12V Guru – Optimising your Solar Power System

Solar Panels installed on your vehicle roof? Our 12V Guru discusses how to optimise their performance in place of buying more panels

12V Guru – Optimising your Solar Power System

Solar Panels installed on your vehicle roof? Our 12V Guru discusses how to optimise their performance in place of buying more panels

Hey 12V Guru,

I reckon I need more power for my solar system but there wasn’t much space on the roof of my van with the AC up there and already 3 panels.  Maybe the panels aren’t do what they are supposed to. Any tips?

Brett Weaton, Eden

12V Guru Says..

Hi Brett,

It can get very congested up there on top of vans and like how hot water service installations get the best position on our roof at home, the AC on a caravan does also with solar panels normally a second thought.  Assuming the solar panel installation is maximised it might be time to inspect them carefully for damage (why may be hard to easily identify) and very importantly cleanliness.

The cleanliness of solar panels on the roof of your van is crucial for several reasons, primarily affecting the efficiency, longevity, and financial aspects of the system. Dirty solar panels can significantly impair the system’s ability to generate electricity, leading to a cascade of consequences for RV users who rely on solar power for their energy needs.

The main issue with dirty solar panels is very similar to efficiency loss from shading. The panels operate by converting sunlight into electricity and when the surface of a panel is covered in dirt, dust, pollen, or other debris, it acts as a barrier between the sun’s rays and the photovoltaic cells within the panel. As panels are install in a horizontal position long trips especially along dirt tracks can lead to a buildup creating a barrier which reduces the amount of sunlight that can be absorbed, directly impacting the efficiency of electricity generation.

BMPRO has conducted multiple studies into the varying effects of angles to the sun, shading and simulated dirt and algae buildup and these have shown that even a thin layer of dust can reduce solar panel efficiency by 5% to 25% depending on the level of buildup. Solar panels are made up from multiple photovoltaic cells which are interconnected and when as much as even only one cell is covered from dirt or shading you may see a subsequential loss from multiple other cells which are in circuit with these cells. Results are not favourable and if you are losing 2-3 Ahr of solar generation per hour this could be the difference in 20-30% loss in recharging a standard battery setup.  When heading off the beaten track and not having the luxury of 240V to charge up your system this can mean over several days your energy storage becomes depleted.

The financial impact of dirty solar panels is twofold. Firstly, there’s the immediate effect of reduced power generation, which may require purchasing additional panels or additional portable panels to “top up” the rooftop generation.  Secondly, there’s the long-term effect on the solar panels themselves. Panels that are not regularly cleaned will have a reduced lifespan due to the accumulation of dirt which can cause hot spots and potentially damage the solar cells. The cost of replacing solar panels prematurely can be significant, not to mention the inconvenience and environmental impact of disposing of old panels.

Regular cleaning of solar panels is a form of preventive maintenance that can extend their lifespan and ensure they operate at peak efficiency. Just as regular maintenance can prevent mechanical issues with the van itself, regular cleaning can prevent efficiency losses and potential damage to the solar panels. This maintenance is particularly important for caravans which are stored out in the open when not being used as an accumulation can build up on stationary panels.

For many caravan users, one of the appeals of solar power is not only its status as a green, renewable energy source but the fact that it is free. Arguing the green credentials by saving fossil fuels hasn’t hit the agenda yet for caravanners in many cases, however it certainly has an impact to be able to spend more time disconnected from caravan parks and explore further reaches without having to go without the convenience of a good freshly brewed coffee or listening to favourite Spotify playlist overnight under the awning.

For caravanners, a simple but regular cleaning routine can ensure that their solar panels continue to provide reliable, efficient, and environmentally friendly power for years to come which is unlimited and free.

Like this post? Share it!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You might also like...

5 Mistakes to Avoid In RV Maintenance
12V Guru

12V Guru – Stay Connected

Looking at installing your own 12V products such as a DC-DC charger and shunt? Our 12V Guru discusses connectors and what you need to know here

Read More »