Tips for using solar panels

For RV and motorhome type uses:
  • If you use a crystalline solar panel, you should know that even the shadow of a thin wire can make a difference to the power output. Make sure as many cells as possible are in full sun.
  • Solar panels will work behind glass, but they are designed for direct sunlight. So if you put a panel behind glass or a plastic window its efficiency will be reduced. It may take up to three times as long to provide the same charge to a battery if you put the panel behind a window, even if it’s in full sun.
  • If you invest in a solar panel, make sure it’s positioned to take advantage of the midday sun, which is the strongest. This is almost directly overhead in summer, but lower in the southern part of the sky at other times of the year. Angling your panel towards the sun will increase the energy it generates outside of the summer months.
  • Some solar panels are portable and come with all the connectors required to attach them to your leisure battery. Others can be permanently secured to your unit and may come packaged with a suitable fixing kit. Before you buy, think about how you will use the panels (including whether they will normally be positioned in full sunlight), whether you want to have them permanently fixed and if the attachment points may affect the water ingress warranty of your unit.
  • The power you generate from your solar panel will only be as good as the condition of your battery, so it’s worth looking after it. 
  • The power generated by a solar panel is direct current (DC), so if you want to use it to power something that would normally plug into a home-style socket you’ll need to convert it to alternating current (AC). For this you’ll need an inverter.
For keeping your mobile appliances charged:
  • A 4 or 5W panel is fine for small handheld devices, such as a simple cell phone or mp3 player. However, many smart phones like the iPhone (especially the latest models) are power hungry--nearly as much as an iPad or tablet. You'll need at least a 7W panel to be sure you can charge most smart phones.
  • If you want to start charging even more energy-hungry items like an iPad, or you want to charge multiple devices at once, you will need a panel producing at least 15W. If you want to start charging laptops, you will probably need both a battery and an inverter.
  • if you want to charge alternating current (AC) devices, you'll require a heavy duty panel (over 25W, a battery, and a DC-to-AC inverter).