Are Solar Panels Worth The Investment For Camper Vans?

So. Is it really worth it to put your money into solar panels for campervans? Are solar panels even needed to live off grid

Let’s help you decide whether or not solar panels are suitable for your travel lifestyle and budget.

Understanding Solar Panels

Before anything else, let’s define what solar panels are and how they work. Let’s get technical first. Solar panels consist of photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity.

This technology doesn’t only apply to rooftops at home – it’s also applicable for powering mobile homes on wheels as we live the van life. There are different types of solar panels such as monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film which each have their own advantages when it comes to different sizes of roofs and energy requirements.

For more information about solar panels in relation to tiny living, this article goes into depth on the types and workings of solar panels.

Benefits of Solar Panels for Camper Vans

Solar panels offer a transformative addition to camper vans, enhancing both freedom and functionality for avid travelers. By harnessing the sun’s energy, they provide a reliable and eco-friendly power source, ensuring comfort and convenience on the road.

Energy Independence

Being free to move around without having to worry about where you’ll get power next is an enormous advantage. Wherever your travels may take you – be it sun-soaked beaches or remote mountain retreats – solar panels provide a sustainable source of energy. With solar energy you’ll be able to power your laptop, brew your coffee and even (depending on your needs and solar installation) heat your fan.

Cost Savings

Although there is an initial expense involved with purchasing solar panels, over time you can save large amounts on energy costs by using solar energy. By tapping into the sun’s free power supply, campsite fees as well as generator outlays can be reduced so that more money remains in pockets for adventures.

Environmental Impact

For those among us who’re committed to shrinking our carbon footprints, solar powering your can is a must. Solar panel systems produce no emissions, unlike petrol or diesel powered generators, making them an eco-friendly option consistent with tiny house living values.

Convenience & Comfort

Solar panels charge your van’s batteries throughout daylight hours ensuring continuous supply of power needed for essential services like refrigeration lighting devices etc., while you’re on the move. This stable power supply enhances the comfort and functionality of a motor home.

Challenges and Considerations

Of course, things worth having don’t come easy. There’s quite a few things to consider when it comes to investing in solar panels.

Initial Costs

You’ll have to think about energy requirements along with panel technology when planning how much to want to spend on buying/installing PV panels. The initial cost can be steep.

Installation Challenges

Fitting solar panels onto a camper van may prove technically difficult depending upon size/shape of vehicle’s roof; also mounting equipment required adds to complexity during installation process.


Although generally requiring little attention from owners’ side except cleaning them regularly so that efficiency is not compromised especially if one moves around often; however sometimes checks need to be done too – just ensure everything works fine at all times!

Weather Dependence

The amount of sunlight available for solar power generation is limited by cloudy or heavily forested areas. Therefore it is important to make travel plans and manage energy usage according to relevant weather conditions.

Tip: Look For Case Studies

It’s always helpful to listen to someone who’s made solar work in their van. There have been many van lifers who shared their stories online. They all agree that it makes them more self-reliant and comfortable, not to mention the long-term savings.

These are some blogs you could check out:

  • VanLife Theory – Provides a comprehensive guide to the best solar panels and setups for camper vans, exploring various options from portable foldable kits to durable fixed panels, along with their pros and cons. This guide is particularly helpful for understanding what to expect in terms of performance and installation challenges. Read more at VanLife Theory
  • Nomadasaurus – Discusses the efficiency of different solar panel kits, including those suitable for cloudy days and the expandability of systems with MPPT charge controllers, making it great for those planning an extensive solar setup. This blog also touches on the considerations for integrating such systems into your van life. Explore more on Nomadasaurus
  • VanLife Adventure – Offers detailed insights into the technical aspects of installing solar power systems in campervans, including the importance of charge controllers and the advantages of using MC4 connectors for easy installation and maintenance. Learn more at VanLife Adventure
  • Wandering Welsh Girl – Reviews the benefits and drawbacks of both portable and fixed solar panels, as well as the choice between rigid and flexible panels. This blog is beneficial for understanding how each type of panel fits different van life styles and needs. Check out Wandering Welsh Girl

Camper Van

How To Select The Best Solar Setup Solution

Choose the most suitable solar setup based on your vehicle’s limitations, energy requirements, and travel patterns among other considerations. 

