Solar panels on your 4×4 or caravan are a sure-fire way to save money and make sure you can truly explore off the beaten path. However, there are several factors into how well your solar panels and inverters capture energy from the sun, and how much power you’ll get to play with after dark. To make the most out of your solar panels, here are some tips to ensure you get maximum efficiency with minimum effort.
1. Keep Them Clean
Think of solar panels like windows – if you have dirty spots and streaks on your windows, not as much light will shine through them and voltages will drop. Solar panels need to be kept free of dust and dirt to draw as much light from the sun as possible. A quick way to ensure maximum efficiency is to wipe them down with a damp cloth before you set them up each time, and wipe away any particulates as soon as you spot them.
2. Connect Them in Series
Connecting your solar panels in series instead of parallel will boost your efficiency by around 20%. You can connect your solar panels by installing a Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) regulator. Higher grade solar panels may already have MPPT installed. For those of you that don’t have it, it costs about $150 for a 15A rated MPPT, and will pay for itself in increased efficiency.
Pictured: TJM DC-solar battery charger
3. Get Proper Monitoring Equipment
Playing a guessing game with your level of solar draw and battery capacity is like playing footy without keeping score. You should have two devices to help you know how well your solar panels are faring – an amp meter and an intelligent regulator. An amp meter will tell you how many amps your solar panels are feeding to your batteries. An intelligent regulator goes a step further showing you power production, power consumption, and how much power is left in the battery. It should show you if your current setup is able to handle the load you need.
4. Use Insulated Wiring
Cheaper wiring uses lower quality components, which can lead to resistance and voltage drops. Spending a few extra dollars on high quality, insulated wiring makes sure you’re getting the most out of your solar panels’ energy production.
5. Invest in Larger Batteries
Though smaller batteries may do the job for your every day power needs, a bigger battery actually makes more financial and logistical sense. Constant recharging and discharging of batteries can decrease the health of a battery quicker than a larger battery. If a lead acid AGM battery has 250 charging cycles and you only use 50% per day, the maths is simple – you could get as many as 450-500 uses out of the same, larger battery.
Do you want to know more about solar panel accessories and battery upgrades for 4×4 or caravans? TJM’s Aussie built and bred solar panels are available here.