RV solar power is your best solution if you plan on long term free camping or parking, and need additional power to run your appliances.
But before you get all excited about solar power, ask yourself if you really need this camper accessory. There is a mixed opinion among the camper van community, do to the prices of panels, so do your math before going solar.
A very simple option is using two auxiliary batteries, sometimes a solar panel might be more convenient and other times a generator may be the only solution. It really depends on when and where will you be staying and for what reason will you be using any of these solutions.
Driving around under the sunshine of Morocco will more then justify the use of solar power, but it will not even nearly have the same effect, if you often go skiing in the winter.
In order to get the most out of your solar panel, you will obviously need a lot of daylight and a properly mounted panel. The least effective panel is the one fixed flat on the roof, which of course is the favorite position on most camper van conversions.
If you observe solar panels on houses or solar farms, you'll notice them mounted at a 45° angle and facing south in order to get the most intensity of light. That's how panels perform at their best, pure and simple.
So, how can you maximize your solar panel efficiency?
Easy! A mobile panel. All you need is a quick-release mounting bracket if you wish to install the panel on the roof, a tripod (or similar), and a long extension cord. Basically this means that you can park your camper van in the shade, remove the panel off the roof, mount it on the tripod and find a perfect position for it somewhere under the sun.
All you have to do now is plug in the extension cord into the charge controller and the panel. Now you can finally enjoy the power of the sun under the shade! But remember that any kind of shade from trees, branches and roof-racks, will substantially decrease the performance of solar panels!
You can use very small and cheap solar modules just to keep your main battery in top condition, recharge your cell phone or lap-top. An 18 W panel for example, will generate enough power to top of your battery, when your not using your vehicle for longer periods of time (ex.winter storage).
The size of the panel you need, will naturally depends on your daily power consumption. To find out the daily power consumption of your appliances, some simple math comes pretty handy.
All you need to do, is use this simple formula: Wats ÷ Volts = Ah (amps)!
Just for example, lets presume you run the following appliances;
The total sum is 216 Wh/per day. Divide this number with 12 V (volts) and you will get Ah (amps) numbers.
So...216 Wh ÷ 12 V = 18 Ah. There you have it. The average daily power consumption using the above numbers is 18 Ah/per day, which means that a 100 Ah auxiliary battery will provide enough RV solar power for about four to five days without being charged.
The two largest power consumers are
compressor coolers and diesel heaters such as Webasto or Eberspacher
(Espar to the North American public). They are all very effective and
full of modern technology, but they need quite a lot of power juice to run on. But camping heaters do come in other forms as well.
If you want to run a 40 W compressor camper refrigerator or cooler, that works approximately 12 hours a day with the build-in thermostat for example, you'll need somewhere around 500Wh/per day.
The power consumption varies, depending on the outside temperature and the settings on the cooler of course. To find out the daily power output of a solar panel, simply multiply the power of the panel with hours of sun exposure on an optimal day.
For example; a 50 W solar panel X 8 hours of sunshine = 400 W (33.3 Ah). This is more then enough power to run all the appliances from the above example. But if you also have a compressor refrigerator, you will definitely need a larger panel.
The efficiency of RV solar power depends on many factors, such as sunlight exposure and the position of the panel. The numbers on this web-page serve purely as a general guide, just to help you out with some basic calculations.
RV solar power provides the batteries with the power drained by the on board appliances or simply with the power lost during the winter storage for example. The main battery can loose up to 30% of its power in a month, when not in use!
Auxiliary batteries in camper vans or other recreational vehicles are usually deep-cycle, meaning that they can manage more "full-to-drain" cycles. But just like for any car battery, the less you drain them, the longer they'll work. A charge controller is installed between the battery and the panel to prevent battery overcharge.
Deep-cycle batteries will keep you happy for 8-10 years when properly taken care of. Considering the prices of batteries and power hook-ups in campsites, RV solar power might be an excellent idea. And if you plan to have a base camp for more than five days under a lot of sunshine...well, just go solar.
The panels are either monocrystalline modules made up of only silicon crystals and the less efficient but cheaper polycrystalline modules that are made up from multiple crystals. The third type of panel uses a thin film layer otherwise known as amorphous and represents the future of solar power.
Today, there is a large range of panels available. Aside from classic models, portable, folding, flexible and extra-thin units for any kind of daily use can be found on the market.
So do your math again and put some numbers on a piece of paper before you consider using RV solar power. Check the ratio between the prices of batteries, campsite hook-ups and the price of the solar panel. It just might be worth the trouble...
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