A trait common to humans regardless of ethnicity, sex, social status or nationality is the urge to constantly innovate on systems, governments, items and so on. Solar powered systems are an example of such an innovation. While they are not completely new, they have enjoyed immense popularity over the last few years than they have in the last 200 years combined.
This is because the new solar systems that are being built these days are finally capable of being a reliable source of power. According to research done by SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association), apart from an increased capacity of solar, a mass adaption of solar systems is being led by the falling prices of solar across the country. Currently, 250,000 Americans work in the solar industry or work with solar-related projects making it a major economic engine.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people decide to pack up all they own, throw it into a van and drive around the country until their heart Is content. Tagged now as #vanlife on social media networks, it has gone from being just a fad or a movement to a way of life to millions of individuals across the world.
But powering your fridge, batteries, inverters, laptops, phones and so much more could be very costly regardless of how little you stop to power up your mobile home. This is why many vanlife patrons are actively seeking out alternative power options that can be used to power their trucks on the go.
A great alternative is solar. This is because it is relatively cheap to install and maintain. Also, with the right amount of materials, you can easily mount your panels in minutes and begin your journey.
But before you go out to purchase just any panel for your van, here are the things you need to know about choosing the best solar panels for your van:
Flexible or Rigid Panels
Contrary to popular knowledge about solar panels, they can either be rigid or flexible. Rigid panels are constructed with an aluminum frame that surrounds the glass covering the solar cells while flexible solar panels are built with the solar receiving material saturated into a thin mylar film which is then attached to an aluminum substrate.
Also, it is important to note that flexible solar panels are not flimsy in any way. They are only bendable to about 30 degrees.
While both categories have their pros, rigid panels are preferred over flexible panels because of that extra efficiency they have. Apart from this, flexible panels cannot be applied on tilting brackets. Regarding tenacity and durability, flexible panels also pale in comparison as they are easily damaged by just about anything from hanging branches to weather conditions.
Finally, flexible panels have shorter warranty times compared to rigid solid panels. The average rigid panel is covered by warranty for 27 years on average; flexible panels are only covered for five years maximum.
Flexible panels should also not be completely ruled out as well. These types of panels are ideal for vans with little or no space around the body or vans that come in small or unique shapes. Because of its flexibility, it can be glued unto the roof or body of the van instead of being drilled into a perfectly sound roof.
Finally, a major component needed for solar panels to work as designed is lack of heat dissipation. Rigid panels allow heat to dissipate thanks to the air that flows between the panel’s mount and the van while flexible panels do not allow for that due to their installation process.
Now that You Have Chosen What Next?
Depending on your choices, here is what comes next after choosing your ideal type of solar panel:
1. Figure out how much power is needed for your van:
Does your van contain several high-intensity power consuming devices? Or are you traveling with just your phone and your laptop? Your solar system choice is a result of how much power your van needs. Failure to do this would lead to quick and continuous depletion of your battery reserves which could eventually lead to a collapse of the whole system.
2. Get a solar charge controller, a great one:
MPPT stands for Maximum power point tracker,and these regulators are used to convert all that raw energy that is being received from the sun into the optimal voltage needed to be stored in your battery. There are also non-MPPT’s for sale,but the typical MMPT regulator has been seen to have 30% more efficiency compared to the non-MPPT.
3. Purchase a system monitor:
Now you have your regulator, battery and solar panels fully set up. You have cross-checked your wiring,and your van has met all the safety standards and checks. The next thing to buy is a system monitor. Simply put, these devices play an important role by letting you know how much energy your panels are receiving, how much of it is being stored within the batteries and how much energy is being drained by your refrigerator.
Ensure you keep an eye out for these values. Some campers even go as far as to manually record these values in a bid to track these numbers in order to fully understand the system. An MPPT type of monitor is the Blue Solar Control.
Finally, installation. Installation could be done either by oneself or contracted to a professional in order to get everything done in the best possible way. However, it is important to familiarize yourself with the system to be able to solve incidents should any occur while you are driving around in your van.
Another important thing to note is the panel size as well as the decision to have either a fixed or mobile panel. Each has its pros and cons,so it is important you consider your options carefully before drilling a hole in your rooftop in a bid to mount a panel rack.