How To Maximize Solar Power Generation In Cloudy Conditions
Many RVers turn to solar power to ensure they have electricity while camping off-grid. This allows them the freedom to camp in comfort anywhere, and it makes boondocking on government lands much easier.
All that said, RV solar power does have its downsides. For starters, it’s expensive to set up and can be really heavy. Another problem? Cloudy weather can be an issue.
Do solar panels work in cloudy weather?
Some people think that solar panels don’t work at all in cloudy weather. This isn’t entirely true. Panels do continue to charge batteries, even when there are clouds in the sky.
That said, you can expect the efficiency of your panels to be reduced quite a bit, especially if the cloud cover is very heavy. This can be a real bummer if you’re relying only on solar power for all of your electricity needs. It will be an even bigger issue if the clouds decide to stick around for awhile.
Increasing solar power on cloudy days
The good news is there are ways to increase the efficiency of your solar system. Using the tips below will help make your solar panels as efficient as possible. This is beneficial even on perfectly clear days but is all the more so when clouds fill the sky.
Invest in monocrystalline panels
Monocrystalline solar panels are more expensive than their polycrystalline or thin-film counterparts. That said, they are also much more efficient. This means you can cover the same amount of space in monocrystalline panels and get more power out of the deal!
This is definitely a no-brainer for an RVer with limited space who wants to get the most out of their solar power system, even in bad weather.
Keep the panels clean
Clean panels offer more power than dirty panels. This makes perfect sense. After all, it’s hard for the sun to get to the panels if they’re covered in dirt. Clean your panels regularly, especially if you spend time in dusty environments. We’re betting you’ll see a big difference in their performance.
Don’t park in the shade
Yes, clouds are a form of shade, but the sun’s rays can penetrate them. Most other types of shade are much more difficult for those rays to find a way through. Besides, you don’t want to add more obstacles than necessary.
For this reason, it’s important that you avoid parking in the shade if you have roof-mounted panels.
Consider a portable panel
Want to park in the shade to avoid some heat? Honestly, if the sky is filled with clouds, we’re guessing the shade won’t help much anyway. However, if you simply must park in the shade, you might consider carrying a portable panel to place away from the shade. This will be able to grab whatever sunlight is available in those cloudy conditions, even if your rig is under a tree.
Head to a higher elevation
Did you know solar panels are more efficient at higher altitudes? This is because the atmospheric barrier is less the higher you go. The increased solar radiation exposure tends to lead to an increase in generated voltage output. This, in turn, leads to higher efficiency.
Because of this fact, it makes sense to head to a higher elevation, if at all possible, whenever clouds are in the forecast. In some parts of the United States, this is totally doable.
More off-grid electricity tips
The tips above will help you get the most out of your solar panels, even in cloudy weather. That said, if there is a lot of cloud coverage or if the clouds stick around for a long time, these tips simply may not be enough. Because of this, we recommend employing the tips below.
Have a good battery bank
Having a large bank of LiFePO4 batteries will help you get through the cloudy days without running out of the electricity you stored on the sunnier days. Some people have enough battery storage that they never have to worry about running out.
Buy a generator as an alternative to solar power
Unfortunately, not everyone has the room or budget for an enormous solar power system and battery bank. In this case, we recommend investing in a generator like the Jackery or CarGenerator. Even a smaller generator such as this Champion 2000-watt option will help charge your batteries when solar power is in short supply, so you can stay off-grid in comfort.
Head to a campground
If worst comes to worst, you can always head to a nearby campground to plug into shore power and recharge your batteries before heading back out into the wilderness. You can find campgrounds that fit your budget and needs on RV LIFE Campgrounds. The information provided on the site makes picking a last-minute emergency electric hookup a cinch!
Get tips from other RVers
We think having some solar power on your rig is always a good idea, especially if you like to do a lot of boondocking. That said, while it is possible to use a solar system on cloudy days, they can make things a bit more difficult. Hopefully, the tips above make it possible for you to continue boondocking even when the skies are less than sunny.
One of the best parts about RVing is engaging with the community of traveling enthusiasts. iRV2 forums allow folks to chat with other RVers online, and get other perspectives on everything RVing, including products, destinations, RV mods, and more.
- 10 Reasons Every RVer Needs A Jackery Solar Generator
- 5 Reasons You Should Switch To Portable Solar Power
- Why You Need An Alternative Power Source To RV Solar
Chelsea Gonzales is a full-time RVer, freelance writer, and roadschooling mama who loves sharing her expertise about RVing with kids, roadschooling, and full-time RVing. The entrepreneurial and free-spirited author is also artistic director of the Aistear Mobile Irish Dance Academy, and currently travels with her family in a 27-foot travel trailer. Chelsea’s informational articles about full-time RVing, raising children on the road, camping, and destination features appear on her blog, Wonder Wherever We Wander. throughout the RV LIFE network, and in RV industry media outlets such as Outdoorsy, Coach-Net, and RV Share.
you forget about 1 important fact, since heading to a higher elevation ain’t always possible, not every country has higher elevations… But 1 fact that is possible, ALWAYS, is to put the solar panels flat…meaning that they are parallel to the sky / clouds… why?… since the clouds reflecting the UV, lightrays…and then they get at maximum onto your solar panels… I did last summer on cloudy days when I was travelling… that is why fixed panels are not always the best solution.. but a mix of fixed and movable panels is much more efficient, also when the sun does shine..
Tom Schossau says
Nice article. Types of solar panel controllers (PWM or MPPT) and brands (ie, Victron) are important, especially for cloudy days.