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.
To paraphrase Goldilocks, these ones were, “Just a little bit too wide”
She would have dismissed this arrangement as, “Far too long”
but these two panels are “Just Right”. Annoyingly they are also £70 more expensive than the others.
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.
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.
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.
It worked out ok though (thank goodness) and all the wires threaded their way through the engine bay, van, roof and poptop perfectly.
and both fuses, one between controller and leisure battery
and the other between the solar panels and the controller
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.
and then fitted four chrome plumbing fittings with waterproof seals to thread the cables down under the poptop.
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.