An overview of solar power for mobile applications
Why have solar on your caravan, boat or other RV?
The biggest advantage of having a solar power system is the independence you will acquire from not being reliant on mains power. Solar power allows you to keep your batteries charged without mains power or a generator.
Most modern caravans and motorhome manufacturers include a 12V or 24V battery system that is charged by your vehicle's alternator while the engine is running or by a battery charger when connected to 240V. This means while you are driving or when you are connected to the electricity grid, for example at a caravan park, your batteries can be charged.
If you wish to stay in a remote location without access to electricity for an extended period without driving around, then you require an alternative power supply to charge the battery. Generators or running the car engine is an option but most people who wish to enjoy nature do not want the noise and prefer an easier, more sustainable option.
How does solar power work?
Very simply, energy from the sun is collected (via solar panels), stored (in batteries), and then used as 12 volt (V) power or converted into 240 V power when you need it (via an inverter).
Why utilise a different technology for RVs and marine?
Rigid solar panels used extensively for residential homes are heavy. Flexible solar panels are particularly suited to caravans, motorhomes and boats as they are lightweight because they do not have a frame or glass top. Flexible soalr panels do not need mounting brackets as they are installed using an adhesive sealant or very high bond double sided tape.
The same technology is available in canvas backed portable solar panels that fold into a small, easy to carry satchel size.
A Diagram showing basic solar systems components
Basic solar system components
Collects the sun's light and produces electricity.
Mono-crystalline Photo-voltaic (PV) panels. We use the, semi-flexible panels that stick down onto a surface with no mounting mechanisms.
Mono-crystalline are high efficiency panels. They are only 3mm, tough, lightweight, semi-flexible, with no heavy glass or metal frames and they do not need mounting brackets. They are attached using an adhesive sealant
Solar Charge Controller
Takes the solar power from the panels and the charges the batteries. A panel will show the battery charge status.
Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT). This means you capture as much of the solar energy as possible from the panels to the battery.
MPPT solar charge controllers are up to 30% more efficient than Pulse Width Modulated (PWM) type controllers.
Stores the solar power ready for when you need it. This is means you can access solar power even if there is no sun shining on the panels.
Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries. They are compact and safe having advantages over all other technology types for use in caravans/ RVs.
Efficient power density (i.e. rate that can be drawn from them), a greater depth of discharge, a constant discharge voltage, a longer lifecycle, greater lifespan and improved lifespan cost. Importantly their thermal and chemical stability means battery safety.
Converts 12 volt battery voltage to 240 volts so it can be used at your power points. It also provides information such as the amount of power being produced.
Low frequency true sinewave inverters for heavy loads, or high frequency true sinewave inverters for low power loads.
Any appliance will work perfectly as it will get the same electrical signal as it gets from mains power.