Are you looking for a way in which you can ensure that your motorhome or campervan has power, without having to rely on hooking up to electricity and relying on completely renewable energy?
Are you looking to go off-grid more? Do you want a solar kit to make the most of a free source of energy? Then it sounds like the best campervan solar panels are what you need.
A solar panel is a great way to add something productive and efficient to your motorhome or the camper van and the kind of customisation that pays off in real-world benefits.
There are a tonne of reasons that a solar panel is a great addition to your Motorhome or Campervan. They’re eco-friendly, energy-saving, money-saving, easy to maintain, and they run quietly, avoiding the noise of generators.
It’s also a great time to make the jump from gas-powered or AC power to solar panels as technology is constantly improving. Solar panels are no longer the extremely heavy, bulky, and undependable devices of the past.
Keep reading the full page to find out the benefits of having a solar panel for your campervan / motorhomes, how solar panels work and also the best ones on the market.
Why are Motorhome Solar Panels Beneficial for Owners?
There are a lot of good reasons to add a solar panel to your motorhome or campervan. In fact, we can’t really think of any bad ones!
You Get Power For FREE
We are big on getting things for free, when you are living full time van life or even just going away for a weekend in your campervan, the cost of living is expensive and so it’s always good to get something for free.
So with the price of power going up and camp sites prices going up, having a great solar package is really important.
We tried to get as much as could on top of our motorhome to maximise and harness the power of the sun and really maximise our power usage on our campervan roof.
There are some significant upfront costs to purchasing and installing a solar panel system on your motorhome & campervan, especially if you want it to become the primary source of power for your motorhome.
However, it’s not much more—and in some instances, it’s less—than the cost of a premium generator. You will reap the benefits in the long run.
Also, with a generator, you have a finite energy source that has to be frequently replaced with fuel, which costs more money in the long term.
None of that includes the fact that generators require far more maintenance and repairs can be very costly.
Our Motorhome Solar Panel Kit Set-Up
These are the items that we bought for our motorhome when we installed our solar panel system. Depending on the solar panel system you have, you may need to purchase more cables and brackets to suit, but the control panel should regulate all of your portable solar panels and power.
You can see the roof of our motorhome in the image above, we have the following equipment for our solar set up –
- 1 x 360W Solar Panel
- 1 x 120w Solar Panel
- 1 x Victron Energy SmartSolar MPPT 100V 30 amp 12/24-Volt Solar Charge Controller (Bluetooth)
- 2 x CraigSolar.co.uk Solar Cable Pair of 5M 4mm2 cable Red/Black with Mc4 plugs attached
- 2 x Solar Double Cable Entry Gland
- 2 x Mounting Bracket X4 (WHITE) CraigSolar.co.uk
Once you have all of the tools necessary and everything is installed, you’re good to go and the only maintenance that you will have to concern yourself about is keeping your solar panel system nice and clean to keep them working efficiently.
Speaking of keeping your solar panels clean, the maintenance required on installing solar panels, is negligible in comparison to owning generators.
With generators, repairs are usually pretty expensive and it generally means it will be labour-intensive.
That’s not to mention the amount of fuel required. With solar panel kits, there are two levels of concern when it comes to taking care of them. The first one is keeping your batteries in top condition, checking for corrosion, and keeping them topped off.
Also, you want to keep the solar panels clean. You don’t need anything special to do the cleaning either. You want to keep dirt, debris, snow, mud, sticks and leaves clear from your solar panels at all times to ensure you’re getting the most solar power possible.
There’s something to be said about not consistently burning fuel and oil in order to power your motorhome needs.
A solar panel only need sunlight and they will deliver the power you need quietly, efficiently, and cleanly.
There is a valid argument to be made concerning the chemicals that go into manufacturing solar panels.
They are highly toxic to humans and wildlife in general, however, so long as you are responsible and you maintain them and don’t toss them on the side of the road, this shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
Type of solar cell for your campervan
Monocrystalline Solar Panels:
Monocrystalline solar panels are made from a single crystal structure of silicon. These panels are highly efficient, typically ranging between 17-22%.
The high efficiency makes them an excellent choice for campervans with limited roof space, as fewer panels are required to achieve optimal performance and the desired power output.
Key features of monocrystalline solar panels:
- High efficiency
- Long lifespan, typically around 25 years
- Aesthetically appealing due to their uniform appearance
- Performs well in low-light conditions
- Higher cost compared to other types of solar panels
Polycrystalline Solar Panels:
Polycrystalline solar panels are made from multiple silicon crystals that are melted together. These panels are slightly less efficient than monocrystalline panels, for example, with efficiency ratings typically ranging from 15-20%.
Polycrystalline panels are more affordable, making them an attractive option for campervan owners on a budget.
