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Electric Power for your Motorhome – Solar system design and location

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Solar panels Phoenix 7900 RSL

Last weekend we returned home after six exhausting but successful days on our stand at the 2023 Motorhome and Caravan show at the NEC in Birmingham where we almost ran out of brochures! Since the show, we have received many bookings, in particular for our German tours (“Exciting Eastern Germany, “Majestic Rhine & Moselle Rivers and “Germany’s Romantic Road), but also for the ones to Denmark and Norway. At the moment we still have availability on all tours, but there has been a lot of interest, and we expect the tours to fill up soon (remember we only travel in small groups of maximum 12 vans or motorhomes). But now we would like to get to the main topic of this newsletter: Solar.

Solar system design and location
In our Newsletter on Electric Power for your Motorhome which we wrote a while ago the topic was mainly batteries and at the end, we mentioned that if you are running low on your battery and EHU is not available where you intend to stay, you should have alternative ways to top up your battery. This is why we want to give you some insight on solar power for your motor-home in this and another newsletter to come in the near future.

It is not a problem to charge your battery(ies) with different chargers (EHU, generator of the motor, etc.), but if you are off grid and are stationary for longer periods, you need to generate the electricity differently. After defining your daily demand, as we described in the Newsletter on Batteries, you need to define how much of this you would like to have replenished with solar panels, which of course also depends on your battery capacity, but also on how often and for how long you are driving i.e., charging the battery with the generator of your vehicle engine.

Which pieces of equipment will you need for a solar system?
In addition to the solar panels, you will need at least one charge controller and cables, as well as spoilers and a roof outlet if you want to fix the panels on your roof.

Technical design of your solar system
When looking at the different solar panels, you will be limited to a certain extent by the space on your roof. The larger the module, the larger is the generated power. As a rule of thumb, you can say that the solar power installed should be the same as your battery capacity (Ah=Wp). We for example have a 480 Ah Lithium battery and 660 Wp of Solar panels. This is sufficient for most of the year. But if you are travelling in Winter in the south of Europe, you should double your solar capacity! As an indication for winter travel in the south of Europe or Morocco you can get approx. 18Ah/day with a 100Wp solar panel on the roof.

Solar panels mounted on the roof or portable solar panels?
If you want to have solar panels mounted on the roof, you need to look at how to fix them to the roof, as not only the hours of sunshine determine your output, but also the angle of the sun, which for example in northern Europe or in the winter also in the south is not so good, if you fix them flat on the roof. Consider for these situations a flexible solar mounting system like the one from relleum design, allowing you the tilt the panel towards the sun when stationary for a longer time. Here you can also find a short video on YouTube on this system. Of course, you also need to get on the roof to tilt them. But this system also allows you to take them off completely and use them just like a portable solar panel.

The other option is to choose portable solar panels. A portable collapsing solar case, which you can place close to the motorhome, allows you also to park in the shade and collect the energy from another place in the sun.

We will list here the advantages of both systems.

Advantages of roof mounted panels

  • Always supplies power
  • Cannot be stolen
  • Do not use up any storage space
  • No work involved to maintain, besides regular cleaning

Disadvantages of roof mounted panels

  • Supplies only little energy when sun is low
  • Dimension of system is limited by available space on roof
  • Negative effect on the centre of gravity of the motorhome

Advantages of portable panels

  • Module(s) can be directed towards the sun, increasing the energy supply especially in winter or when parked in the shade
  • Easy to install and set up
  • Can be kept when buying a new motorhome
  • Roof can be used for other purposes (skylights, storage, sports equipment etc.)

Disadvantages of portable panels

  • Only supply power when set up, i.e. time and work involved
  • Risk of theft if you are not near the motorhome
  • To keep them portable, modules are often smaller (max. 200Wp)

We personally think a combination of both is the best option, so you can use the portable one as backup in the winter to direct them in the best angle to the sun or in summer to enjoy the shade for your motorhome and still get a good supply of energy.

In one of the next newsletters, we will talk about types of solar panels and charge controllers as well as the pros and cons of different circuit designs of solar panels.

For any work done on your motorhome electrics, always consult an expert!

If you are interested in any of our upcoming tours for 2024, you can find more information on the tour by clicking on the links below:

Exciting Eastern Germany

Tour date:                 Sun. 14th April – Sat. 27th April
Calais pick-up:         Fri 12th April

Discover Denmark

Tour date:                 Sun. 12th May – Sat. 1st June
Calais pick-up:         Fri. 10th May

Stunning Norway

Tour date:                 Sun. 2nd June – Sun. 23rd June

Majestic Rhine & Moselle Rivers

Tour date:                 Sat. 29th June – Sat. 13th July
Calais pick-up:         Sat. 29th June

Germany’s Romantic Road

Tour date:                 Sat. 14th July – Sat. 27th July

Impressive Italian Lakes & Cities

Tour date:                 Sun. 1st – Sat. 14th September
Calais pick-up:         Fri. 30th August

Captivating Croatia

Tour date:                 Sun. 15th September – Fri. 4th October

All information regarding dates, prices, and itinerary can be found on our website. If you have any additional questions or require any further information, just send us an email. If you would like to book a tour you can do this online, or just send us an email and we will send you a booking form.

Best Regards and safe travels

Audrey & Michael