Choosing Your Solar Panels for Scamps - Molded Fiberglass Travel Trailers

Before purchasing solar panels you should have read and implement the suggestions in the first three sections of our Solar guides. Many times solar panels are unnecessary if you followed the first three sections and are not full-timing.

  1. Selecting lifestyle. Just camping or Full-timing?
  2. Reducing power consumption - LED Lighting
  3. Choosing the right battery solution for travel trailers

There are many factors to consider when choosing which Solar Panel(s) to buy and install on your Scamp - Molded Fiberglass Travel Trailer.

Location, Location, Season:

Location, where are you going to install the Solar panel(s)? If you have limited space you might concentrate on higher wattage/higher density panels vs. lower cost/low density panels.

Location, where are you going to do most of your camping? If you are camping in the southern or southwest parts of the United States, where it is mostly sunny, you can probably get by with less overall wattage than if you camp in the Pacific Northwest where it rains quite a bit annually.

Season, if you are camping in the winter months, or in the northern states, then you will need to consider the low angle of the sun and increase the wattage of your system to compensate for less intense sunlight. Additionally, you may want to install your Solar Panel(s) so they can be tilted toward the Sun.

If you need help installing a solar panels on your Scamp - Molded Fiberglass Travel Trailer, post your questions in our solar forum and lot's of great SOI Members will assist you.

Fixed vs. Portable:

Do you want to install your Solar Panel(s) directly onto your Scamp or Molded Fiberglass Travel Trailer? Or, do you want a portable panel(s) that can be moved throughout the day to "Track" the Sun? One thing to consider: a portable Solar Panel system can actually produce more energy (electrons) throughout the day than a fixed Solar Panel due to the abilities to "Track" the Sun and to be tilted to the best angle in order to capture the most sunlight.

You can also have a combination of fixed and portable Solar panels. For example: your fixed Solar panel will be great at capturing electrons during the middle of the day, but, your portable Solar panel could be setup to capture the early morning sunlight which would get your batteries fully charged earlier in the day than if you used only the fixed Solar panel(s).

Wattage, Wattage, How Much Do I Need?

The answer depends on how many electrons you plan to use on a daily basis. If you need to run your microwave and use a blow dryer every day, then, you are going to need a very robust Solar system (and battery storage) to capture and store all those electrons. On the other hand, if your needs are more modest (LED lighting, propane refrigeration, no microwaving) you can choose smaller, lower wattage/lower cost Solar panel(s).

Where do I start?

Consider a 100 watt system with a fixed Solar panel, paired with two, 6 volt, Golf Cart batteries (for electron storage). Also, assume that you will be camping in the southern part of the United States in modest temperatures (70f daytime and 55f nighttime). This 100 watt system configuration would probably be adequate for a small camper/RV with modest daily demands.

Modest daily demands would include operation of your 12 volt systems (LED lighting and electronic controls for your fridge and water heater along with your 12v water pump) operation of your entertainment center for an hour or two (TV and DVD player either 12 volt or through a small inverter) and operation of your furnace (with blower fan) for a couple of hours to take the morning chill away.

With this 100 watt system and modest use you could also afford to have an overcast day (maybe two) and still have enough energy for overnight.

Obviously, this is a theoretical example and your experience may be different, but, this 100 watt system can be used as a starting point for designing your own system.

If you have limited space to place panels on your camper/RV then I would suggest designing your system around 150 or 165 watt Solar panels to maximize use of your available space.

In the 100 watt example above, the same results could be accomplished with an 80 watt portable solar panel tilted toward and tracking the sun throughout the day.

If you will be camping in colder climates where you would be using your furnace blower more, or if you are camping in the North or Northwest, where there are fewer hours of sunlight each day you should consider a 150 watt, or higher, Solar system as your starting point.

When considering a larger system be sure to analyze your battery's storage capacity, you could have a huge Solar panel, but, without the ability to store all those electrons, you will be wasting all that excess Solar capacity. As a matter of fact, you would be better off with excess storage capacity rather than excess Solar capacity.

Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline:

There are two primary types of Solar panels, Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline. Polycrystalline panels tend to be slightly cheaper than an equally sized Monocrystalline panel. On the other hand there are some advantages to the Monocrystalline panels which may justify spending a little bit more for them. The main advantage of Monocrystalline panels is that they are more sensitive to low light, this means that they can generate more power on overcast days and they will begin generating power earlier in the morning and continue generating power later into the afternoon than Polycrystalline panels. This would be especially important to winter campers and those campers who live in the Northern latitudes.

Monocrystalline panels can also generate power when parked under bright lights (i.e.: Walmart parking lot lights). They have also been known to generate power on nights with a full moon.

Flexible Panels And Thin Film:

Flexible panels adhere directly to your camper's roof, they are light weight and may be a very good solution for your Scamp or Molded Fiberglass Travel Trailer. Keep in mind that a Solar panel is designed to capture the Sun's rays (including infrared) and that any excess heat captured may be transferred directly into your Scamp or Molded Fiberglass Travel Trailer.

Thin Film Solar technologies are what make flexible panels possible. Thin Film panels are cheaper to produce, however, they are not as efficient (watts per sq inch) as the monocrystalline or polycrystalline rigid panels.

Value and Cost Per Watt:

Pricing for Solar panels seems to be a mystery. You can buy a 100 watt panel from one company for around a $100 while another company is selling their 100 watt Solar panel for 3, 4 or even 5 times the price. Basically, they both have the same technology, but, one company simply charges you more for the same thing.

One way to determine the value of a panel is to determine the $ cost per watt. Currently, you can get good quality panels for around $1.00 per watt. The 100 watt panels will be closest to $1.00/watt, while the larger panels (150 watt and up) may be a little higher price per watt.

Caveat: The above statement is not completely true, even as this is being written, however, it can be used as a guide to determine if you are getting good value for the money you are spending.

For Example: You can purchase a pair of 165 watt panels (Monocrystalline), made in the USA, for $240, including shipping. That works out to ONLY $0.72 per watt. (see links below)

At the same time you can purchase a 100 watt pane (Mono)l for $125 ($1.25 per watt).

You can also buy complete kits which will include Charge Controller, wiring and mounting hardware for very attractive prices. Just be certain to price each piece out individually to make certain you are getting a good deal on the kits.

Portable Systems will be priced higher. When buying a portable system you want to know if a Solar charge controller is included or not. While portable systems will be higher priced, you can still compare them based on their $ per watt cost.

Resources

Solar Panels:

    Monocrystalline Panels:

Some examples of Monocrystalline Solar Panels and prices

    Polycrystalline Panels:

Some examples of Polycrystalline Solar Panels and prices

    Monocrystalline Kits:

Some examples of Monocrystalline Solar Kits and prices

    Polycrystalline Kits:

Some examples of Polycrystalline Solar Kits and prices

    Portable Solar Panels:

Some examples of Portable Solar Panels and prices

    Flexible Solar Panels:

Some examples of Flexible Solar Panels and prices

    Solar Panel Mounting Hardware: 

Some examples of Solar Panel Mounting Brackets  and prices

    Solar Panel Tilt Mounts:

Some examples of Solar Panel Tilt Mounts  and prices

Step 5 - Selecting a Charge Controller

Contributed by SOI Lifetime Member ManWithAVan