What are the best solar panels for van conversion? This article will break down this potentially overwhelming and time-consuming topic once and for all. Solar panels are a valuable investment when converting a campervan because they make living off-grid more manageable and comfortable. You may think it is a significant investment, but placing solar panels on your van has many benefits.
Solar panels allow you to recharge your battery power without being connected to shore power. This way, you can run everyday essentials like your lights, refrigerator, water pump, and all the outlets that help you charge your laptop, phone, and any other technology you need regularly.
Many companies now provide solar panels for those seeking to complete a conversion. It’s essential, therefore, to make sure that you purchase high-quality solar panels so that you can both generate and conserve energy. However, we understand that with many different brands, types, and styles currently on the market, finding the right one for you and your needs is not always easy.
So, who provides the best solar panels for van conversion?
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Our Top Choice: Renogy 100 Watt Solar Panel
The Renogy 100-watt solar panel is, in our opinion, one of the best solar panels for van conversion currently on the market. Shawn and I have used these in both of our builds, and most US vanlifers use these as well. They are highly reliable, and Renogy offers excellent customer service for this product.
The compact, rigid panel is best suited to those looking to install power with a smaller footprint, easily making it a favorite with campervans and motorhomes.
This solar panel can provide, on average, 400-500 watt-hours (33-41 Amp-hours) of electricity, depending on the sun, making it small but mighty. They also come equipped with bypass diodes to protect the cells from overheating and allow the solar panels to continue working, even during accidental shading, by bypassing the underperforming cells.
We consider the Renogy 100-watt solar panel the best campervan solar panel for this reason, but also because the panels are multi-layered sheets surrounded by a corrosion-resistant, lightweight aluminum frame designed to enhance cell performance and provide long-lasting durability.
- Free shipping
- Reliable 3-year warranty
- Fast and easy installation
- Small and compact
- High cost
Renogy 175 Watt Solar Panel
It’s essential to factor in additional weight when completing a van conversion. The Renogy 175-watt solar panel weighs in at 9.5kg. Making these solar panels slightly heavier is expected, considering the increased power.
These panels can charge all 12V batteries and have 18v optimum power voltage protection, protecting users against overcharging and short circuits. As with the 100w version, they are easy to install, but these come with an Ecoflow 160w solar panel, designed to maximize power throughout the day, even if it is cloudy and grey.
- Durable and corrosion-resistant
- Installation ready with pre-drilled holes on the back of the panel
- Compatible with a variety of Renogy mounting systems
- Some reviewers claim to get less energy output than specified.
Renogy 175 Flexible
If you prefer a slightly larger but flexible and relatively lightweight solar panel, then the Renogy 175 Watt 12 Volt Flexible Monocrystalline solar panel may be for you. The Renogy 175 weighs an impressive 6.2 pounds, making it around 70% lighter than its competitors and thinner, making it more lightweight and potentially a more suitable solar panel for a van conversion rooftop.
It is also less rigid than other solar panels on the market and can flex up to 248 degrees, making it a fantastic choice for campervan conversions with a less-than-flat roof. This model is also said to withstand heavy snow loads and high winds, perfect for those wanting to travel in more extreme climates.
At around 95% thinner than rigid panels (it is only 2mm thick), this is one of the best solar panels for a van conversion.
- Great warranty
- High quality
- Reportedly shorter lifespans than rigid panels
- Not as energy-efficient
Renogy 400 Watt Solar Kit
This premium Renogy 400-watt solar kit is both easy to install and perhaps the most economical choice for those looking to maximize their time off-grid. This kit comes with solar panels, charge controllers, and all the electrical wiring you need.
Producing on average 1.6-2.5 kWh of electricity daily, you might expect them to take up a vast amount of space. However, these 4 x 100w solar panels do not take up as much room as you would expect, considering they can produce enough electricity to power lighting, televisions, and kitchen appliances.
- Easy to install
- 25-year power output warranty
- There are customer reviews that warn of a faulty or problematic charge controller.
