As we like to spend a lot of time at campsites without electricity and now have 2 fridges, one of which has a small freezer, it made sense to look more closely at the solar power options available.
For our readers in Europe a little explanation may be necessary.
Generally, when driving, the generator in the vehicle charges the bakkie battery and the auxiliary battery. Now, with the caravan in tow, the ‘van battery is also being charged.
When we are camping the fridges can run off 220 volts when available or, when out in the bush with no mains, the fridge in the bakkie runs from the auxiliary battery and the fridge/freezer in the van runs from the ‘van battery. It is possible to run the bakkie to recharge the batteries or use a portable generator but these are not options for us or indeed many other travellers in Africa.
In the past few years, while we have been in Africa, solar power has become both cheaper and more convenient. But as with all technological innovation – If you can buy it, it’s out of date and when you’ve bought it, it becomes cheaper! But you’ve got to start sometime!
We've seen lots of vehicles and 'vans with solar panels on the roof but we decided that we'd prefer ones on the ground as we usually park up in the shade wherever possible. It does mean having long cables and having to move the panels around during the day but we find tht OK.
The following photo shows our current set up.
Vehicle: A 45 watt panel which is linked to a regulator in the back of the vehicle and tops up the leisure battery which was fitted under the bonnet.
Van: An 85 watt panel linked to the regulator (already installed in the van when we bought it) and tops up the leisure battery.
The 85 watt solar panel gives a maximum of just under 5 Amps in bright Namibian sunshine. In good conditions the sun could easily provide 40+ AmpHours a day. We found an ambient daytime temperature of about 25°C is enough for the batteries to keep the fridge ticking over nicely.