You can use solar panels on your caravan or campervan to generate clean, free energy while you’re out camping or road tripping. Solar panels are a smart way to access power, even when you’re in remote locations. Whether you’re buying a new vehicle for an upcoming trip or are planning to retrofit an older caravan, this guide will walk you through what you need to know to get started.
Solar power is clean, renewable energy from the sun. While energy sourced from fossil fuels has negative consequences for the environment, solar energy is a great choice if you want to have a lighter footprint when you’re caravanning. Plus, it’s usually a cheaper alternative to running a generator. After an initial investment to purchase the solar equipment, you can generate electricity for free without being connected to the mains power grid. That means you can still operate your appliances even when you’re camping in remote locations – all without the unpleasant noise and smells of a generator.
You don’t need a lot to create a basic caravan solar power set up – in fact, it can be quite affordable and simple to get started. The essential components are:
- Solar panel – the solar panel captures the sun’s rays and converts them into DC electricity.
- Battery – the battery stores the energy generated by the panels and can directly power any appliances that run on DC electricity.
- Regulator – the regulator ensures that the battery charges properly and does not overcharge (as this can cause damage).
- Inverter – the solar inverter converts DC electricity to AC electricity to power AC appliances and equipment.
Solar power for caravans works essentially the same as a solar panel system or solar hot water system for your home. Solar panels are installed or set up where they can receive direct sunlight. Electrons inside the solar cells move, creating direct current (DC) electricity which is sent to the solar battery for storage. If your caravan has any appliances that run off DC electricity, they can be powered directly from the battery. However, any alternating current (AC) appliances require the DC to be converted to AC by an inverter first.
For solar hot water, the solar energy collected by the solar panels is used to heat water in your storage tank. For more information, check out this guide: How does a solar hot water system work?
There are many different types of solar panels on the market, at different price points and efficiency ratings. Monocrystalline solar panels are more efficient than polycrystalline panels and tend to last longer, but they also have a higher price tag. If you choose a more affordable polycrystalline option, you’ll need bigger panels and more space to produce the same amount of electricity.
Mounted solar panels are placed on the roof of your caravan and generally can’t be moved from that position. This protects your panels from thieves and extreme weather and keeps them secure while you’re driving. Keep in mind, you usually need professional solar panel installation services for mounted panels.
Once installed, mounted solar panels will run without you having to think about it. However, if you want to optimise electricity generation, you’ll have to park your caravan in the sun or where the panels can receive maximum sunlight throughout the day.
Two options for mountable panels include:
- Rigid panels – flat, sturdy solar panels which are ideal for installing on the roof of your van. They tend to be strong and durable, but can add a lot of weight to your setup. You’ll need to make sure your panels stay clean from dirt and bird droppings to work to their full potential.
- Flexible panels – robust panels that are semi-flexible, making them ideal for curved roof applications. Some have self-healing surfaces that deal with any scratches you might get while travelling.
Portable solar panels can be moved and set up wherever you please. This means as the sun’s position changes throughout the day, you can move your solar panel setup to capture the most sunlight. Folding solar panels are a popular choice for caravanners because they’re easy to set up and move around, and quick to put away.
Solar power can be used as a backup source of power or your main power supply. If you usually stay in caravan parks where you can connect to mains power, you might only need a small solar power system as a backup power supply or for those nights you decide to camp off grid.
However, if you prefer freedom camping or camping in bush sites which don’t have a mains power supply, solar power could be a good option. Depending on the size and position of your system, as well as the weather conditions, you might be able to generate enough solar energy to power all your appliances and go completely off-grid. If you need a particularly large amount of electricity, or just want peace of mind, you can use a generator as a backup.
Whether you’re buying a new caravan with an inbuilt solar panel system or want to incorporate solar into your existing van setup, it’s best to seek professional advice. When you’re out on the road, it’s important to have enough reliable power to stay safe and comfortable. Solar power is a great option for anyone who loves off-grid camping and wants to reduce their carbon footprint while they’re at it.