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Finding the right Solar Panel for your Caravan

Updated: Feb 12


Cheaper flexible stick down Solar Panels Versus Rigid Frame Panels

With the advances in technology growing by the day, now is the time to truly explore and understand the benefits of solar on your camper or caravan.

The most common varieties of panel found on vans these days is either the Cheaper Flexible Variety or the Traditional Rigid Frame Glass panel.

So what is the difference between the 2 and which is better?

Flexible Solar Panels

As the name suggests, the flexible panel does just that – the key benefit to these panels is that they can be fitted into places that other rigid frames panels can not due to roof curves etc. The flexible panels also up to 20% lighter than the traditional rigid frame panel. This does make them an attractive solution for a lot of customers however the output from these panels can be significantly lower when it comes to a comparison between flexible and rigid flying panels. One of the major drawbacks from these panels is that they have no air circulation around them especially underneath the mat meaning the efficiency of them is greatly diminished. Contrary to what you may expect, when solar panels become hot, their output is reduced.

Panel temperature has a large effect on efficiency. A 20° Celsius increase in panel temperature can reduce efficiency by as much as 40%. Natural convective air cooling around the panels is essential to ensure efficiency losses are minimised. We have all seen the marketing around "this caravan features 600w of solar panels". This is all well and good but the efficiency of the system using these panels is likely to be the equivalent of 250-300w when compared to proper glass panels.

Lifespan - another major drawback of the "stick down" panels is that they have a short lifespan compared to their rigid frame counterparts. We have all seen the stories whereby people have had to replace flexi panels after only a couple of years. The only way to remove these panels is t physically cut the panels and bonding agent off the roof of the van. Not ideal

Rigid frame Solar Panel

The traditional rigid frame glass panel is generally heavier (20%) than the flexible variety and given their design will be more expensive. With that said, the long-term benefits, structural integrity and output consistency is significantly better for the customer.

The efficiency of rigid frame systems can be up to 20-25% better then flexi panels. Ask yourself - why don't they use flexi panels on normal house hold installations?

Less is more and more is less…

How many times have you been to a caravan show and the salesperson starts rattling off the amount of solar on the roof. “Ours has 400watts. Mine has 600watts, theirs only has 300watts” – we have all heard it and for a novice buyer the bigger number will always look more attractive on paper but to truly get an understanding of the solar you need to take into consideration the quality of the panels being installed and the location on the caravan. Even more important is the charging system for which the solar panels are connected to. You can have 20 panels on the roof but if the charging system is under powered, then you are simply wasting your time when it comes to getting the maximum amount of energy and efficiency from of your system.

Where to park your Caravan

It is an interesting fact that when we get to our destination one of the first things, we look for is a shaded or protected spot to keep our caravan cool in the afternoon sun. This is all good in principle however being in a shaded location is not of any benefit to the solar charging system. Another key piece of the puzzle you should ask for when exploring power options for your van is to ask if the caravan can be charged using portable solar panels. This way you can add extra solar panels to the charging system in days of low light, run a set of panels when the roof mounted panels are in shade or gives you more input when an extra boost is required.

Cleaning Your Solar Panels:

Given that the solar panels are on the roof of the caravan it is easy to forget that I to require regular maintenance. It doesn't take much for a light film to start building up on the panels from red dust, bird droppings, mud, moss etc. To ensure the maximum efficiency and longevity out of your panels it is always good advice grab a sponge and some hot soapy water and give them a good clean.

So, what is better?

Lets be fair - both systems have their pros and cons but if you are looking for what will perform better and last longer then you have to look at the facts ans all points to rigid frame systems over flexi panels. They will perform better than any flexible panel over the lifespan of the product.

Happy Camping...

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