Are you thinking of buying solar panels for caravans? Do you want to drive and spend some time in a remote and peaceful place, yet still have the convenience of electric power? One enjoyment of owning a caravan is that you can easily escape the urban jungle and drive to the wilderness to camp out. When you're in a faraway place like the Australian Outback, there's a good chance that there would be a limited source of electricity to provide convenient light and heat to your camping site. Hence, investing in caravan solar panels can be the most practical decision.
Before you purchase solar panels for caravans, you have to know a few things about the product to find out the best ones for RV use.
1. There are different types of solar panels for caravan roofs.
The most common types of RV solar panels are:
- Mono-crystalline, which has individual cell or single crystal;
- Polycrystalline, which has multiple cells or crystals;
- Amorphous, which are made with thin, lightweight, and flexible film panels;
- Semi-flexible, which are aerodynamic and less noticeable in size and form; and
- Rigid, which comes with a glass front and could be breakable
Each type has its strength and fault, which is why solar panels come with a warranty of up to 25 years to ensure that the manufacturers address the performance and usability concerns of consumers. Be sure to ask about warranties if you’re shopping around for solar panels.
2. Fitting solar panels to caravan roof depends on the panel's size and efficiency
Because solar panels have different sizes, you can envision how big or little space it will take up on your caravan roof. If you don't have enough area to put the panels on, then it might be practical to get two small ones to properly fit on top and have a combined wattage that would still be powerful. For instance, two small 60w solar panels can be perfectly accommodated on your caravan roof to give you the same energy as a single one, but a bigger 120w solar panel will take up more space. As far as efficiency is concerned, the position and the angle of your caravan and the conditions of the weather can harness the efficiency of the solar panels in absorbing sunlight. However, here’s a simple rundown on the types of panels that can impact its use and performance:
Of the different types, it is the mono-crystalline whose range of choices can go from 80w solar panel to 200w solar panel.This type uses roof space more efficiently. It is the most preferred by caravan and RV owners, but shelling out money for a mono-crystalline might cost more than the other types because of the way its panels are manufactured. Whilst its capabilities might be unmatched, it is the most expensive type of solar panel.
This is less efficient but is also cheaper, compared to a mono-crystalline solar panel. Its panel is designed to be larger; thus, taking up more space on your caravan roof. However, you can still consider a quality-made polycrystalline panel over a low-quality mono-crystalline type, as there will be little difference to its efficiency.
This solar panel is flexible in form. It is also one of the most visually-appealing panels. It is the cheapest as well, when matched against monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. However, amorphous solar panels are also the least efficient, because these are made thin. A shrill or skinny panel can be easily affected by changes in temperature. Additionally, flexible solar panels usually have a lifespan of three to ten years, or less than half of the lifespan of the other more durable types.
It is best for caravan roofs that are not flat. Because of its modern and bendable design, many millennial caravan owners prefer this type for aesthetic reasons. However, this type of solar panel can easily build up heat. Whilst this might be favourable to use in the winter months as it can generate power efficiently, the panels could make the interior below the caravan’s roof so hot. It would be too uncomfortable to have a warm caravan interior.
It provides ideal and efficient power, but its material can be costly to maintain. A tree branch could fall on your caravan's roof and chip or break the glass, so you have to be mindful of where you park your RV. Rigid panels are also quite heavy on your rig, which can become a problem on your travel plans. It might cause overloading and slow down your vehicle. Its appearance can also be an eyesore.
3. Solar panels for caravans can be portable or fixed.
Should you go with fixed or portable solar panels? The answer depends on how you will use it. An advantage of portable panels is that they can be repositioned, so you can absorb maximum sunlight. Fixed panels, on the other hand, rely on sunlight depending on where you park. It becomes a problem when you’d rather position your caravan somewhere cooler than park it under direct sunlight during a 32-degree-Celsius heatwave. If you parked in a shaded area, then you won't be able to maximise the use of fixed solar panels. With a portable type, you can unmount this from your roof and place it where the sunlight is, whilst leaving your van cooler in the shade. But then again, it might be too much trouble and work on your part to keep mounting and unmounting portable 120 watt solar panels. There's also a slim chance that you might forget your portable panel when you leave the camping site because it has not been attached on the roof.
