All with the power of the sun!!!
So first let me give you some links which were very helpful for me when installing my solar power system:
This is a general overview of installing solar power, I did end up using Renogy panels myself, although I bought them off Amazon for the free shipping.
This breaks down the difference between mono and poly solar panels.
This was the first example I had seen of mounting the solar panels without screws/holes in the roof except for where the cables come in, note that they installed on a metal roof, I installed on a fiberglass roof using essentially the same method.
This entire blog is full of useful information and is worth reading through if you are interested in converting a van yourself, but here is the link for the solar power. I cannot stress enough just how helpful this guide was for me. My set-up is very close to this one, I simply adapted it for my space and my power needs. I did not attach my solar panels to the roof the same way they did, I went with the method above.
Solar power was the most expensive single item that I put into the van, and it is worth every penny for me personally. Here is a list of the big/important things for this installation and what they cost me when I bought them (prices fluctuate):
Charge Controller and Solar Panel Kit $566.99
Additional Solar Panel x1 Renogy 100w Mono-crystalline $134.04
Flexible Solar Panel x1 Allpower 100w Mono-crystalline $184.37
Batteries x2 Vmax 155ah $699.99
Mounting Tape x2 3M VHB 4950 $38.50
I spent another $300 or so on wire, terminals, fuses, switches and the like. All together the solar power system came up to just under $2000.00. It should be noted that I also have an inverter which my middle brother Sterling gifted me when he was helping me install the system, that is not included in the amount above.
What I ended up with when I was finished was 300w of solar permanently attached to the roof and one additional 100w flexible panel with an extension cord so that I can park the van in the shade (if any is available) and run that one flexible panel out into the sun so I am still getting some charge, for a total of 400w of solar. 310ah worth of batteries (keep in mind that because these are AGM batteries they should never be discharged below 50% or it will shorten the battery life, so it’s 155 usable ah of batteries). This handily powers a 12v fridge, LED lights, and a Maxxfan. It recharges my laptop, phone and Kindle as well. I have an inverter so I can use 110 powered items like a tv, PS4 or anything else I want to plug in this way. Because of the power loss when converting from 12v to 110 (AC) I only use those things during the day when it’s sunny so as not to unduly drain my batteries.
I don’t have to many pictures of the install process because we were constantly racing the rain (of course). We started out ok…
My brother is over 6 feet tall, and he has many ladders, we used several of them for the installation since the roof is 9 feet 5 inches tall without anything on top of it! We measured and dry fit the panels on the roof, leaving room for the fan to be installed later. Then we put the brackets on the solar panels and the 3M tape onto the brackets. Then we hoisted the panels up on the roof and put them down where we had marked for the brackets. We pressed them down as well as using a roller to get enough pressure since they couldn’t be clamped. Then we sealed around the brackets with Dicor.
Then it started to look serious about raining…of course!
Once the panels were up we zip-tied the cords together and marked where the hole for the wiring needed to go and drilled the hole through both layers of the roof and then mounted the gland to keep the roof water-tight.
I used Eterna-bond tape to hold the wires down so they won’t flap/move while driving. By this point the rain moved in so we covered the roof with a tarp so the Dicor could cure and started work on the inside. I didn’t make a true battery “box” but just a frame to keep the batteries from moving if I were to be in an accident. The wooden frame is bolted all the way thru the floor of the van since batteries are extremely heavy!
The solar charge controller, main shut-off switch, fuse block and fuses are all mounted to a board which leans against the gas tank inlet so as not to waste that space, the cabinet keeps it from sliding and keeps it all neat and clean. The completed cabinet looks nicer than this, but cabinets will be a different post!
Here is the inverter on its custom made shelf. Both the batteries and the inverter are under the bed in the finished van.
And here is a closeup of the wiring:
The solar installation took us 2 days in total and the solar panels have remained firmly attached to the roof for more than 5000 miles so far. So far this has been enough power for me except when there’s been more than 4 days of rain/clouds in a row. So for me it has been absolutely worth it!
Special thanks to my brother for lending his height, muscle and second opinion on this!