For many of us, getting away from it all at the weekends is something we look forward to between busy work schedules. For others, especially those that are retired, the weekend can often be stretched out to three or four days. Making the most of this valuable time away in the van depends on reasonable weather, plenty of good food, and independence from everyday hassles. Despite its complexity the modern motorhome is a very reliable vehicle in which to travel. We can move easily from one interesting place to another, cook our lunches and dinners, and put our feet up to read or watch the television. Just as we like and whenever we like.
It should be easy.
We all rely on lots of energy. Fuel for the engine and electricity for all the on-board equipment. Lights, television, computer, pumps, to name a few, all need power to keep us happy and relaxed. We can store this electricity in our batteries by running the engine or by plugging into a mains electricity point at home or on a camping site. That, however, relies on running the engine every day or two, or wasting time finding a suitable site.
Bang goes the independence!
How to make it easier.
Fitting a solar panel to your motorhome will give you more freedom to chill-out properly, park wherever you want and stay a few days. Relax more and use the engine less.
But how do you go about fitting a motorhome solar panel? What sort do you need and how big does it have to be?
Three easy ways to fit a solar panel to your motorhome.
You will have seen many standard aluminium framed solar panels on other motorhomes. These rigid solar panels are inexpensive and very effective at producing electricity. They can easily be fixed in place with aluminium brackets or PVC mounting pads.
Also available are semi-flexible solar panels which can be glued directly to the roof with a suitable adhesive. These panels can be bent a little to follow the contours of your roof.
They have the advantage that they are very light and thin and so create very little windage when travelling. In addition, they are often slightly more efficient than their rigid framed cousins.
If you do not want to fix a solar panel permanently to your van, you might like to consider using a portable panel. These are free standing solar panels that are kept inside until needed. When required they are taken outside and propped up facing the Sun. They tend to be smaller than conventional solar panels but have the advantage that they can be turned directly towards the Sun. Pointing the panel to face the Sun in this way means that the panel will be working to full capacity all of the time.
Beware of old technology!
Whatever type of solar panel you decide on, make sure it uses ‘monocrystalline’ technology. This is by far the most efficient and cost effective type of solar panel available. Do not be tempted to buy polycrystalline, amorphous crystalline or thin-film solar panels. These latter types will take up far more room on the roof of your motorhome.
What size of solar panel do I need?
If you are only interested in trickle charging your battery, fitting a solar panel of about 50 watts will work well, at least during the summer months.
Most owners will want much more power so we recommend a panel of at least 100 watts. This will provide a good maintenance charge and will keep your battery in good order. During the summer months in the UK a 100 watt motorhome solar panel will provide a lot of useful extra power and significantly reduce the need for a mains connection.
If you are looking for complete independence from the mains supply, we strongly suggest that you consider a solar panel array of 200 watts. This is best achieved using two 100 watt solar panels.
All types of solar panel can be used singly or connected together to form a more powerful solar panel system. If you decide to use more than one solar panel make sure that they use the same monocrystalline technology.
Fitting a solar panel on a motorhome.
Find the best place for your solar panel. This should be on an area of the roof clear of other equipment. The solar panel will not interfere with the operation of the other equipment but items like t.v. aerials might cast a shadow over the panel and reduce its effectiveness.
Next, work out a route for the cable to take from the solar panel to the battery. The cable has to pass through the roof at some point, and also has to incorporate a charge controller to protect the battery from overcharging. Try to keep the cable hidden away behind lockers, trims and bulkheads. Plan to use plastic conduit where the cable is visible or needs protecting from abrasion. Support the cable at 30 cm intervals or less.
The cable will have two cores, a positive (red) and a negative (black). The positive connection of the solar panel will connect to the positive connection of the battery, via the charge controller. Similarly for the negative connections.
Finally, make sure you fit a fuse in the cable near the battery. Fit the fuse in the positive line of the cable.
Charging the engine and the service batteries.
You can charge up your engine battery and your service (leisure batteries) from the same solar panel. Simply use a dual battery charge controller. The dual battery controller will divide the solar panel electricity between the two batteries in the best way possible, automatically.
That’s about it. Fitting a motorhome solar panel is very straightforward for anyone with average DIY skills. But to help you further we have added a few links to some useful items that will make your installation secure, safe and efficient.
SunWorks motorhome solar panel kits:
These kits provide the essential parts for your motorhome solar panel system. Once you have decided between rigid-framed panels and semi-flexible panels, pick your size of kit from our selection.
We include fully illustrated instructions which makes your job very straightforward.
The kits contain the essential, matched electrical components for your motorhome solar panel system. We recommend the following additional items to help you complete the system.
Don’t hesitate to call us if you need help with any aspect of your solar panel system:
Tel: 020 8144 2475