We Have Solar Power in the Van!

We Have Solar Power in the Van

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 panels on the van roof - Exploring Alternatives

A view of the solar panels from above

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 :)

Installing solar panels on the van roof - Exploring Alternatives

Mat installing solar panels on the roof

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 :(

Charge controller installed in the van - Exploring Alternatives

The charge controller mounted on the wall of the van

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).

Deep cycle battery strapped into the van - Exploring Alternatives

The deep cycle battery strapped into the van and the inverter on the left

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.

Happy Exploring!


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 :)

124 thoughts on “We Have Solar Power in the Van!

  1. Lamar

    Good job on the solar..I asked about the bed set up in your last post..When Mat uploads the solar vid can he address the bed question as well? Thanks L.G.

    1. Danielle Post author

      Hey L.G. – thanks for checking out the blog post and I’m so sorry for the delay in responding to your other comments! We’ve been so busy getting the van on the road and making it back to Canada that we’ve fallen behind on responding.

      The bed is actually the bench that came with the van and it just folds down into an oddly shaped bed that is approx. the width of a queen sized bed, but lacks the length of any normal bed so our feet hang off the end! Mat puts the cooler at the foot to provide a little extension. I hope that helps!

      1. falkor

        Hello Danielle, what are the dimensions of the bench that came with the van and what is the cargo length from the back of the seats to the back of the van?

        thank you for the great blog!

        1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

          We no longer have the bench so I’m not able to share the dimensions with you. As for the van, I believe the length from the back of the seats to the back of the van is about 10 feet but we’re travelling at the moment and aren’t in the van. I hope that helps :)

      1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

        Hi Jerry – thanks for checking out the post about solar panels on our van! We installed our panels ourselves so I’m not sure who we would have contacted to install them for us. I would start with the company you’re buying your panels from to get suggestions, I’d also look up solar power companies in my area, and possibly even contact an electrician to see if they’d be able to do it. I hope that helps! Danielle

  2. Lamar

    Danielle,Thanks for the reply..My van has an electric seat that lets down,,but the mechanism is close to the floor and does not allow for underneath storage.. So I will need to build some sort of frame for a mattress, in order to have some storage ..Keep safe and have fun…L.G.

    1. Danielle Post author

      Ohhh I see why you have to build a new frame! We looked into camping cots because they were so light and would give you a bit of space underneath. We also looked at building a wooden frame with the smallest lumber possible to keep it light. That would be our main concern is the weight of the structure (and functionality).

      Good luck and let us know how the project turns out!

  3. Greg

    Sweet! That looks like a great set up and I really appreciate the detailed notes :) One question…is your battery stored on its side? I was just curious if it was ok to leave like that all the time. Thanks for the post and looking forward to the youtube video!

    1. Danielle Post author

      Hey Greg – thanks for checking out all the details! I’m glad they were interesting to someone! I seem to remember that you’re a wire nerd too, aren’t you?

      Good question about the battery – we were worried about it and called multiple companies to make sure it was ok. Apparently an AGM battery is the only type of battery that can be stored on it’s side. We’re really glad too because this one is particularly tall and we couldn’t find a bin that would store it standing up!

  4. Boaz

    I’ve watched a few of your videos and for simplicity I’ll comment on several topics here. 1) Rare earth magnets for the solar panels might be better than drilling holes. 2) A P-38 can opener is far, far smaller than the one you have. They work very well, but their size makes them easy to lose. 3) If you’re sitting on your “sofa” and you’re cold a hot water bottle on your feet will warm your whole body. Remove your slippers, put a layer of insulation under your feet, and put the hot water bottle on top. Presumably you have bottle covers: they make a bottle more comfortable and safer. 4) Pouring hot water from a pot can be dangerous for some people. If you have space a stainless steel whistling kettle is great on a gas stove (it’s like a flat circle with a spout and handle on top) 5) Your loose fire extinguisher would be hazardous in a crash. Some people screw the bracket to the floor in front of the passenger seat, up against the seat. 6) The PackTowl is superb for travelling, just be sure to get the “original” for best performance. 7) onebag.com 8) It wouldn’t suit me, but I do like your van setup.

    1. Danielle Post author

      Thanks for the suggestions, Boaz! I especially like your idea to use magnets for the panels. If we decide to tear them off, we’ll look into this option, too :)

    1. Danielle Post author

      Awesome! Let us know if/when you get some solar panels for your new house :) We love seeing people’s setups!

  5. David Swanson

    The adhesive on the velcro can fail when it gets wet and does not stick well to some surfaces. You may have good luck putting duct tape down first then stick the velcro to that. I had to do that to screens I made for the inside of my windows. The velcro adhesive did not like the hard plastic of the door but the duct tape sticks well and the velcro to that. I used 2″ wide for both.

