Though we provide free eBooks on our blog that offer intuitive electrical and plumbing diagrams, we regularly receive questions from visitors asking us if we have advice on how to build a more ‘budget friendly’ solar system for a camper van.
And it’s not really a surprise. Not everyone has $1,000+ to spend on a DIY solar build.
In response, we’ve put together a solar system that is geared towards those on an extremely tight budget. In total, the entire system that we detail below costs less than $450.
This solar system includes:
- Solar panel (100w)
- Charge controller (PWM)
- Wiring (10AWG)
- Batteries (AGM)
- 500w Inverter (Pure Sine)
If you’re on a tight budget and all you need to do is charge a smartphone, power some LED lights, and run a small fan, then this diagram is for YOU.
So if you want to learn more, let’s get to it!
Confused where to start with DIY solar? Check out our comprehensive camper van solar system guide to start from the very beginning.
Budget Solar System Build (Parts List)
Below is the materials list for everything you will need to build a budget solar system for your van conversion.
Where To Buy
100w solar panel
Charges your AGM battery from the sun.
Mounts solar panel to your vehicle's roof.
10AWG wire (red & black)
Wiring connects solar panel to charge controller and battery.
Helps connect 10AWG wire to solar panel.
Protects solar wires as they are brought through the roof & inside the vechicle.
Solar charge controller (PWM)
Regulates the voltage coming from solar panel to the battery.
30a In-Line Fuse
Protects downstream components and wires from surges.
Connects in-line fuse to 10awg wires.
Helps connect 10AWG wire to the battery.
Stores power from solar panel and provides power to all electrical devices.
Provides 120v & 12v power to all electrical devices.
Added together, the total price of all the above products should add up to less than $450. How’s that for an affordable solar system build!
Solar Diagram Parts
Below, we talk about each of the individual components. We will discuss their pros and limitations (if applicable).
NOTE: Because prices fluctuate over time, we cannot list product prices on our blog. But when we add up each of the products we list below, the total price comes out to less than $450.
100-watt Solar Panel (Newpowa)
We use ‘Newpowa’ solar panels for our camper van conversion and they have worked well for us during our 3+ years on the road.
If you have very modest electrical needs, a single 100w solar panel will be sufficient to keep your battery charged.
But if you can manage it, purchasing a second 100w panel can help give your electrical system some breathing room.
Read more: Calculate how much solar you need
Solar Mounting Brackets
Mounting brackets are required to mount any rigid solar panel onto the roof of a van.
Also included are all the bolts, nuts, washers, and self-tapping screws that you need for the installation process.
Read more: How to mount a solar panel on a van’s roof.
10-Gauge (AWG) Solar Wires
Simple, effective, and affordable. These red & black 10-gauge wires are exactly what you’ll need to wire your solar panel(s) to your battery.
But if you can afford it, switching to the marine-grade solar wires can provide added protection and durability against the elements since a portion of these wires will be exposed on your vehicle’s roof.
Read more: Solar wire size calculator
Although the solar panels already come with a pair of MC4 connectors, you will need several more of these to connect the solar panel to the solar charge controller.
To crimp these connectors onto the 10AWG solar wire ends, you’ll need a good wire crimper and an MC4-specific assembly tool.
To bring solar wires from the roof into the vehicle, you will likely need to drill a hole in the roof to thread the wires through to the inside.
To protect the wires as they pass through the roof and to prevent water leaks, picking up an entry gland is a good idea.
Solar Charge Controller (PWM)
A solar charge controller regulates the voltage between the solar panel and the battery. This device ensures that the battery is properly charged and will stop the flow of current to the battery once the battery is full.
There are lots of more expensive charge controllers available, but this little PWM charge controller from Renogy will do the trick.
30amp In-Line Fuse
This in-line fuse helps to protect your electrical wires and downstream electrical components in case of an unexpected surge.
Removing the fuse clip from its holder also allows you to work on your electrical system without fear of getting shocked from your battery.
10AWG Butt Connectors
You’ll need two 10AWG butt connectors to connect the 30amp in-line fuse between the batteries and the solar charge controller.
To attach a butt connector, insert your 10AWG wires on both sides of the connector and crimp the connector onto the wires.
You’ll need these specific 5/16″ ring connectors to connect the red and black 10AWG wire to their respective terminal posts on the battery.
100Ah AGM Battery
Just your standard, no-frills deep-cycle AGM battery.
The purpose of the battery is to accept the current from the solar panel and store the power until you need it for your electrical devices.
If maintained well, this AGM battery should last you, on average, roughly 600 charge cycles.
500w Inverter (Pure Sine)
If you don’t need to power anything bigger than a standard laptop, this portable 500w inverter will get the job done. Simply attach the cable clamps onto the battery terminals and this inverter is all set.
Comes with two 120v sockets and two USB sockets.
Ultra portable, ultra convenient, and ultra affordable.
Building a camper van? Download our free e-Books with intuitive electrical, solar, and plumbing diagrams.
Interested In The MOST Efficient (9BB) Solar Panels?
“9BB” solar panels are becoming the next big thing in the solar panel industry. Read our 9BB solar panel post to learn why these panels are more efficient AND have a longer usable life than traditional solar panels.
Conclusion: A Budget Camper Van Solar System Anyone Can Afford
We hope you found our budget van life solar tutorial useful. Every product we picked for this system was selected for its high quality & cost effective characteristics.
For more information on how to DIY a solar system for your camper van, check out our DIY solar system guide.
For more general electrical info, head over to our electrical system home page.
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