Advice on setting up a solar system for a van.

Hello all! I was hoping I could find help here.

I'm currently living in my van for a short stint, and was wondering how much money and work (most importantly the former) it would require to set up a deep cycle battery and solar charging system to run a few essentials I don't want to live without. I don't think I'd require much; the only things I want to power are my small charger for my Canon digital camera batteries (I'm an amatuer photographer), the charger for my laptop computer (where I dump my photos), a NiMh AA battery charger, and a tiny 6 or 8 volt world band radio I listen to for leisure and use as an alarm to wake up.

What sorts of options do I have? I don't want to have to set up a solar array but would rather have the battery charging anytime there was daylight. I'd like it to be something permanent on the roof, but I'm not sure what would be involved concerning keeping the thing safe from wind on the freeway and stray rocks and whatnot that may jump over my hood.

Any help and a push in the right direction would be greatly appreciated.

Kansas City, MO


  • mike95490
    mike95490 Solar Expert Posts: 9,583 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Advice on setting up a solar system for a van.

    Addressing rocks first, anything clearing the roofline, will likely NOT be coming down hard, but sideways, like a glancing blow, not like a rock on a windshield. Panels are meant to be tough enough to survive most hail storms, they have tempered glass.
    There is one brand of non-glass panels, made by UniSolar, and they are literally bullet proof. (well the bullet goes right thru, but the panel keeps on working) They are not as efficient in watts per sq foot, but very tough.

    How "flat" is your roof? very flat, or not flat at all ? if you made a mount, to attach the panel to, would it tend to suck a lot of wind under ? You need to balance the airflow, so the panel is neither sucked down to the roof, or blown off. Or you may opt to try to remember to remove the panels before you drive off. (make a rack with a 2x4 that covers the windshield)

    I'd say use as large as a panel as will comfortably fit, and as many as possible ! There is a place in Florida that sells factory blems, if you are tight on budget, and have security concerns about someone running off with your 2, $800 panels.
    Powerfab top of pole PV mount | Listeroid 6/1 w/st5 gen head | XW6048 inverter/chgr | Iota 48V/15A charger | Morningstar 60A MPPT | 48V, 800A NiFe Battery (in series)| 15, Evergreen 205w "12V" PV array on pole | Midnight ePanel | Grundfos 10 SO5-9 with 3 wire Franklin Electric motor (1/2hp 240V 1ph ) on a timer for 3 hr noontime run - Runs off PV ||
    || Midnight Classic 200 | 10, Evergreen 200w in a 160VOC array ||
    || VEC1093 12V Charger | Maha C401 aa/aaa Charger | SureSine | Sunsaver MPPT 15A

    gen: ,

  • nigtomdaw
    nigtomdaw Solar Expert Posts: 705 ✭✭
    Re: Advice on setting up a solar system for a van.

    Depending on whether your travelling much or fairly static in your vehicle the cheapest option would be to go for a split charge relay system which could top up you deep cycle battery system whilst on the move. If you can get direct current chargers for your applications then avoiding inverters would save money and electrical losses. Your power requirements appear very modest and Im sure the RV market will have suitable mounts for a pv panel system which offers sercure roof transport and easy adjustment for optimum solar gain.
  • niel
    niel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Advice on setting up a solar system for a van.

    both of those responces are good, but i have another outlook to add to it. you may be temporary in that van, but i get the impression it's not due to extreme hardship so you have a few $ to work with. as said the van can charge the batteries, but you will need to top off the batteries with the remaining charge needed as alternators don't fully charge batteries due to limited a limited compromise voltage they are set for. a unisolar 64 may fill that void along with maybe a sunsaver charge controller. if you were to get too much battery capacity the alternator may have trouble charging it in a reasonable amount of time so we are talking in the area of 100-200ah depending on the size alternator you have. you will use more gas in charging up the battery, but it is cheaper than other options and the solar will be needed to top it off with no loads on the battery at that time to prevent the full charge from taking place. btw the unisolar isn't bullet proof, but are strong in taking more abuse other pvs may not take. i would still keep it flat on the roof or move it inside the van when in motion otherwise you can angle it towards the sun or even mount it remotely from the van allowing the van to be shaded and the pv in the sun. choose what works for you though and i hope this helps some.
  • System2
    System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: Advice on setting up a solar system for a van.

    Thanks for the help guys. I'll have to start looking into it. I have a lot of reading to do, I'm sure.

    Another question: is Ebay a very reliable place to find the equipment, particularly if you're completely new to the subject as I am, or should I look into retail to ensure I'm not getting junk or any bad/broken goods?
  • Solar Guppy
    Solar Guppy Solar Expert Posts: 1,989 ✭✭✭
    Re: Advice on setting up a solar system for a van.

    I would stay clear if your new at this or eBay. Shipping is a real problem with solar panels as neither ups or fedex will honor insurance claims on panels ( glass ) and if something breaks your out the money, truck freight is the only way to go and most eBays don't know how to deal with that.

    NAWS has reasonable prices for what your need should be