    1. Danielle Post author

      That’s a really good suggestion, David. If we decide to rip them off and try again, that might just do the trick! :)

  6. James

    What’s the box under the charge controller for, the one with the “bye bye” sticker on it? Does it do anything, or is it just to route cords?

    1. Danielle Post author

      Hi James, thanks for asking! That was just a small wooden map holder type of thing that was already in the van. We drilled holes into the bottom of it to keep the wires organized (and maybe make the aesthetic of the whole system a tiny bit nicer).

  7. randy

    they make an external battery box for like trucks, that can be mounted in the bed for a 2nd battery, might be able to mount that under van to frame? weld to frame?

    1. Danielle Post author

      Hi Randy, we looked online and in stores for a battery box that would fit this battery, but it’s a couple inches taller than a standard battery so we had to improvise :) Would have loved to weld it to the frame underneath – maybe one day. It would give us a lot more space inside the van, that’s for sure!

      1. Jackie

        However, the batteries don’t do so well in cold weather… if you put it outside the main body of your van, you might have to do some sort of electric heating wrap on a thermostat to keep things from freezing, which could be very energy-intensive.

  8. Seth

    I’m just now looking at this, and the setup seems really safe and just fantastic. This’ll come in handy some day so I’ll know what I’m getting into when investing money in this, but I know it’s worth it.

    1. Danielle Post author

      Thanks for checking it out, Seth! We haven’t had any problems with it so far and we’re getting more power than we thought we would! We were initially worried about the battery but it’s been fine and we’ve gotten used to having it in the “living room.” Let us know if/when you get your solar set up :)

  9. Brian

    Your video you didn’t get a chance to talk about your fuses. What fuses did you use and why? Why did you decide on this setup over the Goal Zero Yeti?

    1. Danielle Post author

      Hi Brian – thanks for checking out the video and the blog post about our solar setup! Goal Zero was the first company we checked out because we’d seen their amazing videos on YouTube and thought it would be an easy system to set up. Unfortunately we quickly realized that their systems are very expensive and the reviews on Amazon didn’t seem to indicate that the price was worth it. Renogy presented a much more affordable option for us and so far we’re very happy with our choice.

      Renogy recommended using fuses when installing the solar system, and we used these:

      – Mini ANL 40 amp fuses: http://www.amazon.com/Install-Bay-MANL40-Mini-Fuses/dp/B004WK4TQ0
      – Mini ANL 20 amp fuse: http://www.amazon.com/Install-Bay-MANL20-Mini-Fuses/dp/B004WK4UC8/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1434681364&sr=1-1&keywords=mini+ANL+20+amp+fuse

      I hope that helps!

  10. jC

    I am hoping you add an external vent to the battery box. Hydrogen gas is lighter than air but flammable and corrosive. A small 12 Volt muffin fan is all you need to blow air into the box, the vent to the outside should be located high on the box.
    Be Well!

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi JC – thanks for the suggestion! We have 2 small vents in the top of the battery box to prevent the hydrogen gas from building up and we keep all sources of flame away from it! Take care :)

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hey Risc – thanks for checking out Kirsten’s video :) She’s the best!

      We’re driving a 2002 Ford E-150 and we bought it for $5,000. It was already a conversion van when we bought it so the lights were already installed. We almost never use them to be honest because they’re not LED and we’re worried that they would drain the battery too fast. We might switch over to LED’s at the end of the summer. Take care!

  11. Joey

    You have inspired me to get off off my current style of living and live a new and different life style. Thank you !!

    I really enjoyed watching and listening to your video. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kFqdWesW0o) It was so refreshing to listen to your experiences that it opened my eyes to making some life changes. I am grateful that you have shared your stories and experiences.. Thank you !

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Thank you, Joey! I appreciate your positive feedback and hope you find happiness in your new lifestyle adventures. Take care!

  12. Mike

    How is the size of the system for your needs (computers, fan, lights, etc)? Is 150 ah is more than you really use in a day? It sounds like that might be a lot – I picture charging computers etc. off the engine when you’re driving or at a cafe – but then again, if you’re parked for a day, and especially in the shade maybe not. Thoughts?

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Thanks for asking, Mike! We often use both of our computers and a usb fan for 8-10 hours per day using only solar, and our charge controller still flashes green all day (meaning the battery is 100% charged), even when we’re not in full sun. If we plug in additional electronics, it will use some of the power stored in the battery but will go back to being 100% full very quickly. We could definitely use more power if we wanted to, but we don’t need to at this point. We may have been able to get away with having only 200 watts instead of 300, but we didn’t want to have to worry about not having enough power on cloudy days. I hope that helps!

      1. Mike

        That’s great info Danielle, thanks.

