Camping & Caravan Solar Panels: FAQ

Thinking of buying Caravan Solar Panels? You’ve probably got a ton of questions.

To help, our team has answered the most common questions here:

Why Should I Use Solar Power?

There are several benefits of powering your caravan or camping appliances with solar:

  • Solar panels create free energy
  • They are environmentally friendly
  • They provide the ability to travel off-grid for extended periods of time

What Are Watts, Volts, Amps and Amp Hours?

Let’s start super basic, to understand what solar panels are best suited to your needs, you’ll need to understand the specifications & terminology that help differentiate them. In particular, you should know what Watts, Volts, Amps and Amp Hours are.

Watts:

Watts (W) are a basic measure of power.

Power = Voltage x Current, which means Watts = Volts x Amps.

Volts:

Volts (V) measure how much “potential” is in an electric circuit. The higher the voltage, the more electrical current will flow in the circuit.

Consider that 12V is the amount of force delivered by your car battery and alternator.

Amps:

Amps (A) is short for Amperes, which is a measure of electric current. One Amp is equal to a number of electrons passing a specific point in a circuit every second at a certain voltage.

Another way to think of Amps is as the volume of electricity the battery pushes through a cable.

Amp Hours:

Amp hours (Ah) are used both to describe the total storage capacity of a battery and describe the current draw over time of a DC appliance. For example, a common deep cycle battery may be describe as 100Ah or 100 amp hours. Theoretically, this battery should be able to provide a current of 1Ah continously for 100 hours.*

DC appliances often display their current draw in amp hours (Ah) in the manufacturer specifications. For example, 40 litre portable fridge draws 1 amp hour.

* Theroetic example only, does not factor in various manufacturers depth of discharge ratings.

How Much Solar Do I Need?

You can never have too much solar! Solar panels are cheap relative to the rest of your installation. There are a couple variables that affect calculating what size solar panel(s) you need:

  • Location – being closer to the equator equals more sun per day
  • Load – work out the total amp hours used per day. Simply average amp hour consumption x 24

We have created a step by step guide to help you calculate how much solar you need. See our calculator here.

How Much Should I Spend on Solar Panels?

How much you will have to spend depends on your solar setup. If you require larger panels it will cost you more than smaller panels. It also depends on whether you purchase fixed panels (least expensive), portable panels or a solar blanket (most expensive).

Our advice is to ensure you purchase your panels from a reputable brand such as Enerdrive, Redarc or Goal Zero. These brands not only have high quality products, but they also have extensive warranties and after market support.

Do I need a Solar Regulator?

The short answer is yes! A regulator controls the charge from the caravan solar panels to ensure it cannot damage the battery. The regulator will also stop charging your battery when it’s fully charged to prevent over-charging. Then, when the battery drops below a certain voltage, the regulator will start charging it again.

Many of the portable solar panels come with a built in regulator. This provides convenience and confidence that you are using the panel correctly and safely.

For fixed solar panels installations, you will usually need to purchase the regulator separately or run it through another component thathas a built in solar regulator such as the Enerdrive 40A DC to DC Charger or the Redarc Manager30 Battery Management System.

For help sizing the solar regulator with your overall system you should contact our solutions team on 1300 400 122 or speak to your installer.

Learn the differences between MPPT and PWM Solar Regulators
in our blog here.

Engel Power Film Foldable, 60 Watt
A solar blanket can be placed on the ground of your campsite, draped over your awning or even the bonnet of your car!

What Size Wiring Is Required For My System?

The wiring size you need is determined by the overall length of cable and the amount of current drawn over that cable length.

The best way to work out the wiring sizing for your solar kit is to use the cable size guide by Enerdrive.

What Chemistry Of Battery Do I Need For My Solar Setup? AGM vs Lithium?

It depends on whether you have camping solar (portable or blanket solar kit) or a caravan solar kit.

Both have AGM and Lithium options. Lithium batteries pack much more energy into a smaller package. In other words, you need a lot more Amp hours in an AGM battery to get the same amount of Amp hours in a Lithium battery.

For example, 200Ah Lithium = 360Ah AGM. Lithium batteries also have higher performance, better longevity and require practically no maintenance. Learn more about AGM vs Lithium here.

The better you can suit your battery to your application, the better performance you will achieve.

Camping Solar:

For camping solar, you need a power pack. These are portable, so you can locate your caravan solar panel and power pack wherever you need it. Watch our expert Paul explain how to choose the right camping battery below.

