Campervan Solar Panel - All you Need to Know

Learn everything you need to know about campervan solar panels, from rigid solar panels to flexible solar panels, watt hours and much more.

The alternator of your campervan should be charging your leisure battery as you travel. You can also charge the battery by connecting to the hookup at a campsite. But what options do you have if your aim is to have terrific off-grid camping? How can you ensure that your leisure battery is always charged? All you need is campervan solar panel power, and you will get the electricity you need.

Having a solar panel on your campervan will guarantee power everywhere you go, and the best thing is that you get the energy for free. Another benefit of having a campervan solar panel is that it keeps your battery charged even in the winter when you might not be using the campervan, yet you need the power to keep yourself warm.

For newbies, working with solar power can be a challenge, especially when it comes to choosing a good solar setup. This piece has all the information you need, so by the end, you will understand the kind of solar panel you will require to keep your leisure battery charged. See what other campervan accessories you may need for your trip!

Types of Solar Panels

Here are two major types of solar panels to choose from, thin film and crystalline. They are referred to as PV or photovoltaic solar panels.

To make thin-film PV solar panels, a thin layer of semiconductor material is sprayed on another surface, which looks typically like the silvering behind a mirror. The life of a thin film solar panel is ten years, which is shorter than that of a crystalline solar panel. But, with the new discoveries in technology, improvements are being made, and it could soon last around twenty years, like crystalline solar  panels. The thin film solar panels are the cheaper alternative.

There are two two main types of crystalline solar panels which are mono-crystalline and poly-crystalline. The mono-crystalline solar panels are usually the most effective, with every module made of a single silicon crystal. And although they are super efficient, their price is also high. A majority of the crystalline solar panels you will find in the market are mono-crystalline, and they have many tiny crystals. Depending on the amount of energy you need for your use, you may require a sizeable poly-crystalline solar panel. While a smaller solar panel may be enough to power a caravan, you might need a bigger one if you need to install it at home to produce electricity to power your house. These come in many forms like rigid solar panels and flexible solar panels using a thin film. Be sure to check which if ordering a solar panel kit.

You also have to pick either a free-standing or roof-mounted solar panel and note that each option has its own advantages and disadvantages, depending on what you are looking for.

With a free-standing solar panel, it's easier to produce as much power as you can since you will position it strategically to catch the sun. The drawback, though, is that they are difficult to store and transport while not being used, noting that they will sometimes remain unattended. Some users also claim that these campervan solar panels attract insects like flies, which are likely to obstruct the sun, making them less effective despite how you angle them.

Roof-mounted solar panels can't be angled to face the direction of the sun because they are permanently fastened to the caravan. The advantage of having these solar panels is that they require minimal space and don't have to be transported separately. Leaving them unattended is also not a problem.

You will get what you pay for while buying solar panels, so avoid the cheapest alternatives you find in the market. The most inexpensive models are rarely the most efficient ones. But this doesn't suggest that you should go for the most expensive solar panels. Instead, do a bit of research to pick a good option.

Choosing Suitable Camper Van Solar Panels

You can use wind power, a hookup, the van engine, a generator, or a motorhome solar panel to charge your battery power.

Many campervan systems rely on around 2 to 3 of these sources, so don't place all your hopes on one method; otherwise, you will sometimes lack power and may need electric hook ups then.

We generate most of our power from solar panels. The engine helps charge the battery while we drive around however, we tend not to rely on this a lot because we usually don't travel all the time and using rigid panels or flexible panels works best for us.

Therefore, to make things clear, we will not discuss other sources of electricity in this post.

Before picking a suitable solar panel for your camper van, calculate the amount of power you expect to use, then compare it with the available solar panels.

You don't need to install a solar panel that doesn't meet your demands. Be sure you will have enough power for a wet day in, and see what you can do on a wet day in your campervan!

Installing excess solar panels is also expensive and will cost you a lot of space on the roof.

On the other hand, if you have very few solar panels, the solar power produced could be too little to power your gadgets, which means you won't get the best experience living in your van. Be sure to use solar charge controllers. A solar charge controller will stop your battery from overcharging and being damaged.

Determining Your Campervan Power Usage

We discussed how to calculate the amount of electricity you'll need on your campervan in a different post, but we'll do it again here.

Prepare a list of all devices and appliances you'll have in your van.

Check the number of amps every device requires.

Estimate how long you will use the devices every day.

Determine the number of amps required for each device daily by multiplying the hours by amps.

Add all the amps needed each day. You will then get the total amp hours you expect to use per day.

For contingency purposes, add an extra 20% to your result.

The goal is to calculate the maximum amount of electricity you can use in a day, especially during cold days when you may need to turn the heater on for some hours.

That way, you will get the maximum amount of power in amps you will likely use daily.

We get the power in amps since it's easier to determine the battery capacity you'll require. Batteries are also categorized in amps, hence that's easier.

But solar panels are usually sized in watts.

Matching Power Requirements to Solar Panels

Solar panels are sized in watts, so you must determine the watts you require.

According to Ohm's Law, we can calculate as follows:

volts x amps = watts

For instance, if you'll use 60 amps every day.

And your battery is 12v.

You will need 60 amps x 12 volts which is equal to 720 watts of power from your solar panels per day.

Solar panels are categorized in watts per hour. For instance, if you have a 100-watt solar panel, it means the panel will give 100 watts of power every hour under standard test conditions.

Now here is where everything becomes a bit confusing.

An example of standard test conditions is illumination on a panel when it's facing the sun for a whole hour.

Generally, the place you live in and the time of the year will determine the number of hours you'll get illumination on the panels each day.

For example, if you are in the UK, you'll get around 7 hours during summer and 1 hour in the middle of winter.

To illustrate the issue clearly, you require 720 watts a day, and assuming you get 5 hours of proper, direct sunlight every day, you'll need 720/5 = 144w of panels.

The number will change daily, depending on where you park your van and the amount of shave covering the solar panels, so this figure will be used as a guide while you begin. You will get an accurate figure after trying out things on your own.

From what we've seen, the figure is a minimum amount of solar panels.


We usually top up the batteries while driving, but we're always ready to carry as many solar panels that can fit on the roof of our van as possible just in case we are faced with an inconvenience. You don't have this worry with campervan hire Ireland using a Rambling Rover campervan.

We advise you double the number you get from the calculations unless you intend to go camping in the height of summer when there's the maximum sun, and you also don't need any heating to keep yourself warm.