        I have a suggestion for you, if you’re interested… LED Christmas lights. A string of 25 runs around .02 amps, costs like $12, and you can easily string it out or make a lamp out of it. I saw you said you didn’t use the van lights much because of the power draw, but if you’re wishing you had more ambient lighting, it might be a cheap, effective and immediate solution. Happy travels.

        1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

          Mike, I love your LED christmas light idea – I’ll talk to Mat about it and see if we can set it up! You might see them in an upcoming video :)

  13. Dennis

    Love the van. Just wondering, do you have any concerns sleeping near an inverter?
    Inverters produce electro magnetic resonance which may be dangerous if you stay near them to long.

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Dennis,

      That’s a good question and honestly – I wasn’t aware that sleeping next to an inverter could be dangerous. We had concerns about the battery safety and did our best to mitigate them by bolting it to the frame, storing it in a polypropylene box and ensuring that it was well ventilated. We also chose to install the system at our feet so that we didn’t have our heads too close to everything. I’ll have to look into it because we do take our health and safety very seriously. If you have any links that would help us get started, please share!

  14. George

    Danielle and Mike love the videos so far and also the idea of living more minimalist almost helps you live more in some ways you talk about possible future plans buying a plot of land etc….. with solar being a good avenue in travelling do you think if you ever did this you would try and set up solar panels and live off grid in a house? Just curious about your views on this :) p.s love all the info and insight you are giving

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi George,

      Thanks for checking out our videos and blog posts – we really appreciate it! We definitely think about living off-grid in a small cabin – all the time actually. We just haven’t decided where we’d want to settle down and whether we want to commit ourselves to being stationary. I love gardening though so it would be nice to have a place to grow some food one day :)

      Happy Exploring!


  15. Fin

    I really have enjoyed your blog. Ty. I have been wondering about solar for some time. How does your system perform on dark days or in a heavy canopy. How much light to keep a charge going to those batteries. I recently discovered renogy and was considering this as the little goal zero panels i have have been a big disappointment.

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Fin,

      We’re super happy with our Renogy panels – the battery seems to stay full even on grey, cloudy and rainy days. I’ve heard that Goal Zero panels don’t perform very well from a couple of different people, which is really too bad because I love the easy to use systems they’ve created!

      Happy Exploring!


  16. jMon

    I heard you say on the video that your average amount of sunlight is 5 hours per day. That seems awfully low. Is this based on a year with a lot of rainy days?

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi jMon,

      I agree that it does sound very low – Mat found that number from a website that gives the average # of peak sunlight hours, which is different than the # of daylight hours.

      On the Renogy site, you can see the average for each state and even California only has 5 – 7.5 hours of peak sunlight. Check it out here:

      I hope that helps!


    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Selina,

      Good question! Mat talked to the Renogy support team and they recommended wiring them in parallel instead of in series because: apparently when the panels are wired in series, if there is shade on one panel, the performance of all the panels is reduced.

      I hope that helps!


  17. Chet skinnrer

    Look at a m-292 VAN WHICH EXPANDS TO 17 FEET TO 17 FEET AND CLOSES AUTOMATICALLY AS YOU MAY NEED. THIS VAN ALSO HAS TWO AIR CONDITIONERS AND TWO HEATERS ON THE INSIDE. This van is used for computers but is also used for remote living so you could use as you would he van but with a lot more room. This unit was viewed on the internet a week ago but not ID as a 292 van. US Army.

    Good luck the both of you.


    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Dan,

      Good question! The charge controller controls the flow of energy from the panels to the battery and ensures that the batteries aren’t overcharged.

      If the battery is full, we can use the excess energy by plugging in electronics/appliances. When nothing is plugged in, the excess energy is wasted. We can only store as much as our battery can handle. In a different situation (in a house) we could have more batteries to store more energy or be connected to the grid.

      I hope that helps!


      1. Dan

        Thanks Danielle! Good to hear.

        My wife and I are working on putting a similar solar setup on our Vanagon (thanks for your parts list!) and I’ve been having a hard time finding out where the extra power goes and if that damages the panels or something if the charge controller won’t pass any more along to the battery. It sounds like it’s not an issue though, and since you guys talked to Renogy so much I’m sure they would have mentioned it if it was something worth thinking about.

        Right now the plan is to get the same panels and small pieces from Renogy and pair that with a cheaper 30 amp MPPT controller (Tracer 3125RN), 2 batteries (100aH x 2) and a 15000-2000W pure sine inverter (i.e. Samlex) so we can run an A/C unit.

        1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

          Hi Dan,

          That sounds like a good plan! I would give Renogy a call just to tell them what you’re planning to set up and see if they have any tips/suggestions. Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out though. A larger inverter will definitely allow you to run more powerful appliances and I can tell you that there were a few days (weeks) this summer that we wished we had an A/C unit in the van! We might install a roof vent instead since our inverter is only 500W. Good luck and feel free to share pics of your setup when it’s ready. Are you on IG or Facebook? We’d love to follow along on your adventures :)


          1. Dan

            I called Renogy a few days ago and got most of the stuff ordered. I gave the sales guy the link to this post and told him I wanted all the Renogy stuff except the inverter.

