First a quick disclaimer This is a Guest Blog by James Murray from Motorhome Workshop based in Goring-by-sea, West Sussex. We or Elddis do not have any affiliation with them. But I found the information very helpful and honest. So over to you James!
In this guide, Motorhome Workshop are going to take you through the important factors you should bear in mind when putting together a solar setup for your motorhome.
Part of the attraction of a motorhome or campervan is self-sufficiency. The ability to pack a bag, get in the van and go wherever the road takes you. So it’s no wonder that the idea of generating your own energy on your travels goes so well with motorhome life.
No longer do you have to find a pitch with an electric outlet or restrict yourself to campsites with motorhome pitches. By generating your own energy you really can roam wherever you like!
If you’re considering a solar setup for your motorhome or camper, this guide will give you an understanding of what you need to keep in mind.
Solar panel kits
A shortcut to understanding what you need in your solar setup is to look at solar panel kits. Motorhome solar panel kits contain everything you need to generate renewable energy. They can be installed on your motorhome or use a free-standing panel to charge your battery. This has the obvious benefit of providing free power!
What’s in a solar panel kit?
Most motorhome solar panel kits contain everything you need to generate renewable energy this includes:
- Solar panels
- Charge controller
- Fixtures and fittings
- Wiring and cables
Solar panels come in a range of wattages to supply different amounts of power. The higher the wattage, the larger the panel and the more space required to stand or mount it.
For a motorhome, we recommend rigid monocrystalline panels. Flexible panels are available but come at a higher cost and we only recommend these when available space is limited, for instance on a VW camper. We recommend monocrystalline panels over polycrystalline simply because they are more efficient for the space they take up.
Charge controllers regulate energy flow from the panel to the battery and ensure the entire system runs safely. It’s an essential part of the kit.
There are two types of charge controller, PWM and MPPT. MPPT charge controllers make the best use of the available sun and can generate up to 30% more power than PWM charge controllers in overcast conditions. PWM charge controllers are less expensive, but we recommend MPPT for its efficiency.
Fixtures and fittings
Fixtures and fittings include mounting brackets or a stand for the panel(s), brackets for the charge controller and any fixings for cabling and ancillaries.
For a simple installation, we recommend using corner or end mounts and a bonding agent. It is worth keeping in mind though that the cooler the panel is the more efficient it will be. To keep the panel cool an air gap behind the panel is important and the larger the air gap the better. With this in mind, mounting with brackets to a roof rack is a great solution where possible.
Wiring and cables
A good solar panel kit should come complete with all cabling to connect everything together including, fuses or circuit breakers, cable entry gland, panel cabling, load cabling and connectors.
How much energy do you need to generate?
When planning your motorhome solar panel system, you first need to know your energy requirements. You may already know this but if you don’t, then a solar power calculator is a great place to start.
As a general guide, our most popular panel for motorhomes is the 120w 12v monocrystalline panel which is suitable for most people’s needs. Another way to look at this is to buy the largest set of panels you have space for on your roof. You can then feel confident you are generating as much power from your unused roof space as possible.
What about batteries?
A full discussion of leisure batteries deserves a dedicated post of its own, there’s a great one here on The Camping and Caravanning Club site. In general, we recommend using AGM batteries for your leisure battery but a new contender is lithium-ion. Here’s a quick comparison:
- AGM solar power batteries are cheaper to buy and can handle higher energy draws. They also require less maintenance and can crank your motorhome if required. They can be large and heavy though.
- Lithium solar power batteries can store more energy in a smaller size but are better suited for lower power draw. They have a very long life cycle expectancy, this can be more than double the next best.
Our verdict is that lithium-ion is still too expensive for the benefits. Its price is coming down and this recommendation is likely to change in the future but currently, we recommend AGM for leisure batteries.
Fixed or free-standing solar panels?
A key consideration when planning a motorhome solar panel system is whether to fix the panels to the roof or have them free-standing. There are pros and cons to both.
- Fixed solar panels are secured in place on the roof of the motorhome. They are installed and kept ready to go and can even generate energy while on the move. They do require installation onto the roof and will need careful parking to optimise generation. Panel size can also be limited by free space on the roof.
- Free-standing solar panels are independent of the motorhome and are connected once on site. They can be directed towards sunlight for better generation. They can also be shared with other vehicles if you have them. They do require setting up once on site and enough free space to set them up though.
This will depend on your needs, for most people, the convenience of having the panels on your roof is the best choice.
If you would like to contact Motorhome workshop please visit their website We will be resuming normal blogs during the week. Northern Greece is fantastic and we will be giving tips and information on what it is like to travel in your motorhome during Covid-19 the ‘New Normal’ is not normal.