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Resource: gentle intro to solar

Solar for car and SUV dwellers

Solar power can be extremely helpful for car dwellers, especially those living in cargo vans or other vehicles with large, high, and flat rooflines. Solar is more challenging for cardwellers due to limited roof space. SUVs are somewhere in the middle.


rack-mounted panels

Your vehicle may already have a rack (or at least rails), making the job easier. A simple two-bar universal rack is about $150, and a nice locking two-bar rack from someone like Inno is about $300-$450. When rack-mounting panels, mount them flush with or on top of the rack. This will prevent the rack from shading the panels. To prevent theft the panel could be attached with tamper-proof fasteners. i.kinja-img.com_gawker-media_image_upload_s--ekheryuf--_18s3kl1s0btqqjpg.jpg When racks are present, mounting a panel or two on them is often the first choice:

  • no additional holes need to be drilled in the roof to mount the panels
  • always deployed, nothing to set out
  • no re-aiming, re-angling as with portable panels
  • can use the least expensive and most durable (framed) panels
  • the panels get some breeze under them to minimize heat-related power loss
  • cable gland, low profile vent, etc, can be mounted under the panel
  • less panel heat transferred into the living space
  • if flush mounted between the racks it can be quite stealthy


portable panels

Portable panels are panels that store away and are deployed as needed.

Pro: Panel can be in sun while car is in shade. Can be secured when not in use. Can be aimed at the sun.
Con: Expensive per watt. Newbies commonly underestimate how much power is required. Voltage drop from long wiring runs. Must be aimed at the sun1), which would require repositioning every couple of hours. Portability increases risk of theft. Can be urinated on by dogs.2)

Each type of portable panel has it's own strengths and weaknesses.

small framed panels These are the type of rigid-frame panel that folks mount on their roof, but usually smaller to keep weight and storage size down.

Pro: Cheapest per watt. Toughest panel.
Con: Heaviest portable. Hardest to stow due to frame thickness, panel size, and rigidity.


images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com_images_i_41py776bbnl._ac_us160_.jpg Briefcases are typically 2-4 small panels hinged together. The suitcase folds up after use.

Pro: Fold for easier storage. Built-in handle makes carrying easier.
Con: Most expensive per watt. Relatively heavy. Can be fiddly. Subject to mechanical wear from setup and teardown. Some have a built-in charge controller, resulting in very long runs between controller and battery.3)

semi-flexible panels

images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com_images_i_51hqlbi08pl._ac_us160_.jpgSemi-flexible panels are basically the panel part of a framed panel without the frame. In the past these were usually amorphous4) cells but now it is common to see mono and, to a lesser degree, poly.

Pro: Very light. Extremely thin, which allows it to be slid into narrow storage.
Con: Can blow away in wind. Much easier to damage than framed panels; consider the lifetime of these panels to be a few years rather than decades. Roughly 2x as expensive as framed panels.

encased panels

Low yield panels (10w-25w) encased in hard plastic. Most often seen in backpacking scenarios or on dashboard “battery maintainers”.

Pro: Small.
Con: Most expensive Watt/$. Lowest output. Can overcharge batteries that are unused.



charge controllers


unless laid flat
this really happens
The distance between controller and battery should be minimized
aka “thin-film”
electrical/solar/car.txt · Last modified: 2021/05/03 20:05 by frater_secessus