Free Camping is so popular these days, that
many caravan manufacturers are building their new vans
pre fitted with solar panels and deep cycle batteries. Many more list them as
"Solar Ready" or "Wired for Solar".
When we ordered our new van in late 2012, we didn't
require panels fitted, as we had two brand new 130w panels ready
to go on.
We did, however, stipulate Wired for Solar. In our case,
that meant all the wiring was there, to be able to fit
panels later on. It ran from under the roof sheeting,
terminating at the Electrical Board near the battery. I
had the solar guy from Positive Batteries come out and
fit the panels (pic above). The manufacturer provides
paperwork showing where to pick up the wiring on the
Now of course, not everyone has a new "Solar Ready
Van" and not likely to get one. So what do you do
if you have an older van without solar wiring provision?
Well, you could spend hundreds and hundreds and fit
fixed panels to the roof, but then you've got the
challenge of routing the wires to the charge controller and on
to the battery, without it looking like a hen scratch.
Besides, fixed panels are not the ideal situation,
because they don't track the sun. In our case, to
compensate for this, we used more capacity than we
normally would need.
The ideal solution, I feel, is to get yourself a good portable folding
panel. If you listen to the salesman, he'll want to set
you up with an expensive system, probably more than
you'll need. At the end of the day, all you really need,
is a system that will comfortably replace the power you use. For
most 'vanners, who run their van fridge on gas while Free
Camping, their only power requirement is the LED
lighting, a 12v TV, perhaps a fan and maybe charge the phone or laptop.
I'm sure most 'vanners have, but if you don't have 12
volt TV, then you really should do something about it.
At time of writing, companies like
Kogan have 19" High Definition TV/DVD Combo TVs for
around $140 delivered (even less without the DVD) so
there's really no excuse. (I have no affiliation with Kogan.)
And if you have Satellite TV,
12v Decoder Boxes are readily available.
This one is my favourite... it's small, lightweight
and, with the optional IR remote censor, it hides in the
cupboard out of sight!
A 120 - 140watt panel, positioned correctly, should
output 8.5w to 9.5w and should be plenty to charge a 120
- 140AH (amp hour)
Deep Cycle Battery.
Of course, the size (output) panel you'll need, will be
governed by your actual power requirements, which
will be governed by your battery capacity. You need to match the battery/ies to power usage and
then match the panel to the size battery.
Well, that's about as simple as it gets. You can go
crazy and expand from there if you really "need" to, but
do you really need more?
That's something only
you can decide!