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How Much Solar Do You Need To Power A Campervan Off-Grid?

Heading off in the van? Powering your trip with solar panels or a solar blanket is the logical next move.  Whether you plan to charge your devices or just want to keep the lights on; learn how to calculate how much power you need so you can choose the best option to suit your appliances. 

Overview

  • Sustainable Travel: how solar energy redefines van adventures
  • Calculating the solar power needs for your van
  • Optimising energy efficiency: tips for solar power in  vans
  • Getting your solar kit

How solar energy redefines van adventures

As you plan to set off to enjoy getting away from it all, you can be confident that you have the equipment you need to stay out longer and soak up all the outback offers.

Here are our 3 main reasons why you need a solar set-up for your van:

  • Safety first: solar gives you the safety of a portable power source and ensures your gadgets are always charged in case of an emergency.
  • Go off-grid: With solar panels, you generate electricity wherever you are. You’ll be able to explore off-grid locations with a little help from the sun.
  • Charge the toys: Charge things like your e-bike, e-reader, laptop and iPad with solar while you are away camping.

Calculating the solar power needs for your van

To calculate your solar power needs, consider the devices you use in your van. For example, if you are going to be travelling in the Midwest, chances are the fan and/or air-con is going to be getting a workout and you will need more power. As a guide, a typical van consumes between 500W and 2000W of power. 

Using a battery means you can store electricity for overnight or those cloudy days - if you are using a battery, more solar input will charge the battery faster. Aim for around 200W of solar panels per 100 usable amp hours of battery as a guide. 

Consider a dual-battery system which means you will have a dedicated second battery to run appliances like your fridge.

Learn more: How Much Solar Do I Need to Live Off-Grid?

Working out your total solar input needs

Power in watts (W) is the rate at which energy is used. For your van, it’s how much energy your equipment or appliances use, and you should be able to find this information in the product manual (search online if you haven’t got the hard copy - most manufacturers have a PDF file available for download). Power (W) can be calculated using current in amps (A), multiplied by voltage in volts (V). 

Watt hours (Wh) is an energy unit measuring the amount of exertion generated by your appliances or electrical devices per hour. It can be calculated with W x hours (h).

After checking the amount of power you need to run the appliances in your van you will need to find a battery to store the solar power. For instance, you might need 120Ah to power your van. 

Choosing a battery to store solar power

There may be days when you don’t get as much sunshine, or you might want to power a laptop, fridge or phone after dark. 

If you’re planning to install a battery, calculate the capacity using amp hours (Ah), an indication of how much energy can be stored in the battery for future usage. It is calculated by dividing your Wh by the voltage (v).

Still scratching your head? Use our REDARC dual battery power calculator to work out what battery type you need. 

Optimising energy efficiency: top tips for solar power for vans

A solar system is a great investment for your van, you’ll want to get the best results possible. There are a few things you can do to achieve this; here are our top tips.

How to get the most out of your van solar set-up:
  • Regular cleaning and maintenance: Keeping solar panels clean from dust and debris for optimal performance
  • Strategic Placement: Make sure your panels are in the best position to catch rays. Choosing a REDARC-certified installer means you're dealing with one of the most experienced, trusted and qualified auto electrical installers in the industry.
  • Active System Monitoring:  battery management systems and customisable vehicle management allow you to control every device from one central screen or your smartphone.
  • Choose a reputable solar system.
Energy-saving tips for your van:
  • Use energy-efficient, A+++-rated appliances
  • Only fill a kettle with the amount of water you need
  • Cook with lids on pans so you can turn down the power
  • Cook your evening meal during the day while the sun is shining
  • Turn off appliances when they are not being used
  • Don’t leave appliances on standby

Getting your solar kit

Ready to hit the road? REDARC has installers and retailers all over North America, whether you plan to install solar yourself or let someone sort it out for you, rest easy knowing you are getting the best on the market.

Got questions? Get in touch for all your solar queries and we would be happy to help you out.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I run my on solar power?

Yes, solar panels come in a range of power outputs to suit the available space on your van rooftop. We also have a range of inverters, MPPT regulators and lithium solar batteries to complete the set-up so you can go further and stay out longer.

Is a 200W solar panel enough for a van?

200W is enough for a small van if you are doing weekend trips. You will be able to power a laptop or a TV for 2 hours, a microwave for 1 hour, and a lightbulb for around 12 hours. More solar panels will charge your battery faster, or more adequately in low light. You will charge twice as fast if you have 400 watts of solar, the recommended amount if you are planning full-time van life or are running a 120V fridge

Will a solar panel charge a van battery?

Yes, a solar panel will charge a van battery. Calculate how much power you use, so you know how much you need to replace.

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