Even with the high upfront cost, many rely on solar charging to some degree in their Camper Conversions. In addition to the low carbon footprint, a well sized solar system can run your camper indefinitely, allowing extended boondocking. We want to be able to boondock without firing up the truck, but since it’s relatively cheap, we chose to install an alternator charging system in addition to solar. That way we always know we could always just go for a short drive if we used to much power that day. Earlier we talked about how we calculated our consumption at 100 Amp Hours / Day – here’s how we used that to spec out our solar system.
Pick out your Solar Controller: What’s the max watts of solar panels you’ll Ever Add?
Figure that for every 100W of high quality solar panel (more on that later) through an expensive MPPT (more on that later) we’d get about 50 Amp Hours Per Day in reasonably sunny conditions. Based on our current needs, we’d be self sufficient forever with 200W worth of panels. Since this whole rig is so crazy expensive we’d like to be able to use it down the road for a home office outbuilding, where we might have as much as 400W worth of panels.
So for us the answer was 400W max
Now pick a controller (MPPT or PWM) sized to match your max solar panel load. Since we expect to use this long term, we went for this more expensive MPPT controller that provides 10-40% better efficiency than PWMs (at almost 10x the price). Our 30AMP MPPT charge controller is able to regulate up to 450 watts, so we’ll be able to “stable” the camper into a home office someday without replacing it.
Pick out your Panels: How big? How nice? How mobile?
You can get both flexible and rigid panels. We got a good deal on some older panels so we didn’t really do much research here. Rigid worked fine for us because we’ll have a ladder rack on our Camper Conversion, we actually preferred it because it allows us to kick up the panels in the evening for a bit more sun. One thing to note though about removable, exterior mounted panels – be aware that they can make attractive targets for theives. We’ve heard 2nd hand accounts of them getting stolen at trailheads on the trans canada highway of all places! With the right rack and a tall enough vehicle you can easily disguise the panels as part of the rack. That will be out plan, check back soon to see how we did.
Pick out Everything Else: Wiring, fuses/breakers, connectors, roof gromets, etc
First you may want to figure out your wiring diagram, that will help you choose the correct gauge wire (because you’ll know run length) and understand all the connectors, bus bars, etc you’ll need to wire this in with the rest of your electrical system. Stay tuned for a post how we installed this on our Truck Camper Conversion!