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Author Topic: Will solar panels on the roof cover all my electrical needs?  (Read 12823 times)

kuurt

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I don't like the idea of using propane, kerosene, or any kind of gas in a van.  So I'm wondering if it's possible to get enough electricity from solar panels on the roof to cover all my electrical needs. 

Here's the electrical appliances that I'd like to have: 

small refrigerator
laptop computer
electric burner to cook on
fan when it's hot
water heater for taking warm showers
beard trimmer 
lights

There might be more, but that's all I can think of right now.  Is it possible to get enough electricity for all of that from solar panels on the roof?

kryten

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Re: Will solar panels on the roof cover all my electrical needs?
« Reply #1 on: June 20, 2015, 03:27:57 AM »
You didn't specify the wattage of these appliances or that of your solar panels or the number of batteries you have. I would guess that an electric burner will draw a large current and even boiling water using an electric burner will take about 5 minutes at around 900 watts and this would drain your battery. Same goes for a water heater, although you could wire up your solar panels to heat your water directly when not charging your battery. This would require a switch and a bit of extra wiring.

LED lights draw very little power so consider chaning your lights to LED, if you haven't done so already.

You have to remember to not let your batteries drain to less than about 60% (I think) or you could damage them.

SpitfireMatt

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Re: Will solar panels on the roof cover all my electrical needs?
« Reply #2 on: June 20, 2015, 11:41:03 AM »
small refrigerator    -ok

laptop computer     -ok

electric burner to cook on  - Would require additional batteries, thicker cabling, an expensive inverter and somewhere around 1kw of solar on the roof to charge on a cloudy day                       

fan when it's hot    -ok

water heater for taking warm showers   - Same problem as the cooker, maybe try using a solar cell heater to the heat water in the sun (would mount to the roof)

beard trimmer     -ok
lights

Tai-chi wanderer

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Re: Will solar panels on the roof cover all my electrical needs?
« Reply #3 on: June 20, 2015, 04:22:41 PM »
That's a lot of gear to run, (campsite hookup .... maybe) ;D

I'd cut to the bone if you want to wildpark, why are you against gas? It will run cooking, fridge and heating (if needed) and easy to get hold of.

kuurt

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Re: Will solar panels on the roof cover all my electrical needs?
« Reply #4 on: June 20, 2015, 11:50:26 PM »
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That's a lot of gear to run

Yeah it's probably more than what everybody else is running because I really don't like the idea of using gas appliances.

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why are you against gas? It will run cooking, fridge and heating (if needed) and easy to get hold of.

I have lung problems due to chemical pneumonia caused from breathing gas at my old job.  So I'm a bit paranoid about breathing gas.  I would prefer to do without it completely if at all possible.  I didn't know they even had refrigerators that run off of gas.  How is that even possible? 

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You didn't specify the wattage of these appliances or that of your solar panels or the number of batteries you have.


I don't actually have a van, solar panels, or some of the appliances yet.  I was just thinking ahead and trying to figure out if it's possible and how it can be done. 

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electric burner to cook on  - Would require additional batteries, thicker cabling, an expensive inverter and somewhere around 1kw of solar on the roof to charge on a cloudy day 

Sounds complicated, does everybody else just use propane for that? 

Quote
water heater for taking warm showers   - Same problem as the cooker, maybe try using a solar cell heater to the heat water in the sun (would mount to the roof)

How do other people usually heat their shower water in a van?  Seems like you'd need electricity to heat and pump the water, no?

kryten

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Re: Will solar panels on the roof cover all my electrical needs?
« Reply #5 on: June 21, 2015, 12:24:47 AM »
Cooking with gas is the most common and having a side door, window or sky light open while cooking is recommended. You could consider using a camping stove using small canisters then you only need to attach the gas to the stove when you need it. This would be a more costly approach but at least you would have more control and you can move the camping stove outside.

A larger gas bottle would require a hole in the floor near the bottle to allow any escaping gas to flow out of the van and a gas bottle could also be attached/detached as and when you need it. 

A carbon monoxide alarm should also be fitted.

