So you want to go solar on your camper but don’t want to drill holes in the camper to secure the panels, or perhaps you only need them a few times a year. This post describes a portable setup installed by contributor Bill Kelty.
We bought four Goal Zero Boulder 15w panels, bolted two of them together, and attached o-rings to one side of them as attaching points and for adding rope straps. Attached to one of the straps is a plastic bungee hook to clip to the lip of the roof. We then placed felt pads to the bottom corners of the panels so that when we lay them on the roof they don’t scratch the roof.
Now that we have done all the prep work comes the easy part. When purchasing our panels we got quick connect clips and we use those to connect the 2 panel sections together and lay the panels on the roof of the camper before we raise it. We use the bungee hook on one side and a pull strap on the other side and hook it to the roof. Make sure to connect the 4 panel wires together. One weekend we forgot and were charging the battery with only 30W of power instead of 60W. Each day the battery took a small hit but overall we didn’t notice it. We still made it the weekend and had plenty of power left.
Now pull on the loose end of the rope to secure the panels on the roof. Pull tight, the bungee strap on the other side will flex some.
Now lift the camper top. We have had this set up in 60 mph wind with no issues. We don’t worry about what direction the camper is facing or if its cloudy. We over built the panel size and have had no issues keeping the battery charged and topped off even with overcast skies or heavy tree shade. With the camper lifted you cannot even notice the panels on the roof of the camper and the charge controller is small and sits near the battery box.
We wired the quick connect tabs on the battery and the cord is hanging outside the battery box. We don’t even have to open the battery box to plug in the panels. I also installed tabs on the outside of the battery box so that we can quickly check battery voltage. Adding solar to the top of the camper adds about 2-3 minutes of setup time to the camper.
The key to choosing any extra battery or solar set up is to know how much power you use. We have lights, fans, water pump and the furnace fan that all draw power from the battery. I read the manuals and contacted manufactures to see the draw of power on each piece of equipment in our camper that we use. Adding solar does not allow you to use the 110v plugs unless you wire in an inverter. They also don’t allow us to use the A/C. We have to run the fridge off the propane. Even with the fridge on high and if it ran 20 hrs a day it would only use .589lbs of propane a day according to the manufacturer. In real world tests, we use about 2.2lbs of propane during a Friday-Sunday off-grid camping trip. We use propane for the heater, hot water tank stove and outside grill. As a comparison, we only use .7-1.3lbs of propane for a weekend with full hookups. High winds also increase the use of propane, not sure how, but it does. Turn off hot water tank in high winds.
PopupCamping101.com would like to thank Bill for submitting the guest post above. If you have any questions for him, please pose them in the comments below. Meanwhile, here is his setup out on the campground!
Since this guest post was published, convenient “suitcase solar” options have become much more prevalent. Our current recommendation is the ACOPOWER 100 Watt Portable Solar Panel Kit, which comes with a built-in, waterproof solar controller to properly charge or maintain your battery and a padded carrying case. For parking your popup in the shade and placing the panels further away in the sun, this 30′ extension cable works great!