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Saturday, March 24, 2018

MOTORHOME MODIFICATIONS - *S* is Solar Panel Installation on our Motorhome

I am going to start off the new year with posting some of our motorhome modifications, a few at a time. I will post repairs, modifications, or neato things we have found for RVing.  I have lots of pics in my files so I will do them in alphabetical order.

Underneath that stuff, I will post my regular daily stuff..... kinda sorta fun, eh?

So here it goes, we are up to the letter S now!


MOTORHOME MODIFICATIONS 
STARTING WITH THE LETTER S


Solar Panel Installation:

 We installed solar panels and equipment in April 2010



THE COSTS ARE LISTED 
AT THE END OF THE BLOG

On our Safari motorhome, we originally had two OEM solar panels… one 75 watt for the big coach batteries and a smaller 10 watt one for maintaining the chassis batteries.  There wasn't even a controller unit.  We bought a small controller and set it up ourselves.  We were learning all about using solar. This setup was enough to top off our four 6 volt golf cart batteries. With frugal usage we could go many days with just the one panel.  

But we decided to “Solar Up” with more panels…   and be more livable and downright extravagant once we are done!  LOL Steve found a good deal from a guy changing out his array at his home in Montana, and he sold us his four used 100 watt panels and a bigger solar controller. 

We removed the old 75 watt panel, as it’s never good idea to mix sizes.  All panels should be the same wattage. We listed and sold the old one with the little controller on Ebay.


THE EQUIPMENT:
We purchased four 100 watt Siemens panels,  a Blue Sky MPPT (MAXIMUM POWER POINT TRACKING) solar controller, a Trimetric gauge, and all the various cords and accessories to go along with it.  We already have four 6 volt golf cart batteries installed.

solar panel install4

solar panel install5



Steve made the mounting brackets out of heavy aluminum, and made them so supplementary metal arm rods can be wingnutted onto them to tilt them in the winter months if needed. 


solar panel installation0


The panels will ride flat the rest of the year, and we will only add the tilting rods if we deem it necessary.

(on edit: Now, 8 years later, 
we find we never have to tilt them,
up on the arms to get better sunlight, 
and we have plenty of charging power 
as they lay flat on the roof) 

He pre-fitted the brackets while the panels were still on the ground, rather than waiting until they were up on the roof.

Now here is some more of the equipment that we had to install before the panels went up:

TRIMETRIC GAUGE PANEL
used to monitor the power levels from inside the motorhome:

solar panel installation1


MPPT SOLAR CONTROLLER
needed to control how much power is coming into the batteries 
and how the levels are charging or being used at that time.
solar panel installation5


TEMP SENSOR
to make sure the batteries are not getting overcharged
works hand in hand with the solar controller

solar panel installation2


SHUNT:
a resistor that helps monitor the flow of current
solar panel installation3


FUSE BREAKER BOX:
used to cut the current quickly to the batteries
or to keep something from backfeeding and harming the panels
solar panel installation4




PREPARATION:
Steve had to get some areas of the motorhome ready for the components to be installed. We chose which compartment got the main set-up devices that was close to the batteries and close to the area where the cables were coming down from the roof.

The location of the solar controller is very important.  The closest spot located to the batteries is the most desirable.  But it also needs to be in a protected compartment.  This one is the closest, just on the other side of the wheel well.  Once the controller is mounted here upright, the main heavy 4 ga. cable will go around the wheel well and connect to the shunt and the batteries right behind the wheel well.

solar panel installation7

Steve made this great wooden panel to mount this stuff
that was originally located on the wall where he was putting 
the solar controller. 

solar panel installation6
  

Then he mounted the panel at an angle
in that compartment for easy access:



WIRING:
Steve is using 8 gauge wire for each pair of panels coming down from the roof to the controller. From the controller over to the batteries he is using 4 gauge wire.

We chose a location on the roof for the panels that would not have them shadowed by any objects on the rooftop, such as roof vents and air conditioners. The slightest shadow can hamper the panel's output.  We plan to face the front of the rig east as much as possible when choosing parking spots, so the panels are running lengthwise along our south side (passenger side) of the rig.  We already try to park this way in the hot summer to keep our fridge on the north side cooler by being in the shade.

On the passenger side of the rig is a perfect spot to run the wires down through a hole Steve will drill in the roof, through an access panel in the closet that reveals a chase for other wiring and the plumbing vent from our washer/dryer unit.   Directly below this closet is the basement compartment where the solar controller will be located.

solar panel installation9
 

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(I just love the gritted teeth in this pic) 
solar panel installation13

Okay.. here he ran the 8 ga. cables in the open space,
which we covered up later with the panel again. 
solar panel install9

He got the solar controller mounted, wires and ground all hooked up too.



