Lightweight Solar Panels For Caravans: 3 Affordable Options

Some call it a caravan, whilst other call it an RV, camper van, motorhome or travel trailer.

Whatever you call it, you would have looked into different methods of on road and off road power for your van.

Whilst many might plug into an AC power source at a campsite, or have a DC generator to power appliances and charge batteries, there is another option which is to use lightweight solar panels for caravans.

A major benefit to using solar panels is that the energy is free and takes no effort once the panels are installed. On the other hand, a drawback is that solar panels lack the top end charging power or speed of a generator or mains – they are more a drip feed type system over a day.

In terms of portable type solar panel set ups, we are talking:

  • Hard/Rigid Solar Panels
  • Flexible Solar Panels
  • Folding Solar Panels

Let’s get into an outline, and the a few positives/negatives of each type…

 

Lightweight Solar Panels For Caravans: 3 Affordable Options

NOTE: most commonly, lightweight portable solar panels will be used to charge your 12 volt DC batteries, or DC battery devices via a regenerator with outputs/inputs. Some panels may also allow you to buy an inverter to charge your AC household appliances.

 

1. Hard/Rigid Solar Panels

Rigid solar panels are probably the best value for money lightweight and portable solar panels in terms of cost vs. power on this list.

They often come as complete kits for the price you might pay for one flexible or folding solar panel of a similar size.

Rigid panels are aluminium or steel framed, and aren’t flexible or bendable – they are flat, and stiff.

A basic hard solar panel starter kit will get you:

A 50 or 100 Watt 18 volt panel (generally, one panel is enough for one 12 volt DC battery)

Connectors

A solar controller (for connection between your panel and battery)

Cables

Brackets (for mounting the panel to your roof)

 

Because you are using brackets to fix the panel, once a panel is installed, it usually is permanent.

It’s also worth noting that a rigid solar panel can be pole or rack mounted, but it depends on the surface you mount them on.

 

2. Flexible Solar Panels

Some flexible solar panel users love them for their versatility, whilst other have experienced problems with them.

Flexible solar panels are made of solar layers or solar crystals laminated between plastic sheets, and come in 50 or 100 Watt models.

Some of these flexible panels are just lightweight, whilst others can bend up to a stated 30 degrees.

The frameless design and bend makes them good for uneven and curved surfaces.

They have been used for caravans/RV’s, boats, cars, vans, cabins, homes and even hung up on tents when camping.

They can be permanently or temporarily fixed through pre fabricated metal fixing holes, and some people even use an adhesive like silicon to stick them on to a surface.

Flexible panels usually come as a standalone panel with connectors, and you buy a solar controller separately along with cables.

It’s important to note that because flexible solar panels are made of laminate, they are more vulnerable to sharp and rough objects than a rigid solar panel.

 

3. Folding Solar Panels

Folding panels can be large folding solar panels, or the smaller folding panels you carry around with you.

To read about both – you can read more in this guide.

For the purposes of this article, we will discuss the large 120 Watt folding solar panels such as the Go Power! GP-PSK-120 120W Portable Folding Solar Kit.

A folding solar panel like this has the advantage of not being mounted to your caravan at all.

It comes with a handy travel case that you pack the folding solar panel away in, and unpack it when you need to use it.

The panel itself has a fold out metal stand, and sits on the ground while your caravan is stationary to charge to batteries.

Three things to note with this type of folding solar panel is:

  1. They might come with Anderson connectors instead of MC4 connectors
  2. You can buy a separate accessory like a trailer plug for direct charging
  3. You’ll probably want to get an extension cable so you can move your panel around further away from your caravan if that’s where the sun is

 

… How Do You Know Which Lightweight Solar Panels To Get For Your Caravan?

It’s really a matter of checking 3 main things:

1. Check your caravan manufacturer instructions to see whether installing of a solar panel has any impact on the caravan itself (and the battery), or on any existing warranty. If ok, are there any weight restrictions for example?

2. Check the solar panel instructions for installation – does the panel have the right materials and accessories (brackets and adapters) to install on your caravan?

3. Decide what size (Watts) you want your panel to be, and how many solar panels you want based on the charging requirements of your caravan battery/s, and how much space you have available on you caravan roof

Here is a helpful guide to help you determine what size solar panel (and how many you need) for a 12 volt battery.

*Always check manufacturer instructions though, and get advice from a professional if necessary though

 

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