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Old 08-20-2011, 03:36 PM   #1
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Solar Panels Provide Shade - Fact or Fiction?

Multiple users have posted that solar panels provide shade. I think there is some logic to this idea; however, the panels also absorb heat and might have the opposite effect. Has anyone seen any empirical data to support the notion that panels shade or cool the roof?
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Old 08-20-2011, 04:29 PM   #2
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I don't know if this counts as impirical data, but we used to carry a 16-foot jon boat on top of a passenger van. Before we started carrying the boat, that van was very hard to cool with the air conditioner. However, with the boat loaded on top of van, it was noticeably cooler than without. You could feel the difference in temperature by placing your hand to the roof of the van.

Therefore, I would guess that this would also apply to solar panels. However, our 19-foot Bambi doesn't have much free space on the roof; and the limited power provided just isn't cost effective for us.

I guess we could buy a bigger Airstream, so that we could get solar panels to power all of the stuff we could then pack in it. However, our 19-foot fits our needs; and we already have a generator.

Some people say that some generators make a lot of noise; but when we're boondocking, the only people around are us...
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Old 08-20-2011, 04:51 PM   #3
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I have some experience in the wireless communications business. We sometimes used aluminum cabinets to house equipment at tower sites.
Most manufacturers of these cabinets offer shading panels to be affixed to the top and sides of the cabinets with 1” standoffs. They are simply aluminum sheets, sometimes with the edges bent at an angle for a little rigidity. These added panels decrease the temperature inside the cabinet a noticeable amount.

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Old 08-20-2011, 05:39 PM   #4

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On the next Sunny day just put a thermometer under the panel.....or, use an infra-red and take the surface temp under the panel and compare it to an exposed area. Would be interesting to find out.

I have flexibles that lay directly on the aluminum and they do get very hot in direct sun.
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Old 08-20-2011, 07:21 PM   #5
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Interesting about the boat and the aluminum shading panels. I don't keep an infrared on me, but I might have to give the thermometer test a shot. Thanks for the responses. It seems that some manufacturer or installer would have measured this already ... maybe not.
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Old 08-20-2011, 07:31 PM   #6
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Shading the roof from direct solar radiation would definitely make a significant difference. The way it would be done in reality wouldn't provide 100% of the benefit of keeping the sun off, since some heat would transfer to the trailer through the supports of for the panels, some waste heat would radiate from the underside of the panels, etc. but if there's air circulation under the panels I'd guess the shade effect would be significant, at least per area it shades.

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Old 08-20-2011, 08:21 PM   #7
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My 3 100W solar panels occupy 17.6 square feet of the approximate 200 square feet roof area of the Airstream, or about 9%. I do not expect a discernible difference in overall heat transmission through the roof due to the presence of the panels. With more roof coverage, yes, due to the insulating effect of the layer of air between the panels and the roof, as in jdalyrmple's example.
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Old 08-20-2011, 08:35 PM   #8
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The Series I Land Rovers of the late 50's added a second full-roof panel that was held proud above the primary roof on small risers. The primary roof was vented. These Safari Roofs certainly make a difference and I suspect your solar panels could, despite their obvious solar gain properties, actually cool the skin of the trailer.
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Old 08-20-2011, 09:07 PM   #9
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It might be a fun thing to do at a Rally.

Recruit two of the same size campers, put a thermometer in both of them of them. Put three panels on one camper and none on the another.
I would be interested in the results.

I don't know if it is an urban myth, but I heard that they painted the roofs
of school busses white because it made them 12 degrees cooler.
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Old 08-21-2011, 12:53 PM   #10
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The roofs on recent Airstream models come from the factory in white...

My AS is currently parked under a white metal carport. The trailer is closed up except the roof vents are open. Ambient temperature outside is 103, roof on AS measures 108 with an IR thermometer, carport surface measures 120.

It would seem reasonable that solar panels with an air gap above the roof would deflect some of the solar gain, but as previously stated, the small fraction of the roof that is shaded by the panels is probably insignificant. I like the idea of using two identical trailers parked side by side and measure the difference.
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Old 08-21-2011, 01:26 PM   #11
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It's the airspace that counts

As long as you can get at least 1" of circulating air and the brackets are either minimally conducting (of heat, e.g. aluminum or have some sort of stand off insulation--hard rubber gasket would do it) you are going to have an at least minimally cooler roof.

Depends on how much of the roof you can cover.

Take a look at any US building code book (good example: heat shielding for woodstoves) and you can see how effective that 1" can be.

Airspace is your insulating friend, always.
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Old 08-21-2011, 03:18 PM   #12
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my boat has 2 50 watt solar panels on an arch, I stay cooler when I sit in their shade, so your trailer will too. The air gap is imperative to the panel cooling, as panel temps rise, output decreases.
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