Are you considering solar panels for your campervan? Do you know how many panels it will take to power a camper? Have you found yourself considering if solar panels on campervans in the UK are worth it? If so, this guide is for you. We take a comprehensive look at solar panels for your campervan so that you’re equipped to make the right choices.
A popular reason for having a campervan is to hit the road and get out and away from the ‘grid’. However, a lot of the time in a campervan you’re actually hopping from one electric hook-up site to the next. You need some power to warm up some water, run your lights, and maybe even your shower or electrical stove. Solar panels can make it possible to pitch up somewhere without the hook-up and still be able to run all your electrical gear.
There’s also the fact that once you’ve invested in your solar panels, you then won’t be paying the premium for the electric hook-up, or for the electricity if you’re charging batteries at home. If you’ve relied on a generator then you won’t need to pay out for the fuel for this either.
A common question is whether solar panels for campervans are worth it. After all, we live in Blighty, not really known for glorious hot sunny days. However, in the UK, there is plenty of daylight to make solar panels worth it. Don’t forget, the panels are often positioned on the roof (rather than a standalone that’s brought out at camp) and so you can be charging up as you drive along on open roads.
Looking at lots of different feedback, it seems that there is a resounding YES, solar panels for campervans are worth it in terms of both money saved overall and the ease of having instant power without a hook-up.
There are also the green credentials of having solar panels. Taking natural light and turning it into power is considered one of the most eco-friendly sources of power, and we know that’s important for many van aficionados!
Image Source: The Volkscamper who has a great step by step of their experience fitting their camper with solar panels.
There are two different types of solar panels for campervans. This is an exciting area of advancement, so watch this space! In a nutshell, the panel collects a DC current from the daylight which is then converted and stored in a battery. You then run your devices off the battery.
There are two types of PV panels:
There are lots of pros and cons to choosing whether to have your solar panels mounted on the roof, or free-standing which you bring out and place alongside the van when you’re pitched up.
The biggest argument for roof-mounted solar panels is that they will be working as you drive along. The biggest downside is that they are permanently attached to the van and this stops you being able to use the roof for storage and carrying stuff, but it also means you can’t easily position or angle the panels to catch the most light.
Free-standing panels can be much more easily angled to catch the sun. You can move them around as the sun moves in the sky to maximise the input. The issue is that they can’t charge as you drive along, and they need to be stored in the van when not in use and during journeys.
Really, it’s down to personal preference at the end of the day. Both types need to be kept clean to be most efficient, and there should always be good air flow around the panels too. Look on any forum where experienced van lovers are chatting about solar panels and they will say the most important thing is to choose a respected brand, over the particular type of panel, and look for a minimum 5-year warranty. Check for an IEC 61215 quality certification.
The panels will demand most of your attention, but you’ll need a few extra bits of kit to make the solar panels work.
With panels over 18W you will need a dedicated regulator and/or control panel that goes between the panel and the battery to regulate the charge. This is also really handy because you’ll then be able to see how much power is being generated.
When you buy your solar kit for your campervan it will come with a pulse width modulation controller. Many van owners discover they want to upgrade this to a maximum power point tracking (MPPT) charge controller. These modify the voltage coming from the panels so that it matches the requirements of the battery and doesn’t overload it. They cost more at the initial outlay but you can expect to have a 20% more efficient system as a result.
In addition, you’ll need a few other things like a fitting kit, glues/fixes and cabling.
Finally, you’ll need the battery. It’s worth getting the biggest battery you can in terms of space and cost. The battery stores the power, so this way you’ll always have power even if the panel isn’t actively collecting. A 100Ah lead-acid/AGM battery is a good option. Alternatively you could choose a lithium leisure battery. These are more expensive but save space and weight while also being more efficient and they should last longer too.
This is the question that will have you scratching your head and doing the sums! It depends on a number of different factors.
Each solar panel will be advertised with a power-generating potential declared. This is industry-led using Standard Test Conditions, so you can compare one with another. However, the efficiency can be determined by other factors, including things like the intensity of the light, the angle, and very high or low temperatures. Therefore, you won’t always get the same amount of power from the same panel. So bear this in mind.
What is important is to figure out your power consumption. This can help you ‘work backwards’ to determine how many panels you need. One way to do this is to look at your existing battery use, if you use one. You can work out how much power you use in an average day in the van. Alternatively, you can look at each appliance you plan to run off the panels and calculate how much power they use. Multiple this by the length of time you use the appliance for.
Panels are rated in terms of watts – this is what you can expect on average, per hour of daylight. You can therefore work out your total power consumption versus what a standard panel will generate. Take care not to overestimate the amount generated, or underestimate the amount consumed.
Who needs an excuse to go away for a short break in the camper, but you can use one to do all the calculations! Just don’t expect data collected in the height of summer to be representative of what you’ll need in winter!
You can also try this calculator. It’s based on US data, so keep the wattage the same but halve the current.
You will need to do a fair amount of research about the different panels. The panels should last you a good amount of time, so it’s worth the effort early on.
There are a wide range of solar panel suppliers in the UK and more seem to be springing up. A few suppliers include:
Please bear in mind that at Campervan Insurance we are unable to make specific recommendations. However, do keep us informed of your campervan solar panels so that they are included within your campervan insurance.
Check out our other favourite campervan accessories here.