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solar power
  1. Campervan
23rd May 2022

Converting your campervan to solar power?

Take advantage of your lockdown time by converting your campervan to use solar power. Here are the things you need to know to do the job.

Car Insurance from just £125 per year

If you’re dreaming of a carefree summer holiday with a clear conscience, you may want to convert your campervan to use solar power.

Solar power is good for the environment because it helps limit your carbon footprint and, after the initial outlay, solar power will start saving you money too. Having solar power will also mean you can holiday off-grid and relax far from the beaten track.

But before committing to convert your camper to solar power there will be many concerns. You may ask yourself:

  • How efficient are solar panels?
  • How long can they power your motorhome? 
  • How much do solar panels cost? 
  • How to fit a solar panel to a campervan?

The team at Sterling Insurance love a good camper trip and here they answer your questions about fitting solar power for your campervan.

solar power

How do solar panels work on a campervan?

A solar powered campervan uses solar PV (photovoltaic) panels to recharge the leisure battery which powers all of your electric appliances. They consist of two layers of silicon which, when exposed to sunlight, produce an electrical output.

The panel produces a direct current, which varies depending on the strength of the sun.The voltage is regulated by a charge controller fitted between the campervan solar panel and your leisure battery.

Harnessing solar power will ensure your leisure battery is topped up when you are using your van off-grid and it will maintain the battery’s condition when it’s not being used. By keeping your battery well charged when it is not in use you will improve its life.

How long can my solar powered campervan stay off grid?

That depends on how many electrical appliances you plan to use. Things like electric kettles and hair-driers burn a lot of electricity so leave them at home.

It’s a good idea to reduce your electric consumption by only taking essential appliances. You can boil a kettle on a gas hob, and you can get gas fuelled fridges too. (As for the hair-drier, you’re in the middle of nowhere, who cares what your hair looks like?)

You should also swap out your old tungsten lights and replace them with fuel efficient LEDs.

Be sensible with your leisure battery, reduce your usage, bank on a good sunny summer, and there’s no reason why you should run out of solar power during your holiday.

solar power

What size solar panel do I need for my campervan?

To find out what size solar panel for a campervan you’ll need to work out the power consumption of the appliances in your caravan. Basically speaking, you will need a panel which produces more power than you use. Your solar panel dealer will be able to point you in the right direction.

To keep the battery on an average four-berth van topped-up, you will need a panel with a rating of 80 to 100 watts.

What are the best solar panels for a campervan?

When choosing which solar panels are right four your campervan you will have two decisions to make, whether you want a rigid or free-standing panel and whether you want monocrystalline panels or Polycrystalline panels.

Rigid or freestanding solar panels

You can either get the panel permanently fixed to the roof, or have it standing free next to the van. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages.

Fix a panel to your roof and it’s job done, with very little to worry about. Though don’t park under a tree and make sure it’s kept clean. Holiday on the coast and it can soon become caked in seagull droppings which will significantly reduce its charging capacity.

Free-standing panels are easier to access and clean but they are vulnerable to theft. You can keep the free-standing panel pointed at the sun — at night it should be set facing the next day’s sunrise — which guarantees optimum charge.

Monocrystalline or Polycrystalline solar panels

Monocrystalline solar panels have solar cells made from a single crystal of silicon. They are slightly more efficient than Polycrystalline panels, which are made from many silicon fragments that are then melted together. Monocrystalline panels are also a little more expensive than Polycrystalline panels. 

Fix a panel to your roof and it’s job done, with very little to worry about. Though don’t park under a tree and make sure it’s kept clean. Holiday on the coast and it can soon become caked in seagull droppings which will significantly reduce its charging capacity.

Free-standing panels are easier to access and clean but they are vulnerable to theft. You can keep the free-standing panel pointed at the sun — at night it should be set facing the next day’s sunrise — which guarantees optimum charge.

solar power

How to fit a solar panel to a campervan

Fixing a solar panel to the roof of your motorhome will take a little DIY skill but most people can manage it. If you get a panel delivered it’s certainly a project you could take on by yourself at home. 

The biggest job will be drilling through the van’s membrane to run cabling to the battery via a charge controller. 

How to wire solar panels in a campervan

All instructions and wiring requirements are included with the panel pack.

Remember, with the fitting and use of all electrical components there is risk. If you have any doubts, get a specialist to fit the panel for you.

What will a solar panel cost me?

You should get some advice from a dealer but you could pick up an 80 watt 12v free-standing solar panel for about £200 with a 100 watt panel coming in at about £250.

Roof mounted panels are a little bit cheaper with an 80 watt costing around £190 and a 100 watt around £230.

solar power

Are there any other solar power tips I should be aware of?

  • If your campervan is new, fitting a solar panel may invalidate it’s warranty, if it is not undertaken by a specialist tradesman 
  • A solar panel of 20w should keep your campervan’s leisure battery charged through winter until you next need to use it
  • Facing your solar panel towards the sun will increase the energy it generates all year round
  • Keep your battery in good condition to optimise the charge from your solar panel
  • The power generated by a solar panel is direct current. If you want to use it to power something that would normally plug into a domestic three-pin socket you’ll need an inverter to convert it to alternating current.

Fitting a solar panel to your campervan could be a bright idea. For an even brighter one, check out the value-for-money campervan cover available with Sterling Insurance.

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