Solar panels on roof of van

I’m looking at installing solar panels on the roof of my van and I’m wondering about panels that may extend over the sides of the van, is this a bad idea or is there little to worry about with regard to wind and resistance while traveling.

I’ve seen people do that before, just needs to be securely attached

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General rule of thumb is to not extend them further than the distance your side mirrors stick out. You also have to be hyper-aware of them when driving into tight spaces, or places where low hanging trees and other objects are. Why do they have to stick out? Is there not enough room for them?

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I was looking at some panels that were around $350 and around 350 - 375 watts that would just fit on the roof, but I was recently informed about another place that is offering 400 watt panels for around $150, which are larger than the one’s I was originally considering.


Not to “bah humbug”, but I’m also currently working on my solar at the moment, and to be honest for the $4500 or so I’ve spent on my solar panel system…

It’s honestly SUPER disappointing.

Solar Power is a great secondary, but as a primary, I would really personally suggest going with shore power, a generator, or even using an isolator off your engine. Apparently, and I’m just learning about this now so I’m not 100% on the quality or capability of it, but there is also a “DC to DC Charging Isolator” that has more to offer than just isolating off your engine.

(Not an influencer link)

If I could do this all over again, I would spend the bulk of my money in any one of those areas rather than solar, then once I had a solid primary, I would spend whatever I felt comfortable with on solar.

Like I said, not trying to discourage your use of solar, it’s just that for all the money I’ve spent my electrician that is hooking up my system (A friend who is a professional electrician and owns his own company), he’s telling me that I’m probably not even going to be able to run my fridge 24/7 without draining my batteries. (Although, I did end up going with a fridge that is 120 and not 12v as I should have.)

I really bought into the whole solar power thing watching Youtube videos where they made it seem like they are running purely off solar and keeping their battery charge full. $4500 later, I can tell you the only thing they are full of is :poop:.

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One problem with panels on the roof laying flat is that’s the wrong angle for maximum efficiency.

Ex: up in Michigan during the summer panels should be at a 24 degree angle and in the winter it is 72. Not to mention length of usable light each day is low doing the winter.

That being said, I run one good 200 watt panel, Victron mppt charge controller, and 2 lithium batteries. With that system I can keep my ARB fridge running, power my inside lights, and charge laptop/phones. Next year we’ll see how it does with my red neck AC.

I bought an adjustable panel support so I can angle them correctly. You might be able to do something like that on a roof.


That’s why I always suggest solar should come dead last, if you have lots of extra money, and want a never ending project…

Our first line of charging should be while driving via an isolator/solenoid/relay. Just make sure it has a high enough amp rating, and it’s continuous duty, and you’re good to go. Next should come a generator combined with a battery charger. I choose this second, because it will be available when shore power isn’t. (If you need power for your “build”, you might want to start with the generator…) Third is shore power, using the same battery charger you’re using with the generator. Shore power CAN be installed, but an extension cord can also be easily run through a door or window. Then I just hook up an outlet strip on the inside. Simple, easy, and no installation required.

These DC to DC chargers are a bunch of bunk too, just like the 3 stage chargers. When a battery is low, regardless of it’s type, it will PULL as much power as it wants, or as much power as it can get. The power source as long as it is within the proper voltage range, and has amps available, doesn’t matter because power is PULLED not PUSHED. As the battery charges, it pulls less and less power. When it’s pulling zero power, when nothing is running, it’s full. It really is JUST THAT SIMPLE!

People are gullible, so they feed us BS so they can sell us higher priced garbage. Then the phony experts explain to us how and why all this nonsense is important to JUSTIFY THEMSELVES. It’s not rocket science, and if you remove all the BS, it’s dead simple.

Solar is a horrible battery charger, and it kills expensive batteries prematurely because of it’s poor charging methods. With solar, your charging starts at zero, then slowly ramps up until solar noon, then starts back down to zero. Batteries WANT high amperage to start, and then less and less as it fully charges. To date, I have yet to find a solar controller that will delay battery charging until it can deliver a minimum of 10 amps. Your battery(s) needs are far more important than what solar offers.

Also, don’t waste your money on lithium batteries. The reports of them dying within 1-2 years are growing, and the reports of them catching fire are growing as well. The technology just isn’t there yet, and it might never be. Electric cars are using a different, more reliable technology, while we’re getting played as suckers, or even in the best case scenario, test guinea pigs, that are being charged exorbitant prices for the “privilege” of being guinea pigs.


"Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst." ~ Murphy

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If you use a separate inverter for your fridge, connected to a thermostat controlled relay running into your fridge or freezer, it can shut off the power to that inverter when the fridge doesn’t need it. While inverters are inefficient, the loss can be minimized by turning them off when not in use.

In the end, I think your choice is wise, will save you a bunch of money in the long run, and be more easily replaceable when the need arises. I think 12v compressor fridges/freezers are a very poor choice. For every person who likes them, there are many more who don’t, after having tried them.


"Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst." ~ Murphy

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I am running an off -grid camper and using only one 300 watt Sharp monocrystalline solar panel with Victron Mppt Charge Controller. I have all the power I need, the system works well. I don’t need microwaves, coffee-makers and hairdryers, anything that is power consumption heavy is avoided. I do need TV, internet, a compressor fridge etc. I also have a Victron 800 watt inverter which is lower than most people would select. Inverters can consume power on standby so the lower the watts the lower the consumption, don’t get something you don’t need. The Victron uses a standby setting, in other words you can leave it switched on permanently with very little power wastage (U.K. is 240 volts). In truth I hardly use the inverter, it’s only there in case I need it. Because many vehicles are fitted with Smart Alternators I can take full advantage of this by fitting a 60 amp battery to battery charger. The rest of the vehicle is diesel powered, cooking is diesel as well as heating and hot water. To be honest with lockdown (COVID) I haven’t been able to use the vehicle as often as I would have liked yet the last time I went on hook-up was a few months ago and that was to charge the engine battery. Even with poor U.K. sunlight hours, the solar and engine (60amp max) have kept me going.

How is this possible? Are entire setup sans batteries was ~$700. Maybe you have a considerable amount of panels, but those seem to be the cheap part.

I did it this way and wish I had just used solar in the first place. We’ve only started our generator lately to make sure it still runs and to keep the engine from seizing.

As far as the isolator, I actually disconnect that a lot. As we use the battery doctor, it disconnects when the charge on the starter battery drops below 13.7v or something like that. With the solar on during the day, that never happens so the solar ends up charging three batteries not two and at this point I assume that my devices would actually pull power from all three batteries? Not sure on that last part honestly. Regardless I keep it disconnected unless we’ve been parked in the shade and need it to charge up.

On the subject of fridges, still super happy that we dropped the money the Dometic CFX3 75DZ. It’s only pulling ~1.3 amps and having a freezer, ice on hand and not having to worry about it melting is a game changer. Cocktails have become a thing again. So have being able to keep leftovers and the like. I highly recommend it at this point.

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It’s pretty easy to find solar panels for less than $1 per watt and a good quality controller for $100 to $200 plus wiring etc. The rest is the same regardless if using solar or not.

I have a small system to run fans, LED lights, charge my devices, and run a radio. Heating, cooking, and showering I do by more efficient means (using electricity to heat things is hugely inefficient). 150 watt solar panel for $140, second hand charge controller off eBay for $40, and maybe $35 on DIY brackets and wiring. All assembled myself. Solar isn’t expensive if you take a few hours to study how it all goes together and learn how to solder and use heat shrink.


I don’t wanna hijack this guys post and I wanted some community feedback anyway, so I’m going to make a new post. :smiley: