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Over the last year we’ve been renovating a 2007 Dodge Sprinter camper van. Now that we’ve had a chance to use it and get a feel for things, we realized we need extra power. I’m Erin for TGC.com and after doing some research and shopping around, we opted to get solar panels for the roof of the van from a company called Renogy; we installed two 100 watt 12 volt monocrystalline solar panels.
Renogy Solar coupon code = TechGadgetsCanada
So why did we choose solar?
When we built the van we debated getting solar power, and initially opted to just install a 12 volt electrical system with 100 Amp hour battery. It charges off the main van battery while we drive, and will last us between 12 and 24 hours, depending on what we’re running. Connected to the battery are a MaxxFan, TruckFridge, LED lights, a small marine water pump and USB plugs for phone charging.
We also added an AC inverter so we could use regular powered appliances and gadgets in the van. We connected an AC and USB power bar to it that we flush-mounted into the kitchen counter.
We quickly realized after a couple of road trips that the single battery wasn’t enough to give us power for a day, let alone a weekend, without needing to drive around to recharge. Knowing we’re often parked for the weekend, we decided that it was high time we investigate the power of the sun to recharge us.
We chose the standard 100W Solar Panel that Renogy carries since these are a bit shorter, perfect for fitting our footprint on the roof of the van. The panels come with a junction box and MC4 leads, for connecting to the solar controller we got.
So How does solar power work in a camper van?
To simplify: Solar power harvests the sun’s heat and light, its energy, and turns it into energy you can use.
Solar Panels in the basic sense work by converting available sunlight into usable electricity and that power is called wattage. Watts are made up of amps and volts. Different panels have different ratings for amps and volts, depending on your needs.
So how do you know how much power you need in your off grid world? We made a list of all the devices we plan on running in the van. We got the wattage information, or the amps and volts of the product, and considered the average run time per device. With that information, we consulted with Renogy’s helpful team who helped us accurately size our system so it runs effectively and efficiently.
We laid the panels out and mounted them to corrosion-resistent powerstrut metal rails, and secured the array to the roof with stainless steel fasteners.
The we ran the cable along the roof, and in through a hole in the rear of the van, connecting it to the solar charge controller.
Once everything is set up and connected, your system will start generating power as soon as the sun comes up. I could see ours working as soon as the wires connected. After our first full day of sunlight it was enough to keep the battery topped off and ready to use.
Renogy Solar panels: Key features
Some of the key features of these Renogy monocrystaline panels that drew us to them:
the panels have a multi-layered sheet laminations which is supposed to mean long life
They have Bypass diodes — those are supposed to minimize power drops caused by shade and to give you better performance in low-light or cloudy environments
they’re supposed to withstands high winds and snow loads
These Renogy panels have a Corrosion-resistant aluminum frame for extended outdoor use; meaning the panels can last for decades. I’ll report back on how well they fare in our harsh Alberta winters
Pre-drilled holes on the back of the panel allow for fast mounting and securing. There’s also pre-drilled holes for grounding
To test the solar panels out we turned the fridge on and left it on, and it stayed cold for days, getting its power just from our solar array.
We’ve only been able to use these for a bit this summer and we’re going to be taking the van out for more testing and use and hope to get an even better feel for how these panels are working. We might also be opting to add another battery so we can keep enough power on hand for cooking, refrigeration, ventilation, and even powering our mobile office with laptops, and even my YouTube TV lights.
For now we’re very happy with our decision to add solar power, and we like the Renogy panels, and the service we got.
If you want to look into getting your own solar panels, you can see what’s available on Renogy’s website and use the promo code or discount code TechGadgetsCanada a discount off your order