I have been contemplating adding solar to my camper now I have a compressor fridge to keep the battery topped up. Rebuilding the roof and adding the roof rails has paved the way though, so once I finished the roof early I was tempted to start looking.
I've taken the first steps now, but I'll update this thread as I go.
As many of you have probably gathered I'm pretty tight when it comes to spending money, but I saw someone doing a really good deal on a couple of 80w solar panels + cabling + charge controller thingy on eBay. < 400 USD including delivery.
I ordered them before Christmas. I knew I wanted them delivered to the house (I had stretched my luck a bit too far having a car bumper and two mountain bikes delivered to the corporate office - wow, you wouldn't believe how big a bumper looks when it is sitting in the office reception next to the plasma display and leather sofas ). So I thought I would be clever, and knowing I was going to be at home the day I returned from Bangkok in January I contacted the seller and made sure they could deliver on a specific day. I was so busy feeling smug about this I forgot to change the default delivery address. Sally said "did you really want the solar panels delivered to the office? . It took some negotiation "It's eBay rules, we can't change the delivery address" and finally "OK, you've got a good feedback score - we'll change the delivery address" - phew.
So jet-lagged I waited at home in January and the panels arrived as promised. I thought I better check them first, so I laid one face-down on the carpet in the lounge (mid winter) and went to find my voltmeter. I plugged it in and would you believe it it read 1v - it was actually generating electricity through the meagre indoor light penetrating through the back of the solar panel. I was even more relieved when I turned the panels up the right way around and got this:
These are only cheap panels - this is what is says on the back:
Unlike Sleepy's panels they came in pretty cheap boxes:
But I followed sleepy's advice - remember that whenever light is hitting the panel it is generating electricity, so keep the panel covered until it is all wired in. So following Sleepy's example I cut up the delivery box and taped it to the panels to keep them blinkered until I was ready to fit them:
While buying some fittings for the panels from the local hardware store I noticed a AC heater - designed for keeping rooms frost-free. During the colder months, when camping with mains hook-up we have used an AC fan heater, but they are noisy. So this little convection heater seemed a better bet:
This is mounted below the dinette table (currently removed while I work on the camper) - I just fitted a couple of brass hooks to hold it in place:
It isn't very powerful, but that means we won't end up throwing the circuit breaker on our hook-up (like we did last year in France when Sally ran the kettle and hair-drier at the same time), and turning it on today (-6 Celsius) it did slowly warm up the camper interior.
Before I fitted solar panels it occurred to me that once in place they would make access around the roof more difficult, so there was one job I wanted to do first - to polish the moon roof. This had gone pretty opaque and we were no longer able to see the stars through it (a lovely feature on summer nights). Having read what a number of people had done on this forum I went through the garage and found some suitable stuff:
The instant coffee jar is full of glass polish I bought to try to polish out a scratch in my Honda's windshield (after some kid's muddy football hit it) - unfortunately my garage is a mess and in trying to get to something else I had knocked the expensive glass polish off the shelf - but I did manage to salvage some of it. So I went over the moon roof with that first, then washed it off with some warm water and a tiny drop of dish washing detergent. For someone who rarely cleans, let along polishes cars I seem to have a veritable museum of various car polishes in my garage, though most seem to be colour specific. I did find one labelled "showroom shine" that looked suitable. It had sat there for so many years it had separated out, so needed to be heated in the microwave and shaken for ages before it reached a consistency I could apply.
The results were worth it though - Sally inspecting my work:
I can't quite compete with the Avion owners though!
Here is the no-longer opaque view from the inside (there is a lot of condensation on the inside so it isn't as clear as it should be):
Now back to the important bit - the solar.
I thought about the order of doing the job. I ordered an aluminum box to work as a junction box on the roof, but the exact point I fit that will depend upon the exact fitting of the panels. Hence I decided to fit the panels first - it also gets them out of my lounge where they are making the place look scruffy. But before fitting them I wanted to seal them from light with something waterproof rather than the cardboard covers they had in the lounge. So I found some of that aluminum backed bubble wrap I had bought for camper insulation and Sally cut that to size, sticking it on with aluminum tape:
It was pretty cold this morning, but I wanted to get a move-on because we will be using the camper next month, and any day it is not raining is a good day for camper maintenance here:
First thing to do was mount hinges on the panels - these are mainly so that I can hinge the panels upwards to access underneath / walk around the roof:
The above are just stainless steel door hinges from the hardware shop.
