Portable solar panels for a camper are a great way to generate electricity. When there isn’t a hook-up around. Not only does it give you the freedom to travel wherever you like. The feeling of being energy self-sufficient when out and about. It also has a certain satisfying sense of getting one over on the power companies. Because you don’t need them or their extortionate electricity bills.
You can leave all that piracy behind for a while. Basking in the glory of free energy courtesy of wonderful sunshine. And if you are a bit of an eco-warrior, knowing you are helping to reduce your carbon footprint.
What Type Of Portable Solar Panel Do You Use For A Camper?
There are two ways you can use solar panels with a camper each has its advantages and disadvantages. But whichever way you feel is best for you. You will still achieve the same result, that is generating free electricity. But remember the solar panels do not store electricity. They convert sun power into electricity that is then stored in a battery.
The 2 ways you can use solar panels to store electricity in a battery for a camper are;
- Portable solar panels: These can be a soft fold up type. Or a more rigid suitcase or briefcase type.
- Installed solar panels: These can be rigid or flexible
There are two types of battery a portable solar panel can charge for a camper:
- Leisure and starter batteries
- Portable power stations
Installed and portable solar panels will charge leisure and starter batteries.
Portable And Installed Advantages and Disadvantages
Many of the advantages a portable solar panel has are the same as installed solar panels. So it might seem from the tables below that I am favouring portables. This isn’t the case, but they have their own disadvantages.
Portable solar panels for a camper
|Portable Solar Panel Advantages||Portable Solar Panel Disadvantages|
|Portability: You can take them anywhere. And they are really easy to store for transportation purposes||Weight: They can be heavy, especially the larger 200w portable solar panels.If you have a physical disability or bad back. This might be a problem for you.|
|Versatility: You can use it for more than with your camper. For example you can hook it up to a solar power station. To use it at home for power outages, emergencies and saving a little on those electricity bills||Limited Power Output: Because they are single solar panels their power output is limited. You can join some together to form a small solar array. But it will be down to solar controller limitations. As most with built-in Solar controllers are 20V.|
|Easy To Use: Really easy to set up. Point it at the sun and will start charging.||They Need space: This should not be a problem as they fold into the size of a suitcase or briefcase. But if you have a particularly small camper with a full load. You might have to think about it.|
|Sunlight Time: You are able to collect direct sunlight all day. This is because you can follow the sun around the sky|
|Waterproof: A portable solar panel with a built-in solar controller. Should be completely waterproof.|
|Low Maintenance: A portable solar panel needs the odd wipe with a damp sponge. And a visual check over every 6 months.|
|The Price: They can be much cheaper than installing solar panels. And a lot less time consuming.|
Installed Solar Panels
Remember many of the advantages of a portable are the same as installed. I just don’t want to repeat myself
|Installed Solar Panel Advantages||Installed Solar Panel Disadvantages|
|Permanently Fixed: This means you do not have to unpack a solar panel or two when you reach your destination||Sunlight Time: Because the solar panels are positioned on the vehicle’s roof. The best sunlight capturing time will be when the sun is directly overhead. This will be for about 4 hours per day.|
|Space Saving: No need to try and find space for a portable when you are travelling.||Shade: Unfortunately if there is even one bit of shade you will have to move the camper|
|Higher Power Output: You are not limited to one or two solar panels. You could for instance (assuming you had enough roof space) install 4 x 200w panels. This would be an 800w solar array.||Maintenance: If the solar panels are dirty you are going to have to get up there with the sponge. You will also have to check the panels and wiring very regularly.|
|Longer Term Power Generation: This means you can go further and for longer without having to use the generator.||Initial Cost: Yes the initial outlay might not be to your liking, You can reduce it if you are ok with DIY. If not, the installer won’t be cheap.|
|Silent: The silence will be golden not having to run the generator. Because you won’t hear a peep from those solar panels.|
|Reduced cost: Once the installation is paid for it’s free electricity all the way. If you use your camper a lot. You should recoup the outgoing quite quickly. Through the fuel savings or even having to use a hook-up.|
|Fewer Emissions: This can only be a good thing especially if you are camping out in the wilderness. There is enough pollution in the air. Your solar panels will help you reduce your carbon footprint.|
Flexible Or Rigid Solar Panels For A Camper?
