Tag Archives: Solar Installation

Casita Shopping List

I made a store on Amazon for stuff that I am considering getting. Many of the items on this list I now own – but not all of them! I always try to find reviews prior to buying, and then sometimes make video reviews based on personal use.

This list is just for items I had researched, and was thinking of buying at one time. I did my own filtering, but if you see similar items, it’s probably because I haven’t finalized my research.

I thought this might be useful for someone for ideas for essential and non-essential items to consider buying for their Casita, or similar Fiberglass RV. Leave a message below if you are wondering why a certain item is on my list, or if you have your own review of an item on this list.

http://astore.amazon.com/excavatortool-20

 

 

 

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Flexible Solar Panel Install – an additional 100 watts!

After testing the solar power in Moab, Utah, and in my driveway, I came to the conclusion that while the hot sun of Utah kept the battery topped off I noticed that in my shadowed driveway that the battery would slowly drain. If I hope to boondock for longer periods than a couple days I think a second 100 watt flexible solar panel attached to the roof would serve me well in keeping the battery topped off.

solar-in-desert

The rigid solar panel will have a flexible solar panel buddy on the roof of my 13′ Casita!

 

Flexible Solar Panel

I had previously used the Renogy 100 Watt Solar Kit with Adventurer Charge Controller. The panel that came with the kit is the regular rigid kind that is within a metal frame. I decided that a flexible solar panel would suit the roof of my Casita better than the regular rigid version as the flexible solar panels are lighter. I decided on the HQST 100 Watt Flexible Solar Panel:

It’s a quarter of the weight at 4 lbs vs 16.5 lbs.

3M VHB Tape

I’ve also decided to not use screws to attach the panel, but to use 3M VHB tape:

VHB stands for “Very High Bond,” and they have several videos of manufacturers using the tape in place of rivets and other mechanical attachments, saving both time and money:

3M video on VHB tape. Will use this to attach the 100 watt flexible solar panel.

3M video on VHB tape. Will use this to attach the 100 watt flexible solar panel.

That two of the testimonials are from RV manufacturers (Yetti and Showhauler ) which bodes well for a rooftop install!

My concerns with a mechanical attachment, such as screws, are additional holes in the roof. I’d like to avoid that, if possible.

I consulted a 3M representative who recommended 3M VHB version # 4945 (or #5952) after I described the surface materials (gel-coated fiberglass, and the flexible solar panel plastic). He did mention that the tape would only be as strong as the gel coat and paint, rather than the fiberglass, and recommended considering abrading the surface down to the fiberglass, cleaning the surface with a combination of isopropyl alcohol and water, and then using an adhesive primer on the back of the panel prior to applying the tape:

So, attaching with the 3M VHB tape and using a lap caulk around the edge seems reasonable:

EDIT:
I decided instead to use Eternabond instead of VHB and Lap Caulk. Tape is just less messy than using lap caulk, and Eternabond seems to be sufficiently strong and waterproof for my application: Eternabond

What about the wires?

The only hole drilled will be for the wires to go into the trailer, protected by a cable entry gland:

Flexible solar panel wiring will enter through the roof with this cover.

Gland for the flexible solar panel wiring.

I’ll use the tape as well as the caulk for that as well.  The panel wires will go through the “glands” sideways. It acts as a waterproof cover, and will be nicer than a caulk covered hole in the roof!

No looking back(?)

Here’s the thing: I can always add a mechanical attachment. The holes will still be available to add a screw, so the adhesive will just be an additional attachment method.

I’ve seen other people saying they used this method, with no remarks that it failed. I have heard of industrial hook and loop (velcro) attachments failing, with solar panels flying off onto the freeway!

The tape can (with effort) also be removed.  You’ll need a 3M SMART Removal tool, as well as a 3M Stripe off wheel…but hopefully I won’t need to do that!

Only time will tell if this method will work well. But, I figure that If this does work, then I won’t have additional holes for rain to seep through, and can offer this as an alternative to drilling more holes in your RV.

