Solar panels have been embraced by the motorhome community for a number of years now. Even those without them understand what they do: convert sunlight into electricity. As the trend towards renewable energy sources has gained momentum, so more people are turning to solar panels as a way of providing their electricity. Many people are still sceptical of solar power, which is why we put together this article as an informative guide, and offering up some useful tips to get the most from your solar panels.
Off grid life is a big motivation for people to go solar. We know Motorhome owners love the freedom their motorhomes afford them and many will not want to be tied down to a single location just because they are relying on being connected to an electricity source. The electricity will not be free, and neither will the cost of staying in a motorhome or caravan park in the first place. With solar panels you can stay wherever you choose to, you are not restricted to somewhere with a power point! it can save you money long term and it gives you a real sense of self sufficiency, freeing you up to go on plenty more adventures. They are a much better choice than wind power, as you do not need to remove them when you are travelling and wind generators are noisy.
Like everything in life, solar panels come in all shapes, sizes and prices! Before you invest you need to work out how much energy you are using. If you buy cheaper panels that do not have a high enough output, you will lose faith in the technology. If you buy expensive panels with an output far higher than your energy consumption, it can end up feeling like you have been ripped off.
This is one of the simplest ways to work out your energy requirements. See how many Amp hours (Ah) are listed on your battery, and make sure it is fully charged. Then use your motorhome as normal until the battery goes flat. You divide the number of Ah listed by how many hours the battery lasted, for example if a 150Ah battery lasts two days, that means you’re using 75Ah/day. This method is precise enough to give you a rough guide when initially buying your solar panels, but we would recommend having more power available than you might necessarily use, as you do not want to find yourself out in the wilderness with no electricity!
An old battery or one which is in poor condition will seriously detract from the capacity of your solar panel, so it is wise to get your battery checked before investing, or if you have not used your motorhome in a while. If you tend to use a lot of electricity at night, it is a good idea to invest in a high capacity battery. Always let your battery run flat before you start recharging it, otherwise the battery’s life will be shortened considerably.
Some panels are portable and some are permanent, and if you go for the latter option you should notify your insurer when you get it fitted. As solar panels are quite expensive, this will affect the value of your motorhome so you should have your policy adjusted accordingly. Whether you are replacing an old one or are in the market for your first solar panel, never be afraid to ask the seller any questions you may have. The last thing you want to do is rush into a purchase and discover you made the wrong decision when it is too late to change it!
To get the most from your panel, try the following tips:
• Panels work best in direct sunlight, not behind glass or clear plastic.
• They will still work in less powerful light, but you must ensure that the whole panel is exposed as all times. Even the slightest shadow will have an impact on the panel’s performance
• Check that your panels are angled to soak up that precious midday sun, as this is when the light is at its strongest
• Ensure you purchase panels which are compatible with your model of motorhome. Pay particular attention to the curvature of the roof, as this is a common feature, and whether the panels can be attached properly
• Remember, solar panels make DC voltage, so if you want to use it to power something with a normal 3 pin plug you will need an AC adaptor
• Leave your panels on over winter, this is a fantastic way to keep your battery topped up
• We would recommend always having your solar panels fitted by professionals
Hopefully that answers any questions you may have had about embracing solar power! And remember, you don’t have to use them all the time anyway. Sometimes it is just nice to have the option, in case you feel the wilderness calling you!