Selecting the best solar setup for your camper van involves a thoughtful approach to ensure you match your power needs with the right equipment. Here are some key pointers to guide you through this process:

  • Determine Your Energy Requirements

First, list your appliances. Identify all the devices you’ll use in your camper van, from lights and fans to larger appliances like refrigerators. Then, calculate your total consumption. Estimate the daily power usage of these devices in watt-hours or kilowatt-hours, which will help you understand the capacity of the solar system required.

  • Select Suitable Solar Panels

There’s different panel types. You’ll have to choose between monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film panels. While we won’t go into all the technical details here, we recommend you do some research on the differences and base your choice on efficiency, cost, and space constraints. You’ll also have to balance efficiency vs. space. Higher efficiency panels are preferable if you have limited roof space, although they might be more expensive.

  • Consider Battery Storage

Match the battery storage capacity to your daily energy usage to ensure you have enough power throughout the night or during cloudy days. You’ll also have to decide between lithium and lead-acid batteries, considering factors like lifespan, maintenance, weight, and cost.

  •  Choose the Right Charge Controller

A solar power controller, also known as a solar charge controller, is a crucial component in a solar energy system, especially in systems that use batteries. Its primary function is to regulate the power flowing from the solar panels to the batteries. You’ll need to decide between PWM and MPPT controllers. MPPT controllers are more efficient, especially under varying light conditions and temperatures.

  •  Assess Installation Requirements

Consider whether you need professional help for installation or if you can manage installing the panels on your van yourself. Ensure the panels are mounted securely and the wiring is properly insulated and routed.

  •  Plan for Maintenance and Durability

Ensure that the setup allows easy access for maintenance and cleaning. We recommend choosing components that are durable and suitable for the varying conditions you’ll encounter on the road.

  • Evaluate Costs and Payback

To evaluate the costs and potential payback of installing solar panels on a camper van, start by calculating the initial expenses, which include the cost of the panels themselves, additional components such as a charge controller, battery, inverter, and installation fees. Once you have the total initial investment, estimate the daily energy generation based on the panels’ wattage and typical sunlight exposure in your area. This helps in assessing daily and annual energy savings by comparing what you would have paid for grid electricity or generator fuel.

After calculating annual savings, determine the payback period by dividing the total initial costs by the annual savings to find out how many years it will take to recoup your investment. Consider additional factors like maintenance costs, potential government incentives, and the environmental benefits of reduced carbon emissions. While the upfront cost may be significant, the long-term savings, increased independence, and potential increase in the vehicle’s resale value can make solar panels a worthwhile investment for many van lifers.

By considering these factors, you can tailor a solar power system that not only meets your energy needs but also fits within your budget and travel style. This approach ensures a reliable and efficient energy solution for your adventures.

Should Camper Vans Invest in Solar Panels?

Should camper vans invest in solar panels? Indeed, if freedom is important to you, environmental friendliness and saving money for years then this can be answered with an overwhelming yes! The initial cost may look high along with installation being difficult however these are just temporary obstacles when weighed against benefits brought about by such a system especially if one loves living free while adventuring around various places.

Call For Action

Do any of these things apply or have been tried out by you? Let us know! Please share what worked best (or worst) for your situation below – we want more people talking about it! And if there’s anything else that could help kick-start things please take advantage of our links on suppliers/installation guides. Here’s some helpful links:

The best solar panels for camper vans

10 best solar powered gadgets for van life

5 MPPT solar controllers reviewed


Edwin Dijkstra

Edwin Dijkstra

Hi, I'm Edwin. I'm a freelance marketer who loves to write content and am passionate about sustainability.
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