Flexible solar panels have a big weight advantage when fitted to a camper. For instance a 100w flexible can weigh 4lbs/1.81kg. And a 100w rigid panel 15lbs/6.8Kg. The best advantage a flexible has is it can be fixed to curved surfaces. Some with a bendability of up to 248 degrees.
Flexible solar Panels
Flexibles do have their critics who say the panels are not as efficient as rigid panels. They are not as durable, flaking and coming apart under heavy use. Also warping in very hot conditions. Meaning they have a shorter lifespan. And take up more space because they are larger due to being so thin.
Having said that. They are a fantastic option if you have lots of curves. Flexibles can be easier to install because they are easier to move about. And they can be glued down rather than screwed into the campers roof. Fuel saving because they are a lightweight option. Hey, every little bit helps!!!
Rigid solar Panels
Rigid solar cells are built into an aluminium frame and are topped off with glass. The glass protects the cells from damage. While flexible solar cells are encased in layers of different polymers. Rigid’s are heavy and not very portable. But their lifespan can be up to nearly double that of flexibles. They are more efficient when it is baking hot. This is because all solar panels lose efficiency in very hot weather. But rigids stay cooler because there is more airflow around them. Therefore this makes them more efficient in baking hot sun.
What Type Of Batteries Can Installed and Portable Solar Panels For A Camper Charge
I know installed solar panels don’t strictly directly charge power stations and power banks. But they can through the campers’ power outlets. It should also be noted that portable solar panels. Need a built in solar controller that is capable of handling lithium-ion. So make sure it is a good quality controller and it says it does.
12V Battery Types
What Wattage Solar Panels should I Use For A Camper?
Between 50w and 360w for an installation and 50 to 300w for a portable. This will all depend on the size of the camper and how many leisure batteries are installed. I know that many camper owners add another leisure battery to form a small battery bank. So I will give examples of campers with one or two leisure batteries.
One leisure battery
Installed solar panels: 150 watts of solar input will be required to charge one leisure battery. However you should always overestimate your power requirements. This is to allow for varying weather conditions. For the best, most consistent results you will need 200 watts. Either a single 200w solar panel or a 2 x 100w solar array.
Portable solar panels: A 100 watt portable panel will keep your battery topped off.
Two leisure batteries
Installed solar panels: 300 watts of solar input will be required. But you should overestimate it to 400 watts. Either 2 x 200w or a 4 x 100w solar array.
Portable solar panels: A 200 watt portable solar panel will keep your batteries topped off
Remember when it comes to solar input the more the merrier. Because the more you have the faster your batteries will charge. This will also help on cloudy days when full sunlight isn’t possible.
No leisure batteries
If you don’t have a leisure battery or just can’t be bothered with it all. You can use portable solar panels with a portable power station. The power stations come with a solar controller and inverter built-in. Along with other enhancements such as MPPT to help with solar efficiency. And vary in size from 100 watt to 2000 watt plus.
For further reading about power stations. Take a look at my EcoFlow 600w Power Station Review. It will give you a good idea what I am talking about
What Does All This Mean If I Have A Camper And Want To Go Solar?
The type of portable solar panel you want to use for your camper will depend on you. If you want to fix panels to your camper you have a choice of flexible or rigid. If you want more flexibility with the solar panels, use. You should go for a portable. There is a price difference between portables and fixed. For instance if you are unable to fit the panels yourself. You will have to take an installers fee into consideration as well.
Maybe you want to go solar but you feel a completely portable solution is better for you. Because you want to use it at home to help reduce your utility costs. Or in case of power outages and emergencies. Then portable solar panels and a power station would suit you better.
To help you further with your choice you can take a look at these product review links;
I hope you enjoyed my post and have found it helpful. If you have any questions about solar panels for a camper. Or want to leave your own personal thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment below