Selecting the Right Solar System to Power Your Nomadic Lifestyle

Introduction: Unleashing the Power of the Sun for Your Vanlife

Welcome to Lesson 3 of our Vanlife Solar Systems course. In this lesson, we will jump headfirst into the process of choosing solar panels and the right solar kit for your van.

The best solar panels incorporated into a complete system will enable you to unlock the full potential of a campervan solar system to facilitate your wanderlust.

You understand the unique combination of freedom, comfort and convenience that a camper van or adventure van has to offer, and you enjoy these recreational benefits or if you also work remotely, the advantages of being mobile.

Solar energy has become the most popular way to power your home on the road. But before you invest in a solar power system for your van life, let’s have a look at sizes, configurations, and differences between flexible solar panels, foldable solar panels, mono panels, portable solar panels, rigid panels, monocrystalline panels and other types. 

As seasoned vanlife enthusiasts with a passion for sustainable off-grid living, we’re excited to guide you through the intricacies of selecting the ideal camper van solar kit that aligns with your power needs and enhances your off grid experience.

Key Takeaways:

  • Assessing Your Power Needs: Understand how to determine your van's energy requirements based on appliance use, trip duration, and camping style.
  • Choosing Solar Panels: Explore how to select the perfect solar panels for your van, considering factors like power output, size, weight, and durability.
  • Understanding Charge Controllers: Gain insights into the importance of charge controllers in maximizing solar energy efficiency and maintaining battery health.
  • Inverters and Solar Generators: Learn about the role of inverters and solar generators in converting solar power to usable energy, and the importance of selecting the right type for your needs.
  • Designing Your Solar System: Discover key components and considerations for creating an efficient and reliable solar system for your van, including wiring, battery storage, and safety measures.

Assessing Your Power Needs: Essential Questions to Ask

Choosing between portable and fixed RV solar systems (or even a hybrid solution) requires some homework. Factors you’ll need to consider are current and future power requirements and, of course, budget. However, the first step is understanding how and where you camp. Which do you fall under? 

Weekend Campers.

While portable systems can’t usually match the performance of fixed solutions, they should meet the requirements of RVers who only need solar capabilities for a few days at a time.

Full-time road warriors.

Operators who regularly overnight in parking lots or rest areas often choose fixed solar solutions for security. Adventurous RVers who prefer remote locations may opt for portable systems if power requirements aren’t too extreme.

‘Power users.’

 RVers who want all the conveniences of home will likely need to opt for a robust rooftop solar installation. These types of campers are not often able to meet power needs with even the best portable systems. However, these campers can benefit from a smaller rooftop system supplemented by a portable panel to boost charging power when required. 

Also, consider the following questions to gain clarity on your energy requirements:

  • How much electricity will you use? Determine the appliances, devices and amenities you intend to power in your van. Make a comprehensive list of all the electrical equipment you have onboard and their power usage to estimate your daily energy consumption and exactly how much power you’ll need from the solar panels.
  • How long are your trips? Assess the duration of your vanlife adventures to understand how many days or weeks you need your solar setup to sustain your power needs off-grid.
  • What is your preferred camping style? Consider your camping habits and locations. Are you more likely to park in shaded areas, where your solar panels may receive limited sunlight? Or do you prefer open spaces with ample sunlight exposure? Do you venture off the beaten path with other like-minded overland adventurers, or do you stick pretty much to established campgrounds?
  • Do you know what is the best campervan solar panel? The array of available solar panels can be daunting, from traditional solar panels to foldable solar panels, portable panels, rigid solar panels, permanently mounted panels, monocrystalline solar panels to polycrystalline solar panels. Each has its benefits and costs associated with them. Rather than recommend monocrystalline solar panels, it is better to ask how many watts are needed, and how much roof space do you have. The best campervan solar panels are what works for your particular application and budget.
  • Are you planning to expand your power system in the future? Anticipate how much power you will need in subsequent years. Forecasting your power requirements will help you assess the scalability of any solar network you choose.

Answering these questions, wil provide you with valuable insights into your power needs and help you make an informed decision when choosing a van solar kit. You may also want to try out the Go Power! Solar Calculator. It’s a great tool to map out your van’s power needs and to find a suitable solar kit.

Vanlife Solar Panels: Selecting the Perfect Fit for Your Van

Nothing can ruin a camping trip or extended stay off-grid like running out of power. Fortunately, you can ensure that your system has enough power while you’re off the grid. With the right solar setup, you can enjoy the freedom of van life without worrying about running out of power.

Here's what you need to consider when choosing the best solar panels for van life:

Specificity: The best solar panels are those panels for van conversion, not generic solar panels made for occasional camping forays. Panels for van conversion are solar panels purpose built from the outset, and they will be the best solar panels.

Power Output: Evaluate how many watts and how many solar panels are needed to ensure they meet or exceed your daily energy consumption.

Consider the wattage and efficiency ratings when installing solar panels to maximize power generation within the limited space available atop a van roof.

More solar panels are not necessarily better. The best campervan solar panels may be the ones that are more efficient. High quality solar panels with a smaller footprint may be part of a solar panel kit that's right for you.

For example, Go Power!'s WEEKENDER ISW SOLAR CHARGING SYSTEM provides 200 watts and is designed for smaller vehicles like VW Buses and Chevy Astros, yet offers a powerful, compact solution.

Go Power!'s Weekender ISW System combines their largest single solar kit and their most popular pure sine wave inverter for a complete campervan power package. The result is an economical yet powerful way to have most of the comforts you need wherever you dry camp. Like their SOLAR EXTREME and SOLAR ELITE systems, it features all of the components to allow convenient access to AC or solar power through your breaker panel, and the ability to charge batteries from either shore or solar power.

Expandable into a full-time system up to 600 watts, The Go Power! Weekender ISW can be expanded with the addition of one or more Go Power! Expansion Kits.

Go Power! recommends pairing the Weekender ISW with 200Ah of AGM battery power, or 100 Ah of lithium-ion battery power. A Go Power! Smart Inverter Charger is not included in this package, but would be a worthwhile addition.

Go Power! Smart Battery Inverter Chargers can charge your RV battery or directly provide a 12V load via shore power. Smart Battery Inverter Chargers offer fast, accurate battery charging at a reasonable cost.

Inverter Chargers use state-of-the-art, converter switch-mode technology that is reliable, compact and lightweight. They are designed specifically to extend the life of deep-cycle battery banks. For RVs, they feed your 12V loads high continuous output when plugged into land power.

Size and Weight: A camper van roof has weight limitations. Take into account the dimensions and weight of RV solar panels to ensure they fit your roof space and they do not exceed its weight limitations. With a rigid panel, you will no doubt require mounting brackets especially if you are attaching them to a roof rack or directly to your van roof.

Lightweight flexible campervan solar panels or a portable solar solution can be advantageous for any application where size and weight could be a problem especially if fixed panels interfere with your roof rack. In this scenario, fixed solar panels would not be the best solution.

Go Power!’s SOLAR ELITE CHARGING SYSTEM is a more robust setup producing 400 watts, the best campervan solar panels for vehicles like larger Transits and Econoline vans.

Go Power!'s Solar Elite System is ideal for full-time RVers, a complete power setup. Similar to their SOLAR EXTREME, this kit features all solar, inverter, installation hardware and smart battery components required to have both solar and shore power charging capability.

Two powerful solar modules produce 380 watts of solar charging power that will charge your battery with up to 18+ amps. The 2000 watt Inverter Charger included in the Solar Elite is an all-in-one unit that combines 2000 watts of pure sine wave AC power with a built-in battery charger and transfer switch.

The Solar Elite System can be expanded to accommodate up to 600 watts of solar to extend your off grid stays and enjoy the freedom of dry camping without the need for a generator. The Solar Elite System is best paired with 400+Ah OF AGM battery power, or 200+Ah of lithium-ion battery power.

Durability: Vanlife entails exposure to various weather conditions, many of them inclement. Opt for solar panel kits with robust construction and a high-quality protective coating to withstand rain, hail, UV radiation and other outdoor elements.

Go Power!'s Overlander kit, included in both the WEEKENDER ISW and the SOLAR ELITE systems, exemplifies this durability.

Compatibility: Ensure compatibility between the solar panels and other components of your solar setup, such as charge controllers and inverters. Choose solar panels that integrate seamlessly into your van's electrical setup.

The SOLAR EXTREME CHARGING SYSTEM from Go Power! is perfect for larger vehicles like Sprinters, Transits and Promasters. It provides a comprehensive solution with a 600-watt setup that includes a 3000-watt pure sine wave inverter charger, combining high power output and compatibility.

The Solar Extreme is the largest solar and inverter system Go Power! offers. Paired with 400Ah+ of AGM battery power or 250Ah+ of lithium-ion battery power, this system will produce sufficient power to run up to 3000 watts of appliances or electronics at a time. Depending on your exposure to the sun, it will charge your battery with almost 29 amps of charging current.

A 3000-watt Inverter Charger is included with the Solar Elite, which combines 3000 watts of pure sine wave AC power with a built-in battery charger and transfer switch.

The Solar Extreme Charging System provides you charging flexibility between the sun and shore, along with connectivity to power to your 120-volt outlets. A Solar Extreme System is designed to provide you with all of the comforts of home and allow you live off-grid for extended lengths of time.

Finally, remember that your solar panel system's expandability is a crucial factor, particularly if you plan to scale your power needs in the future.

Go Power!’s WEEKENDER ISW, SOLAR ELITE, and SOLAR EXTREME systems all offer the possibility of expansion, allowing for greater flexibility and future growth from any of these solar panel kits.

By taking into account these factors and the size of your vehicle, you can choose the best of Go Power!'s solar panel kits when buying solar panels to power your camper van excursions.

Understanding Charge Controllers: Maximizing Solar Energy Efficiency

Charge controllers are crucial components that regulate the charging process of your solar power system. Consider the following aspects when selecting the best charge controller for your van:

  • Type of Charge Controller: MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) charge controllers are widely recommended for vanlife solar systems due to their high efficiency in converting solar power to usable energy. They can maximize power generation, especially in suboptimal sunlight conditions.
  • Go Power!'s largest solar controller, the 60 Amp MPPT Solar Controller uses Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) charging with up to 98% efficiency. The Solar Controller regulates and prevents the solar panel from overcharging the batteries.
Go Power!'s Solar Controller is the The most efficient MPPT controller for camper vans, with MPPT charging and four battery charging profiles. Compatible with all battery types, it maximizes power from your solar panels.

  • The Solar Controller has an easy-to-read, back-lit digital display, and it's stackable. You can add controllers to expand your solar array. The Solar Controller is included in Go Power!'s larger, multi-panel solar panel kits, and it comes with a 5-year warranty.
  • A surface-mounted remote display that shows the charge current to the battery, battery voltage and battery-state-of-charge is an optional accessory, as is a Bluetooth Wireless Technology Dongle, which works with the Go Power! Connect app to provide wireless monitoring of the Controller's parameters and data view.
  • A solar controller or charge controller/ regulator controls current flow from the solar panels to the battery and prevents overcharging while optimizing battery lifespan.
  •  A solar charge controller uses temperature compensated, pulse width modulation (PWM) charging. It supports four charging profiles, Sealed/Gel, AGM, Flooded, and LiFePO4 lithium batteries.
  • A solar charge controller is an essential component like the photovoltaic cells in a solar system. The controller maintains the life of the battery by protecting it from overcharging. When your battery has reached a 100% state of charge, the controller prevents overcharging by limiting the current flowing into the batteries from your solar panels.
  • The solar controller used in Go Power!'s DURALITE-100 kit features an LCD digital display that shows the charge current of the solar array, system battery voltage and battery state of charge. A back lit LCD screen displays charging current, battery voltage and battery state of charge.
  • The DURALITE-100 is suitable for 12V solar systems up to 600 watts or 30 amps, but is only currently available to OEMs, RV manufacturers, and professional van builders.
  • Voltage Compatibility: Ensure that any charge controller is compatible with the voltage of your solar panels and batteries. Optimal voltage matching promotes efficient energy transfer and extends the lifespan of your battery bank.
  • Capacity and Expandability: Assess the charge controller's capacity to handle your solar panel array and any potential expansion. Consider the number of panels it can accommodate, as well as its scalability if you are plannig to upgrade your electrical system in the future.

