Reaping the Rewards of the Sun’s Heat: Everything You Need to Know about Car Solar Panels

There's no denying the positive effects solar power has on our environment. Utilising the sun's heat, especially in Australia, encourages access to ample amounts of a clean source of energy. Energy that is renewable, natural and best of all – free. Solar power makes it possible for anyone to power their everyday life using panels. It's efficient, environmentally beneficial and practical. It's the way of the future, and something each of us can be reaping the rewards from.

We all know that making the switch to solar power in our homes is a smart change. But what about on your car, 4WD or caravan for camping enthusiasts too? Harnessing the sun's energy isn't just beneficial for heating your household's water and cutting down on utility bills, it's a cost-effective way to drive clean power to your camping adventures.

Solar power is rapidly growing in popularity amongst travellers and campers. If you don't want to sacrifice luxury items like fridges, mobile devices, TVs, LED camping lights, cooking, heating or cooling on outback quests, a solar power system can be a great investment. Living off the grid, even if it's just for a week, demands a cut on noise and air pollution, and solar powers are the complete cure to ticking those boxes. Here's everything you need to know about car solar panels for your next camping adventure:

Camping and Travelling with Solar Power

Solar panels are silent, unlike most other power sources, and have zero emission which makes them great for camping in the outback. With the right set up, you can travel just about anywhere in Australia without having to sacrifice on everyday comforts. Taking advantage of the sun's heat through panels creates an economical, convenient and eco-friendly way to power camping and living essentials on your trip.

So, how do they work? Solar panels are placed on top of your camping vehicle and are activated when sunlit hits their photo-voltaic solar cells. Essential additions, such as a solar charger, will store the sun's energy in a battery to utilise throughout the day/evening. An inverter then converts the power from DC (direct current) to AC (alternative current), to make it usable for everyday appliances.

Fixed vs Portable Solar Panels

Solar panels come in two varieties – fixed or portable.

Fixed Solar Panels: Fixed solar panels are firmly mounted to the roof of your vehicle. They can be fitted to most means of transport including caravans, trailers and 4WDs to allow you to generate energy as you drive around the outback.

The biggest benefits of fixed panels are they don't take up storage space and won't need to be transported separately on your trip. There are no risks in leaving them to do their thing during the day either – even if you venture off away from your setup.

On the flip side, they can't be easily angled to catch the sun because of their fixed position. This can result in less power generated from the panels, because you need to move your vehicle in the right spot to soak up the rays.

Portable Solar Panels: With portable comes convenience and the ability to place and reposition the panels throughout the day to get the most out of the sun as it moves. Their beneficial because they allow maximum power to be generated, due to their flexibility to relocate as necessary.

Though usually preferred because of their practicality, portable solar panels can add extra time to your set up and pack down camping routine. Storage space will also need to be considered, although there are many modern designs like compact thin film panels which can help save on space. Travellers can be less comfortable leaving portable panels to draw from the sun's heat if they're off adventuring during the day in risk they could be taken.

How Many Panels Will I Need?

The number of panels will vary significantly depending on your power needs. Before investing in solar power, you need to determine how you plan to use the power generated. Without a basic understanding of how much power your camping equipment is using, you can spend money on the wrong sized panels. It's important to spend time researching different panels before you purchase to avoid wasting money and putting you off the advantages of solar power. There's no use in paying for big and powerful if you don't need it, and choosing ones with low outputs means running out of power regularly and getting fed up on your camping trip. And no one wants that!

Weigh up what appliances will be running off them and how many amps are drawn from each throughout the day/night. To do this, take the total number of amps for all devices and multiply the number of hours you intend to use them for. The amount of power each device draws will be on the product label.

An example of a basic setup is: to run a medium-sized fridge that draws 4amps and some LED camping lights that draw 0.25amps each, a 120W folding solar panel kit coupled with a 100amp deep cycle battery and solar regulator would cover your needs, plus a little extra.

You will also need to consider the size of the panels. How much power your panels gain from the sun's energy depends on size, how they're used and how many hours of sunlight in a day.

Essential Requirements

To get the most out of your solar power setup, ensure you have the right equipment. Aside from the panels, you'll also need a dual battery system (vital for backup or bad weather conditions) and a solar regulator, also referred to as a charge controller. Solar panels work best when they're connected to a good battery, which means keeping it charged above 50%. This will help prolong its lifespan. If you're wanting to power 240V devices, an inverter will also be necessary.

How to get the Most from Your Solar Power

Solar panels need full sunlight to maximise their output, and offer you longer lasting clean and renewable energy on the go. To get the most out of your power, ensure you keep the panels clean. A build-up of dirt and dust can reduce the panels' ability absorb solar energy. To keep them working at top efficiency, use a microfiber cloth to clean them before use.

Camping and caravanning adventures mean your solar panels will suffer a lot more than the panels installed on your home. Consequently, it's important to invest in panels made from quality materials that are sturdy enough to withstand the outback conditions. If your camping trip needs power-intensive appliances, like heating, air con units or hair dryers, avoid using the inverter as this will quickly drain the power stored inside the battery.

For any travel enthusiast or someone wanting to live off the grid temporarily, solar panels for your car, caravan or 4WD are a smart investment. With more consumers looking to reduce the carbon footprint on our environment, it's becoming increasingly important to utilise eco-friendly alternative energy solutions.

This article is written by Jayde Ferguson, who writes for Autospark – Perth's leading providers of solar solutions for your car, camper-trailer, caravan or motorhome. You can catch Jayde on Google+.

Read this next: 5 Considerations for Moving Off the Grid in Australia

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