Why You Should Travel With Solar

The popularity of vehicle camping and the digital nomad lifestyle is growing every year, and more and more people are becoming curious about trying it out for themselves. This means more people are beginning to think about the logistics of how the nomadic lifestyle works. Whether they need to power a camping rig for a weekend or a fully-fledged home on wheels for months at a time, where electrical power comes from is one of the most significant details for any would-be road warrior to figure out. Advances in solar technology have made it an increasingly viable option for powering mobile lifestyles. Keep reading to learn more about this solution to one of van life’s greatest problems.

Basics of Solar Power in Vehicles

Solar power is an increasingly popular option for meeting the electrical needs of RVs, camper vans, and camper trailers. A well-designed solar system eliminates travelers’ dependence on campground power hook-ups, which opens up a world of options for where they can stay while on the road. It’s also a more environmentally responsible option than using generators.

The main components of a vehicular solar system are:

The solar panels collect sunlight and convert it into electricity, which is then passed through a  charge converter that turns it into a current that a battery can accept. The last part of the system, the inverter, is important since most appliances that will run off a solar battery require AC power, rather than the DC power that is stored in the battery. You can learn more about how these components work together here.

Component Considerations

Every traveling power system has to meet different needs. From the roof space available to mount panels to the kinds of power demands the systems inside a vehicle have, there are many choices to be made to be sure that you’re installing the right solar system for your purposes.

Solar Panels

There are many different kinds of solar panels. Some things to consider when choosing which panels are right for a particular set up include: 

  • Roof space available for mounting panels
  • Monocrystalline vs. Polycrystalline panels
  • Wattage needed to charge batteries

Monocrystalline panels are more efficient, while polycrystalline panels are less expensive. Travelers with more roof real estate looking to save a bit of money may opt for polycrystalline panels since a higher number of these panels placed on a larger roof could compensate for their lower efficiency. Travelers with smaller roof spaces may want to invest in the more expensive monocrystalline panels to maximize their power-generating potential. However, having more panels doesn’t necessarily equate to making more power. In fact, solar panels come in different wattages. The kind of battery you choose will affect the total wattage needed to power your vehicle, so these components should be picked out at the same time.

Batteries

Just as there’s more than one kind of solar panel, there’s more than one kind of battery. To know which battery is right for your vehicle, you need to know what kinds of appliances and devices the battery will need to power. 

Does your van have water pumps, refrigerators, or TVs that need power? How many outlets will it have for charging devices like phones and laptops? How many of these systems will be running off the battery for the solar system rather than the car battery? These are all questions you’ll need to answer before choosing a battery.

Power Inverters

There are two kinds of power inverters: pure sine and modified sine. Pure sine inverters are more expensive, but work with the widest variety of appliances and are the best at providing reliable energy. Modified sine inverters, while less expensive, may not be compatible with many common appliances like refrigerators that serious travelers are likely to have in their vehicles.

Charge Controllers

There are options when it comes to the charge controller as well. Maximum power point tracking controllers are expensive, but provide the most power to your battery and allow for more options in how solar panels are wired. Pulse width modulation controllers are less expensive, but are also less efficient and require specific wiring of solar panels to function.

Building a solar system for a vehicle can be a daunting prospect, but with the right research and a solid understanding of your needs, you can start living a fully powered life on the road.