Download eBooks & Wiring Diagrams (FREE)

Are Solar Panels Worth It For Camper Vans? 8 Reasons Why Yes!

This site contains affiliate links to products. More info in our disclaimer.

When building DIY camper vans, we all have to ask ourselves whether or not we want to install solar panels on our vehicle’s roof. Is adding solar panels worth the effort for a van conversion?

From charging your batteries, to saving you money, to added insulation, we give eight reasons why installing solar panels is an important step for van life.

So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!

Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    Confused where to start with DIY solar? Check out our comprehensive camper van solar system guide to start from the very beginning.

    1. Only Way To Charge Batteries When Boondocking

    Boondocking on national forest land

    Recharging your batteries from solar is incredibly important if you plan to boondock for any extended period of time. If you’re only camping for a day or two, then it’s not a problem. Your batteries should be able to supply all the power you need (assuming you correctly calculated your battery bank size).

    But if you intend to stay out in nature for longer, your batteries will run out of charge. But when boondocking, you won’t have access to shower power and since you’re not driving, you can utilize your DC-DC charge to charge your camper batteries.

    So unless you bring a loud and bulky generator with you, solar power is the only realistic way to keep your batteries charged while camping out in nature.

    Solar Panel Recommendation

    Instead of settling for the standard 100W panels, think about getting two larger panels and installing them side-by-side, lenth-wise. We installed two 180W solar panels and they fit perfectly on our van’s roof. These new ‘9BB’ panels are the highest efficiency panels on the market today.

    Top Solar Panel Pick
    BougeRV 200W Solar Panel (9BB)

    We've spoken with BougeRV reps and came away impressed with their customer service. They also make great quality, highly efficient '9BB' solar panels. Consider installing a larger 200W panel instead of multiple smaller panels. But use our solar calculator first!

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
    09/17/2023 12:16 pm GMT

    Do you know how much solar you need for your camper van? Check out our van life solar calculator to help you decide.

    2. Charging Batteries While Driving Isn’t Always Enough

    Being able to charge your camper batteries while driving (with a DC-DC charger) is an important feature for any camper electric system. But there are limitations. It’s not as if you can simply recharge your camper batteries back to full on only a quick 30-minute drive.

    Victron’s larger DC-DC charger only outputs 360 Watt-hours (30A). So if you have a completely dead 100Ah battery, you’ll need to drive almost 4 hours to charge the battery back to full.

    Even on days where we use minimal power, we would still need to drive over an hour EVERY DAY just to reclaim all the power we used the day before.

    And what if you don’t drive every day? Then your batteries lose even more charge and you’ll need to drive even more the day after just to catch up.

    Free Download
    Solar Wiring eBook For Camper Van Conversions

    From the solar panels, to charge controller, to the batteries, and everything in-between, this eBook has you covered. 12+ pages of detailed diagrams, product recommendations, and links to additional resources.

    *Our eBooks have been known to lower stress & blood pressure.

    3. Solar Power Brings Peace Of Mind To Van Life

    When parked without solar, your batteries are always draining, never replenishing. And that fact is a burden on your mind and gets stressful over time.

    You’re always thinking about what state-of-charge (SOC) your batteries are at, whether or not you’re using too much power, and if you’re able to get back to full charge during the next drive.

    But if you have enough solar power, it’s a liberating thought to know that as long as you have decent sunshine, your batteries are charging all day long. And that’s one less thing to worry about during your van life journey.

    4. Installing A Solar System Isn't Expensive

    Contrary to popular belief, adding a solar system to your camper van conversion doesn’t have to be expensive. You can get started right away with a simple 100W panel, basic charge controller, and a few feet of wire.

    You DO NOT need to build a fancy and complicated solar array system costing thousands of dollars.

    In fact, for only $450 you can build a basic camper electrical system with solar.

    Even better, check out our FREE custom solar diagrams eBook. In this PDF we detail four different solar diagrams at four different price points.

    Budget solar system diagram for less than $450
    This entire system costs less than $450

    5. Save Money At Paid Campgrounds

    Staying at a paid campground in Mexico

    Many paid campgrounds offer a wide variety of options for vehicles. But the cheapest option is simply paying to park your camper without hooking up to any shower power and/or water.

    And if you have solar panels, you aren’t dependent on paying for an electric site at a campground. You can opt for just a plain, no-frills camp spot. This can oftentimes save you as much as $10-$20 per night.

    Stay at campgrounds for enough days and the savings you accumulate will quickly offset the cost of your solar system.

    6. Helps Insulate Inside Of Van

    Two solar panels on a camper van

    Although not a primary reason to install solar panels on your DIY camper, but mounting solar panels on your van’s roof helps to provide shade on top of your vehicle, keeping your van’s interior cooler during the day.

    Of course, the utility of this depends on what percent of your van’s roof is covered with solar panels. That’s why good solar panel roof layout planning is a smart idea. In our case, our 2x180W solar panels cover roughly 50% of the flat area on our Ford Transit’s roof.

    7. Solar Panels Doesn’t Substantially Reduce Your Stealth Factor

    We’ve seen people who are hesitant to install solar panels on their camper vans because they’re worried that this installation will make their campers stand out and become more obvious to the public.

    That’s a bunch of baloney.

    The #1 reason why putting solar panels on your camper’s roof doesn’t reduce your stealth factor is because your camper van probably isn’t very stealthy to begin with.

    Do you already have a vent fan? Or rear windows? Or an out-of-state license plate? These are all dead giveaways that your vehicle was made for sleeping inside. Adding a few low-profile solar panels isn’t going to change anything.

    In fact, we believe building a stealth camper is a terrible idea.

    100% Free Download
    Electrical Wiring eBook For Camper Van Conversions

    Download our FREE PDF to help build your van's electrical system; from batteries, to solar, to inverter, and more. 38+ pages of detailed diagrams, product recommendations, and links to additional resources.

    Download PDF More Free eBooks
    *Our eBooks have been known to lower stress & blood pressure.

    8. Be Part Of The Renewable Energy Movement

    It is a fantastic feeling knowing that you are getting your power from renewable energy and are no longer reliant on coal and natural gas to supply your electricity.

    Solar power is becoming more mainstream every year. Join the movement and contribute to the renewable energy community.

    Enjoyed reading? Check out our “DIY Van Life Solar” category page for more similar content.

    Thank You For Reading!

    We’re Yuko and Eric! We both grew up in Asia ( Japan & Hong Kong ), we left our jobs and homes in 2018 and started traveling full time from Canada to Argentina in our self-converted camper van since end of May 2019. “Asobo” means “Let’s play” in Japanese. We named our site “Asobolife” because the life is always uncertain and we live only once so it’s important to always keep positive, playful mind and enjoy the moment you are in the present. We also want to use this website to share our road trip and van building experiences to inspire our readers. We hope you enjoy!

    © 2022 Asobolife. Design by Asobolife

    Scroll to Top