To run an efficient solar setup there are a range of components that need to be present and working, we’re here to run you through the basics to get your solar system up and running.
Panels vs. blankets? Which is the best solar solution
Possibly the most important element of a solar setup is the solar panel itself. There are a few different options when looking for a solar panel; fixed panels, portable panels, and solar blankets. Each option has its benefits and drawbacks depending on your camping setup. All options come in different wattage sizes, depending on your power needs.
Fixed panels are possibly the simplest option when it comes to a solar setup. Able to be secured to the roof of cars, vans, caravans, or camper trailers they take away the need for setup or packing away when you get to or leave your destination. Fixed panels are also often more cost effective than portable panels or blankets.
The major downfall of fixed panels is that they are – as the name suggests – fixed. This means that you need to park or setup in a position of full sun to get the most out of your panels. It also means that they cannot be angled towards the sun so the amount of time you can get maximum charge from your panels is more limited than that of portable panels or blankets.
Portable folding solar panels also feature the A grade Monocrystalline cell technology that is used in fixed panels, the difference with these panels is the portability. With lightweight legs, folding panels can be angled towards the sun and moved as required. Being able to move and angle the panels towards the sun means that you can utilise more hours of sun than a fixed panel. They are also foldable making them easy to pack away and travel with.
Though they fold down to a compact size this does make them heavier than fixed solar panels or blankets, which can be an issue if you’re going on the road long term and need to consider weight. They also must be standing on the ground, meaning they take up campsite space and need to be manually moved and adjusted to catch the optimum amount of sunlight.
Solar blankets are the most portable and lightweight option out of the three. Being somewhat flexible and easy to move, they can be positioned to catch the most sunlight, so less thought goes into where you decide to setup. Using either Uni-Solar or SunPower cells, blankets can absorb more sunlight than the monocrystalline cells in solid panels and can be used more effectively in shade or low-light.
The major downfall of solar blankets is that they are more expensive than solid panels. This is due to the more complex technology involved. This means that solar blankets may not be within the budget for people looking to go on the occasional weekend trip.
Why you need an solar regulator
An MPPT – or Maximum Power Point Tracking – regulator is critical for efficiently generating solar power. The sun is incredibly powerful and without a regulator can damage your battery through over-charging by the solar panel. Regulators ensure that the power supplied by solar panels is at the right battery voltage and protect batteries from any risk of overcharging.
The power output from an MPPT solar regulator is optimised by using the maximum current at the required voltage, to constantly extract all the power available from the panel. It is particularly useful in varying or low light level situations, like dusk, dawn, or a cloudy day, as it will automatically adjust and find the new point at which the solar cell can deliver maximum power output.
MPPT regulators also convert the voltage of the power coming from the solar panel to the required battery output voltage, meaning maximum power is generated by the panel even if the battery being charged is severely discharged. The result of this is more charge going into the batteries and an ability to spend more time off-grid or free camping.
Converting the solar power to battery power
To be able to use the power from the solar panels to charge your auxiliary battery you’ll need a battery charger. Battery chargers are used to convert the power coming in from the solar panel to usable power and charge an auxiliary battery from it. Depending on the battery charger you choose it may or may not have a built in MPPT Regulator. Both the REDARC BCDC Dual In-Vehicle DC-DC charger and the Manager30 Battery Management system have inbuilt MPPT solar regulators, meaning that a separate regulator is not needed.
REDARC’s in-vehicle BCDC Dual range has attracted a reputation for charging batteries to a proven 100% through taking power from DC and solar inputs simultaneously. Similarly, both the BCDC and the Manager30 are equipped with Green Power Priority, meaning they will always choose to charge first from 12-volt solar power when it is available. One of the main differences between the two units is the level of control and monitoring available. With the Manager30, you are able to constantly monitor battery charge levels and power input and output via a screen. This means you are always in control of your off-grid power.
In conclusion, solar is an effective way to charge an auxiliary battery while off-grid to keep all your accessories and necessities working. With a number of different panel and charger options there’s something for almost every budget and setup specifications.