(this next photo added later .. now it's correctly wired and labelled and marked)


solar panel install8

solar up part 242


SOLAR PANEL MOUNTING: 

Now it’s time to get on the roof and drill down, and pull up through the heavy 8 gauge wires for the panels.  Steve carries along this ladder in our rig, an Xmas present from moi.
solar panel installation14
 
ladder blocks0



Let’s all sing together that James Taylor favorite:  Up On A Roof…

solar up part 238


And I gingerly crawled up the ladder to assist.  I HATE heights….ack!  But I needed to be up there to help, and to learn. First step was to hook the four panels together into pairs of two.

solar up part 21


solar up part 26



Now they had to be wired up together and then joined to the two 8 gauge cords
solar up part 24

 solar up part 220


solar up part 22


solar up part 221


solar up part 222


Next comes the time to flip all four of the panels over and install the brackets to the roof… ohhh drilling holes in a roof can be VERY SCARY!    Once a hole is drilled, you can’t  UNdrill it!

solar up part 217


Now is the time to start the drilling.  Steve had it all figured out, but I was nervous about this next step. I have to learn to trust in him.  He knows what he is doing.

solar up part 223


We used some rather unique fasteners.   Before you get too excited seeing “plastic”, calm down.  It’s only temporary nylon guides that hold the metal toggle into place … read on:

solar up part 29


solar up part 214


solar up part 213


solar up part 225


solar up part 226


solar up part 227


solar up part 228


solar up part 215


solar up part 216


solar up part 239


solar up part 219


solar up part 237


(on edit: Now, 8 years later, 
we find we never have to tilt them
up on the arms to get better sunlight, 
and we have plenty of charging power 
as they lay flat on the roof) 

solar up part 236


solar up part 218


Ahhhhh  now look at that !  (about four hours later)
solar up part 232


Well, not quite.  


We cut out a section of wall and installed the Trimetric Monitor gauge and the 500amp shunt used to monitor the battery condition.

PICT0010


PICT0012


PICT0013


The gauge is mounted in our kitchen, and the shunt is mounted under the bed close to the batteries on the negative line.  Special wires come back to the wall panel.
PICT0014


PICT0002




FINAL HOOK-UPS:

Now Steveio had to hook up the wires in the solar controller and 30 amp fuse box.  Then hook the Trimetric gauge back up to the shunt and it *should* work…..

solar up part 240


solar up part 241


Voila! It works!  
This is like “Command Central” 
for seeing how many volts you have in your batteries, 
how many amps are being used, how much is being charged etc.



Weeeeeheeeeeee it all works!   
And even in cloudy afternoon sky in April we are pulling 20 amps.
The batteries are at 13.3 volts.  
Ain’t that something?

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

P.S.  We find our solar panels give us ample power to do most everything we wish when boondocking (other than run the microwave or vacuum cleaner)   We run the tv's, my curling iron, coffee maker, recharge our cell phones and cameras, run our laptops or tablets, my sewing machine, and use any of the lights and water pump etc. as needed.  We have to remember to start up our on board Onan generator once a month to exercise it, because we don't often need it now that we are solared up.

Three helpful links we found when exploring all our solar options were: 




About a year afterwards: 

Steve had the chance to buy one more solar panel that matched our other ones.  (we already have four 100 watts Siemens panels on the roof)    Here is the panel and he got right up there and ready to work!!!

Next, he had to tilt up the set of panels to access the connector box underneath.  Our four panels are tiltable with brackets that can hold up at any angle to collect the sun's rays in the winter, if need be.  But we have never had to do that. The newest panel that he is installing is on a fixed bracket that will lay flat. That bracket is from the old panel and needed a bit of alteration, but he made it work.


There... all done!   Wasn't that easy?  LOL ...  

You can also see the little 10 watt solar panel that is used to maintain the two driving (chassis) batteries. 

While up on the roof, Steveio also checked over all the seams and edges and vents, looking for any potential problem spots for leaks or damage over the winter.   

COSTS OF OUR SOLAR INSTALLATION:

We removed the old 75 watt solar panel and controller, sold them on Ebay for $262  

We already owned four 6 volt marine batteries @ $87.50 EACH  $369

4 100 WATT SIEMENS SOLAR PANELS, (used total $894

BLUE SKY 50 MPPT SOLAR CONTROLLER, (used $268

NEW TRIMETRIC GAUGE, SHUNT, THERMO SENSOR, 
FROM ALT ENERGY SOLUTIONS (new $234 )

BREAKER BOX WITH FUSES ($24

STEVE MADE THE BRACKETS AND USED 4 ga and 8 ga CABLES FOR CONNECTION  (APPROX VALUE $200)

ONE ADDITIONAL MATCHING PANEL ADDED LATER: (used $65)

TOTAL: $1,792.00 after subtracting the sale of the old OEM panel and controller



Quiet, renewable, reliable energy
being able to boondock in comfort
.... priceless!


1 comment:

  1. Can we borrow your Hubby. Would love to learn Solar better. My hubby is 6’ 7” can’t get on roof. But he hates electrical. How does your sewing machine plug in? Right now only DC power runs on electrical, generator is great but too much variation; worried even with a power surger. Thank you.

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