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Van Life Solar Calculator

By SSK Admin November 08, 2022

One of the smartest green energy decisions you can make is to power your home with sustainable solar energy. Every single one of us can use the big yellow ball in the sky to produce electricity and remove our homes from the governmental energy grids entirely.

Deciding to switch is simple, but for solar novices, understanding precise solar calculator equations can be a bit intimidating, especially when trying to power smaller holdings such as a campervan.

Many solar manuals frequently overcomplicate these straightforward calculations, which is enough to deter individuals from making the switch to installing solar systems.

Thankfully, we're going to demonstrate how simple it is to figure out how much solar energy you need for an electronic camper van, as well as the costs involved in setting up this specific solar system.

You may learn everything you need to know about solar calculations for camper vans from the following guide.

So, sit back, and let's begin our exploration of clean, renewable solar energy.

What You Need

vanlife solar calculator

Before setting up any type of solar panel system there are a few important factors that would need to consider.

These factors include your daily power usage, inverter size, solar battery size, and solar panel wattage.

All these factors need to be determined before the installation of your camper van solar panel system. Getting all these factors right is a significant step in ensuring that your camper van solar system works efficiently.

Daily Power Usage

As mentioned above, determining your daily power usage is the first and most important step in setting up a solar system for your van, and it's easy to do.

Your daily energy usage will determine everything downstream, so it’s important to be precise in your calculations.

To determine your daily power usage all you need to do is make a list of every single electrical appliance you want to power with your solar system. We recommended that you record your list in a spreadsheet. This will make the math much easier.

Make sure to cover every appliance in your camper van, this includes the fridge, lights, water pump, fans, laptops, and heaters.

Once you have every appliance listed, you then need to find out each appliance's current. The current is typically located on one of the labels on the appliance. For our example, we are going to use a water pump.

Generally, water pumps have a current of 6 amps and run for 15 minutes, which equates to 0.25 hours out of a 24-hour day. With these two metrics, you can calculate your daily power usage. All you need to do is multiply the 6 amps by 0.25 hours.

This will give you a daily power usage of 1.5-amp hours. You will have to repeat these steps for all your other devices and total them to give you average daily power usage.

The Role of Weather

vanlife solar calculator kit

Always keep in mind that the numbers calculated above will vary depending on the type of weather and the sun's peak hours per season.

On a hot day, a camper van can get stuffy and uncomfortable so you’re likely to use your fans more frequently and appliances like your fridge are going to use more energy. 

On a cold winter’s day, you’re likely to use the heater and lights for longer periods, which increases your daily energy usage, since heat generation uses more energy.

Moving forward, always make sure you calculate the power usage for both seasons and take the season with the highest daily power usage. This will make sure you cover your energy usage for both hot and cold days.

Adding A Solar Inverter

Once you have the total daily power usage, you can move on to determining the size of our inverter. To do this you will have to total the maximum power of the appliances you’ll use simultaneously.

For example, say you are using your laptop with a power of 60 watts and a 22-watt television at the same time. You would need to add these items together, which will give you a power total of 82 watts.

This means that as a minimum you would be able to use an 82-watt solar inverter. However, it’s good practice to use an inverter that is more powerful to ensure you are not overloading the system. That extra little bit of buffer serves as protection against overcharge and future damage.

The costs of an inverter can range from $150 to $500. Thankfully, we won’t be needing a state-of-the-art system to power our camper vans. Solar inverters for camper vans typically cost $250.

For the best solar inverters and additional solar equipment visit shop solar kits. We highly recommend a 1,000-watt inverter such as the MPP solar inverter to cover the capacity of your electrical consumption.

van life solar calculator kit

Size of the Battery Bank

The size of your battery bank is also dependent on your daily power usage, which we calculated above.

Typically power usage for a camper van is approximately 80Ah so we would need a battery bank that will be able to store energy that can cover this for a few days.

Some days it might be overcast with heavy rains, which will impact the ability to rely on your solar panel to power your camper. This is the reason many off-grid solar vans will have a battery installed.

When calculating the battery size, we need to take into account the days without solar conversion. The general number we use is 1.75 days, which can be rounded up to 2 to make the calculations easier.

To determine battery size, you would take your daily energy usage, which in our case is 80Ah, and multiply it by the number of days without solar power, which is 2 days.

You then take this answer and divide it by the depth of discharge of your battery, which is usually 0.8 for lithium solar batteries.

This gives you a final number of 200Ah, which is the size of the battery you should aim to purchase. The SOK Battery 206Ah 12V LiFePO4 Deep Cycle Lithium Solar Battery from Shop Solar Kits is perfect for a camper van solar system and it is incredibly affordable.

 solar calculator for van life

We have loads of other deep-cycle solar batteries available, as well as a wide range of solar gadgets and additional solar equipment.

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need?

Now comes the fun part, deciding on how many solar panels are needed to efficiently power your camper van.

Before we go out and buy a random number of panels, you first need to decide on the placement of your panels.

Solar panels are always placed on the roof of your camper, so make sure there is enough room for them to be installed. Once you know the layout you can move on to working out how much is needed.

A general rule is that a 4-watt solar panel can convert 1Ah per day and in our case we need 200Ah. To work out the number of panels needed we first need to take our 80Ah per day and multiply it by 4 watts.

This gives us several 320 watts, which means we need a solar panel array that is able to convert 320 watts.

Solar panels come in different sizes, efficiencies, and types. To cover our electrical needs we can go with a solar array of three 120-watt solar panels, which will give us exactly 320 watts.

If space is limited, then you have the choice of adding a single 355-watt solar panel to your roof. However, having multiple panels is the better option, especially in the case of damage. If a single panel is damaged your energy efficiency will decrease significantly.

If you don’t have enough roof space, there’s also the option of getting a portable solar panel system that can be placed in the area around your van.

calculator for vanlife solar

Use A Charge Controller

Charge controllers are essential for vans with solar panel systems. It helps manage the flow of power from the solar panels to your batteries and protects them from overcharging.

Typical charge controllers used for camper van solar panel systems are approximately 20amps and higher. It is suggested to go for a charge controller with a lot more amps to allow it to handle the electrical output of your panels.

Charge controllers are affordable and will ensure that your entire system is well maintained adding to its lifespan. A good charge controller will cost you about $600, which is a small price to pay considering its many benefits.

What Will It All Cost

We have been over what individual components will cost for a solar system for your van, but how much will it cost at the end of the day?

Generally, for small setups suitable for camper vans the price is going to be $2,500 and above. Higher-end systems can go for about $15,000 to $25,000, but this is not necessary for the system we need.

However, with the improvement in solar technology, you can get a full van solar setup for $1,000.

Remember, that solar panels pay for themselves in the long run, and you can benefit from government tax incentives and rebates.

calculator for van life solar

Solar ROI calculators and solar savings calculators are good tools to work out how much money you can earn from going solar. You can use the generated income to pay for entrance to camping parks.

Conclusion

Since they initially hit the energy market many years ago, solar energy systems have advanced greatly. Today, there are systems available that are both portable and powerful enough to run both large enterprises and small camping vans.

Solar panel systems for camping and electrical vans are incredibly powerful and are becoming increasingly popular even outside of the US.

If you are looking to bring portable energy with you on your camping trips or even on long road trips, then you should look into getting a solar system for your van.

Now you know how easy it is to work out your energy requirements and the costs involved in these specialized solar RV calculations. You even have all the math and tools you need to figure out how many panels are needed.

Let’s reduce our carbon footprint and help the world heal from global warming by switching to clean solar energy.

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