Andrew and Peta Murray from Top Wire Traveller are on the road full-time. So they need reliable solar power to keep their devices powered. They have fixed and portable solar panels, plus a solar blanket. Here they share some tips on getting the most out of your 12v solar panels.
Your ticket to freedom
Solar power is brilliant, there’s no doubt. Whether you’re an occasional weekend camper or on the road full-time, 12v solar panels give you the freedom to get away from it all in comfort.
For 9 months of the year in Australia, you can pretty well get away with facing your panel vaguely in the direction of the sun and you’ll usually get enough power to keep your second battery charged. But come winter-time, you need to take more care.
Short days can play havoc with your plans to camp remotely. Throw in a couple of rainy days and you’re in trouble. Suddenly your solar panels aren’t keeping up. What to do?
It turns out, there’s a few simple things you can do to get the most from your solar panels… winter or summer.
Fixed panels are usually mounted permanently, flat on your vehicle or camper’s roof, or sometimes both. So obviously you can’t face them perpendicular to the sun. The best advice here is to park in the sun. Probably not ideal in summer, but okay in winter.
Fixed panels are best for when you’re travelling. They sit on top of the roof, charging your system as you drive. If you’re parked up for a while, then a portable panel or solar blanket is the way to go.
The following video shows how the fixed panels on our truck and camper are positioned to keep both systems topped up while we’re driving. The panel on the camper roof can be easily removed when we’re parked up and then used as a portable panel.
When parked up, our go-to solar panel is our REDARC solar blanket. Somehow, this blanket simply cranks out the power… lots of power.
To give you an idea of how well our solar blanket works, it out-performs our 200W portable solar panel. And this is a quality 200W solar panel, not a cheap eBay one.
Even though our panel is a quality solar panel, the solar blanket nearly always out-performs it.
Even with the 200W portable panel correctly set up facing perpendicular to the sun, we just lay the solar blanket flat on the ground and it still out-performs its much bigger rival.
The best thing is, we can hang the solar blanket from the camper, the truck or even prop it up with a rock! It really is a versatile device.
Keeping it clean
The one thing all types of panels love most is cleanliness. Keep them clean.
After a while, they’ll develop a layer of dust and probably accumulate spots of tree sap and bird droppings. You can buy a bag of microfibre rags from most supermarkets for a few dollars.
Grab a couple of microfibre rags. Wet one in water and wipe the panel. Then give it a quick wipe down with the dry rag. Make sure to gently rub off the sap and bird poo. And that’s all you need to do. Simple!
Fixed panels are especially susceptible to getting dirty, as they’re always exposed to the elements. You’ll be surprised at how much better they work when clean. It’s worth the effort.
Dust build-up will affect the efficiency of your solar panel
Let the sun shine in
Quite obviously, a 12v solar panel likes sun. After a while they’ll accumulate leaves, twigs, small branches and dirt.
Even a small amount of debris will affect the panel’s output, so remove anything lying on it. And long grass in front of a portable panel will cast a shadow, so be aware of this.
Speaking of shade, a big strip of shade across any solar panel will reduce its output significantly. For example if our solar blanket is in one-third shade, then its output reduces by over 60%. So try to avoid any shade on your panel.
Checking those connections
If you have a portable panel or a solar blanket, then you’ll need an extension cable. There are two things to look out for here.
Make sure the extension cable is large enough to carry the current over the distance without excessive voltage drop. This calculator will help you determine cable sizes.
And check your connectors from time to time. The most commonly used connectors are 50A Anderson connectors. Blow out any dust and gunk with compressed air. Occasionally spray with some electronic contact cleaner, then wipe off immediately with a clean cloth.
Check your solar panel connectors for dust build-up
A little effort goes a long way
We all need a little love, and 12v solar panels are no different. With minimal effort you can get the most from your panels. Treat them right. In return they’ll give you years of trouble-free service.
If you're looking to extend the life of your solar panel system even further, our state of the art solar regulators will ensure they are charged safely and efficiently. Browse REDARC's advanced range now.
Looking to start your 4x4, camper trailer or caravan upgrade but not sure what products will allow you to travel the way you want? Take the REDARC Hilux product tour to find out what products are best for your power management and towing needs.