Key features of polycrystalline solar panels:
- Moderate efficiency
- Lower cost compared to monocrystalline panels
- Slightly shorter lifespan than monocrystalline panels, but still around 25 years
- Performs relatively well in various lighting conditions
- Less uniform appearance due to the multi-crystal structure
Thin-Film Solar Panels:
Thin-film solar panels are made by depositing a thin layer of photovoltaic material, such as amorphous silicon, copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), or cadmium telluride (CdTe), onto a substrate.
Thin-film panels are lightweight and flexible, making them an excellent option for campervans with curved or irregular surfaces. However, they are less efficient than monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels, with efficiency ratings usually ranging from 10-12%.
Key features of thin-film solar panels:
- Lower efficiency
- Flexible and lightweight, making them suitable for curved surfaces
- Lower cost compared to monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels
- Shorter lifespan, typically around 10-15 years
- Aesthetically appealing due to their thin and sleek design
Flexible Solar Panels
These flexible solar panels have been specifically designed to be lightweight, flexible, and easy to install on a variety of surfaces, making them a popular choice for campervans with different shaped roofs like pop tops and VWs,
However, while flexible solar panels offer numerous advantages, they also have certain limitations when compared to rigid solar panels like,
- Lower Efficiency: Flexible solar panels generally have lower efficiency ratings than rigid panels. This means that they produce less power per square foot, necessitating a larger surface area to generate the same amount of energy.
As a result, campervan owners may need to install more flexible panels to achieve their desired power output, potentially occupying more space on the vehicle.
- Durability: While flexible solar panels are designed to withstand some degree of bending and flexing, they are generally not as durable as rigid panels.
They may be more susceptible to damage from environmental factors such as hail, wind, and debris. Additionally, their thinner construction can result in a shorter lifespan compared to their rigid counterparts, requiring more frequent replacement.
- Heat Dissipation: Flexible solar panels are often mounted directly onto the surface of a campervan’s roof, which can limit their ability to dissipate heat effectively.
This can lead to higher operating temperatures, which may, in turn, reduce the panel’s efficiency and lifespan.
Portable Solar Panels
They are a popular choice for campervan owners who want to generate their own electricity while on the road.
As the name suggests, these flexible panels are designed to be lightweight, compact and easy to move around, making them ideal for those who are always on the move.
While portable solar panels are certainly convenient, they do have some limitations. Compared to their rigid counterparts, portable panels tend to be less efficient and may not produce as much power.
Additionally, they are more susceptible to damage and may need to be replaced more frequently. Nonetheless, for campervan owners who prioritize flexibility and mobility, portable solar panels are a great option.
Best Solar Panels for Motorhomes/Campers
Solar Charge Controller
The Solar Charge Controller is an essential piece of equipment that helps regulate the flow of electricity from the power generated by a photovoltaic (PV) system to the battery or other loads.
By monitoring the state of charge in the batteries and adjusting the charging current, it prevents overcharging and ensures more efficient use of solar energy.
We have a Vicron 100/30 smart charger and after speaking with installers, everyone recommends Victron, especially if you have lithium batteries as they require a special set up.
It comes with a great app, that allows you to see all the information you would need, we are in Portugal when writing this and our solar is amazing!
We rarely have to hook up to mains power and our battery life rarely drops below 70% at night and that’s with using a lot of power draining items too such as laptop chargers.
Are Solar Panels on a Campervan Worth It?
Solar panels on campervans are worth it if you want to minimise your expenses. Solar panels are the perfect solution for people who want the freedom of living off-grid in their campervan or motorhome, or even caravan solar panels, or just to have that extra source of power.
Although it may be a cost initially to get set up, in the long term, the benefits far outweigh the initial cost.
Motorhome solar panels can provide all necessary electricity for a campervan or a motorhome, and solar panels will also charge your vehicle battery, ensuring that it never goes flat, this can be really important during winter or even if it’s stored away.
More Freedom of Movement
There may be some really nice campsites out there that you would completely miss out on if you are wholly dependent on generators and batteries for your power consumption, as some campsites don’t allow them.
With solar panels, you can have all of the power and luxuries of a generator in a campsite that won’t allow them.
You also have the ability to go off-grid a lot more, and not have to rely on campsites at all.
If you’d like to know more about other people’s solar panel set up, we have contacted several van life YouTubers to find out about theirs, and you can find out more here – How Much Solar Do I Need In My Motorhome / Campervan?
No more generators breaking the peace and quiet of nature. Of course, if you park your motorhome/camper in a major campsite, there will always be the typical hustle and bustle of other campers within the park.
Even so, the quiet that replaces the constant noise of a roaring generator is a little bit of bliss in and of itself.
