Our Advice: Work in pairs.
Remember Series vs Parallel? This comes into play here.
1) Two panels in series add up voltage. Be aware that if one panel is covered by shade, its partner in series will no longer be delivering power to your battery bank
2) Two panels in parallel add up amperage. If one is shaded, the other still produces power to your battery bank.
So should I put my panels in series or parallel?
Default to parallel as long as your charge controller and wiring specs fit that amount of amperage. If you’re not sure, ask a professional (that’s us!)
If you have two panels, they can usually go in parallel.
If you have four or six, we often put two series pairs together in parallel.
This lets us add to existing systems that have smaller wires, without needing to rewire. This also lets us get the most out of the max voltage and max amperage of a given MPPT solar charger.
Ok, so how much solar do I really need?
How much solar depends on the appliances you’re using and how long you are staying in one place. It is also a function of how big your battery bank is. We won’t go into every scenario here, but here are some basic recommendations.
If you have a fridge to run, fans, lights, charge your phone and computer, and occasionally use a blender, you can stick to about 200W.
If you prefer to camp for a long time in one place, or live in a super cloudy place like parts of the PNW, then either upgrading to 400W or adding to your battery bank could be helpful.
If you will be cooking with an induction stove, running an electric water heater, and working from your van while staying in one place for a while, we recommend 400W of solar with at least 400Ah of battery capacity.
Again, if you travel to places with less sun, upgrade.
It’s usually more beneficial to upgrade your battery bank than your solar array, as then you have a deep reservoir of power that can be charged multiple ways. Solar only helps with clear sun… so sometimes no matter how much you have, snow, playa dust, or clouds can be your nemesis.
Always go with an MPPT vs a PWM charge controller. Simply put, they are more efficient and will charge more.
We like the MPPT and DC-DC charge controller combos, because you only need to install one appliance instead of two, and for most people they pull enough power.
The Kisea DMT-1250 is our go to. 50 Amps of draw off the alternator, and 40 amps from solar.
Renogy has a similar product that also works well. Note that both of these products will interrupt the solar charging while charging off the alternator, since the alternator is usually pushing significantly more power.
If you want to draw a maximum of power while driving, use separate MPPT and DC-DC controllers.
Pair a Victron MPPT 100/50 paired with two Victron Orion DC-DC 12/12-30 chargers.
Mounting Hardware Options
1) Add Brackets and Crossbars to existing roof rails or mount points
2) Mount to a roof rack
3) Direct mount with Z-Brackets. Not recommended as this adds holes to your roof, but it is the most cost effective method
Ask us about what fits on your van!