If you are thinking of taking your touring caravan “off-grid” but still want to take advantage of modern conveniences such as electric lighting and perhaps a TV, you should consider converting it into to a solar powered caravan.
Solar power, created by solar panels, are good for the environment because they help limit your carbon footprint and they are good for you because, after the initial outlay, they will start saving you money.
But before committing to convert your tourer or static caravan to solar power there are a whole heap of questions that will need answering: including how good are solar panels, how long can they power your caravan or motorhome, how much do solar panels cost and how difficult are solar panels to fit and use?
The outward bound types at Adrian Flux Insurance Services love a good caravan trip and here they answer some of your questions about holidaying in a solar powered caravan.
What is a solar powered caravan?
A solar powered caravan uses solar PV (photo-voltaic) panels to recharge the leisure battery which powers all of your electric appliances. The panels consist of two layers of silicon which, when exposed to sunlight, produce an electrical output.
It’s a simple, direct current (DC) current, which varies depending on the strength of the sun. It delivers a constant 17 volts but the voltage is reduced by using a charge controller fitted between panel and battery.
What are the benefits of solar charging?
Fitting solar power panels will ensure your leisure battery is topped up when you are using your van off-grid and it will maintain your battery’s condition when it’s not being used.
By keeping your battery well charged when it is not in use you will improve its life.
There are other practical reasons that you may want to keep the battery connected and charged when the van is not in use – it may provide power to an alarm or tracker for example.
How long can my solar powered caravan stay off grid?
That depends how many electrical appliances you plan to take. Things like electric kettles and hair-driers burn a lot of electricity so leave them at home.
It’s a good idea to reduce your electric consumption by only taking essential appliances. You can boil a kettle on a gas hob, and while you’re at it invest in a gas fuelled fridge.
You should also ditch your old tungsten lights and replace them with fuel efficient LEDs.
Be sensible with your leisure battery, reduce your usage, bank on a good sunny summer, and there’s no reason why you should run out of electric power during your holiday.
What size solar panel will I need?
You’ll get an idea by working out the power consumption of the lights and appliances in your caravan. Basically speaking, you will need a panel which produces more power than you use. Your solar panel dealer will be able to point you in the right direction.
To keep your battery on an average four-berth van topped-up, you will need a panel with a rating of 80 to 100 watts.
What kind of panel should I get?
There are two choices of panel, a rigid one or a flexible one.
And there are two ways to harness their power, you can either get the panel permanently fixed to the roof, or have it standing free next to the van. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages.
Fix a panel to your roof and it’s job done, with very little to worry about. Though don’t park under a tree and make sure it is kept clean. Holiday on the coast and it can soon become caked in seagull guano which will significantly reduce its charging capacity.
It would be easier to clean if it were free-standing, but it would also be vulnerable to theft. The free-standing panel has the advantage of being movable so you can keep it pointed at the sun all day long. At night it should be set facing the next day’s sunrise.
Can I fit a solar panel myself?
Fixing a solar panel to the roof of your caravan or motorhome will take a little DIY skill but most people can manage it.
Some flexible panels can be attached to the roof with specialist adhesives and rigid panels usually come with easy to install fixing brackets.
The biggest job will be drilling through the membrane of your van to run cabling down to the battery via a charge controller. But all instructions and wiring requirements are included with the panel pack.
The free standing solar panels normally come with easy to use connecting clips.
Remember, with the fitting and use of all electrical components there are elements of risk. If you have any doubts, get a specialist to fit the panel for you.
What will a solar panel cost me?
You should get some advice from a dealer but you will probably be able to pick up an 80 watt 12v free-standing solar panel for about £200 with a 100 watt panel coming in at about £250.
You will probably find roof mounted panels are a tad less expensive with an 80 watt costing around £190 and a 100 watt around £230.
Are there any other solar panel tips I should be aware of?
- Is your caravan or motorhome still under warranty? If the answer is yes, proceed with caution. Fitting a solar panel may invalidate the warranty unless the work is carried out by a specialist tradesman.
- A solar panel of 20w should keep your caravan’s leisure battery charged through winter until you next need to use it.
- Solar panels are designed for direct sunlight but if you put a panel behind glass or a plastic window its efficiency will be reduced.
- Facing your solar panel towards the sun will increase the energy it generates all year round.
- Keep your battery in good condition to optimise the charge from your solar panel.
- The power generated by a solar panel is direct current. If you want to use it to power something that would normally plug into a domestic three-pin socket you’ll need an inverter to convert it to alternating current.
Solar panels really are a bright idea, but for an even brighter one, check out the value-for-money static, touring and folding caravan insurance policies available with Adrian Flux.