Solar. Done.

5 10 2010

It took five and a half hours of non-stop work in 95 degree weather, but with some help and a lot of sweat and sawdust our 200 watt solar array is putting out 12 amps of sweet, sweet current. We can now camp pretty much anywhere for at least 2.5 weeks, limited only by our water supply.

WARNING: GEEKINESS TO FOLLOW!

For those of you who care to do it yourself:

  1. Make sure you have the correct parts.
    • Working solar panels (check with a voltmeter!)
    • ‘Feet’ or rails for mounting the panels
    • Charge controller
    • Sufficient length of #10 stranded wire, make sure the wire is ‘high heat’ or 105C thermoplastic (THNN or THWN). Heavier gauge wire is okay, but is probably overkill.
    • Battery ends for your wire
    • Screws, silicone sealant, adhesive sealant (like Dicor), fuse, “D” shape wire holders, nuts, bolts, drills, bits, etc.
  2. Determine the placement of your panels on the roof, considering your desire for maximum sun exposure (and minimum shading), proximity of the panels to each other, and proximity of the panels to the area where you will run your wiring into the RV. Make sure that your panels don’t short out during installation! Always assume your panel wires are hot and keep positive and negative ends from crossing!
  3. Determine the path of the wiring. This is what takes a while, and is one of the big differences between an ‘it works’ job and an excellent job. It’s also one of the main reasons why we worked with a professional on the installation. Most people end up running their wiring into the RV through the refrigerator vent. This frequently means cutting a reasonable size hole in the screen over the vent (to be closed later) and running wiring down behind the refrigerator. We ended up running our wiring down behind the refrigerator and to our charge controller which was mounted in a cabinet next to the refrigerator. This necessitated cutting a hole in the wall of the cabinet. The wiring from the controller to the battery ran back through the same cabinet hole to the rear of the refrigerator, and then down through a hole in the metal floor of the refrigerator control area. That hole led behind a drawer underneath the refrigerator and snaked underneath our dinette seat until it hit the center of the dinette. Then, to get around our propane tank we cut through the bottom of the RV and ran the wiring under the RV to our battery box. The key point: If you didn’t see our panels or charge controller, you would have no idea that there was 36 feet of new ten gauge wire snaking through the RV.
  4. Attach the feet / rails to the solar panels

    Attach The Feet To The Panels

    Attach The Feet To The Panels

  5. Open the black box on the panels and make sure that only #10 stranded wire (or larger) has been used to wire the panels. If no wire is present or if incorrect wire type has been used, go ahead and wire the panel yourself, following the diagram on the black box. In almost all cases, your red wire attaches to the 12V positive terminal and your black wire to the 12V negative terminal. Make sure that the hole from which your wires emerge out of the box is sealed. Use a waterproof manual seal or silicone sealant. If you have multiple panels, you almost always will want to wire them together in parallel. Leave an extra length of wire (a “service loop”) underneath each panel so you can service individual panels later on without having to dissemble a lot of wiring.

    Wiring Up The Panels

    Wiring Up The Panels

  6. Flip your panels over (face up) and determine final placement. (Try to place your screw points over roof studs.) Mark the area around each point of contact between a foot / rail and the roof.
  7. Thoroughly clean the roof in each marked area. Put Dicor or another adhesive sealant under each foot or rail, and let the foot or rail lay down into the adhesive sealant. Let the adhesive sealant bubble up through the screw holes. Screw the panels down into the roof using short (3/4″) screws. The adhesive sealant should hold the panels in place, but the screws provide extra protection.

    The Dicor Bubbling Through

    The Dicor Bubbling Through

  8. Use the “D” shape wire holders to tie down your wiring on the roof, keeping it relatively taught (see photo). Seal all screw points with Dicor.

    Note the Plastic "D" Clamps and Dicor

    Note the Plastic "D" Clamps, Dicor, And Additional Small Service Loop At Junction

  9. Time to run the wiring into the coach! We’ll assume you’re running through the fridge vent. If you haven’t already done so, remove the fridge vent cover and peel back a decent size of the mesh screen. (We peeled back ~8″ x 4″. Make sure you can lay it back down later for reattachment.)

    Fridge Vent Screen Peeled Back

    Fridge Vent Screen Peeled Back

  10. The tough part: Run the wire along your predetermined route, connecting to the charge controller and battery. Do not run wiring behind (on the coach side of) your refrigerant pipes.
    Compare With 'Post' Photo

    Compare With 'Post' Photo (Actually, The Red Wire Is Also New)

    Note The Additional Wires

    Note The Additional Wires. Later On They Will Be Clamped Down And Pulled More Taut

    Access Hole Through Cabinet To Fridge Control Area

    Access Hole Through Cabinet To Fridge Vent and Rear. Be Careful Selecting Drill Locations! Check And Re-Check Until You Are Sure They Are In The Spot You Want, And Only Then Drill A Small Test Hole Before Enlarging.

    The Wire To The Battery Ran On The Wall-Side Under This Dinette Bench

    The Wire To The Battery Ran Along The Wall Under This Dinette Bench

    A Bit Fuzzy, But You Can See The Controller Placement

    A Bit Fuzzy, But You Can See The Controller Placement

    Close Up Of The Charge Controller

    Close Up Of The Charge Controller

  11. Seal any holes that you made, make sure you have no loose wiring (loop loose wire and use “D” clamps to tie down), put the vent screen back (tie it back with small zip ties) and smile because you are getting power from the sun.
    Done!

    Done!

    Done! (Another View)

    Done! (Another View)

    posted by jay

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3 responses

5 10 2010
Bill

Thanks for the very informative post! My wife and I are about to start our own RV adventure and if we decide to put solar in this will definitely be helpful.

I stumbled upon your blog last week and have enjoyed reading through your plans and adventures.

Thanks,
Bill

6 10 2010
jayhorowitz

I’m glad it was helpful! While on the one hand I didn’t make the ‘how-to’ super user-friendly, it’s more detailed than anything else I’ve seen online. If you go with solar feel free to email us with any questions you have. (And if there is interest, I may put up a friendlier and more detailed ‘how-to’ post.)

I just checked out your blog. Cool stuff. What led to the boat –> RV switch? As with solar, don’t hesitate to shoot RV questions my way. I’m happy to help out.

Cheers,
Jay

7 10 2010
Bill

Hi Jay,
Well, a boat is still our ultimate plan. The R/V is for the time being a more economical solution (BOAT = Bring Out Another Thousand) to get us out of our 9-5 lifestyle faster. We feel that by breaking out now we can still pursue our dream while learning a lot about an unconventional lifestyle.

It is also good that a lot of the systems on an R/V are the same as on a boat.

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