We love the freedom that comes with owning a campervan – to be able to set off at any time to explore new places around the UK and beyond. But having to think about selecting a pitch with electric hook ups could restrict your freedom. The most remote and peaceful campsites may not come with electric hook ups. So to escape that restriction, have you thought about investing in solar panels on your van? We say invest because the initial cost will be high, but in the long run they can save you money and reduce fossil fuel usage. For some, your campervan may not be getting used over winter, so now is a great time to think about making improvements to your camper ahead of bringing it back out again in spring.
Different types of solar panels for your campervan
There are 2 main types of solar panels you can get for your campervan. Don’t worry, you can have solar panels if you have a pop top, you will just need to get flexible panels or brackets to be able to fit them.
- Thin film PV panels are usually less expensive and will usually last around 10 years. They are produced by spraying a thin layer of semiconductor material onto another surface. The thin panels are efficient even in cloudy low light conditions. The panels are often self adhesive meaning they can be installed onto campervans with pop tops very easily. But the thin panels generally have a lower output than traditional crystalline panels, so you may need quite a few panels that will take up more space on your van.
- Crystalline panels come in two varieties, mono-crystalline and poly-crystalline. Mono-crystalline panels are the most effective type of solar panel, with each module formed from a single silicon crystal. However, while they are the most efficient solar panels, they are also the most costly. Most of the crystalline panels you will come across will be poly-crystalline, made from a large number of small crystals. The difference in efficiency means that you will need a larger poly-crystalline panel to generate the amount of energy you need.
Free standing solar panels
You may decide not to fit the panels to the roof of your campervan, maybe you don’t like the look of them, or you’d prefer to position them to get the most amount of sun. You need to think about storing them – is there enough room in your van to store them properly? Will you be comfortable leaving them outside the van unattended?
Choosing the right solar panel for you
Now you have an idea of what type of panels are available, it’s important to do your research. Think about how much power you would like the panel to generate? Are you just topping up your battery, or do you want to depend on solar power in your campervan? When you’re on your next trip, measure the amount of power you have used and think about what extra power you need, or what you could do with the extra power, and remember, the solar power will only charge your battery in daylight hours. The Ready Reckoner is a handy tool that will help you to estimate what size solar panel you’ll need.
Campervan solar panel top tips
- When using a crystalline solar panel, remember that even the tiniest shadow can affect the amount of power generated. Always ensure as many cells as possible are in direct sunlight.
- Glass or plastic will dramatically reduce the amount of power produced by a solar panel, meaning it could take up to three times as much sunlight to recharge your battery. Again, you should always make sure as much of the panel as possible is in direct sunlight.
- Before buying a new solar panel, check with your manufacturer that it will fit to your van easily. You may need to purchase special adapters if the standard clips will not be sufficient.
- Position your solar panel to catch as much of the midday (strongest) sunlight as possible. This is normally directly overhead during the summer, but you may need to reposition the panels at other times of year.
- Remember that your battery needs to be kept in excellent condition to be able to produce enough energy. Maintain and replace the battery when needed to ensure optimal performance.
- Although not much energy will be generated during the winter months, a solar panel of at least 20w should be enough to keep your stored campervan ticking over until you next need to use it if you don’t like camping in winter.
- Replacing inefficient halogen bulbs with LEDs can make a huge difference to the amount of power you use and therefore, the amount you need your solar panel to generate.
- Pollution, dirt, traffic dust and bird droppings can prevent sunlight from reaching your solar panel. Clean your solar panels regularly with warm water and dishwashing soap to remove grime and keep your panels as efficient as possible. If you notice a drop in the amount of power produced, cleaning the panels is one of the most common and most easily rectified problems.
We hope that if you are considering solar panels for your campervan, we have provided you with some useful information to help you in your own search. Please feel free to leave your views in the comments box below.