In this post you will discover:
- What is the best solar panel for a motorhome?
- What size solar panel to install for a motorhome?
- Before adding mobile solar power to your motorhome: Important things to know
To have a motorhome gives you the freedom just to get in and set off on a journey.
With your motorhome, however, you need electricity for some basic daily needs. Certainly, you can use various hook-ups along your way but you need to get to a hook-up anyway, and second, consuming electricity will cost you money.
A good plan would be to invest in solar panel system on your motorhome instead.
Indeed, a mobile solar power system is not a cheap thing.
It should be noted, however, that it’s the initial investment or the CapEx, that looks somewhat frightening.
The maintenance costs or the OpEx, are not so scary, or at least they cannot be compared to bother with searching hook-ups nearby or making continuous calculations on the bill for electricity consumed.
Therefore, solar power gives you freedom as a motorhome owner.
Last but not least, a mobile solar system installed on your caravan’s roof provides you with the option to realize which devices you can easily do without every day.
What is the best solar panel for a motorhome?
The most important thing you should be aware of before deciding to invest in mobile solar power is your daily consumption of electricity.
Being in clear of the power ratings of the devices you use will help you find the solar panels that best fit your case.
The two main types of solar panels available on the market are crystalline and thin-film (amorphous) ones.
Crystalline solar panels are made of crystalline silicon and can be either monocrystalline (blackish) or polycrystalline (bluish).
Thin-film solar panels are usually brown and are made of amorphous silicon which is cheaper than crystalline one.
Crystalline panels are more expensive than thin-film ones since they are more efficient and more durable.
Thin-film panels are less expensive than crystalline ones but also less efficient which means that you need more panels to produce the same amount of solar-generated electricity.
Therefore, you will need more space.
Monocrystalline solar panels are more efficient (and more expensive) than their polycrystalline counterparts although the difference is not so significant.
Also, if you compare a high-quality polycrystalline panel with a low-quality monocrystalline one, the former will perform better and cost more.
Crystalline panels are often preferred for motorhomes and RV where space is an issue.
Crystalline panels have a hardened-glass surface which can be considered both a benefit and a drawback.
A drawback, since this makes them much more fragile than thin-film one, and a benefit, since this enables solar panel’s self-cleaning which is important for panel’s performance.
On the contrary, thin-film panels do not have a smooth surface, so self-cleaning is not possible – you have to clean them regularly.
It should be noted, however, that crystalline panels’ performance gets more affected by shading compared to thin film ones.
This is also important because often you have the option to choose an unshaded place, but sometimes it’s simply not possible!
What size solar panel to install for a motorhome?
It is the efficiency that makes people often prefer crystalline panels to thin-film ones despite the following undisputable benefits of the latter:
– less expensive
– perform better at high temperatures (above 25C or 77F)
– more durable
– more lightweight
– perform better in a cloudy sky
– more tolerant to shading
“Perform better” means that they deliver voltage and power closest to the rated values.
Nevertheless, if monocrystalline panels have an efficiency of around 15%, polycrystalline – of around 13% and thin-film – around of 6.5%, to generate 1kW of power by monocrystalline panels, you need an area of 75 sq. feet, while to generate the same power by thin-film panels you need an area of 161 sq. feet. It’s more than twice…while the size of your roof is the same!
We do not recommend you to sacrifice the solar panel efficiency for shading tolerance.
A solar panel is supposed to operate when exposed to the sun, so preventing a solar array to operate normally by intentionally shading it, does not seem a smart idea.
A crystalline solar panel can also be made shade-tolerant by using installing bypass diodes.
However, this only prevents blocking the performance of the entire panel in case of getting shaded by a leaf or a bird dropping.
Such a partially shaded panel will underperform by not delivering its rated voltage and power. Indeed, getting the rated voltage and power is possible as long as a clean panel is exposed to full sunlight.
We also recommend you not to set efficiency as your ultimate target.
Efficiency is of the utmost importance only if the space on your motorhome’s roof is really very limited. What matters most is your electricity consumption which will determine how big mobile solar panel system you need to cover your daily needs.
Once you have calculated the size of the solar power system for your case, and have determined how much space on your roof the solar array will need, it is obviously not very smart needlessly to buy the most efficient, and therefore the most expensive solar panels available.
Before adding mobile solar power to your motorhome…
During the decision making to invest or not in a mobile solar system for your motorhome, you should consider the following practical issues:
– For any solar power system, implementing energy efficiency beforehand is a must.
– Before buying solar panels for your caravan, you should check whether the solar array can be easily mounted on the roof. Sometimes, apart from the standard clips, you need additional adapters.
– If your vehicle is newly-purchased, you should check whether installing solar panels on the roof is going to void the manufacturer’s warranty.
– You cannot do without a battery.
Firstly, because you might not need all the solar-generated electricity right away. Secondly, you might need to power your appliances upon no sunlight available.
Therefore, it’s a good plan to invest in a good leisure battery and by installing solar panels on the roof of your caravan, just to get independent from the grid while on the road.
Even if your battery is sealed and maintenance free, you should mind that batteries have much shorter lifespan than solar panels.
Therefore, you should get used to regularly check the condition of your battery.
-Depending on the area you are going to camp, you should decide whether to install your solar panels on the roof or use a portable solar array.
There is one thing you should not forget – to provide maximum performance, solar panels should be exposed to full sunlight, and this is especially valid for crystalline ones.
Unlike fixed solar panels mounted on the roof, portable ones not only provide more options to park your motorhome but are also more flexible in adjusting azimuth and tilt angles.
– In case you have AC appliances to power, you need an inverter.
As a summary, solar power is great for camping, caravanning and boondocking, as it makes the feeling for freedom even stronger by providing you independence from the utility grid.
To make the right decision, matched both to your power usage and available budget, you should be well informed, so that to avoid falling in possible traps that could limit the benefits of solar power on the road.
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