For hot/warm water how about a plastic water container which you paint black, You place this outside in the sun and a few hours later you have hot water. Another take on this is a black waste pipe on the roof, similar to what plumber use to carry pipe, but you use black pvc drain pipe. At one end you fit a tap to draw off water and at the other end a screw fitted cap. Fill pipe with water and this heats up from the sun as you drive, Both these methods will provide some hot water but only a gallon or two.

Maybe buy some large thermos flasks which you can fill with water you have boiled in a kettle. this will provide some very hot water during the day for washing. I would forget about showers and go for a damp sponge and wet wipes, sort of bed bath but without the bed or the nurse. Wet wipes can be bought cheaply from Home Bargins in the baby section and are fragrant free.

The fridge issue might mean thinking outside the box, or to be precise, outside the coolbox. What food stuff are you planning to keep that requires a fridge? You might have to shop daily or every 2 days and buy products that don't need to be kept cold.

These are all challenges that you need to resolved by thinking beyond the norm.

Camper Van Travels

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Re: Will solar panels on the roof cover all my electrical needs?
« Reply #6 on: July 09, 2015, 02:15:06 AM »
Anything is possible if you've got the money to invest in everything you want but if not, you'll have to do what the rest of us do and make do with what you can.

Solar panels on the roof, whack as many high wattage panels on the roof as you can and get a decent 30amp solar charge controller and a good pure sine wave inverter (paying attention to the wattage plus surge wattage).

The fridge will run at about 35 watts per hour. Tip: Use a cooler box instead as this will keep things fresh for the day. Yes I use a 12V fridge but I never switch it on even on hot days as the insulation is so good it will still keep my milk and food fresh without the need to power it.

Laptop will also run at about 35 watts per hour. Make sure you use a pure sine wave inverter or your screen will flicker non-stop without it which will be incredibly annoying.

Electric burner to cook on? Forget it. It's not an option. This is daft thinking. Use gas (despite your aversion to it) just open a window or door to ventilate and minimise this problem. A 13KG FloGas bottle will last years. Mine is still 3/4 full and it's been used for 3 years for 20.

An electric desktop fan will run at about 25 watts per hour. Yes I have one but it is very rarely used. This might change as I head further south in Europe.

For showers just buy a 10L pump action garden sprayer. These cost about 15 on eBay. Chuck some warm water in it, pump it up and stand underneath the gun. Works a treat. Dead simple.

Beard trimmer. No problem running on solar.

Lights - LED. Tiny wattage. Fine with solar.

I use 2x 80watt solar panels on the roof of my van connected in parallel to a solar charge controller inside the van. Two wires +/- connect directly to a 12V ordinary car battery to charge it up for my electrical needs. In my case I highly recommend the Bosch S4 car batteries available at a vehicle breakers for about 15 each. Or just buy the biggest heaviest ones you can, 2-3 of these would be good. There is no difference at all between the majority of so-called deep cycle leisure/marine batteries and ordinary car batteries. The former just have a differe4nt fancy sticker on them to push the price up exponentially. (If anyone disagrees with me on this point, don't bother arguing the point. I've heard it all before).

80watt solar panels are now on eBay for about 70 each including post.

Stick them to the roof of your van using Sikaflex 291i (10 a tube including post on eBay). Make sure to leave a 2" minimum gap between the bottom of the solar panels and the roof of your van. Details about this can be found on my blog below.

A solar charge controller either 10amp or 30amp can be purchased on eBay from about 6 upwards. You'll only need one.

HansVanCamper

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Re: Will solar panels on the roof cover all my electrical needs?
« Reply #7 on: July 11, 2015, 08:23:32 AM »
As for the cooking I am always surprised that people stick to gas with all it's troubles. Large bottles, take space, the filling is not always easy, fittings don't fit, gasdetector....

By the time you have bought all you need, your on the same price as this perfect solution.
I will have diesel in my van.
Have a look here: http://www.webasto.com/int/markets-products/recreational-vehicles/comfort-solutions/cooking-solution/

I used to have diesel cooking on my boat too, it's superb. I even had an oven. :)
Greetings, Hans
Greetings, Hans
Future on Wheels