Pretty cold on the feet standing on that aluminum roof (I think Silver has previously pointed out how much my aluminum roof will transmit heat) - so some spare insulation to stand / sit on made a real difference:
Sally recently threw away our cheap pine wine rack. I rescued it - I can't let a useful bit of wood get away from me like that. Turned out it was just right for holding the panels up at an angle so I can work underneath. Here I have just clamped the panels to the roof rails with G-cramps prior to drilling the screw holes. That way I could check the hinges were aligned by raising / lowering the panel BEFORE drilling the holes. I am more of an "get it in the right place and drill / bolt / weld it" kind of guy than a "take precise measurements, mark out and drill / bolt / weld" person.
Here are the hinges screwed in place - note that I have used the Forespar Lanocote copiously to prevent electrolytic corrosion between the stainless steel screws / hinges and the aluminum panel frame / roof rails:
Here are the bolt heads on the outside - I'll leave cleaning the excess Lanocote off to a warmer day .
Having the panels hinged on one side means on the other I need a catch to hold them down, but something I can easily undo. So I opted for a simple brass door bolt, as used in a bathroom. However the panels aren't quite wide enough to completely span the gap between the roof rails, so I had to rivet on an extra piece of aluminum to give the bolt something solid to slide into. This piece of aluminum is actually from the freezer box of my old Dometic RM 2410 fridge (the one I replaced last year).
Here is the first brass bolt fitted - again I have used Lanocote to separate the stainless steel from both the brass and the aluminum. Also I needed to raise the bolt up a couple of mm from the roof rail - I found a piece of 25mm wide fibre-glass strip in the garage - don't recall what I bought that for, but was perfect to go between the 25mm wide bolt and 25mm wide roof rail .
I then fitted another bolt at the back of the panel - all the screws I have used are stainless steel cap head screws with nylock nuts so they won't shake loose:
Here is the 2nd panel in place - making full use of the wine rack:
It was much easier fitting the first panel because I could sit / stand where the 2nd panel was to go. It was much more awkward fitting the 2nd panel, trying to squat in the gap between the moon roof and the hatches and not fall through one of them.
By now it was nearing 5pm and the sun was setting - so I rushed to get one of the bolts for the front panel in place since I didn't want to leave that secured only by hinges down one side, or a strong wind during the week could lift the pane. So I fitted the front bolt - I'll have to fit its back bolt later. Notice that because of the way the roof slopes I had to cut more of that ex-fridge aluminum to bridge the gap on this front panel.
Here are both panels in place - oh look what is that white dusting? yes, it started to snow as I was finishing off the front panel - so glad I got the majority of the job done during the good (if not warm) weather today:
I'll add an update when I get to do the next stage of the job.
'07 Ford Ranger XLT Supercab diesel + '91 Shadow Cruiser - Sky Cruiser 1
'92 Suzuki Samurai 4x4 1.6
'09 Fiat Panda 1.2
'10 Citroen DS3 1.6 turbo
Pretty cool. I Like the hinge idea. A byproduct of the hinges will be the ability to tilt the panels to be flatter in relation to the sun increasing efficiency of the panels. You merely have to park the truck so the panels can tilt favoring the South. The shading should help keep the inside of the camper cooler too.
Glad I made the effort to get out into the cold and start work on this yesterday - not much chance of doing it this morning:
Jeff & kelli: Yes, I am already thinking about fabricating a strip of aluminum drilled at various points with a thumbscrew to allow me screw it into the panel to hold it at various angles, including its fully open position for maintenance, and that will allow me to angle it towards the sun if staying in one place for any time. However, I do have a habit of forgetting stuff like that, so will probably need to get some of those "Remove before flight" flags to remind me so I don't drive off with the panels upright . Hand't thought about the shade they provide though - good thinking.
BobnDot: damn - you've worked out my dirty little secret
Pianotuna: It is some cheapy no-brand controller. Just has some LEDs on it, nothing fancy. What I will probably do is go with this one initially and then when I eventually change the camper battery look into a decent quality one, but this one will provide a "proof of concept" for now.
Sleepy: Thanks - your install was the inspiration for me doing this.