Confused about Solar Charge Controllers for your campervan? Start here
If you’re planning to take your campervan on a road trip, one of the essential components you should consider is a solar charge controller. Solar panels can provide you with the power you need to run your appliances and devices, but without a charge controller, you could risk damaging your batteries.
What is a Solar Charge Controller?
A solar charge controller is a device that regulates the amount of current flowing from your solar panels to your batteries. It acts as a middleman between your solar panels and your batteries, ensuring that your batteries receive the correct amount of charge and preventing them from overcharging.
Types of Solar Charge Controllers
There are two main types of solar charge controllers: PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) and MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking).
PWM controllers are the most basic and affordable type of solar charge controller. They regulate the voltage of the solar panels by pulsing the current on and off. However, they are not as efficient as MPPT controllers, especially when the temperature is high or when the panels are partially shaded. We do not recommend this type of solar charge controller. They are now out dated and due to the advancement in battery technology the batteries need more of a balanced charge current to maintain healthy cycles.
MPPT controllers, on the other hand, are more advanced and efficient. They use a smart algorithm to track the maximum power point of the solar panels and convert it into the optimal voltage for the batteries. This means that they can extract more power from your solar panels, especially in low-light conditions or when the temperature is high.
Another benefit to the MPPT controller is the fact that it also offers three stages of charging which is crucial when trying to maximise the life cycles from your batteries and get the most from your investment. These three stages are Bulk, Absorption and Float. The bulk stage maximises everything the controller can muster from the solar array and gives the batteries the greatest charge current. Once the parameters of the bulk stage are met, the controller then changes onto the second stage, absorption. The absorption stage begins to tail the charge current off and slow the charging process down. The third stage is float, this stage is the final stage before the batteries reach 100% state of charge. It tops off the charge and remains like this until the battery voltage drops and they require a charge.
These three stages vary depending on the type and size of your battery bank. Different types of batteries require different lengths and strengths of charging. You can read more about battery types in our Battery Types guide.
Why are Solar Charge Controllers Important for Campervans?
If you’re planning on relying on solar power to keep your appliances and devices charged while on the road, you need to make sure that your batteries are being charged safely and efficiently. Without a solar charge controller, you could risk damaging your batteries, shortening their lifespan, and even starting a fire.
In addition, a solar charge controller can help you get the most out of your solar panels. By regulating the charge flowing from your panels to your batteries, you can ensure that you’re maximising your power output and charging your batteries as efficiently as possible.
1. Protecting the batteries: Solar charge controllers help protect the campervans batteries from overcharging, which can damage them and reduce their lifespan. When the batteries are fully charged, the charge controller will stop sending power from the solar panels to the batteries, preventing overcharging.
2. Optimising power output: Solar charge controllers help optimise the power output of the solar panels by regulating the voltage and current that flows to the batteries. This ensures that the batteries receive the right amount of power, which can increase their efficiency and reduce the charging time.
3. Monitoring system performance: Some solar charge controllers have built-in monitoring systems that can help you keep track of your power usage and the performance of your solar panels. This can help you optimize your energy usage and make sure that your system is working as it should.
4. Increasing battery life: By regulating the charging process and preventing overcharging, solar charge controllers can help extend the lifespan of your campervans batteries. This can save you money in the long run by reducing the need for battery replacements.
Choosing the Right Size
To correctly size an solar charge controller, you need to consider the following factors:
1. Solar Panel Voltage: The controller should be rated for the maximum voltage of your solar panel array. Make sure to select a controller with a voltage rating that is higher than the maximum voltage of your solar panels.
2. Solar Panel Current: The controller should also be rated for the maximum current of your solar panel array. Make sure to select a controller with a current rating that is higher than the maximum current of your solar panels.
3. System Voltage: The controller should be able to handle the voltage of your battery bank. Make sure to select a controller with a voltage rating that matches your battery bank voltage.
4. Power Rating: The controller should have a power rating that is sufficient for your system. To determine the power rating, multiply the maximum voltage of your solar panels by the maximum current of your solar panels. This will give you the maximum power output of your solar panel array. Make sure to select an MPPT controller with a power rating that is higher than the maximum power output of your solar panel array.
5. Operating Temperature: The controller should be able to operate in the temperature range that your system will be exposed to. Make sure to select a controller with an operating temperature range that matches the worst case climates that you plan to travel too.
Once you have considered these factors, you should select an MPPT controller that meets or exceeds your system’s requirements. If you are unsure about any of these factors, book in for a consultation below where we will be more than happy to help!
The Advantages of Victron Energy MPPT Controllers
When it comes to MPPT controllers, Victron Energy is one of the leading manufacturers in the industry. Here are just a few of the advantages that come with using a Victron Energy MPPT controller:
1. High Efficiency: One of the key benefits of using a Victron Energy MPPT controller is that it can increase the efficiency of your solar panels. MPPT controllers are able to harvest more energy from the panels than other types of controllers, and Victron Energy MPPT controllers are some of the most efficient on the market.
2. Durability: Victron Energy MPPT controllers are built to last. They are made with high-quality components and are designed to withstand harsh environmental conditions. This means that you can rely on your Victron Energy MPPT controller to continue working efficiently for years to come.
3. User-Friendly: Despite their advanced technology, Victron Energy MPPT controllers are also user-friendly. They come with easy-to-understand displays and can be set up quickly and easily.
4. Versatile: Victron Energy MPPT controllers are designed to work with a wide range of solar panels and batteries. This means that you can customize your solar power system to meet your specific needs and preferences.
5. Remote Monitoring: Another advantage of using a Victron Energy MPPT controller is that it can be monitored remotely. This means that you can keep track of your solar power system from anywhere in the world, which is particularly useful for off-grid installations.
Victron Energy MPPT controllers are an excellent choice for anyone looking to maximize the efficiency and performance of their solar power system. With advanced features, high efficiency, and reliable performance, they are a popular choice for both residential and commercial solar power installations. If you’re looking for a high-quality MPPT controller, Victron Energy is a brand that you can rely on.
If you require any help with your MPPT controller, be sure to contact us here at Tiny Build Electrics!
Solar charge controllers are essential components of any campervan solar power system. They ensure that your batteries stay healthy and fully charged, which can help you stay off-grid for longer periods of time. When choosing a solar charge controller, make sure to consider the size, compatibility, and features that best suit your needs. With the right solar charge controller, you can enjoy the benefits of solar power while on the road.
Need further assistance with choosing your solar charge controller? We’ll be more than happy to help you.
Hey, I’m Tom – founder of Tiny Build Electrics
My mission is to help sustainable-minded folks develop their electrical knowledge, giving them the confidence to do their own tiny build electrics.Book A Consultation