What’s not to like about solar panels? They work exceptionally well, they’re not overly expensive to buy, and you get all the kudos for being environmentally aware.
Caravan solar panels work by taking sunlight and converting it to electricity. The more the sun shines on your panels, the more power you get to utilise. Modern panels can even generate some current on cloudy days.
When you’re touring keep your leisure battery topped up with solar electricity. And when you have your van in storage, during the winter months, your panels can still provide you with enough current to power your alarms and tracking device, if anyone ever stole your van.
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How Do Caravan Solar Panels Work?
Caravan solar panels work in the same way as they do for a home. In short, they allow light particles, called photons, to kick free electrons, creating electricity. They make a solar panel of photovoltaic (PV) cells. Each photovoltaic cell is a silicon sandwich which they link to make a solar panel. Photovoltaic means they convert sunlight into electricity.
A controller collects and sends this DC electrical current to your leisure battery for storage and later use by you to power your appliances. Any 12V DC electrical appliance in your van will run off your battery. You will require an inverter if you have 240V AC appliances.
Different Caravan Solar Panels
There are two main types, thin-film and crystalline.
Thin Film Panels
A layer of ultra-thin silicon, a photovoltaic material, is sprayed onto a glass, plastic or metal base. They have many light-absorbing layers and can be as much as 300 times smaller than the usual silicon solar panel. Making them the lightest weight on the market. They are usually the cheapest to buy.
There are two types, mono-crystalline and poly-crystalline.
Campers all have their favorites with which works more effectively. However, the mono-crystalline has higher efficiency, while the poly-crystalline is better suited for changing light conditions and angles of light.
Determine how you’re going to use your solar panels to choose the best set up for your needs. If you enjoy getting to your destination and staying put for longer periods, then poly-crystalline is the best choice. But, if you move around on holiday, stopping for shorter durations, then mono-crystalline should be your choice.
You also need to decide about roof-mounted or free-standing panels.
Free-standing will give you more power because you can reposition them to get the optimum sun’s rays throughout the day. But the cons are you have to leave them out if you leave the site for any reason. And they can be awkward to get in and out of the van every time you arrive at a new location.
Roof-mounted won’t pose such a security risk, but as they are in a fixed position, you won’t get the maximum benefit from them when the sun moves.
Choosing The Best Caravan Solar Panels
You need to do your research. Buying a solar panel that doesn’t work as well for you as it could, is going to give a false impression.
Buying a cheap version that has a low output is going to annoy the hell out of you when you’re in the middle of a shower and the power goes. By the same token, paying over the odds for panels that have more output than you need is not cost-effective.
So how can you fathom out the best panel for your needs? Well, one way is to take your van out with a fully charged leisure battery. Don’t use any hook-ups, use only the power in the battery. Do what you would normally do and see how long the battery lasts.
Confirm with your battery rating your average energy usage.
For example, if you have a 110aH (amp hours) battery and you ran everything normally for two days, then you require an average of 55aH per day.
The solar panel you buy will need to provide 55aH power every day. Because your solar panels can only charge your battery during sunlight hours, add this into your calculations and get a panel that can provide more than 55aH.
Caravan Solar Panel Tips
- If you use crystalline solar panels make sure they have as much sunshine on them for the longest periods. Remember, any shadow that falls across them reduces their capabilities.
- Glass is the better material because plastic will reduce the power solar panels can produce. Meaning it will take three to four times as long to bring your battery to full capacity.
- If this is the first time, you have bought solar panels for your caravan, make sure it will fit your van properly. Check the van’s builders for advice.
- Your solar panel will get the strongest sunlight around noon in summer, make sure you put them in the correct position to make the most of that time.
- Having the best solar panels in the world won’t help if your battery doesn’t function to its maximum efficiency. Always double check your battery before taking your van out.
- If you have a fairly new van and it’s still under warranty, you might need to use the manufacturer to fit your panels, or it may invalidate the warranty.
- You can still use a solar panel if your caravan is in storage to keep alarms and trackers active.
- Dirt and environmental factors can reduce the effectiveness of your solar panels. Ensure you clean them regularly.
- Reduce the amount of power you use by replacing halogen bulbs with LEDs.
- Solar panels produce direct current DC power. If you want to use any appliances, you use in the home, such as a large screen smart TV, you will need to convert the power to alternating current AC. To do so will require an inverter.
Why use solar power, when you can just hook up and away you go? Well, let’s see. It makes sense environmentally; you are doing something positive there. There isn’t any noise or fumes. The electricity they generate is free. After you pay the upfront costs for your equipment, there’s nothing to pay, until you need replacement parts and that might be years down the road.
We hope that answers the question of how caravan solar panels work and you can also now see how effective they can be.