What are van solar panels?
In short, van solar panels are no different than solar panels for a house. They allow you to convert sunlight into electricity which you can store in your campervan battery system and use throughout your van to power everything.
These panels can be flexible and thin or rigid metal/glass panels, like those used for house roofs and solar field farms.
They come in all different shapes and sizes to fit your van’s particular roof, including around any skylights, ventilation fans, or ariel dishes already on your roof.
Are van solar panels a good idea?
Van solar panels are an excellent idea. Solar panels provide free electricity, allowing you to be off-grid in your campervan when it comes to electrical needs.
If you can charge your campervan batteries without the need for a generator or turn on your van’s engine, then you can be parked and generate your own power 100% off-grid.
If you have the budget, you should 100% go for at least some solar on the roof of your campervan conversion.
What does a van solar panel system consist of?
For a van solar panel system, there are a few things that you need:
- Solar Panels. Pretty obvious. You need some of these.
- Charge Controller (MPPT). A Charge Controller, or MPPT as it is called, allows you to convert the power being generated by your solar panels into power your batteries can store safely.
- Leisure Battery. Somewhere for all this power to be stored.
- Wire. To connect the solar panels to the MPPT and the MPPT to the leisure battery.
Other safety devices are needed, like fuses, safety switches, and ensuring all wires on the van roof are waterproofed.
My solar panel is measured in Watts. What does this mean?
Solar panels have a maximum power output, which is measured in watts.
For example, this Renogy solar panel can produce a maximum of 200W of power, as stated in the title and spec sheet.
Knowing the maximum power that your solar panels can generate helps you size your electrical system correctly by choosing the right thickness wire, the right fuses and so on, but this is beyond the scope of this blog.
How can I attach solar panels to my van?
There are three main methods of attaching solar panels to your van.
- Attach to a roof rack. Whether it’s a pre-fabricated roof rack or a DIY unistrut roof rack for £50, you can bolt your solar panels to this for a secure fitting.
- Screw it to the metal roof of the van. This can be good for smaller panels, as long as you rust protect all the holes you drill through your van and waterproof them.
- Stick them to your van with sealant (not recommended). This method is often used with small, lightweight, flexible solar panels but isn’t recommended as it’s not as secure as bolting them down.
More information on van solar panels
This blog barely scratches the surface when it comes to solar panels.
We have a FREE Electrics 101 PDF for you to download, detailing more information about your entire van electric system, including solar panels.
There’s also our complete wiring schematic, which goes into much more depth about every single component, how everything is connected, and how to start designing your own campervan electrical system.