Having solar panels is a dream come true. We’ve always tried to live a “green” lifestyle but harnessing energy from the sun has taken our commitment to a whole new level! I’m so proud of Mat for researching, ordering, and almost single-handedly installing the whole system himself. What a smarty pants :)
After a week of acting like new parents (checking that the panels hadn’t flown off, checking the meter to see how much energy we were pulling in, worrying that the lead-acid battery might blow up), I think it’s safe to say that the system is working so I thought I’d share our solar system specs and installation notes in case you’re thinking of hooking up some solar panels for your van/car/apartment/house/boat too :)
Solar System Specs
Here’s a list of every single thing we bought to make this work*. It’s probably overkill to list it all but Mat had to do a lot of research to make sure he had every wire, fuse, and connector so the info might be helpful for someone.
- 3 x Renogy 100 Watt, 12 Volt, Monocrystalline Solar Panels, $689.97 total
- 1 x Renogy 40 Amp MPPT Charge Controller, $209.99
- 1 x Renogy 500W Off-Grid Pure-Sine Wave Battery Inverter, $149.99
- 1 x Renogy MT-5 Tracer Meter for MPPT Charge Controller, $39.99
- 1 x Renogy Solar Panel MC4 Assembly Tool, $5.99
- 2 x Renogy Solar MC4 Branch Connectors MMF+FFM Pair, $25.98 total
- 1 x Renogy 8Ft 12AWG Wire Copper Solar Power Tray Cables, $15.99
- 1 x Renogy 5Ft 4AWG Solar Inverter Battery Connection Cable, $35.99
- 2 x Renogy 10Ft 12AWG Extension Solar Cable w/ MC4 Female & Male Connectors, $29.98
- 1 x VMAX 155 AGM 12V 155ah Deep Cycle Battery for Solar, $309.97
- 3 x Xscorpion mini ANL inline fuse holders, $29.97
- 2 x mini ANL 40 amp fuses, $4.99
- 1 x mini ANL 20 amp fuse, $4.99
- TOTAL COST: $1,553.79 USD
*I didn’t include the cost of velcro, zip ties, screws and caulking because you might already have some of that at home, or you might mount the panels differently :)
This might make you laugh (or cringe) but we mounted the panels on the roof of the van with industrial velcro and zip ties. Each panel is only 1/8 inch thick and weighs only 4 pounds so they don’t need much to stay in place. It’s a pretty new technique that Renogy recommended and we were willing to try anything to avoid drilling 18 holes in the roof. Unfortunately the velcro is not as weather proof as we thought so we’ll probably have to put those 18 holes in the roof sooner rather than later :(
The charge controller, inverter and meter were easy to mount – we just screwed them directly into the wall of the van. The battery was actually the hardest thing to install. Even though it’s sealed and leak proof, it will still produce small amounts of hydrogen gas when it’s charging and could technically explode if that gas wasn’t allowed to escape. Since we’re living in such a tiny space we decided to play it safe and stored it inside a sealed polypropylene bin (#5 PP plastic) with vent holes drilled in the top (the battery acid won’t melt polypropylene plastic if it fails/explodes).
We bolted the DIY battery box to the floor of the van and then strapped the battery down with 2 tie-down straps to keep it from moving around (we also don’t want a 100 lb battery flying around the van in an accident!).
Once everything was safely in place it didn’t take too long for Mat to connect all the wires and voilà, we had solar power in the van! Let us know if you have any questions about the system and I’ll get Mat to answer them for me.
PS we’ll post a video on YouTube in the next couple of weeks to show you what all this looks like. You can subscribe to our channel if you don’t want to miss it :)