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Solar systems for camping: what you should note

Solar systems are very well suited to supplying your mobile home with electricity when camping. We explain how they work and how you can find the right solar system for camping.

What are solar systems, and how do they work?

Solar systems can generate electricity or heat from sunlight. Two types of systems are used on house roofs or on a larger scale for industrial energy generation: thermal solar systems and photovoltaic systems.

Photovoltaic systems are mainly used for power supply when camping. The heater in the mobile home is usually operated via the onboard battery.

Photovoltaic systems convert the sun’s light rays into direct current (constant current) using solar cells grouped in modules. The solar-generated direct current is routed to an inverter and converted into grid-compatible alternating current. This electricity can either be used immediately, stored in solar batteries or fed into the public energy grid if there is a surplus of electricity.

Off grid solar systems for camping are very similar to those for households in terms of structure and function. They are just smaller and therefore generate less electricity. The solar modules transfer the electricity generated to a charge controller with an LCD. This charge controller charges the battery (AGM battery, lithium battery, 12V gel battery) and protects against overcharging. A built-in inverter allows you to use devices with a 230-volt voltage, such as laptops and kettles. But which solar systems are available for camping?

Which solar systems for camping are there?

Various module types are used for camping solar systems, which differ in their design, size, performance (efficiency), and price.

Module types according to performance

The performance determines how much solar energy is converted into solar power and passed on to the charge controller.

CIS modules have the lowest performance at around twelve per cent, but some energy is still generated even in the shade. They are also the cheapest to manufacture and, therefore, inexpensive.

Polycrystalline solar modules convert around 15 to 20 per cent of the energy into solar power and are, therefore, more efficient but more expensive than CIS modules.

Monocrystalline solar modules have the highest energy yield with over 20 per cent efficiency. The cost of a solar panel is the highest here.

Module types by construction

You can choose between rigid, flexible or portable camping solar panels. It is usually installed on the mobile home’s roof or caravan, although the mobile version can also be attached to the side of the camper roof.

Rigid modules are solar panels protected by safety glass. This makes them very weather-resistant, for example, against hail.

Flexible modules are flexible and lighter than rigid solar panels. Thanks to a special coating, they are also weather-resistant and scratch-resistant.

You get portable modules in a small foldable or collapsible format. These foldable solar modules must not be permanently installed on the caravan. You can immediately connect your smartphone charger to charge it with various models.

You can buy solar modules in different sizes and with different outputs (Watt-Peak).

What performance should the solar system deliver?

The output of your solar system for camping depends on the weather and your power consumption. The weather, i.e. whether it is shady, cloudy or sunny, influences the energy yield of the solar panels. Ideally, the yield of a 100-watt peak solar system is a maximum of 400-watt hours per day. So you won’t get maximum performance on cloudy or rainy days. Therefore, you should consider a reserve buffer in your calculation. But how do you calculate the required power?

How to calculate your power consumption

To calculate your daily electricity consumption, you multiply the power (watts) of each device (consumer) by the planned usage time (hours) per day and add up all the watt-hours at the end. Information on voltage (volts), current (amps) and power (watts) can be found on the type plate of your device. If no wattage is specified, you can multiply the voltage and current values and get the result in watts per hour.

This can be explained using a simple calculation example for a radio with 230 volts (voltage), 10 watts (power) and 0.043 amps (current) that you want to use 5 hours a day.

Calculation example:

10 watts x 5 hours = 50-watt hours (assuming 5 hours of use per day)

230 volts x 0.043 amps x 5 hours = 50 watt hours

The higher your power consumption, the more power your solar panel should have. Depending on the space available, several portable solar panels for RV can be installed on your mobile home roof. How expensive is a system like this?

What costs for solar systems?

The costs for a solar system for camping vary depending on the individual power consumption and the performance and design of the solar modules. The higher the power consumption during the day, the more solar modules you need to cover this consumption. This can quickly add up to several thousand euros for a solar system for camping. However, a simple 100-watt complete solar system is available for as little as 139 euros. Such a set contains a 100-watt solar module, the charge controller, glue, cables and a set for assembly. Larger solar sets for your motorhome cost more accordingly. The costs for additional components, such as an inverter and additional RV batteries to store the solar power, are on top of that.

You can install a motorhome solar system if you are familiar with the electrical system. Otherwise, it is better to have a professional install the solar system for camping.

Advantages and disadvantages of a solar system

A solar set offers the following advantages and disadvantages for your mobile home:

+ Self-sufficient power supply for motorhome camping

+ One-off purchase costs, then only additional electricity costs if required

+ Relieves the battery in the mobile home

+ Environmentally friendly

+ No noise or smell like a battery-powered generator or engine

+ Independent of gas stations, since no gas or petrol is required for the supply in the mobile home

+ You can place mobile solar systems in the sun, even if you are in the shade with the vehicle

– The more power required, the more expensive it is to purchase

– Depending on the weather (sun) compared to the electricity supply on the campsite, which is always available

– Purchase more batteries to store more solar power

– Solar modules require sufficient space

Solar power system also offer you other advantages beyond camping. You can also use the portable solar sets in the garden, for example, if there is no power connection. Solar-generated electricity makes you a little more independent of local energy suppliers and other types of electricity.

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