If you’re heading away camping this Easter, chances are you’re planning on finding that one perfect little campsite and plonking yourself down for at least a couple of days, right? Makes sense – very few other times in the year do any of us get anything near the opportunity to kick back for a couple of days in a row, so we all want to make the most of it! Chances are though that you’ve got a pretty good camping setup these days, and that you rely quite heavily on your 12v system to power accessories like LED camping lights and a portable fridge. If you’ve switched onto the idea that solar panels can dramatically extend how long your batteries last when you’re at a campsite, then you’ve probably also invested in a solar panel. You may at some stage be a little disappointed to find that your solar doesn’t work like you’d expected it to – but thankfully a few quick tips and tricks can change all that, and make sure you get the most from your solar panel. Here’s our guide to six things every camper should know about getting the most from their solar panels this Easter.
- HEAT IS THE ENEMY OF ELECTRICS
This seems counter-intuitive, because after all, don’t solar panels harness the power of the sun? Ironically though, heat is the enemy of all types of electrical camping gear and solar panels are included in that too. The absolute best type of sun is winter sun – the ambient temperature is cool but the sun’s shining brightly still. What does this mean in practical terms? Try and grab as much early morning sunlight as possible with your solar panel before the temperature heats up.
- VOLTAGE DROP IS A SERIOUS ISSUE
Under-sized cabling can create serious voltage drop issues that will massively reduce the effectiveness of your solar panel to charge your deep cycle battery. There’s a reason the Adventure Kings 10m extension lead that we sell here at 4WD Supacentre is super thick – to overcome voltage drop. If you’re trying to make an extension lead for your solar panel out of 6mm twin core wiring you’ll find that it just won’t be up to the task of transferring that power properly.
- THE SMALLEST BIT OF SHADE CAN CUT SOLAR POWER IN HALF
Our own testing has shown that by the time even as little as a quarter of the solar panel is in shade, effective power out of the panel is reduced severely. If you’re at camp, do yourself a favour and make sure that your solar panel is facing the sun and in direct sunlight at least every hour to get the most power possible out of it.
- DIRTY PANELS ARE SEVERELY INEFFECIENT
Similar to shade, dirt and dust can massively reduce solar panel performance too! This one’s tricky, especially if you’re at a popular campsite and people are continually coming and going. Once or twice a day, give your solar panel a wipe down with a soft-bristled hand broom and then wipe it over with a soft dish cloth. Never wash it with anything harsher than mild dish-drops however as cleaning chemicals can cause the outer layer of the panel to cloud and craze.
- UPGRADE TO AN MPPT REGULATOR FOR MORE PERFORMANCE
PWM regulators that come with most solar panels are perfectly fine, but what they do is ‘burn’ off excess voltage produced by your solar panel to reduce it to a safe 14v to charge your batteries. Upgrading to an MPPT regulator allows you to use more of that excess power to actually charge your battery rather than ‘burn’ it off. An MPPT regulator is a great next upgrade for any solar panel currently using a PWM regulator.
- USE YOUR DC/DC CHARGER’S IN-BUILT SOLAR REGULATOR
If you’re running a DC/DC charger with an in-built solar regulator, then by all means use it to run your solar panel! You’ll in this case need to bypass your solar panel’s own in-built regulator, which isn’t a hard thing to do. Just make sure you solder and properly insulate any joins you make as a properly functioning solar panel can easily produce more than 20v of power.