Goal Zero Boulder 200-watt solar panel
For those not wanting to attach solar panels to your van roof, have you considered something that will fold away into a briefcase?
The Goal Zero Boulder 200-watt solar panel comprises two 100w panels that can be set up and linked by a hinge. They are built with strong tempered glass and surrounded by an aluminum frame. Plus, they come in a protective canvas bag for easy transportation.
The most significant difference that van lifers need to consider is that these solar panels do not hold a charge. They are great for producing energy while the sun is up, but if you require something 24 hours a day, this may not be the right choice, especially if you are without a rechargeable, portable power pack. However, as an instant battery boost, this is a fantastic solution.
- High-quality and premium build components
- High performing
- Easy set-up (integrated kickstand)
- Very durable
- High cost
- Very heavy and difficult to carry
Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Foldable Solar Suitcase w/o Controller
The Renogy 100-watt foldable solar suitcase is slightly heavier than the Goal Zero solution but performs exceptionally well in lower light. With the two 50W Monocrystalline Solar Panels, your briefcase will come with one set of wires, including solar connectors, and one soft protective case for safe portability. It also has an adjustable aluminum stand, which means you can tweak the angle of your panels to maximize the charge depending on the sun.
You can also add further panels should you wish, making it one of the more versatile, on-the-go solar panel options, and it can also be easily integrated as part of your existing solar system. Work with a charge controller to provide power to your battery bank.
- Reliable performance
- Expandable design
- Heavy and difficult to carry (Weighs 27 lbs)
Jackery is undoubtedly a firm favorite among those that have completed a van conversion. Those who follow van life on YouTube have already seen or heard someone talking about them.
This particular Jackery solution is an off-grid solar generator that combines the Jackery 160 portable power station with a SolarSaga 60w solar panel. Unlike the briefcase panel options above, you can store the energy generated from the Jackery for later use, making it an ideal solution for campers going off-grid for a while.
The power station also includes three USB ports, an AC outport, and a 12 v car output and can help charge phones, tablets, laptops, cameras, and other smaller electronics, and it takes just 4.5 hours to charge fully.
It is also the lightest of the solar panel solutions featured at just 3.3lbs, so if the weight in your van is a concern, this could be the pro for you.
- Lightweight and portable
- All in one power station
- Lower cost
- Limited power capacity
- Limited to powering lightweight devices
Features to Look For in Campervan Solar Panels
To choose the Best Solar Panels For Van Conversion for your specific needs, you need to understand the specific features of these solar panels. Only then will you be able to make your own informed choice.
How Many Watts Does it Take to Turn on My Light Bulbs?
You will quickly realize that most solar panels for van conversions come with either 50w, 100w, or 200w of power. Therefore, it is important to understand how you will use your solar panels to determine which will be best for you. When trying to work this out, you will also need to look at the watt-hours (Wh), which determines how much your daily power consumption would be.
We recommend that most campervans have a minimum of 80 watts, and this is because (and these are minimum expectations and dependent on weather conditions)
- With 80 watts, you should be able to use your lights, water pump, and radio for at least 2 hours a day.
- With 85 watts, you should be able to use your lights, water pump, and radio for at least 3 hours a day.
- With 130 watts, you should be able to use your lights, water pump, and radio for 5 hours per day.
As a general rule, a 100w panel will supply around 400Wh of power a day which would easily cover your lighting for approximately 6 hours per day while watching a TV.
Fixed Vs. Portable Campervan Solar Panels
Fixed vs. Portable solar panels are an essential and frequent question those converting campervans ask. In short, portable solar panels must be positioned manually and require daily setup. In contrast, the fixed solar panels will typically be permanently mounted to the roof of your camper.
Aside from the initial system setup and installation, fixed solar panels for the van roof require no additional setup and will passively collect energy and hold it for you. Likewise, if you have an alternator hooked up, you will be charging your batteries when driving, which is crucial if you are in areas with less sun or have a smaller system.
Portable solar panels are also an excellent choice if you only have a small roof or would like the flexibility that comes with being able to set up your panels to face the sun and maximize their potential. However, if you own a larger campervan or motorhome, it may make sense not to worry about daily setup and use fixed solar panels instead.
Rigid Vs. Flexible Campervan Solar Panels
In the past, the best solar panels have been more rigid and used by more people. However, it is vital to remember that most but not all rigid solar panels weigh more than the average flexible panels and are often bolted or mounted directly onto the camper roof, which may be an issue for some.
Rigid panels are far more durable as they use temperate glass. In addition, they have protected aluminum frames that can withstand extremely harsh temperatures – both heat and cold – plus other external elements like winds, snow, and ice.
Flexible panels are very popular for stealth camping. They weigh less than 6 pounds, are extremely thin, and are less obvious on a roof. In addition, they are adjustable, making them easier to set up and use immediately. The flexible panels come in portable and fixed options.
If price is a factor for you, the rigid solar panels may still be the best for van conversion because they tend to be cheaper, making it the right choice for the money-conscious among us.
Monocrystalline vs. Polycrystalline Solar Panels
You also need to consider whether you want a single or blended source of solar gathering.
It may sound like an alien subject, but it is essential to understand.
Both solar panels have specific pros and cons, so it does come down to personal preference and your intended use.
Monocrystalline panels are more expensive up front, but they are more effective. So, in theory, you shouldn’t need as many panels, and the cost will equal. Monocrystalline panels are around 20% more efficient but are about 20% more expensive.
Polycrystalline solar panel cells are made of multiple silicon crystals, making them less efficient but more affordable. In contrast, monocrystalline panels are made of single crystals, offering higher efficiency at a higher price.
Monocrystalline panels often come at a higher price point, but they will save you space. On the other hand, polycrystalline solar panels are recommended when you want to reduce upfront costs, and space is not a limitation. Therefore, if your campervan is on the smaller side, you may decide that monocrystalline panels will better suit your needs.
Do I need a Solar panel Kit?
This answer is yes and no. We believe that the answer is no because, like us, you may want to be able to buy the specific items you want for your system. Unfortunately, when purchasing a solar panel kit, you lack the freedom and flexibility to pick and choose the components that work best for your specific needs. But a benefit is that it saves you the time and energy it takes to independently plan out the different pieces of your system.
Solar panel Q & A
You asked, and we answered. Here are our top questions and answers for solar panels.
Who makes the best solar panels for a motorhome?
Our top pick for the best solar panels for van conversion is the Renogy 100 Watt Solar Panel. We love this solar panel because it has been a reliable resource for us in both of our van builds, and we have many friends who would agree on the efficiency of this system. In addition, Renogy offers reliable service and durable, long-lasting solar panels that come with a strong warranty.
How effective are campervan solar panels?
It depends on the system you choose, but there are solar panels that are incredibly effective and long-lasting. Make sure you find the proper system for your setup and check reviews before purchasing. We have created a list of great solar panel options depending on your energy needs and can offer plenty of power to keep you happily on the road.
How much are campervan solar panels?
Prices vary on campervan solar panels and can range from a small, portable system made for your smaller electronics and other low-volt accessories to the more extensive, high-powered systems with all of the bells and whistles.
Think hard about what you will need to charge and how much energy it will need. We suggest talking to other people who already own a campervan and referencing other websites to ensure you include everything.
If you need lots of power, you must invest in more equipment. For example, solar kits often start around $150 but can be $500 or much more when you include all the needed parts to have the desired power.
How many watts of solar do I need?
Your solar requirements will depend on your lifestyle. First, consider your average daily wattage requirement, but consider appliances and devices requiring power. Then consider the places you will be and how much sun you will have. Again, your lifestyle will impact how much energy you need to reach your goal.
One way to think of it is by dividing your required average hourly wattage by the amount of peak sunlight hours in the areas you will be in the most.