What Will My Camping Battery Run?

Caravan Solar:

For caravan solar, the best option is a deep cycle battery installed into your vehicle. Watch this video for a guide to the right battery or reach our Caravan Battery Buyers’ Guide.

How Long Will It Take For My Solar Panels To Recharge My Battery?

The time taken to recharge your battery with caravan solar panels depends on a few factors:

  1. The state of charge of your battery bank. Example, a 80% state of charge for a 100Ah battery equals to 80Ah. Therefore you have 20Ah to recharge.
  2. The size of your solar panel array. Example, 1x 180W solar panel in full sun at 12V will produce up to 10 amps.
  3. Charging method and efficiency of your solar regulator. MPPT regulators will be more efficient than the older style PWM. Find out more here.

The above example could see replacing the 20Ah as quickly as 2 hours in full sun.

How Does The Weather Affect How My Solar Panels Work?

Solar panels work most efficiently when they are in full sun. If it is shady or cloudy, your caravan solar panels will generate electricity still BUT their output is not as good. In fact, the output can drop to as low as 10% compared to full sun intensity. One way to get the most out of your panels in all conditions is with a MPPT regulator.

Also consider the cell type. Monocrystalline solar panels tend to operate much better in low-light conditions compared to other cell types. They are also more efficient, which makes the monocrystalline solar panels the most common for caravans and camping.

What Is the Life Expectancy of My Solar Panel?

It depends on a few factors.

First, it depends on the manufacturer. That’s why at My Generator we only recommend high quality brands such as Redarc, Enerdrive, Baintech, Evakool, Victron and Goal Zero.

It also depends on the cell type. Monocrystalline solar cells typically have the longest life expectancy.

Another factor is how well you look after your caravan solar panels. Use these solar panel maintenance tips to ensure your caravan solar panels work at their most efficient and last longer.

What Size Inverter Do I Need?

There’s no one-size-fits-all. You need to match your inverter to the load, which is the total wattage’s of appliances you want to run at the same time. You also need to consider how long you plan to run these appliances. Follow the steps in this article.

What Is A Portable Solar Camping Option?

A typical camping setup includes a portable battery, caravan solar panel and fridge. The best example the Dometic PLB40 40Ah Lithium Battery & 180W Folding Solar Panel Kit paired with a Dometic CFX3 portable compressor fridge & freezer, such as the CFX3 55.

Already Have A Fridge?

Check out this lithium battery and solar panel kit by Dometic.

Want something a little bigger & more portable? Baintech offers a 50Ah lithium battery with a 300W solar blanket and cable in a great value pack!

We also love the Goal Zero lithium battery and solar kits, which comes with everything you want a lightweight kit for small devices or a full 3000W kit for running high-power devices.

What Is A Common System For My Camper Trailer?

There are several setup options for your camper trailer. Which one you choose depends on the appliances you want to power and how long you’re travelling for.

You could do a simple Enerdrive eLITE 12V 100Ah Lithium Battery Bundle with a portable fridge, like the Dometic CFX3 55, 55 Litre or the Evakool TMDZ Travelmate 80L dual zone. Then add the Baintech 300W Sunpower folding solar blanket.  

Or you could upgrade to the Enerdrive 200Ah Lithium Battery Bundle or for serious 4WDs go for the Enerdrive Ultimate.

You can also upgrade to a upright caravan fridge, like the Dometic Waeco CRX80.

What Is A Typical Caravan Setup?

For caravans, We Recommend:
  • Battery setup – For most caravanners, you can’t go past the Enerdrive Ultimate Off-Grid 4×4 bundle, which includes the ePOWER B-TEC 200Ah Lithium Battery, 12V 40A DC to DC Battery Charger, 40A Battery Charger, Enerdrive ePRO PLUS Battery Monitor and ePOWER 2000W 12V Pure Sine Wave Inverter with RCD & AC Transfer Switch. However, if you are looking to travel for extended periods of time, run all the creature comforts at home like your air fryer, coffee machine and air conditioner, then you must check out the Enerdrive Pro Series Full Off-Grid 300Ah Lithium Battery Kit, With 3000W Inverter / Charger!
  • Upright fridge – Dometic Waeco CRX is a brilliant range with the CRX110 being the most popular size.
  • Fixed solar panels – There are lots of options here. The Enerdrive 2 x 160W twin pack is a reliable choice. Go for either 2 or 4 depending on your available caravan roof space.

Got more questions? Talk to our team today on 1300 400 122 or visit our site!

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