Generally, such boards are built of two or multiple parts with a hinges in between, which allows you to fold them while travelling. Portability is one of the most important factors when you are shopping for caravan solar panels, so you can try this version if required.
Mounted panels: These panels are rigid. Hence, you can try a mounted or fixed frame panel if you want it on the caravan’s roof. Such a solar panel is robust and durable but heavy at the same time.
Rigid frames can heat after working for a while, so we recommend that you leave some gaps below their panels to provide ventilation. Plus, clean these components frequently because dust and grime accumulation will degrade their efficiency.
Flexible panels: Lightweight and robust, flexible panels are a modern, efficient and low-profile method to generate electricity on camping trips. Made of polymer, flexible panels are easy to install and are highly durable. Also read Solar Panels vs Solar Blankets – what is better for camping.
Which Caravan Solar Panel is Best?
Well, the answer depends upon your preferences. All the three types we discussed above has some benefits and disadvantages. Freestanding and flexible panels are popular among travellers because they are lightweight as well as easy to carry.
Plus, these variants are also less expensive than the mounted panels. Moreover, you can chase the sun. It means you can park in a shadow instead of direct sunlight.
However, such panels need some space in your caravan. Some of the freestanding models are prone to damage in extreme conditions.
Plus, you have to pack every time you are travelling. Moreover, the chances of theft are higher with these panels.
On the other hand, mounted panels are fixed and cannot be removed once you install them. So, these components are safe from thieves.
However, you need professionals to handle and install these panels. Once ready, they work without your interference. So, you can use its power anytime without setting up anything. Plus, roof-mounted solar panels offer additional protection from direct sunlight if your caravan is parked in midday.
If we talk about the technology, there are minor differences between the performance of crystalline panels. So, we suggest that you choose one of them according to your choice, budget, ease of use and other requirements.
What Else Do I Need?
The mounted solar system with over 18Watts needs a voltage regulator that works between the panel and the battery. Apart from that, it will help if you have an inverter, connecting wires and assembly hardware. Some of the solar kits include all these components so that you don’t have to find them one by one.
The regulator or controller converts the solar energy as per the battery’s requirements so that the solar system can perform irrelevant of the weather. All the power is stored inside the battery. So, we suggest that you purchase a large and powerful cell that can offer some energy when the sun is not raising the temperatures.
The functionality differs when we talk about potable and flexible solar panels. Some of the panels need a solar generator with USB and 230V ports. But, there are portable panels available that can also work without a generator or power station. However, without a power station, you cannot store any solar power for later usage.
For instance: All powers portable power station needs a solar generator to provide you with the required electrical energy. Plus, it also saves some power to offer you the charge in an emergency. On the other hand, BigBlue portable solar charger can work with a solar generator or power station, but it also has ports to charge your portable devices.
Wiring of The Caravan Solar Panels
Solar controllers generally come with all the instructions, which lets you know to join the wires. Waterproof wiring is essential so that the system can withstand all the weather and conditions. Plus, it’s crucial to keep the connectors accessible to access points so that you can troubleshoot in case of any errors or failures.
Be careful while connecting the components of a solar system. Most of them use MC4 connectors, so you can easily set them up, especially if you are an expert. If you are a new user, then take professional assistance.
Also read: What Can a 300 Watt Solar Panel Run?
Calculate Your Power Consumption
It’s better to research solar panels so that you can understand how much power they can offer. Investing in the wrong kit is not a smart move. For instance, choosing a low power system means your caravan will be out of electricity on every trip. Such incidents might happen at night or when you need power for some work.
On the other hand, choosing a powerful solar system means you will invest more but cannot enjoy the total worth of your investment. So, how to calculate your power requirements? We have a suggestion.
Plan a caravan trip before you buy a solar panel. The motive is to measure your power consumption on the journey and stay. Start with a full charged battery and do not use any electric outlets to power electrical devices.
Plus, do not overuse anything. Get a picture of your power usage for a few days because you might get actual readings within a day.
Check the average power consumption once you reach home. For instance, if you exhausted a 110Ah battery within two days, your caravan needs an average power of 55Ah every day. So, try a solar panel that can offer at least 55 Ah of solar energy per day.
If you cannot plan a trip, then there is another method to find energy usage. You can manually calculate the power rating of all the electrical devices. A leisure battery uses 12V to power all your electrical equipment. So, you can divide the power rating by 12 to get the exact amperage.
For instance, a 16W bulb will use 1.33 amp per hour. If you keep the light-powered on for three hours, then its total requirement will be 4 Ah (1.33Amp x 3hours).
Follow the same calculation steps and all the results to determine the average power you need from a solar panel.
Decide The Size of The Required Solar Panel.
Solar panels are available in watts, which varies between 5 to 200W. To calculate the charge created by them, calculate the wattage with hours of sunshine.
For instance, if you have a 200W panel, then it can generate 1000W of water after consuming solar power for five hours.
The solar system can quickly generate 1000W of charge in summers, but the problem arises in the winters. Plus, the intensity of the sunlight changes as the day progresses. The amount of the sun also depends upon the region.
Where to Buy
You can purchase caravan solar panels from online stores like Amazon. If you prefer to buy from a local shop, then pick a reputable outlet. Once delivered, it’s better to consult a professional for installation, especially if you are a new caravan owner.
As we discussed, little research can distinguish a proud investment from wastage of money. So, check your power usage and invest on something that can be easy to use on camping trips.