Exploring Inverters and Solar Generators for Vanlife

Inverters and solar generators play a vital role in converting DC power from solar panels into AC power for your appliances and devices. Consider the following factors when choosing the best option for your campervan solar system:

  • Pure Sine Wave Inverters: Opt for pure sine wave inverters to ensure compatibility with a wide range of appliances, including sensitive electronics. Pure sine wave power replicates utility-grade electricity and guarantees smooth, efficient and reliable operation.
  • The Go Power! 3000 watt Industrial Pure Sine Wave Inverter is the ultimate choice for large loads, and is capable of powering multiple appliances and electronics. Their largest pure sine wave inverter, the Go Power! The Industrial Pure Sine Wave Inverter is our choice for large loads that require an AC power duplicate.
  • The Industrial Pure Sine Wave Inverter can run any tool or appliance within its wattage range, and it provides clean, reliable power when you need it. Ideal for powering multiple appliances, electronic equipment such as TVs, stereos, computers or as a source of emergency backup power, the Go Power! Industrial Pure Sine Wave Inverter is suitable for a wide range of applications.
  • Inverter/Chargers: Inverter/chargers combine the functions of an inverter and battery charger in a single unit. They provide seamless integration, simplifying the wiring and management of your camper van electrical system.
  • Go Power!'s IC Series 3000-watt Inverter Charger is an inverter, battery charger and transfer switch in one compact unit that offers more power in the same footprint. The Go Power! Inverter Charger 3000 delivers superior features and performance at an economical price.
  • The Inverter Charger has a diminutive footprint to save space and simplify installation especially in a camper van with an electrical system where fewer components and cables to install is valued highly.
  • Two 50 amp legs set apart from other 50 amp inverter chargers. This configuration allows you to make full use of 100 amp, 240-volt power service by passing through up to 12,000 watts of power. It is also compatible with all 30 amp services. The Inverter Charger 3000 is included in the 570-watt SOLAR EXTREME charging system.
  • Solar Generators: Solar generators, also known as portable power stations, offer a convenient all-in-one power solution for vanlife. They integrate solar panels, battery storage and inverters in a compact and portable package. Consider their capacity, battery life, and charging options when selecting the best solar generator for your van conversion.
  • When you need reliable power to charge your mobile devices and run your electronics wherever your adventures take you, the Go Power! DuraCUBE portable power station offers 500 watts of power in a green, silent source of energy that runs effortlessly in the background.
  • Ideal for tent camping, camper vans, tent trailers, backyard parties, festivals, fishing and backup power for emergencies, it can be paired with a DuraLITE Expansion Panel to recharge your batteries with the sun.
  • Rugged, lightweight and compact, the DuraCUBE portable power station is made with anodized, aircraft grade aluminum for unbeatable durability and long lasting quality.
  • The DuraCUBE's LiFePO4 lithium battery offers 4X the cycle life of traditional portable packs. A built-in MPPT Solar Controller maximizes solar charging.
  • You can power your devices and charge your DuraCUBE simultaneously with the DuraCUBE's pass- through technology. Built-in Battery Management System (BMS) protects against voltage, current, temperature and reverse polarity issues.

Designing Your Vanlife Solar System: Components and Considerations

As you design your vanlife solar system, it's essential to consider the following components and additional factors:

  • Wiring and Connectors: Utilize high-quality wiring and connectors designed for solar applications. Properly sized cables and secure connections minimize power loss and ensure safe and efficient energy transfer within your system.
  • Battery Storage: Determine the optimal capacity and battery bank size based on your power needs and available space. Consider the type of batteries that work with your requirements, such as lead-acid, AGM or lithium-ion, the size of your battery bank and implement a battery management system for optimal performance and longevity.
  • Monitoring and Control: Implement monitoring systems to track the performance of your solar system, battery levels, and energy usage. Consider additional features like smartphone connectivity and real-time data monitoring for convenient management.
  • Safety Measures: Prioritize safety by incorporating fuses, circuit breakers, and disconnect switches into your system. Consider the type of batteries in your battery bank, and what sort of protection they offer in the event of a fire. These components protect your van's electrical system from potential hazards and ensure safe operation.

Conclusion: Empower Your Vanlife Adventures with the Right Solar System

Congratulations on completing Lesson 3 of our Vanlife Solar Systems course. You have determined your needs when selecting solar panels and are on the right track to choosing the best solar system for campervans like yours.

By understanding the process of choosing the right camper van solar system, you are well equipped to make informed decisions that align with your power needs and enhance your nomadic lifestyle.

Remember to consider your power requirements, assess the suitability of all the solar panels, what's in your battery bank, the charge controllers and inverters for your van conversion when designing a comprehensive system that optimizes energy efficiency and reliability.

Embrace the freedom and sustainability of van life with a well-designed system that utilizes the sun to power your off-grid adventures.

Are You Ready To Power Your Vanlife?

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