            For the inverter I’m going with a Samlex SSW-2000-12A after a lot of research. It’s quite a bit more expensive (~$400) but it’s pure sine, high quality, compact and light.

            Batteries are a tough one. My guess is that you guys could run a lot more stuff if you had a bit more battery and a bigger inverter, but it’s hard to say. These short Canadian days might be killer (we’re in Victoria, BC). Right now I’m torn between stuffing 2-4 75aH batteries in various cubby holes all over the van, or just tossing a huge one under the seat.

            We’re moving into the Vanagon on Oct 31, so we got a month to get things sorted. My wife might blog, but for now we’re on FB (Dan Durston, Tara Lee)

  18. Danielle Chabassol Post author

    Hi Dan,

    It’s so exciting that you’ve ordered all your solar gear! Thank you for sharing the post with Renogy, too :)

    Have fun preparing for van life – I’m excited to hear about your adventures when you get started :)


    1. Dan

      Things are coming along. Solar power is now being collected in our batteries (2 x VMAX XTR12-155 = 310aH). Just gotta connected the inverter. Tara is blogging now at IntoBohemia.ca

      It looks like your panels are wired in parallel. Maybe Mat had a reason for this but I think your system would do a lot better in low light conditions if they were in series, for reasons explained at 2:15 in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32QLjBj62pw

      1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

        Hi Dan – Mat says he’s had a few people tell him that having our panels in series would have been a better bet so we’re wondering if maybe Renogy gave us inaccurate information, or if we misinterpreted it. That said, our panels are performing better than we ever thought they would – even in low light conditions – so we’re more than happy with our setup.

        Thanks for sharing Tara’s blog with us – I’ll check it out :)

        1. Dan

          How much power are you getting roughly (i.e. how many amps during good afternoon sun)? I got the system running last weekend, but I’ve never been around the van when it’s sunny yet to see how much power it generates. The best I’ve seen is 3-4 amps of charging but that was early in the morning.

  19. Ali

    Hi guys, I’m about to start living on the road with my van and I got a renogy solar set-up like yours but with 2 rigid panels and a 1000w inverter instead.

    I’m going to install everything next week but I have a question about the fuses. Where exactly do the fuse holders and Connectors go? Sorry if this is a stupid question, the fuses just confuse me.

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Ali – that’s super exciting about your solar panels :) Renogy sent us a diagram showing where the fuses went for our specific setup. I just looked online and found this installation guide (link below) from them but I am not sure if any of the instructions would apply to your setup. I think your best bet would be to contact Renogy directly about it since we’re not electricians and wouldn’t want to give you bad advice!

    2. Dan

      Ali, you basically need to figure out how many amps of power are flowing in each section of your system, and then put in a fuse that is about 50% higher than that so it won’t blow in normal use.

      If you have two 100w panels wired in series then you’ll have about 6 amps max (34 volt x 6 amp = 200w). If they’re in parallel then 12 amps (17 volt x 12 amp = 200w). So use a 10 or 20 amp fuse respectively.

      After the charge controller the power will be ~14 volts so that’s 14 amps max (200w / 14 volt = 14 amp). So a 20 amp fuse would be good here.

      Your inverter is 1000w but it probably allows up to 2000w as a start up surge, so you’d want to have a strong enough fuse that it doesn’t blow then. So at 2000w you’d be pulling 166 amp (2000/12 volt = 166). So a 200 amp fuse would be good here.

      For actually installing them, then just need to go in the positive wire somehow. You can install it at either end of the positive wire or even in the middle if you cut the wire and connect the ends to the fuse holder. The fuse in the wire from the panels to the charge controller will probably work best at or near the charge controller since you want it inside the vehicle. For the rest just do whatever works nicely.

      1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

        Wow – thanks for this answer, Dan! You’ve definitely surpassed us in your understanding of off-grid solar systems :)

  20. Ed

    Hi there,

    Very interested in your project, the solar system looks great! I am doing a similar project with solar panels but making them myself.

    I am interested in knowing how many amps you are producing with the three 100w panels?

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Ed, your DIY solar panel project sounds really neat! I would love to tell you how many amps our system is pulling, but unfortunately our panels are covered in snow and ice right now, and neither of us can remember off the top of our heads how many amps we generated in the warmer months. We’re heading south soon, so I’ll let you know when we’re back in the van! Thanks and happy exploring :)

  21. Steve

    Just found your videos and blog here in the UK. I’ve spent a lot of time camping in my land rover. Surprised that you’ve not kitted your home out more. I know different things work for different people.