4. Determine your wattage requirements when you’re using solar power for your caravan.
Would you be better off buying a 200w solar panel than a 100w solar panel? For the right answer, it is best to list down what appliances you will use in your caravan and take note of their wattage requirements to get an estimate of your consumption. The wattage rating is found at the back or bottom of appliances. Common caravan appliances might include the following:
- Coffee maker - 300w;
- Electric fan - 10w;
- Heater - 1,500w;
- Iron - 1,000w;
- Laptop - 20w;
- LED light - 8w;
- Microwave - 600w;
- Radio - 70w;
- Television - 70w;
- Toaster - 800w; and
- Water pump -120w
Figure out how long and how often you will use these appliances every day that you’re in the camp. For instance, if you turn on two LED lights in your caravan, which are 8w each, for five hours a night, you're consuming roughly 80w each day for the lights alone. Add up all your other consumptions for each appliance to know how much solar power you need on average to generate in your caravan.
5. You have to understand what a solar power wattage rating means.
A solar panel's wattage rating isn't absolute. For instance, if you have a 100w solar panel, it doesn't mean that the device will produce 100w each time. The rating is only an indication of the maximum power the panel may produce. Maximum power is usually generated when the sun is up and bright, and your panels are directly under it. In deciding what caravan solar panels to buy, always consider how maximum power is used.
6. Solar panel power production changes, depending on the season.
When do you plan to drive your caravan with the solar-powered roof? If you're heading out for summer camping, you will likely gain bright sunshine for five to seven hours a day. In the winter season, your solar panel's peak performance might only be around one to two hours. You need to factor this into the size and wattage of your solar panel unit and then perhaps add 20 to 30 per cent more to your required wattage for days when it’s cloudy or raining. That’s how you determine how much power you’ll ideally need. If you intend to use a solar-powered caravan during the summer seasons only, then perhaps a 100w to 160w solar panel would do. If you want to use your caravan even in the cold winter months, then you might need a powerful source beyond a 200w solar panel, especially if you plan on using a heater.
7. Prices for solar panels for caravans greatly vary.
As there are different types of panels, wattage ratings and manufacturers, the price of solar panels may also widely vary. Some manufacturers might offer the solar panels as a kit, which could be priced more affordably. A campervan solar panel kit might come with cables, regulators, mounts, and installers. If there are no kits, then you will have to add up the prices of each part as individual purchases in your budget.
8. You need to account for installation fees.
You must also consider the installation fee when you're purchasing solar panels, as this is usually separate from the cost of the product itself. You could decide to install the panel yourself, if only to save on installation fees. However, if you don't have any knowledge or expertise, it might be more prudent to pay a professional to do it. A solar panel that is not properly installed can be risky. Wrongly fitted cables might trigger a fire and turn your caravan into a useless piece of metal, or you could drill on the wrong area of the roof and damage your caravan.
9. You should declare your solar panel installation to your insurance company.
A solar panel is an addition to your caravan. As such, it is a modification, which you might have to declare to your insurance company to get added coverage and protection.
10. Consider getting a regulator, battery monitor, and inverter.
If you're on your caravan frequently, then it might be helpful to invest in other accessories that will work alongside your solar panels. You would want these to be 100-per cent reliable, especially if you're not always going to find powered sites during your travels and outdoor adventures.
Solar panels for caravans might be prone to overcharging, especially if you use them frequently. To prevent potential damage and avoid cutting their lifespan, you should have a regulator that can control the charges, so that the panels won't overheat. If you bought a smaller solar panel, a regulator is a must.
Similar to a fuel indicator, a battery monitor tells you when you have enough charge levels left in your solar power. If you know your battery level, you can make proper use of the power, especially when it's night time or until you charge up your panels again with sunshine. A battery monitor will be beneficial in keeping your battery working in great condition. If you don't have an efficient battery, it would be pointless in investing in quality solar panels, because you still won’t be able to make use of the system properly.
You'll need an inverter to convert DC power to AC power. The latter is used for appliances like televisions, coffee makers, or mobile phone chargers.
11. You can maximise the use of your caravan solar panels with proper care and maintenance.
Routinely check if there are specks of dust, dirt, grime, and muck on your panels. You need to clean these off from time to time as they can affect power generation. The debris can block sunlight penetration onto the panels. Use a clean and soft cloth when you're wiping the panels to avoid scratching the surface. You can also clean the panels using water and leave it to dry under the sun.
Contact a Reputable Company
Whilst solar panels can be a worthy investment and a great addition to your caravan, you can reap more benefits from owning one if you buy from a reputable company in Australia. To guide you with your solar panel needs, as well as help with their installation, contact Outbax.