Photovoltaic solar panels are most commonly associated with homes, due to the fact that in Ireland, rooftops are the most common place to mount a solar panel system. 

However, harnessing the limitless energy of the sun is not confined to rooftops on buildings.

One of the less common locations on which to place solar panels are campervans, mostly due to the fact that they are themselves relatively uncommon compared to other vehicles.

However, for those who do own a campervan, solar panels can be be a fantastic addition in order to produce clean, green energy and to enhance the overall experience of being on the open road.

So if you’re considering installing solar panels on your campervan, you’re in the right place.

installing solar panels on your campervan

Why Install Solar Panels on a Campervan

There are a number of reasons why people choose to install solar PV panels on their campervan, including the positive impact renewable energy has on reducing our carbon footprint.

But solar panels are also a fantastic way of powering a campervan for those who wish to move away from electric camp sites, and experience the freedom of ‘boondocking’ – also known as independent or wild camping. 

There are numerous advantages associated with wild camping, including unobstructed views, more space and tranquillity, and solar panels are a great way of allowing travellers to experience all of this.

With solar panels installed on your campervan, you can power some or all of the electrical appliances inside, such as lights, microwaves or even your air conditioner.

So by opting for solar panels on your campervan, you will not only be helping to reduce emissions, but you’ll also be able to feel the true freedom which comes with camping off-grid.

How Solar Panels Work on Campervans

Solar panels work for campervans in much the same way as they do on domestic rooftops or other mounting structures. 

Technically, the solar PV panels do not directly power the appliances inside the campervan – they charge your campervan’s battery bank, which is what powers electrical appliances such as lights or microwaves.

But all PV systems ultimately function through solar cells, which contain semiconductor materials such as silicon, being exposed to the sun. Photons from the sunlight knock an electron free inside the silicon, creating electricity.

Types of Solar PV Panels for Campervans

If you have already decided that you want to go solar to be less reliant on electric hookup sites, there are a few things to consider, including the two types of solar panels which can be used on campervans.

Portable Solar Panels

Portable solar panels are the cheaper of the two types of solar panels for campervans because they don’t require installation. 

As the name suggests, they can be moved around and can be plugged into the power system of your campervan. Many modern campervans come with an external plug with a battery bank already installed into the battery bank. 

For those who don’t have this though, connecting the solar panels to the battery bank is often as simple as using some crocodile clips and connecting them to the battery – for others they will need to build in a plug with a charge controller. 

But while portable panels might seem like the obvious choice due to their portability and cost, they normally produce less electricity than rooftop panels due to solar plug capacity limitations.

Pros & cons of Portable Solar Panels

Pros of Portable Solar Panels

  • Can be moved around easily
  • No mounting installation costs
  • Much easier to upgrade than rooftop panels

Cons of Portable Solar Panels

  • Limited capacity of solar plugs
  • Time spent setting up and finding suitable location
  • Storage

Rigid Rooftop Solar Panels

While rooftop solar panels themselves may be less expensive, they must be mounted to the roof of your campervan on a roof rack or bolted directly to the roof, and this inevitably drives up the initial costs. 

The main limitation for rigid PV panels for campervans is roof space, but despite this, you will still be able to produce more electricity with rooftop panels due to the capacity limitations of portable 

As with their portable cousins, with rooftop PV panels you will also need a charge controller between the solar panels and the battery bank of your campervan.

pros & cons of Rigid Rooftop Solar Panels

Pros of Rigid Rooftop Solar Panels

  • Always harnessing sun’s energy
  • No storage issues
  • No time-consuming set up

Cons of Rigid Rooftop Solar Panels

  • Roof space limitations
  • Installation costs
  • Neither easy nor cheap to upgrade

Are campervan solar panels worth it?

Whether solar panels are worth it is a great question, but one which does not have a one- size-fits-all answer. 

For some people with a campervan, having fixed or portable solar panels are undoubtedly worth it because of the freedom it affords them to camp off-grid in more remote locations, and be ultimately less reliant on official camp sites with electric hookups.

Many people are also looking for opportunities to travel more sustainably, and solar panels are a great way of reducing our carbon footprint.

solar panels on a campervan

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