    Joining this site may give tips for you and other readers. I’ve just been reading about drawer systems, awnings for cooking outside and water storage.

    Keep posting. Be safe. Enjoy


    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Steve, thanks so much for checking out this blog post and for sharing the Expedition Portal site – it looks really cool and I already found an article about the survival hatchet that sounds really practical and light.

      We’ve definitely kept our van setup simple since we don’t have a ton of funds + time to work on it and we wanted to get on the road as soon as we got it. We’re definitely looking into kitting out a larger van where we’ll be able to stand up + have a proper kitchen & toilet :)

      Take care & happy exploring!


  22. Quincey Myers

    Good morning,
    I read your article as well as watch the youtube video and I am estactic about what you’ve done because it has inspired my wife and I to the same…. (except it’s gonna be on a school bus). My question is, can the same procedure be done on a school bus conversion. Would we have to possibly double up on the costs or invest in a totally different type of solar panel? This is a completely new adventure for my wife and I and we want to probe the minds of those like yourself that have done it.

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Quincey, thank you for checking out this post and for sharing your plan to convert a school bus with your wife – that will be a ton of fun! The size and cost of the solar setup you’ll need will really depend on what your energy requirements will be. Ours are quite low (we only power laptops and small electronics), which is why we only need 3 x 100 watt panels. Mat made a video about how to calculate your energy needs and doing that will help you determine what size of solar setup you will need for your bus. Once you know how many panels you need, then you can look at your budget and determine which panels you’ll want (flexible or rigid). Rigid panels tend to be cheaper but heavier, and flexible panels are more expensive but lighter and stealthier.

      Here is a link to the energy calculation video, I hope it helps you get started!

      Take care and happy exploring :)

  23. Kurt

    Attaching the solar panels…not as stealthy, but I read on one site that you could use a ladder rack and a piece of plywood.


    I also watched Vince and Noelle’s Sprinter Van Living videos and Vince used some kind of 3M adhesive that 3M claims is as strong as using screws.


    Both of the aforementioned solutions involved using rigid panels. However, either should work for the flexible panels as well.

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hey Kurt – thank you for checking out the blog (and for your support!)! We’ve heard of the 3M adhesive and might look into it if and when the velcro solution stops working. We thought the velcro was coming off at first, but now it’s survived sun, wind, rain, ice and snow, and the panels are still pretty stuck on there :) Take care and happy exploring! Danielle

  24. Joseph T. Merli

    Thank you both for such an informative detailed video. I don’t think there is anything else quite like it on Youtube. Can you ask Mat exactly where he placed the two mini ANL 40 amp and the one mini ANL 20 amp fuses? Thanks.

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Joseph – thank you for watching the video! We’re glad you found it helpful :)

      Renogy sent us an installation diagram to help us determine where to place the fuses and they also seem to include a photo of it on their product pages. The panels we bought are no longer being sold, but you can see another one of their diagrams here: http://www.renogy-store.com/100W-12V-Monocrystalline-Solar-Panel-p/rng-100d.htm

      I would suggest contacting the company you’re buying your panels from, just to double check that you’re placing the fuses in the right place since I’m not sure if the fuse placement varies from one setup to another. I hope that helps!

      Take care and happy exploring :)

  25. Kelton


    First off, thanks for everything…you guys are part of the inspiration for my own campervan project!

    I recently bought a van and am looking into the best solar set up for my needs. I will likely only be using my laptop for around 1-3 hours per day. Other than this I will also be needing power for my phone, GPS watch, a few interior lights, GoPro, and Fan-tastic ceiling vent/fan. A blender and a hot plate/kettle water heater (for tea, soup, etc.) would be nice but I could get by without them.

    I am thinking that I will start with just one 100 W solar panel, as to save some money. Otherwise I am thinking to save time (researching, and also when running into any issues during installation – I like that I would only have to deal with one company for the most part) I may just purchase everything else that you have on your list here. Before I do this I was wondering if there was anything not on your list that I may need (besides screws for installation), or anything on your list you think that I may not need or could downgrade based on only using one 100 W panel. I do like the idea of being able to add another panel or 2 in the future if I find I could use more power, but if this would cost a lot more I am not sure that I would do this.

    I know this is a lot but if you have the time I’d really appreciate any and all of your thoughts and suggestions!



    1. Kelton

      Doing a little bit more research and watching Mat’s calculations video has helped quite a bit. Based on the calculator I think that I would be able to cut down to a 100 AGM deep cycle battery. However, the vmax site mentions that you do not want to get the Depth of Discharge (DOD) above 50% (meaning that you want to limit the number of times you allow the battery to get below 50% charge, I guess that by going over 50% DOD this decreases the life of the battery. For this reason I am now thinking that I should get two 100 W panels.