Rain seems to be the universal destructor of RVs, and I’d like to do what I can to eliminate water entry points.

Check out the YouTube video: https://youtu.be/ZKQqHoT0fDw

Products used:
HQST Flexible Solar Panel
Eternabond tape
Link Solar Cable Entry Gland
RENOGY 5 Pair MC4 Male/ Female Solar Panel Cable Connectors Double Seal Rings for Better Waterproof Effect
1″ hole saw

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Solar – from start to finish!

In this article, I am going to show you how I was able to install the Renogy 100 Watt Solar kit – from start to finish!

But first, here’s the video with all the steps I outline in this article:

I want to emphasize that, much like William Hung, I have had no professional training:

I am not an electrician, nor do I represent myself as anyone other than an amateur that has managed to connect everything together in a way that works for me. Follow my directions at your own risk, and ask the advice of a professional if you have any concerns.

Okay, enough of the disclaimer, let’s get on with the Renogy Solar Panel Kit Install!

Step One: Lay out the Renogy Solar Kit with Adventurer Charge Controller.

Renogy, give me more energy!

Renogy, give me more energy!

The kit contains Solar Panel, Charge Controller, Battery, and a Power Inverter.  As I outlined before, the components work like this:

  1. The Solar Panels collect the solar energy and uses it to generate an electric charge.
  2. The Charge Controller, both controls the charge coming from the solar panels, as well as tests the battery energy levels and coordinates so that the appropriate amount of energy from the panels go to the batteries. If the batteries are topped off it will shut down the energy stream from the panels to the battery. Alternatively, if the batteries are low, then the floodgates will open to send more energy from the panels to the batteries. Think of the Charge Controller as the gatekeeper of energy from the panels to the battery.
  3. The Batteries store the solar energy for use.
  4. The Power Inverter “inverts” the power coming from the battery from 12 volt DC to ordinary household power: Alternating Current or AC.

Remember: Don’t freak out!

Sean Connery: Shafety firsht

Sean Connery: Shafety firsht

Seeing the box full of wires and unfamiliar electrical boxes that did dangerous electrical things gave me pause. But a few calming breaths later (and the watching of a few thousand YouTube installation videos later) and I was able to pull myself together and start. Frankly, there’s a bunch of crap videos that only show the finished product, not the crucial parts one would like to see when installing one of these on one’s own. But there are enough clues within them, as well as online articles to piece together everything.

Frankly, I didn’t look at the manual until AFTER I completed the kit. This speaks volumes more on how Renogy put together the kit than any mechanical ability on my part. I simply spread out all the components out and figured out what end of the wire goes where, and realizing that they only could go in one way.

Step 2: Lay out the components

Panel in the...aisle

Panel in the…aisle

The Solar panel has two wires attached in back that are labelled with a “+” sign for positive, and a “-” sign for Negative. They have male and female ends, which shouldn’t be confused with polarity, they just mate with their opposites. As long as you know which wire is Positive, and which wire is Negative the different male and female ends make it fairly idiot proof. And, like I said, only the set of wires with the corresponding ends could possibly work with the panel.

Female end, not necessarily the "Negative" end. A distinction with a difference!

Female end, not necessarily the “Negative” end. A distinction with a difference!

The Panels connect to the Renogy Charge Controller:

Charge Controller - Renogy Adventurer

Charge Controller – Renogy Adventurer

The Charge Controller controls the charge that goes from the panels to the battery. In the back of the Charge Controller there are squeeze terminals to put in the bare wire ends. The slim guide that comes with the kit is actually useful in this case as it identifies which openings are for the batteries.

In this case I have a single Interstate SRM-27 Deep Cycle battery:

Interstate 27 size battery

Interstate 27 size battery

Interstate Batteries are not sold through Amazon, but Amazon does have an equivalent battery.

The last step in the energy journey goes from the battery (12V DC) to the Pure Sine Wave Inverter. Pure Sine Wave is important if you want to run delicate electronics such as Laptops and Cell phones. You don’t want a dirty, or even modified sine waves screwing up your electronics!

