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. 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 Renogy 100 watt 12 volt monocrystalline solar panels. We’ll walk you thorough installing the panels, and how they work and my overall thoughts on going solar for our camper van.
Renogy Solar Panels Review
Why choose solar power?
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.
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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.
How does solar power work in a camper van?
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.
Renogy offers two types of solar kits: On-Grid kits and Off-Grid kits. On grid systems by the way are designed to feed unused electricity back into the power grid to reduce or eliminate your utility bills. Off Grid options are self contained and meant to be mobile. That’s the type of kit we’re using in this install.
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.
Installing Renogy solar panels
Renogy’s website says their off-grid kits are DIY ready with a user-friendly installation process; and all the installation guides are available online. Since we have some experience with doing electrical, we opted to do the install ourselves.
How to install solar panels on camper van
We laid the panels out and mounted them to corrosion-resistant 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 panels that drew us to them:
- Multi-layered sheet lamination enhance cell performance and provide a long service life
- Bypass diodes minimize power drop caused by shade and ensure excellent performance in low-light environments
- Withstands high winds (2400Pa) and snow loads (5400Pa)
- Corrosion-resistant aluminum frame allows extended outdoor use; the panels can last for decades, even in our Alberta winters
- Pre-drilled holes on the back of the panel allow for fast mounting and securing
- Includes 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.
How do Renogy Solar Panels perform?
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.
We’ve also got a new device called the Renogy Phoenix PHX100. It’s a small soda can sized power bank that can recharge our phones 6-9 times, or a laptop 1-2 times. This is our ‘just in case’ backup, or one we can use outside the van. We’re also contemplating adding a Renogy Lycan AC generator… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Maintenance of solar panels
While our van is intended mainly for summer camping, we might be adding a heater so we can head out in colder months. But that got me wondering– can I leave the solar panels for months on end?
Renogy tells me that they can be left connected for short to medium time periods. Longer than about 1-3 months or so, the company recommends disconnecting the batteries. The panels should be fine.
If it’s 3-6 or 3-9 months, you’ll want to maintain an 80% charge on the batteries during that time, so a trickle charge every now and then would do and it’s recommended you wipe down the panels and check on your connections.
How to protect solar panels from hail
Overall review: Renogy Solar panels for Off-Grid
For now we’re very happy with our decision to add solar power, and we like the 100 watt, 12 volt Renogy panels, and the service we got. The panels cost about $149CAD each.
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 for a discount off your order.
You can also find them conveniently on Amazon.
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