      I have debated getting a 1000 W inverter but found (I think from Mat’s video) that have one too big can be a waste of energy, so I think that I will stick with the 500 W.

      I believe that the only things I am not sure of now are what my system will require for the fuses.

      1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

        Hi Kelton,

        Thanks for your questions! For your inverter, you should determine the max # of Watts you would be using at any given time (which devices you’d be running at the same time). Be sure to double check the requirements for a hot plate and a kettle – I think they’re usually quite high and a 500 Watt inverter likely wouldn’t be able to handle that kind of energy draw.

        For the fuses, I would recommend getting an installation chart from your solar panel provider to ensure you’ve got the correct fuses and that you’re installing them in the correct sequence. We’re not electricians so we don’t feel comfortable giving out advice for any system that isn’t identical to ours.

        Take care and happy exploring :)


  26. Gail

    Hi Danielle and Mat,

    So happy to have found your blog.

    A suggestion on the imminent re-mount of your solar panels. I too like the magnet idea and perhaps to further that….use a rain guard like you see for side windows and mount it at the front edge of your most forward panel (just above the windshield). This would allow air flow to rise just above the panels and possibly protect them from coming unattached. Just a thought!

    Happy trails!

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Thanks for the suggestion, Gail! I’ll keep an eye out for a rain guard if/when we re-mount our panels. Take care and happy exploring :)

  27. charlotte west

    I was wondering if you knew a company that would install it all for a person? You made it look so easy, but I don’t feel confident installing all this myself. Thanks!

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Charlotte,

      I can totally understand why you’d want help installing a solar power system. It can be a steep learning curve if you’ve never done anything electrical before (like us!).

      I haven’t heard of any companies that install the panels for you, but you could always ask them if they offer a service like that. You might also try contacting a local electrician who knows a little bit about solar power to help you.

      I hope that helps! Happy exploring :)


  28. Aaron

    Thanks for sharing your success! I noticed that Renogy has recalled those panels, and is not selling them anymore, because they posed a fire-hazard; I hope you got yours repaired or replaced for free (it is still a huge hassle, I’m sure).

    I really appreciate the items list, as I’m designing my own system nearly identical to your own. I found a really useful diagram here: //i.ytimg.com/vi/4F6vzndWuDw/maxresdefault.jpg

    I can get flexible panels from HQST (apparently they bought Renogy’s old stock after the recall, and repaired them), but they’re $60+ each over the glass framed panels; also I understand they’re expected to last 1/3rd as long as the glass framed panels (10 years, instead of 30). Are you still happy with your flexible panels? I’m looking to put mine on top of a van, just like yours.


    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Aaron,

      Thanks for reaching out! We were sad to find out that Renogy wasn’t going to continue selling the flexible panels after the recall. Luckily, we bought our panels right before the time that the panels had problems and we didn’t need to replace ours. We’re still very happy with our flexible panels and love that they’re stealthy and low-profile. That said, if we had a van with a high top, we may have gone with the cheaper rigid panels since you would barely be able to see them up there. It really depends on your van, your budget, and whether you want to be stealthy or not. I hope that helps!

      Take care and happy exploring!


  29. Fred

    Hey guys thanks for posting the inventory you used for your setup. I was curious with the items that are 2x something and the prices. For example you posted “2 x Regony 10 ft 12AWG extension solar cable w/ MC4 female and make connectors – $29.98” I found them on Amazon for $20.99 a piece so two of them would be $41.98. This is from Amazon by the way. The description doesn’t state two for the price. Could you clarify?

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Fred,

      Thank you for checking out our solar setup post and I apologize that a couple of the costs were not clearly indicated. Based on how I calculated the other amounts, I would say that each amount is the total for the units indicated. It’s possible that Amazon and/or Renogy have changed their prices since last year and that might be the reason why the price you’re seeing is different.

      Thanks again and have fun planning your solar setup.


      1. Chris Pease

        This post is great. I found all of the items on amazon and the prices have changed a bit. Some of the smaller items are a bit more expensive but some of the larger items have gotten cheaper. Renogy no longer makes the flexible solar panels but there are other manufacturers that make virtually identical panels. HQST sells the same panels for $188.99. All together the cost for these items is now $1,396.84 US.

        1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

          Hi Chris, thank you for the update on the pricing for a similar solar power system. Enjoy getting your energy from the sun :)

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hey Nathan – thanks for checking out this post! We’ve heard about this miracle tape many times, but we hadn’t ever gotten the link to see which 3M tape it actually was! We’re hoping our velcro holds on for another season (looks like it will), and then we’ll probably use this for installation part 2.

