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Drifting On Solar

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Some Interesting History

Humans have been utilizing the sun's energy for centuries (most notably for starting fires - whether that be for warmth during the night or to set an enemy’s ship ablaze is dealer’s choice). Solar power, as we know it, however, was first invented during an experiment conducted by a young Frenchman in 1839. About 50 years later, an American used selenium wafers to create the first solar panel. Selenium’s energy conversion rate was inefficient, though, at about 1%. Fast forward twenty years and Nikola Tesla patents solar panels. Shortly after, Albert Einstein publishes his theory on the photoelectric effect (which he later wins a Nobel Prize for). Finally, in 1954, the silicon solar cell is created and boosts the energy conversion rate to around 20%. Other than the increasing tax credits for installing solar and the decreasing costs of doing so, solar panels haven’t changed much since this last discovery.

How it Works

To put it simply, solar power uses energy from the sun to create electricity. Electricity is generated through the flow of electrons. There are a lot of technicalities involved that I won’t bog you down with, but some I must mention. This process is possible with solar power through something called the photovoltaic effect, and each square on a solar panel is called a solar cell, or photovoltaic cell. Each of these cells have a negative and a positive layer. When sunlight hits the negative layer, the electrons in it are knocked loose and begin to move to the positive layer. We now have a flow of electrons, and therefore electricity.

Essential Things to Know About Battery Life

The panels we use on our vans weigh about 25 pounds and are around two-feet-by-four-feet in size. They are installed on the top of your van to maximize sun exposure. They take roughly nine full sun hours to reach a 100% charge, which amounts to about two days. There are also a few things to keep in mind. Charging your solar battery, unsurprisingly, depends on the sun. Where the sun is in the sky and where you are in relation to the sun along with the extent and length of exposure all contribute to how efficiently your battery will charge. For example, parking in an open lot with full sun exposure in Arizona during peak sunlight hours will charge the battery much faster than parking in a shaded lot with little-to-no sun exposure in Michigan during sunset hours. The closer to the equator you are and the less shade you have, the better the battery will charge.

Tips and Tricks

In order to maximize your solar panel and battery life, the most important thing you can do is stay conscious of your energy consumption. In addition to making sure to turn off every utility after you’ve finished using them, we also install something we refer to as the “kill switch”, which when engaged will dramatically help conserve your battery life. You should engage this “kill switch” when your van is not being used - when you’ve stopped at a friends for the night or are on a morning hike. Any time you park your van, try parking in maximum sun exposure. The alternator can also charge the battery, and as a rough estimate, a three hour drive with full sun exposure can also produce a full charge.

The Big Question

Is investing in solar energy worth the cost? It truly depends. Does the thought of having to worry about staying conscious about energy consumption and battery percentage stress you out? Maybe it’s not worth it for you. Are you looking to decrease your carbon footprint and are excited about discovering how to live more sustainably even if that means being occasionally inconvenienced? Solar energy is probably right for you. From a geographical standpoint, if you know you’re going to spend a lot of time in states like Arizona or Texas that get a ton of sun, it makes sense to invest in solar energy. If you are like us and are from Michigan, or a state that also experiences the severity of all four seasons, and don’t plan on traveling outside of these areas, it’s possible that investing in solar energy might not make sense for you. Contact us today and we would love to talk more about solar energy and whether it’s right for your van!


No matter where you decide to travel to, live your best life and try to stay cool this summer 😎 Please make sure you Leave No Trace to respect the wildlife and parks for years to come! Get outside and enjoy camping season! Happy exploring! 🚐

If you have any questions or just want to chat with the experts at Drifter, get in touch with our friendly team today! Contact us HERE!


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