I spent the last couple days installing the two 60 watt solar panels I got for Christmas. After giving it some serious thought, I decided to place the two solar panels in the front of the camper where the roof is tilted downward. This gives the panels a better angle to the sun (that is if I’m pointed in the right direction). The additional two solar panels give me a total of three panels for a total of 240 watts.
As part of the installation, I had to replace the OEM two-pronged wiring plug on the roof with a new roof top combiner box. I opted to go with AM Solar’s excellent roof top combiner box. At $60 the combiner box is expensive, but it’s also well made and houses two large bus bars to make all of your solar panel connections (up to seven). The four corner screws for the lid do not enter the main compartment, so if any water happens to penetrate the screw the water will stay outside (see pic below). Very nice! Once the combiner box was installed, I used 10/2 copper wiring to connect each solar panel to the combiner box.
I was glad to be rid of the two-pronged OEM plug. The plug is made with 12 gauge wires and was a weak link in the OEM system that is wired with 10 gauge wiring (if you recall during Phase I of the solar power installation, the 30 amp fuse located between the batteries and charge controller also used 12 gauge wires, which I promptly replaced with a circuit breaker). I don’t understand that thinking or engineering. Why design a solar power system that employs 10 gauge wiring and then insert a couple weak points using 12 gauge wires? That’s a real head scratcher.
I opted to go with non-tilting, aluminum Z-bracket mounts for the solar panels. If I intended on living in the camper for long periods of time I would’ve went with tilting mounts. Besides, if I need to tilt the solar panels all I need to do is start the truck and aim it toward the sun. I’m good with that. AM Solar sells these brackets for about $2.00 each.
Mounting the solar panels to the roof was extremely simple. Each bracket was attached using a piece of Very High Bond (VHB) tape and a large screw, then covered with a generous amount of Dicor to provide a water tight seal for both the screw and for the tape. The VHB tape is great stuff, bullet proof and very strong. Like the combiner box, I ordered the tape from AM Solar. They use VHB tape for all of their installations. What’s good enough for the professionals at AM Solar is good enough for me.
My philosophy on buying solar panels and charge controllers is pretty simple. Shop around! Surf the web and look for the best bargains. This doesn’t mean buying poorly made garbage, but means buying smart. The RV solar packages that you find on the web and at the RV specialty stores are nice, to be sure, but they’re also very expensive. If you understand what you need and you can install the system yourself, you can save yourself big bucks. For example, the 60 watt solar panels I just installed were $79 a piece on sale at Solar Blvd. These panels, made by Solar Cynergy, work just as well as anything else you can buy for much more money and carry the same warranty.
The complete details for Phase I of my solar power installation can be found here.