      Thanks again :)


  30. Anna MacD

    I know you’ve gotten quite a few suggestions on other ways of attaching your solar panels, but I have one more. Have you heard of Sugru? It’s a moldable, super-strong silicone that sticks permanently to all kinds of surfaces, and is waterproof and hot/cold-resistant. I have found many uses for it. It works really well, and I imagine you would find the company’s philosophy of “fix, don’t waste” aligns with yours.
    https://sugru.com/ Sorry, I sound like a shill but I swear I’m not :)

    Good luck in your travels. I hope you enjoy the east coast!

    Anna from Halifax

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Anna,

      We have heard of Sugru but hadn’t considered it as a possible material for mounting solar panels. Thanks for suggesting it :)

      Take care and happy exploring!


  31. Terri

    Hi, I enjoyed reading about your installation. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m currently trying to figure out how to safely mount a house battery (or two) in our van. Would you mind explaining in more detail how you bolted the battery box to the floor of the van and how you strapped down the battery itself. For example, did you bolt the box all the way through the sheet metal floor of the van? What do those tie down straps around the batteries attach to?

    Thank you,

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Terri,

      Thank you for checking out this post! You can take a closer look at the battery inside the box in the video we made about our installation here:

      I know you don’t see exactly how it’s attached, so I’ll do my best to explain it here.

      We already had 2 holes in the floor of the van from where one of the passenger seats was, so we cut 2 holes in the plastic bin that lined up with those holes. Then, we put the tie down straps in the bottom of the bin (one going front to back, one going side to side). On top of the tie down straps, we added a piece of wood with 2 holes cut in it that lined up with the holds in the floor and then we bolted the bin and the wood to the floor of the van.

      Having the tow straps wedged between the bin and the wood is what allowed us to secure the battery to the floor (once we attached the straps around the battery). I hope that makes sense!

      Happy exploring :)


  32. T

    This is super late, but I just have to thank yo both for your van life info, but more specifically, this post on solar power. My husband and I took the plunge into van life back in October, and we are so glad we did! We live in Victoria BC, and we are so glad we had solar power, heat, and lights to make it through the long, dark winter. You can check out a picture here if you like -http://intobohemia.ca/2015/10/10/thankful-for-my-handy-man/

    Thanks again, my fellow Canadian, van-dwelling friends :)

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi again, T! I just responded to your other comment and asked you how it was spending the winter in your van, but now I know haha :)

      Just took a peek at your blog and I love your solar panels, and your gorgeous van life photos!

      See you on the road!


  33. ry

    Thank you for the informative list you have provided. I my self have also been dealing with Renogy and all the technical information they give kind of makes my head spin. Would you be able to provide a possible diagram of your set up? I’m actually interested in the location of the fuses and where it’s necessary to ground for safety and all the extra jazz. Thank you so much for helping a beginner out and hope the van is running strong for you! Cheers.

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Ry – yes, it’s very confusing to figure it all out at first. Mat called Renogy many, many times to figure out exactly what we needed and how to install everything. They were very patient and answered all of our questions (we had a lot!) and it all worked out in the end. That said, sometimes Mat did get advice that differed from one call to the next so we had to call again to clarify.

      We don’t have our installation diagram with the fuse position anymore, but Renogy did provide us with one. You could probably ask them to email you one, or tell you where to find them on their website.

      Take care and happy exploring!


  34. Maya

    Hi my name is Maya future van lifer, I saw you guys opted for 3x 100 watt solar panels and paid more than you would if you had bought one mono 250 watt panel, was there a specific reason you guys wanted the energy spread out between the panels instead of concentrated? Do you think if I bought 2x 250 watt panels that the 500 watt energy controller would be just as efficient?

      1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

        Hi Maya! We opted for the 3 x 100 Watt panels mostly because we wanted the flexible panels for stealth reasons, and because we wanted to be able to mount them without screws in the roof, and I don’t think we could get a flexible panel that was larger than 100 Watts. 300 Watts is more than we need and we’ve never had a shortage of power. That said, we don’t power anything larger than a laptop. One thing we may have done a tiny bit differently is to get a larger inverter so that we could power items that require a larger energy draw (like a hand held blender for smoothies!!) without worrying about whether that would fry the inverter. I’ve recently seen some little blenders that only draw 200 Watts though, so maybe we’d be ok…anyway, that’s way off topic.

        I hope that helps and let us know if there’s anything else we can do to help. We’re definitely not experts as we’ve only installed one system so far :)

  35. Shaun

    Hi. I like your stealthy setup you have. I’m a newbie who wants to become a vandweller in the Midwest (IL). I want to run a small mini refrigerator all day long, the smallest portable air conditioner that can regulate a good temperature during the summer here for maybe 4-5hrs. A day if needed that kicks on automatically and set at 68-70 while I’m in the truck, maybe power a hotplate to eat once in a while, and be able to charge my cellphone every night as needed. I don’t want to use a generator and want to just power everything via solar and independent battery setup. I’m not good with electricity and a newbie at this. I think I might need around 3000w of power for all that though. Is that a safe assumption? What size batteries would I need, how many, and could I safely charge a setup like that with 4-5 flexible 100w solar panels? Can I even fit that many panels on the top of my suburban and be stealthy? Any help, suggestions, plans, and advise would be highly appreciated. Thank you in advance.

