So vacation time is here and you want to get away for a holiday or a road trip. The cheapest way to do this is to provide your own accommodation. This is where caravans and campervans come to mind.
But how do you set up your campervan or motorhome so that you have portable power and electricity in the middle of the outback, USA national parks, or in the wild west?
This is where portable solar panels for caravans, campervans, and camp trailers come into play. Its all well and good to have a portable generator, but I like to get back to nature for the peace and quiet, not to hear the noise of a loud petrol generator.
What options are there for portable solar panels for caravans, campervans, and camp trailers?
Depending on your electricity needs you may only need 1 or 2 folding 120w solar panels. These are very popular with the boating and camping community. They are able to pump out around 700 watts plus a day into a deep cycle battery. This means you are covered for basic needs like camp fridges and LED lighting.
So the question now arises what type of portable solar panels do you require?
The 3 main types of portable solar generation panels are:
- Solar fold-out mats like 100W Foldable Solar Panel Sunpower Charger for Cars, RVs, Boats, Cabins, Motorhome, and Tents.
- Traditional aluminum frame ECO-WORTHY 120 Watt 12Volt Off Grid Monocrystalline Portable Foldable Solar Panel.
Ultra-Thin and light 110W 18V 12V RV Solar Panel SunPower Cells.
All three of these are rated at 100 watts or more per hour, depending on the quality and angle of sunlight. What it comes down to are your needs and storage options. My pick is the Eco-Worthy 120w folding solar panel due to its low cost and high power output.
How much power do I need for camping?
It’s safe to estimate that a 120W folding solar panel can supply between 6 and 7.5 Amps on a sunny day. For most of the day (with an average of 8 sunlight hours in a day) providing you continuously move the panel to follow the sun.
Calculating your equipment’s power usage is key to creating a solar power system that works for you. Power = VxA
Where V= Voltage and A = Amps
So if we say that a 120w solar panel can produce about 12voltsx7amps = 670 watts for a 7 hour day on average depending on where you like and how sunny it is. Winter and Summer will also play a part in your calculations as summer get more sun than winter.
My Portable Camping Solar Setup
Here’s my camping setup: I have a small Whynter FM-45G 45-Quart Portable Refrigerator/Freezer shown below that draws around 5 amps peak, and some LED camping lights that draw 0.25amps each.
Remember everything has to be portable to be able to fit in our camping trailers. That’s why I love the high power folding solar panels.
My 120W folding solar panel kit coupled with a 100 amp deep cycle battery and the solar regulator charge controller covers my needs and then some. More information on the charge controller is further down in the article.
To find out what power draw you have with all of your equipment, check out Redarc’s Solar Calculator.
My camping solar setup uses around 422wh according to the solar camping calculator mentioned above. If I use two of these panels I can get up to 844wh of power. Great for when we go away with friends.
Note: This setup works for me, the Whunter FM-45 fridge/freezer is kept in the shade at all times so to reduce the power consumption. Also if you are in and out of the fridge all day long it will work harder causing a bigger power draw.
I also have a small portable solar phone charger for all of our electronic devices. This Anker solar charger can be mounted anywhere and is great to quickly charge up phones and tablets. Being able to fold up means you can take it hiking as well.
Check out our full review of this great lightweight portable folding solar panel.
Rope Lights for camping
The trend in campground lighting is to go for 16-foot long rope light strips to illuminate your campground. These give a much brighter concentrated light that is very user-friendly.
You can wrap these rope light strips around many pull out vehicle awnings and tent poles. As they are IP67 rated means that they are fully waterproof and weather resistant so no problems if it rains.
This one shown above I have just purchased, it runs at 24 watts so its amp draw is around 2 amps. As it’s only on for a few hours at night, it won’t be a huge power draw on my solar battery system.
They come with convenient battery clamps and an on-off button switch so you don’t have to go to your battery to turn off the camp lights.
Motorhome RV solar power kits
If you are after a simple plug and play RV solar power kit then check out Eco Worthys solar self-install kits of various sizes and configurations.
This takes the guesswork out of matching panels with solar battery chargers and sine wave controllers.
The above Eco-worthy solar panels are more of a traditional aluminum frame panel. These are usually cheaper than some of the more exotic storage-friendly solar panels which we will review later in this article.
These solar kits take the guesswork out of finding all the components yourselves, as the solar panels are power matched to the battery charger. This kit also includes a very powerful 1000w pure sine wave inverter. All that is required is a deep cycle battery. I like 100A batteries myself. Lots of power storage.
Let’s look at three of the most common solar panels I see around the campgrounds.
ECO-WORTHY 120 Watt 12Volt Monocrystalline Portable Foldable Solar Panel review
This 120w folding camping solar panel is one of my favorite power generation accessories. Coupled with a 100 amp deep cycle battery, I can have power at my campsite for weeks.
As these solar panels fold up they are perfect to store in your travel trailer or motorhome.
Basically, I need power for a camp fridge freezer, some electronics and some LED light strips at night. To make all this work well I need the following 4 items
- 120w Folding camping Solar Panel
- Solar charge controller – Comes included with the panels.
- 100amp deep cycle battery, but can be any amp rating you need.
- 12v to 110/240v pure sine wave inverter.
Now, this setup looks complicated with wires running all over the place but it is really simple when you break it down to each of the 4 components and what they do.
It provides electricity to the charge controller at a variable voltage and current rate. All the way up to 18v, this will fry batteries and 12v electronics so we must first control this voltage.
