By reading this article you will discover:
- Which solar panels are best for camping
- What solar panels to buy for camping
- How to use solar panels when camping
- What size solar panels do I need for camping
Which solar panels are best for camping?
Solar panel systems are inevitable in remote areas where lacks any option for getting connected to a utility grid.
Apart from residential off-grid, solar panels are an excellent solution for a mobile system, such as campers and caravans.
The problem is not so much the distance to the utility grid but rather the fact that a camper is often on the move.
Certainly, mobility is also some good news – unlike the residential solar, here you are free to move your caravan to an unshaded spot fast and easy.
Once you have found a suitable location, you can park your vehicle and use your devices without any need to worry how to power them and how much will it cost.
Another advantage of the solar panels for camping is the opportunity to flexibly adjust the tilt of your solar panels throughout the day, without being afraid of working in heights.
What solar panels to buy for camping?
There are two main types of solar panels – crystalline and amorphous (thin-film).
Crystalline panels are the most common, with monocrystalline being some more efficient than polycrystalline ones (approximately 13% vs 16%).
This higher efficiency makes crystalline panels more expensive that thin-film ones (whose efficiency is as low as 6-7%), as with more efficient panels you can achieve a higher amount of solar-generated electricity in a smaller area.
Thin film panels, however, are proven to be more tolerant to shading. Furthermore, while crystalline panels are known to be more fragile, thin-film panels are more mechanically resistant – they are flexible, easily foldable and even rollable.
The answer to the question ‘What is the best type of solar panel for camping?’ can be somewhat misleading.
As we said above, crystalline panel and monocrystalline ones, in particular, have the highest efficiency.
Mind that to provide the maximum amount of solar-generated electricity, a crystalline panel should be able to operate at its maximum efficiency.
This means a clean and unobstructed surface which, however, is often somewhat tough to achieve with solar panels installed on the roof of your camper.
Furthermore, amorphous panels are known as less vulnerable to higher temperatures, in terms that their efficiency is less affected by hot weather.
How to use solar panels when camping?
Due to the relatively limited wattage of a mobile solar power system, the solar panels should be positioned to get the maximum benefit from the sun.
The sun is the strongest at noon. If you think you’ll not be able to follow the full sun quite successfully with solar panels mounted on the roof of your camper, you can use portable ones.
If you insist that your solar panels should be on the roof of your camper, crystalline panels would be a smart choice.
In such a case, your solar array is fixed.
Alternatively, you can have a portable solar array installed on the ground.
In the latter case space is obviously not a critical issue, so you can opt for cheaper thin-film panels. If nevertheless, you are chasing the highest efficiency, you can use portable solar arrays composed of monocrystalline panels and handle them with care.
There are two ways to use solar panels on campers and caravans – either to connect them directly to the devices or use a power pack.
A power pack is a number of batteries connected together and managed by a charge controller (or regulator) and combined with adapter(s) to enable powering your common devices fast and easy by 12V/5V DC voltage or USB. Power packs give you flexibility, at the price, however, of extra load to carry.
What size solar panels do I need for camping?
Finding the proper solar panel size for your case, however, can often be a challenge, if you are not sure about your daily use of electricity.
If you don’t feel much like performing a load analysis, you still can get the info you need.
You can go camping with a fully loaded battery (you should know its rating!) and without recharging it, you can how long you can use your devices and watch how battery’s state of charge decreases.
The decrease of charge would denote your daily consumption (in Ah), and this will indicate a solar array of what size (in Watts) you need to keep your battery fully charged every day.
We recommend you choose a solar panel with somewhat higher wattage than you need.
Although you can find various models of power packs on the market, which are recommended for a specific model of solar panel, you can use such power packs also in combination with solar panels connected in series and parallel. Higher consumption, however, goes both with a higher wattage solar panel and higher capacity battery.
The more appliances you intend to plug in, the more money you should prepare to invest in a battery of higher capacity.
This is especially valid if you plan to use some of your devices at night where intense consumption can regularly discharge the battery below a permissible level thus shortening its lifespan.
With a good solar array and a poor battery, your solar-generated electricity gets nowhere.
It is, therefore, of the utmost importance, not only to properly assess your daily electrical consumption but also carefully to select the other system components.
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