  36. Sylvie

    I am super (read: SUPER) :) interested in becoming a vandweller sometime soon, but I was thinking I might not want to hook up the electricity right away… if I outfit my van and do all the wood lining and everything, will it be too late to attach solar panels later if I decide I want them?
    Thank you so much! Also, I love your youtube channel and website and you really inspire me to enjoy my life right now, so thank you.

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Sylvie,

      Thanks for your message! If you install solar panels on the roof of your van, you’ll probably need to drill a hole in the roof, unless you have an existing opening you could run the cables through. The hole doesn’t have to be very big and you could use a piece of wood trim to hide/guide the wire to the charge controller and the battery if you don’t want it to be seen. Otherwise, you’d probably have to remove one of the wood panels if you want to have the wire behind it. It’s good that you’re thinking ahead! Take care and happy exploring :)

  37. Stuart S

    We’re about to retire and continue a life of travel and finishing our bucket list (c.1979). Your comments about keeping it simple; listening to people and companies that your trust; and, being mindful of a budget are the ways to seek confidence in your action and, most importantly, peace of mind. The really neat thing is that you share it again and again in your responses over …what appears to be a couple years. We’re about to order a 4×4 and go where no man has… ahhh. Screw that. We’re going to have a good time wherever stealth and boondocking will take us. When we get there, we’ll be glad we found your info. Thank You

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Stuart,

      Thank you for this lovely comment! I’m happy that you found our strategy for exploring alternatives to be helpful!

      Have a great time travelling in your new 4×4 and maybe we’ll cross paths somewhere along the way. In the meantime, have you heard of Gunther Holtorf? You might find his travels with his partner to be inspiring :)


      Take care and happy exploring :)

      Danielle (& Mat)

  38. Josh

    Danielle & Mat,

    Thank you for your great videos and this blog. I have used them both extensively. I am about to retire from the military and my wife and I plan to just travel and see everything we can before old age takes us down. Anyway, I traded in my work truck for a Promaster high roof van. We bought basically exactly what you have listed above as far as the solar equipment, just got the flex panels from HQST I believe. I have been reading non stop on what we can and cannot power, and how many batteries, etc. I have two questions.
    1. Do you have a distribution panel? How do you run wire to lights/switches or do you just have something plugged directly into the inverter.
    2. Any changes you would make to your system now that you have had it for awhile? We have not bought the batteries yet as I’m still fuzzy on how much we will need or how much our inverter/panels can support.

    Sorry for the long post, and thanks again for the videos/info. We sit and watch your videos and daydream of our own lives being so free one day!!!

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Josh,

      Congratulations on getting a van and preparing for such an epic retirement. You and your wife must be so excited!

      Our flexible solar panels worked great for the first two years that we had them. Our battery was almost always completely full, and we were getting power even in semi-shady spots, and in the mornings/evenings (not just during peak hours).

      This past winter the van was parked for the whole winter at someone’s house and a huge amount of snow and ice accumulated on the roof and damaged the panels so they’re looking a little worse for wear and our battery is rarely full now. That said, we have not had any problems with a lack of power, probably because our system is just a little bigger than what we needed just for laptops and camera batteries. I think they would have continued to work fine for a couple more years if it hadn’t been for the snow and ice damage but they do seem to age faster than rigid panels.

      We’re hoping to change our setup a little bit next time by getting a larger battery that is hooked up to charge from both the alternator and a solar panel. We’re probably going to get a 260 Watt rigid panel although we’re still at the research phase.

      We don’t have a distribution panel in our current van. We’ve got an inverter with 2 outlets and a USB port, and we have our roof vent plugged directly into the charge controller. For lights we use headlamps. It’s pretty primitive. A distribution panel might be nice for a larger setup like what you might end up with in the Promaster.

      Hope this helps! Happy exploring :)


      1. Josh


        Thank you for the reply! We are excited to get out and just travel, see America for a change, north and south hopefully. We received all of our solar stuff today so I’m going to hit the ground running tomorrow. Thanks again!

  39. Graeme Shepherd

    Hi and thank you for video’s and webpage.

    We are just starting out and were thinking of putting on slimline panels to our caravan.

    However, I have noticed that:

    Do not wire the flexible solar panels in series to avoid damage or shortened lifespan
    Do not glue the panel on top, either mount with a velcro attachment or else. Leave a space underneath for the back panel to breath.

    Our thinking / suggestions, etc…

    Regards, Graeme

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