Solar Charge Controller:
This small box converts the solar DC electricity into a more battery-friendly charge voltage somewhere around 13.5v but can be higher depending on the quality of the charge controller.
Some 7 and 8 step battery chargers will boost the voltage up for a short time to get a rapid fast charge into the battery which also can help with the desulphurization process.
These solar charge controllers will also provide some battery monitoring hardware to make sure your battery will stop being charged at the 100% level. We don’t want to continue you charge a battery beyond this point as it will boil off the water in wet cells and destroy the deep cycle battery.
The user manual for the CY1210 – CY4830 can be found here
There are two different types of solar charge controllers:
- PWM (pulse width modulated) is the older trusted technology.
- Maximum power point tracking (MPPT.) This is a newer technology that is better and more efficient than the PWM solar controller but the downside is it’s more expensive.
All Lead-Acid batteries supply about 2.14 volts per cell (12.6 to 12.8 for a 12-volt battery) when fully charged. A fully flat depleted 12v battery will show around 10.5v or less.
A dead-flat battery will be very hard to return to service. Car batteries can be charged while still connected to the vehicle with a multi-step charger. Most often damage has already been done to each cell called sulfation and it will be best to get a new battery. The best practice is you should never let your batteries go below 50% charge. Discharging below 20% capacity will have a negative effect on its lifespan.
Never run a 12v wet cell battery dry or below 50% capacity.
|Battery Charge Level||12 Volt battery||Volts per Cell|
Read our post on how to desulfate a car battery and bring it back to life. It could save you hundreds of dollars in not having to buy a new 12v battery.
100W 18V 12V Solar Panel SunPower Cell Ultra Thin Flexible review
What I like about these flexible 100w solar cells is that they can be permanently mounted onto curved surfaces like the roof of boats, coach roof, RV, trailer, cabin, tent, or any other irregular surface.
The solar panel can be gently flexed to follow a smooth curve of 30 degrees and fixed into position. I like to use 3m double-sided tape
Sunpower Solar Cells are quickly becoming the industry standard. Suaoki utilizes these top-grade SunPower Solar Cells which has a higher-than-average 23% to 25% efficiency. What’s nice is an internal blocking diode which prevents reverse current drain at night. This is a nice feature that can be missing on some cheaper solar panels.
These panels are water-resistant and ideal for RVs, boats, tight spaces, or crowded areas that are typically off-limits for traditional glass and aluminum models. If you get saltwater spray on them no worries. Just hose of the salt crystals with fresh as it dries.
This solar panel packs 100W of power generation yet is only 0.1 inches thick. It weighs only 4.85 lbs., making it easier to transport, hang, and remove when required. Due to being very thin, you can bend these panels slightly to follow the curves like the roof of a truck or boat.
Installation is a breeze using the unique frameless design features 4 metal reinforced mounting holes at each corner for fixing screws. Double-sided 3m tape can also be used if you don’t want to drill holes in your precious equipment.
* Optimal power [Pmax]: 100W(±5%)
* Working voltage [Vmp]: 18V
* Working current [Imp]: 5.62A
* Short circuit current [Isc]: 5.97A
* Open circuit voltage [Voc]: 21.6V
* Dimensions: 1100*570*2.5mm/43*22*0.09inch
* Net weight: 2.5kg/88oz
* Working Temperature：-40~+85℃
Flexsolar 120W Foldable Solar Panel Mat with Sunpower Cells review.
These solar cell foldable mats are the most compact of the panels reviewed here at 8.4 lbs; LxWxH 22 x17.5 x1.2 IN they are nice and light. They are an upgrade to the older thin-film amorphous solar panel blankets as they use modern monocrystalline cells from SUNPOWER.
They are slowly becoming more popular due to their compact size but the high cost is still an issue. These flat solar 120w mats are nearly double the cost of comparable systems.
This is due to the complex nature of manufacturing and special high capacity solar cells to reduce surface area.
They are made with high-efficiency Sunpower cells imported from the USA. The efficiency can up to 21%-25%, while most monocrystalline panels are only 17%-19%.
How Durable are solar mats?
They are super durable, water-resistant, and have a very long lifespan. The integrated ETFE lamination process makes sure that you can have a quality portable 120w solar system that can last up to 15-20 years under normal outdoor conditions.
(Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) is a fluorine-based plastic. It is designed to have high corrosion resistance and strength over a wide temperature range)
- Widely-used: RV, boat, cabin, tent, and all 12V devices.
- Inbuilt PWM 10Amp charge controller.
- Fast Charging Time: Devices can be full-charged only within 2.5 hours on a sunny day.
- Certificate and Warranty: FCC, RoHS, CE Certificate and many patents ensure high product quality also comes with a 2 years service warranty.
These are a few different types and manufacturers that make these now but one thing to remember is if you want to charge more than a laptop or smartphone you will need a solar charge controller, power inverter, and a deep cycle battery.
3x40w Phone Solar Charger (Made of SunPower Solar Cell)
Maximum power 120W 18V
Max power voltage 20.88V
Max power current 5.97A
Go out and Enjoy Nature
At the end of the day, we like to get back to nature and enjoy all it has to offer, fishing, camping, four-wheel driving, and hiking. But its also important to take some modern luxuries with us like Laptops, mobile phones, GPS, radio, camp fridges and lighting.
Without these items, life can get very primitive fast that’s when portable solar panels for caravans and motorhomes can make life simple again. Sure there is a slight startup const but then that’s it. Free electricity for all time.
Happy camping and enjoy the sun.