How To Build a Cheap Camper Van Solar System ($450 Budget)

Though we provide free eBooks on our blog that offer intuitive electrical and plumbing diagrams, we regularly receive questions from visitors asking us if we have advice on how to build a more ‘budget-friendly’ solar system for a camper van.

And it’s not really a surprise. Not everyone has $1,000+ to spend on a DIY solar build.

In response, we’ve put together a solar system that is geared toward those on an extremely tight budget. In total, the entire system that we detail below costs less than $450. This solar system includes:

  • Solar panel (100 watts)
  • Charge controller
  • Wiring
  • Leisure battery (100 amp-hour)
  • Inverter (500 watts)

If you’re on a tight budget and all you need to do is charge a smartphone, power some LED lights, and run a small fan, then this diagram is for YOU.

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Budget Solar System Wiring Diagram

In the image below, we provide a simple solar system wiring diagram with a 100-watt solar panel, battery, and all the components you’ll need in-between.

Budget solar system diagram for less than $450
This entire system costs less than $450

Next, we’ll show you each of the products you will need to create this exact same diagram.

Budget Solar System Build (Parts List)

Below is the materials list for everything you will need to build a budget solar system for your van conversion.

  • Solar panel (100W) – Charges leisure battery from the sun
  • Mounting brackets – Helps attach the solar panel to your van’s roof
  • Solar wire (10 AWG) – Connects solar panels to the solar charge controller
  • MC4 connectors – To attach solar panels to solar wire
  • Entry gland – Protects solar wire as they pass through the van’s roof
  • Solar charge controller – Regulates incoming voltage of solar panels to charge batteries
  • In-Line Fuse – Protects wire between charge controller and battery
  • Wire connectors – Attaches solar wire to fuse and batteries
  • AGM battery – Stores and provides power to all devices in your van
  • Inverter (500W) – Converts 12V DC power to 110V AC power for all standard household electrical devices

NOTE: We cannot list product prices on our blog because prices fluctuate over time. But when we add up each product below, the total price should come out to less than $450. How’s that for a budget solar system build?

Solar Panel (100 Watts)

Dollar per watt, Newpowa solar panels are some of the most affordable solar panels on the market. We use Newpowa panels for our van and recommend them if you’re looking to build a cheap solar system for your camper van.

If you have very modest electrical needs, a single 100W solar panel will be sufficient to keep your battery charged. But if you can manage it, purchasing a second 100W panel can help give your electrical system some breathing room.

Newpowa | 100W Solar Panel

Look no further, this 100W solar panel from Newpowa is one of the most affordable solar panels on the market.

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04/21/2024 02:26 pm GMT

Solar Mounting Brackets

Mounting brackets are required to mount any rigid solar panel onto the roof of a van. Also included in this kit are all the bolts, nuts, washers, and self-tapping screws that you need for the installation process.

Renogy | Solar Panel Mounting Brackets

Standard mounting brackets for solar panels. These Renogy brackets are made from lightweight aluminum and come with all the required hardware. Each solar panel requires one set (four brackets).

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Unsure how to install solar panels? Read our post: How To Mount Solar Panel On a Van’s Roof.

10-Gauge (AWG) Solar Wires

Simple, effective, and affordable. These red & black 10-gauge wires are exactly what you’ll need to wire your solar panel(s) to your battery. The wires we recommend below are 20-feet long, which will be adequate for connecting the panels to the solar charge controller and from the charge controller to the batteries.

As a bonus, these particular solar extension cables already come with MC4 connectors attached, meaning you don’t have to spend additional money buy extra components.

10AWG Solar Extension Cable (20')

Ideal affordable solution to wire solar panels to the charge controller. Kit already includes MC4 connectors, so you don't have to purchase any additional MC4 components.

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04/08/2024 02:31 am GMT

Entry Gland

To bring solar wires from the roof into the vehicle, you will likely need to drill a hole in the roof to thread the wires through to the inside. To protect the wires as they pass through the roof and to prevent water leaks, picking up an entry gland is a good idea.

Passes Wire Through Roof
Link Solar | Entry Gland

This solar entry gland protects the solar wires as they pass through the van's roof to the interior. If sealed properly, a solar gland also prevents water leaks from entering the camper.

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Solar Charge Controller (PWM)

A solar charge controller regulates the voltage between the solar panel and the battery. This device ensures that the battery is properly charged and will stop the flow of current to the battery once the battery is full.

There are lots of more expensive charge controllers available, but this little 10-amp PWM charge controller from Renogy will do the trick if you only have a 100 watt panel.

Have 200W of solar? If you are installing two 100W panels, consider upgrading to the 20-amp charge controller instead?

Renogy PWM Solar Charge Controller (10A)

Perfect, no-frills PWM charge controller for budget solar systems. The 10-amp charger is ideal for a 100-watt panel. Upgrade to the 20-amp charger for a 200-watt solar array.

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04/08/2024 09:16 am GMT

40amp In-Line Fuse

This in-line fuse helps to protect your electrical wires from overheating during unexpected surges in current.

Removing the fuse clip from its holder also allows you to work on your electrical system without fear of getting shocked from your battery.

40A In-Line Fuse
$8.49 ($4.24 / Count)

Protect your electrical wire from overheating with this in-line fuse. Attaches with butt connectors.

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04/08/2024 02:57 am GMT

Butt Connectors (10 AWG)

You’ll need two 10AWG butt connectors to connect the 30amp in-line fuse between the batteries and the solar charge controller.

To attach a butt connector, insert your 10AWG wires on both sides of the connector and crimp the connector onto the wires.

Wirefy | Butt Connectors

Use these butt connectors to extend the red & black wires from each 12V device to the fuse panel.

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Ring Connectors

You’ll need these specific 5/16″ ring connectors to connect the red and black 10AWG wire to their respective terminal posts on the battery.

Ring Connectors (10AWG x 5/16")

Use these ring connectors to attach the wires (coming from the solar charge controller) to your AGM leisure battery.

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04/08/2024 03:01 am GMT

Leisure Battery (100Ah AGM)

Just your standard, no-frills deep-cycle AGM battery.

The purpose of the battery is to accept the current from the solar panel and store the power until you need it for your electrical devices.

If maintained well, this AGM battery should last you, on average, roughly 600 charge cycles.

WEIZE | AGM Battery (100Ah)

The Weize battery of the best-priced AGM batteries on the market. Will last up to 600 charge cycles if not discharged past 50%.

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Inverter (500W)

If you don’t need to power anything bigger than a standard laptop, this portable 500w inverter will get the job done. Simply attach the cable clamps onto the battery terminals and this inverter is all set.

Comes with two 120v sockets and two USB sockets.

BESTEK | 300W Pure Sine Inverter

This 300W portable inverter is the perfect solution for those who require only minimal 110V power and prefer not to hard wire a larger inverter in their vans. No additional wiring required.

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Conclusion: A Budget Camper Van Solar System Anyone Can Afford

We hope you found our budget van life solar tutorial useful. Every product we picked for this system was selected for its high quality & cost effective characteristics.

For more information on how to DIY a solar system for your camper van, check out our DIY solar system guide.

If you have any specific questions regarding building a cheap and affordable solar system for your van conversion, please let us know in the comments section below.

Happy Building!

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