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A Beginners Guide To 12V Solar Power Systems

Solar panels are an extremely useful addition to any boat, RV or off-grid dwelling, providing greater self-sufficiency while being maintenance free. Solar panel systems continue to improve in their efficiency, allowing more Kiwis the freedom to be off-grid and explore remote locations across New Zealand. There are many advantages to harnessing the energy of the sun, this guide will go over how you can benefit from these and start considering what off-grid life could look like for you.

Why Solar?

  • Solar power is ‘clean’ energy: Solar panels consume no fuels, meaning no emissions.
  • Maintenance-free: Being a static installation means there is no mechanical parts to maintain or unwanted noise. Simply keep the surface of the panels clean, and you are good to go!
  • Freedom from AC/Mains dependability: Boat, RV and cabin/home owners are increasingly relying on solar to remain self-sufficient. Depending on the appliances or accessories you are wanting to run, a decent solar panel set up will maintain your battery bank for days at a time. This means more time on the water, road or off-grid and less time worrying about running out of power.
  • Easier and safer to install than AC/Mains: Like most boats and RV’s, solar power operates on low voltage 12V DC, meaning there is relatively low risk of harm to yourself or to the installation. A correctly installed solar set up, with proper wiring and a suitable regulator, is a safe and relatively maintenance-free way of maintaining your battery system.
  • Solar power maximises battery life: electricity generated from solar panels is pure DC energy, the best electricity to ensure optimal battery performance.

How does it work?

Solar technology harnesses the sun’s energy and converts this into clean, consumable electricity at 12V DC - Direct Current. The electricity generated by a small solar panel can happily keep a small battery topped up, while a larger panel set up can charge batteries while producing enough power to run 12V appliances like fridges, lighting and basic electronics. An inverter can be also installed into a system with the capability of powering more complex 240V appliances.

What can a solar powered system do?

A solar powered system can produce enough energy to power multiple appliances at the same time. The number of appliances it can power at once varies depending on the size of the set-up. For example, a small set-up for occasional use can generate enough power to support LED lights, a water pump, phone charging, radio, and 12V TV. While a larger set-up can cover these appliances plus a microwave and fridge. Ultimately, the size of your set-up comes down to how often you will use power and what appliances you would be using.

What do you need for a Solar Set Up?

    • Solar Panel
      it can generate. Multiple panels can be used in a single set up to generate maximum power. Solar panels used in leisure applications typically range from 10 -160 watts. 
    • Regulator
      Connected to the solar panel is the regulator. Depending on conditions, the voltage produced by a solar panel can vary. In low light conditions, voltage may be too low to create a charge while voltage produced by mid-day sun could be enough to overcharge and damage batteries. A regulator should always be connected between a larger panel and the battery it is supplying. This regulates the electricity being directed into the battery and maintains an optimum charge rate. Please note, it is important to get the right regulator for your panel size and battery type. 

 

    • Battery
      Batteries store the electricity generated by your solar panel and are used to supply power to various appliances. A deep cycle or “house” battery is recommended for use in solar systems used for powering these appliances. Deep cycle batteries are specifically designed to cope with constant discharge and charging cycles. Various capacities and types of deep cycle batteries like AGM or lead acid can be used depending on the nature and size of your panel set up.

 

    • Inverter
      The majority of appliances found in boats, RVs and off-grid dwellings are predominately 12V DC. These appliances are specifically designed to run on a lower voltage than your household 240V alternative. Household consumer electronics like a computer or microwave require a lot of power and struggle to run on a lower voltage. An inverter is designed to convert 12V DC to 240V AC (mains) power. Having an inverter connected to the battery allows household consumer electronics to be charged or used. There are a range of inverters available depending on the power consumption of the 240V appliance. 

 

  • Solar Power System Wiring
    The solar panel wiring connects to the regulator and the length of this run will determine what size cable you need to use. The longer the run, the larger cable diameter you require. The regulator should be mounted as close as practical to the battery and connected. Most regulators have output connections that allow DC appliances to be connected. The regulator will cut off power supply to the DC appliances if it senses your battery voltage is too low. If you want to use household 240V appliances, you will need to connect an inverter to the battery. Inverters should be mounted as close as practical to the battery as well. Please note, this wiring diagram is simplified and additional fuses, battery switches and bus bars may be required in some installations.

We have a range of products available here for all set-ups, and our friendly team are always happy to answer any questions you have.

  1. LED Cabin Reading Light
    From $39.99
  2. Endurant Deep Cycle 12V Batteries
    From $369.99
  3. Renogy 20A MPPT Solar Regulator
    Club Price $219.99
    Regular Price $249.99