Solar Panel Installed on Caravan

I now have a solar panel on the roof of my caravan! This means I can stay off-grid in beautiful spots of New Zealand. One step closer to being completely self sufficient.

Who did I use?

AA Solar & Sun Power Plus have been recommended to me multiple times by different people. They seemed to be the trusted guys in the industry. I had been told how much it might cost before approaching them. My quote was on the higher side, because I had a few extra items included, like a Battery Computer. But the end price was $1000 over the quote! A 1/3 of the price was labour. I had a very, very quiet melt-down while paying. But to be honest, they have done an impressive job. It’s very neatly done – the fittings look like they have always been there. Under the seat is also extremely complicated looking. I imagine it would take a decent amount of time to put it all in. But this means I will be stuck in Auckland longer to budget for the extra amount.

What did I get?

The main components are:

  • SHI400-12 Sinewave Inverter
  • LCD100S Battery Computer 12/24V Votronuc LCD (100A Shunt)
  • MPP350 Votronic MPPT 350W Duo 12V 25.5A/1A (Battery Regulator)
  • AA Solartech 330W Monocrytalline Solar Panel 24.48kg

When getting the quote, I listed all the electrical items I hoped to use and mentioned that I planned to live in it permanently. They put on the strongest solar panel they had that would fit in the small space on the roof – 330W! The MPPT was needed to controlling the power going into the battery. The invert converts the power to the right amount for my appliances. The Battery Computer was not necessary, but highly recommended by Gone with the Wynns who have lived in an RV and boat for over 6 years – they know their stuff! The battery computer is to make sure I don’t damage my battery… I definitely need help in that area!

Testing the solar panel

I’ve been living just off solar power this weekend.

Here are some things I’ve learn already:

  • I’ve suddenly become very aware of the power I use and imagine I’ll be aware of the sun from now on. There was a big difference on the battery computer when the sun went behind solid cloud.
  • With the type of battery I have, I can only use 20% before recharging. Once in a while, I’m allowed to use 30%. This will mean I don’t damage it any more and it should last longer. Since the next battery I want is crazy expensive, I hope it keeps going. A lithium battery will mean I can use more power at night and it will survive longer.
  • I can only last 1 night using 20% of the battery. Really wonder how many times I drained the battery on my trip in the South Island…
  • The only power I’ve been using at night are lights, water pump, extractor fan and recharging my phone.
  • No more hair dryer, kettle and toaster. I’m actually disappointed about the toaster. I wonder if there is a toaster designed for solar living? I’ll get a stove top kettle soon too as I’m currently boiling water in a pot.
  • I have also learnt that I don’t need to worry about accidentally draining the battery. If I lock’n’leave the caravan, the solar panel will keep doing it’s thing.
  • I was able to get the hot water working on gas. I’d previously struggled and imagined cold showers in the future. The problem was forgetting to take the cover off the gas exhaust outside. A good safety feature. I’ve heard hot water drains the gas tanks quickly… imagine I will experiment and share my findings in the future. Hot water is one of life’s pleasures.

What’s next?

I’ll see how I find living of solar power, while going to work and bad weather due. I suspect I’ll end up plugging the caravan into the power just to make life easier. Go crazy on toast for a few days.

And I can’t wait for my little road trip after my work contract. Really test off-grid living then.

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