Invert me!

Invert me!

Step 3: Decide where to place the Charge Controller and Inverter

Frankly, this took me some thinking. You want the Charge Controller to be as close to the battery as possible, so that there is minimal energy loss. You also want the Charge Controller to be in a place where it is fairly easy to view the LCD screen, so you can monitor the energy as easily as possible. I placed both the Controller and Inverter in the front of my Casita RV, near the Battery which was located on the trailer tongue outside of my Casita.

Cables exiting the battery box

Cables exiting the battery box

Controller and Inverter, together in perfect harmonyer!

Controller and Inverter, together in perfect harmonyer!

You can decide to mount the Controller and Inverter at this point, or do as I did, which is left them loose until I connected everything and verified that it worked first. If you determined that your wires are long enough, then I don’t think it matters which you do first: mount the boxes now, or after testing.

Step 4: Connect the Batteries to the Inverter

You might be thinking, “Don’t I want to connect the Solar Panels to the Battery first?” You could, but I decided to do the simplest thing first. An inverter will work regardless of whether you have a solar panel or not. It simply inverts the DC power to AC so you can use a standard plug with AC devices like your computer. You simply connect battery cables to the inverter and test. If your electrical device doesn’t work, you may have your polarities crossed.

Once the battery is connected, flip the switch and a red light should come on:

Scotty, we need more power!

Scotty, we need more power!

You can test the outlets by plugging in a small electrical device, in my case I use a small bathroom bulb:

Cap'n, I'm giving you all she's got!

Cap’n, I’m giving you all she’s got!

Step 5: Connect the Solar Panels to the Charge Controller

I covered the panels so that the outgoing charge would be low:

Panel cover

Panel cover

I then connected the panel extension wires, female to male, and male to female, making sure I knew which one was positive.

Solar Panel wire connectors to Charge Controller

Solar Panel wire connectors to Charge Controller

I fed the wires through the hole I drilled and capped with the conduit squeeze connector:

Drill, baby, drill!

Drill, baby, drill!

Fiberglass hole, yo

Fiberglass hole, yo

 

Electrical squeeze conduit

Electrical squeeze conduit

Wires going from Solar Panels to the charge controller, and charge controller to the battery.

Wires going from Solar Panels (black pair) to the charge controller, and charge controller to the battery (red and black pair).

Step 6: Test the connection!

I added a kill switch both for the Solar Panels going to the Charge Controller, as well as the Charge Controller to the Battery:

Kill kill switch

Kill kill switch

Once I was ready I uncovered the Solar Panels, and threw the kill switch to “On.” Then I checked the Charge Controller to see if the panels were registering a charge:

Power up!

Power up!

“PV” stands for “Photovoltaic” and “V” indicates the volts, in this case 14 volts.

Yow, I’ve got power! Enough to run my laptop and charge my cell phone while boondocking.

Macbook powering up!

Macbook powering up!

Solar...in the Sahara...with you!

Step 7: Enjoy!

solar-in-desert

Solar…in the Sahara…with you!

I took my setup to Shelf Road near Canon City, Colorado, as well as Moab, Utah during my solar shakedown trip during Steph Davis’ Crack Climbing Clinic she was running in October.

It worked very well, I was able to power my laptop and cell phone with no problem, especially in the bright desert sun of Moab. I found I could park in the shade and pull my panel to where the sun was unimpeded by shade trees, maximizing my solar input and output.

I did see that when the sun was not so strong, say in my driveway, the single panel in my test wasn’t sufficient in keeping the battery topped off. I’ve read warnings that in order to keep your deep cycle batteries healthy it is best to not let them dip past 50%. In my shady driveway I was not able to do so.

My next plan is to add an additional 100 watts to the roof in a semi-permanent installation. I think that this should take care of most issues in getting enough power to charge the battery. That, and possibly getting a second battery, but for now I will just see how effective a second panel will be.

Solar - from start to finish!

Solar – from start to finish!

Stay tuned!

 

Gear:

 

 

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