Solar Power

As part of my preparation for my European road trip I decided that Solar panels would allow me to be electrically independent for much longer.It means that I’ll only need to book into a proper campsite when I need a shower or to wash my clothes – so every six or seven weeks then.

The first step was to see what size panels would actually fit on the roof. The interwebnet is full of various sized solar panels so I chose some likely looking ones and made full sized mock ups which I the stuck on the roof with masking tape.

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To paraphrase Goldilocks, these ones were, “Just a little bit too wide”

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She would have dismissed this arrangement as, “Far too long”

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but these two panels are “Just Right”. Annoyingly they are also £70 more expensive than the others.

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The next thing on the shopping list was a controller, this takes the 20 volts which the panels supply and steps it down to a more battery friendly 13.7 volts and I went for a MPPT controller which costs more but is far more efficient at utilising every scrap of energy the panels can produce. In brilliant sunshine this is not so important but when the clouds roll in or the sun begins to set a controller like this should still be able to charge the battery.

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Once I’d actually got the various components in my hands I spent the next week or so trying various positions for the controller and working out exactly where the four cables would need to run. One of the main difficulties would be the cable run from the solar panels on the roof down into the controller. As I have an Australian Sopru roof it lifts up square which meant I needed the cables to be long enough to allow that movement but out of the way of the roof mechanism when it came down. This is what I came up with, it’s still not quite finished as I’ll need to replace the masking tape with something more waterproof and durable but it allows free movement of the roof without straining the cables or allowing them to be trapped in the roof mechanism.

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Now it was time to start drilling holes in my beloved campervan. One of my Dad’s favourite sayings was “Measure Twice, Cut Once”. I improved on that slightly by measuring four or five times, then having a cup of tea and a think, and then measuring again, just for luck.

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It worked out ok though (thank goodness) and all the wires threaded their way through the engine bay, van, roof and poptop perfectly.

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and both fuses, one between controller and leisure battery

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and the other between the solar panels and the controller

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fitted exactly where I wanted them to. With everything in place it was time to glue the panels onto the roof and as there is a slight curvature, I used planks of wood to apply steady even pressure while the adhesive set.

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and then fitted four chrome plumbing fittings with waterproof seals to thread the cables down under the poptop.

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The panels have been operating for a couple of weeks now and my leisure battery has never been so well charged. With 2 X 100 watt panels I estimate that they should easily keep up with the demand for electricity during spring, summer and autumn and may even give me enough during the winter months for a week off grid, possibly more as I won’t be needing the fridge as much in the colder weather.

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12 thoughts on “Solar Power

    1. haha, you’re not gonna let me off the hook are you?
      OK, I admit it, I smashed the top off of my campervan by driving out of a car park with the top up. I have now fitted a warning buzzer which sounds if I turn on the ignition with the top still up so that’s one stupid thing I won’t need to do again. It’s OK though I still have the ability to do stupid things, but obviously nothing as stupid as drunkenly sleeping all night curled up in the bottom of a filthy portaloo.

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  1. Hello Bob,
    I have somehow found my way to your blog while doing some research on fitting solar panels. By double coincidence, I too have an late Aussie Bay – brought back from a spell working there 15 or so years ago, and I am looking at exactly the same 100W panels that you bought. I am currently dithering about whether to fit them lengthwise, as you have done, or transversally, as recommended by the makers- who say they only bend one way. I want to go lengthwise as it’s easier to hide the cables in my view. Like you, I intend to run them down the struts and then in under the canvas. Anyway, I’d welcome a chat if you would like to share your experience in more detail.
    Best wishes, Jon

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  2. Hi Jon, Did you ship your van back from Australia or was it the driving adventure of a lifetime across many countries? I don’t recall reading about the panels only bending one way but I felt that transverse mounting required far more bending and at a much more acute angle than going lengthwise.
    There is a great deal of expertise and help about solar panel installation on an internet forum called ‘The Late Bay’. There is, confusingly, also a “The Late Bay” page on Facebook which isn’t actually anything to do with the forum.

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    1. Hello – Photo Universe have told me that the panels only flex one way, so I have been looking at the feasibility of running 1 or 2 100W panels across the roof. I may buy them anyway, then decide whether to go across or longwise(?). Running across means I can add one panel, and a second later if I feel it’s needed, but longwise makes the wire runs easier and neater I think. Like you I am looking at running wires outside the canvas then in through the part of the roof covered by the Pop-Top, and this works better at the rear I think. I have been looking at various cable glands and have just last night made some card templates to see what various options look like/are possible. Happy to chat further. I found your blog through Late Bay, but have not used it much. I shipped the Kombi back – I was in Australia for a few years on work assignment and we had a 20′ container as our the luggage allowance – it fitted in that. I have owned it since 2001 – it’s virtually rust free, and last year I took all the windows out and the pop-top off and did a bare metal respray (with a professional expert doing spraying and supervising my preparation……….. Jon

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  3. Nicely done. I’m adding solar to my 79 Campmobile, just to power some house lights, charge some devices and run a dometic cooler.
    The lack of strightforward information on how to do this is kind of annoying, but I keep finding little gems like this, simple and strightforward.Thanks. Kent

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