Work out how much solar power you need
|Appliance||Power Rating (W)||Current at 12V (A)||Hours On||Amp Hours (Ah) Required||Energy Top-up/Day (Wh)|
When planning a campervan adventure, one of the essential aspects to consider is battery capacity and the amount of power needed to run all the appliances and devices during the trip.
Calculating battery power and the energy requirements helps in determining the appropriate solar setup, whether you’ll need just a single solar panel or more than one, ensuring a comfortable and hassle-free journey. To make this calculation, we can use a simple equation: Power (Watts) = Current (Amps or A) x Voltage (Volts or V).
Start by listing all the appliances and devices you intend to use in the campervan, including their power rating in watts (W) and the number of hours you expect to use them each day.
The power rating of each appliance is typically found on a label or in the user manual. If the power rating is not available in watts, use the given equation to convert the current (A) and voltage (V) values into watts.
Next, determine the current drawn at 12V for each appliance by dividing its power rating (W) by the campervan’s voltage (usually 12V). This step will provide you with the current in amps (A) for each device.
Now, multiply the current drawn at 12V (A) by the number of hours each appliance is expected to be on each day. This calculation provides the amp-hours (Ah) required for the power produced by each device. Sum up the amp-hours (Ah) for all appliances to determine the total daily energy consumption.
Finally, calculate the daily energy top-up needed in watt-hours (Wh) by multiplying the amp-hours (Ah) required for each appliance by the campervan’s voltage (usually 12V).
Add up the energy top-up values for all devices to estimate the total daily energy requirement in watt-hours (Wh).
By following these steps, you’ll gain a clear understanding of your campervan’s energy needs. This information is crucial when selecting the right solar panel system and how many solar panels you may need, as it helps to ensure that you have enough power to sustain your appliances throughout the journey.
Keep in mind that weather conditions, shading, and other factors may affect the solar panels’ performance. To account for such variables, consider adding a safety margin of 20-30% to your daily energy requirement.
This extra buffer will help guarantee that your campervan is well-equipped with the necessary power, even on days when sunlight is less than optimal.
Is 100W solar panel enough for campervan?
Determining whether a 100W solar panel is enough for a campervan depends on the specific energy consumption of your appliances and devices, as well as the amount of direct sunlight available for solar energy generation. It isn’t enough for us, we have nearly 500 and in winter you really don’t get a lot from that so 100w isn’t going to be much at all
How long will a 200W solar panel take to charge a 100Ah battery?
To determine how long a 200W solar panel will take to charge a 100Ah leisure battery, you’ll need to consider factors such as the solar panel’s efficiency, weather conditions, and the solar charge controllers efficiency. First, let’s assume optimal conditions for the solar panel, where it produces around 70% of its rated power throughout the day. This means the solar panel kit would generate approximately 140W (200W x 0.7) of power per hour. Now, let’s calculate the battery’s total capacity in watt-hours (Wh). Since the battery has a 100Ah capacity and the voltage for most campervan systems is 12V, the total capacity is 1,200Wh (100Ah x 12V) Under ideal conditions, divide the battery’s capacity in watt-hours (Wh) by the solar panel’s hourly power output: 1,200Wh / 140W ≈ 8.57 hours It would take around 8.57 hours for a 200W solar panel to charge a 100Ah battery in perfect conditions. However, solar panels rarely operate at their maximum efficiency due to factors such as weather conditions, panel angle, and shading. Additionally, the charge controller’s efficiency (usually around 80-95%) will also impact the charging time. Considering these factors, it’s essential to add a safety margin to the estimated charging time. In practice, it might take 10-12 hours or more to get the leisure battery charged.
There are far more positive reasons to install a solar panel system on your motorhome or campervan than negative ones. If you decide to go with a solar system, you’ll have more versatility on the road and it will give you that go-anywhere mentality.
Solar panels are unique in that they are the perfect, portable accommodation for a portable lifestyle travelling across the country.
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You can take a look at some of our other van life posts which include lots and lots of hints and tips on all things van life here – Van Life – Travel Information, Hints, Tips and Advice
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I have always wanted to travel and luckily I always got to travel to some amazing countries while I was growing up with my family and this really encouraged me to continue this and get out into the world on my own when I was older.
My goal growing up was really to see as much of the world as I could, but then I started going to work and really concentrating on my career and travel took a back seat. I still tried to get away a few times a year but I always knew there was an end goal which was to travel as much as possible.
So I got my head down and worked as hard as I could as an e-commerce manager. I have always been techy, I love computers and websites, so that’s where it gave me the idea to start this blog and also have my own web design agency. If you want to check it out or need any help then please take a look rrwebdesign.co.uk (shameless plug there)
But after covid, we both knew this was now the right time to take the leap and go and see the world after being trapped inside our house and working from home for a couple of years. We realised more than ever that you only get one life and you really need to make the most of it and do what you love!