This is a common question asked by van lifers, and the answer can vary depending on how you plan to use your vehicle and how much power you need.
The amount of solar that you need will be different for everybody, based on different requirements.
However, the amount of solar power you need can also depend on how much time you plan to spend off-grid and other factors such as the climate where you are located. If your vehicle will mainly be used for short trips and stays in areas with plenty of sunshine, then you would need less solar than if you plan to use your vehicle for extended stays in remote areas or areas with less sunshine.
Are you going to be living and travelling in your van full time or just using it for short trips here and there? Are you going to be working in your van? What sort of appliances are you going to be using? The answers to these questions will vary for everyone so you have to really consider what you need from your motorhome or campervan.
Camping is all about the great outdoors and not being tethered to an electric line, but maybe it’s time you invest in solar panels for your campervan. Sure, they’re expensive and bulky at first glance but they can produce enough power to charge all of your gadgets whilst on the road without relying on limited battery life or clunky generators that are noisy and inefficient.
How much solar power do we have on our motorhome?
We currently travel full time in our motorhome around the UK and Europe, and also, we work remotely in our van, so we knew that we needed a decent amount of solar power so that we didn’t have to worry about not having electricity at any point.
We have 480W of solar power. We have 2 panels, one is 360W and the other is 120W. We had an idea that we wanted around 500W of power to ensure that we had enough for what we needed, which is why we tried to get as close to that as possible with 480W, and the two panels that we have are the ones that fitted best on the roof space that we have.
An exact list of the equipment that we got for our solar set up is –
- 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
Things to consider
Peak Sun Hours
Working out how many hours of direct sunlight you are going to be getting can make a big difference in determining how much solar you need.
Will you be mostly based in a country such as Scotland where the weather isn’t as good and it rains a lot, or will you mostly be travelling in Europe in sunnier countries where you’ll be getting a lot more sunlight.
The technical term is GHI (peak sun hours), this is the solar irradiance that hits the surface of the earth taking into consideration the varying weather conditions.
Each place around the world will be different so it’s important to factor this in.
When calculating how much solar power you need, also consider any additional electrical devices and appliances in your motorhome that may need power. This includes things like TVs, computers, microwaves and more. All of these will add to the overall electrical load and require additional solar power for charging your batteries.
The most important factor is working out how much power you actually need, you don’t want to have too little but also there is no point carrying the extra weight or spending more money than you need to for your campervan, when you could be spending the money on your travels!
So how do you work this out?
Monthly electric usage ÷ monthly peak sun hours x 1000 ÷ solar panel power rating.
The average campervan or motorhome will use between 5 – 13kWh a day. This works out to roughly 104 – 405kWh a month or 1,488 – 5,080 kWh a year.
The next thing to consider is your battery set-up. Campervan batteries are used to power the campervan while it is parked. Batteries will be used to charge the vehicle’s electric devices, such as a laptop or mobile phone.
The size of the battery will depend on how much energy they need to store. A charger can be plugged into a campervan’s 12-volt socket and then connected to any electric device in order for them to work.
We have 2 110AH lithium batteries in our van to power our full-time travels and remote working.
How much solar power do van life YouTubers have on their campervans?
We approached some of our favourite van life YouTubers to find out what their solar set up for their vans were, so that we could give a bit of an idea of what other people have and compare their requirements –
Courts & Meeks
“We’ve gone for as much solar as possible in our build with a total 620W on our roof! The reason we have this much is that we work on the road 3 days a week and need to ensure we aren’t worrying about power, ever. We took the decision to max out our roof space so that we never need to worry if we’re running low.
This means on those gloomy British days, we’re still able to pull in power because of the sheer volume up there. Is it too much? Maybe, we probably don’t utilise it all but we did have only 300W for our first trip and found that we were always worried about how much we were getting and didn’t want to have that anxiety anymore.
So when we came back from our first EU adventure, we put on two big panels on the back and added another solar controller so we essentially have two separate systems feeding our 200AH Lithium battery – that way if one gives up, we’ve still got a solid power supply.”
Website – Alternative Living with Courts & Meeks (courtsandmeeks.com)
YouTube – Courts & Meeks – YouTube
Instagram – @courtsandmeeks
Rob & Archie
“As for solar, I have 325 watts of Solar which is just enough for my 200amp of Lithium.. however I have a double DC to DC charging system when driving and that alone gives me up to and over 60amps into the batteries.. I am adding a 3rd Lithium battery to give me 300amps of storage. As I spend most of my time in Scotland during winter and need to be able to drive and get more power, store more power and use Solar when I can”
YouTube – Pack The Van And Go – YouTube
Instagram – @packthevanandgo
Those Happy Days
“We have around 700w of solar…which is over 6 times more than what we had previously. As it stands, we still have to observe fundamental rules of living in an off-grid van: which is taking caution when using certain appliances for certain lengths of time, but aside from that we feel like it’s as much solar as we are ever going to need.
Having said all of that, we survived for a whole year living full time in a van on just 110w of solar. You adapt to what you have, and that’s also what van life is about”
YouTube – Those Happy Days – YouTube
Instagram – @thosehappy_days
Overall, the exact amount of solar you need in your motorhome depends on many factors and can vary from one situation to the next. It’s important to calculate all of these factors carefully, as having too little solar power can leave you without enough electricity during extended stays off-grid.
On the other hand, having too much solar power can lead to wasted money and unnecessary complexity. Ultimately, it is best to consult a professional who can help you determine the exact amount of solar power you need for your specific situation.
Additionally, if you are considering adding solar to your motorhome, it is important to ensure that the system has been properly sized and installed by a qualified technician. Properly installed systems will be more efficient and help you get the most out of your solar power.
With the right amount of solar power installed, you can enjoy reliable and renewable electricity for your motorhome without worrying about running out of juice!
So, if you’re looking to add solar to your motorhome, make sure to do some research and figure out exactly how much power you need before making any decisions. With the right planning and installation, you can have a reliable and sustainable source of electricity to power your travels.
We hope that you have found this blog post useful if you are wondering how much solar you need for your motorhome or campervan. If you have any questions at all, please feel free to leave us a comment on this blog post!
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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 (threeasabird.com)
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I love everything about travel, from seeing new places, learning about new cultures and trying new foods! I believe that travel is one of the best forms of education you can get, I have learnt so much about myself and about the world from travelling all over. Travel is something I feel so passionately about, and I love the fact that we are now lucky enough to have this opportunity to do what we love as much as we can, it’s a dream come true.
Before we started travelling, I worked in local government in administration. I had been in this job for several years and had reached a complete brick wall where I was so fed up, but didn’t know what else to do. The only thing I knew that I wanted to do was to travel, and had wanted to do that for many years.
There were hundreds and hundreds of places on my wishlist that I wanted to go to, and I knew that going on a weeks holiday maybe twice a year if we were lucky wasn’t going to cut it.
After being in lockdown due to the Covid pandemic, and working from home staring at the same 4 walls every day, 2021 seemed like the perfect time for us to take the risk to finally do what we had dreamed of for so long.
It was a hard decision to completely change our lives, but so far it has been the best decision we have ever made!
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