Tag Archives: solar

8 Critical Elements Of A Modern Van Conversion

THERE ARE MANY REASONS TO HAVE A CONVERSION VAN. MOST FOLKS WILL USE IT FOR AFFORDABLE TRAVEL, AND SOME DOING THE MORE EXTREME BOONDOCKING AND EVEN LESS LIVING IN IT PERMANENTLY.

Some use it as their mobile office, while traveling around the country, others have made it part of the Tiny House Movement.

For me it is all about mobility and extended stays, while preserving functionality and comfort.

1. Independence:

Generators have been a source of irritation for many RV’rs for a long time, but their time has come, unless you have an air-conditioner to run. Solar panels have come a long way and even the smaller RVs can support multiple panels with ease. Especially the new high efficiency flexible solar panels that can be fit and hidden on top of the roofs of most cargo vans.

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Solar Panel Guide (2)

New approaches for small RV’s.

PHOTOVOLTAIC FACTS

After I introduced Semi Flexible Solar Panels in my previous post, questions remain about the performance of these new semi flexible modules.
semi-flex-solar-panel

SOLAR PANEL TYPES
Rigid Residential Flexible
Amorphous Thin Film Semi Flexible
average cost per watt 1 $ 0.80-2.00 $ 1.50 $ 2.00-7.00
low light performance average good good 2
high heat performance average good good 2
efficiency 15 watt/sf 5.5 watt/sf 15 watt/sf
weight 40 oz/sf 11 oz/sf 7.5 oz/sf
roof penetration yes no no
warranty 20-25 yrs 20 yrs 10 yrs 3
1 2014
2 Several unconfirmed user tests indicate low light and high heat performance are less than rigid panels.
3 Misuse of the limited flexibility is often given as a reason for the shorter warranty period. Product life maybe similar to rigid panels.

As a general indication, prices for these panels are double that of regular rigid modules. For that, you’ll get a substantial weight reduction and a more aesthetically pleasing finish and maybe even some improved fuel mileage.

High heat performance is probably the biggest drawback, where some users indicate a considerable performance drop during the hottest part of the day. Under low light circumstances, they seem to under perform too, however no significant amount of energy is produced those times of the day anyway.
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Solar Panel Guide (1)

New approaches for small RV’s.

THIS DECADE HAS SEEN MANY ADVANCES IN SOLAR PANEL RESEARCH, WITH THE DEVELOPMENT OF A WIDE ARRAY OF NEW MATERIALS, WHICH IS CHANGING RV LIFE.

Less important to the big rigs, that have large, flat roofs to support a large numbers of panels, the smaller Class B RV’s and Cargo Van Conversions tend to have preciously little room for sufficient solar power generating equipment. And those with curved roofs (p.e. converted vans or Airstreams) are even less fortunate. Another concern for smaller vehicles is overall weight, as their restricted payloads limit installation of an extensive photovoltaic system.

flex-solar-panelMost often the rigid residential solar modules have been adapted for use by RV’s, but flexible panels started to make inroads a few years ago. These low-efficiency panels offered no solution for the Class B traveler, as they came in clumsy sizes and needed more, lacking, roof space.
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12V Fan Switch

Recently a fan was installed to cool the solar components, like controller, battery charger, etc. As it is not necessary to run the fan continuously, a switch can regulate its use.

Radio Shack sells this 12V switch with a ground (+), a power (-) and a accessory spade.

Right now there is a wire running to the batteries, a 12V socket, the fan and the switch that have to be interconnected.
First the red (-) fan wire gets a connector.

102103After crimping the tiny wire, a little bit of solder is applied for an improved connection.

100For increased longevity of these joints, this assortment of heat shrink was acquired from Harbor Freight.

104The fan wire plug is finished by adding the heat shrink.

After adding all the required plugs to the different wires, we move from the workshop to the van to make the final connections.

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110V Power Inlet

 

The van is internally a 12V system fed by solar panels, with some 110V outlets powered by an inverter. Only the battery charger needs access to an exterior power source. For this, a 15A power inlet is installed next to the rear door, on the passenger side of the van.

 

ParkPower 150BBIWRV 15 Amp White Power Inlet

25The area directly below the brake light is ideal, weren’t it for the fact that inside, that space is occupied by one of the rear speakers. The best location will be left of the bottom of the brake light.

 

34The instructions for the inlet indicated a 1-7/8” opening which required me to buy a new bi-metal holesaw. With all the tools at hand, I could start by marking the exact location of the hole.

 

67Because limited workspace inside, I was going to try to remove the brake light to have better access. Faced with some old seals, that I didn’t want to damage, I quickly decided otherwise.

 

89After some aligning and double checking, I marked the spot. As the location is very
close to the rear door, I made sure that the inlet could be accessed, while the door was opened.

 

1011Before turning to the holesaw, I drilled a small pilot hole.

 

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With a starting point established, the holesaw went through the metal like butter.

 

1617It all worked out great. In less than half a minute, a perfectly round hole was established. Only a few rough edges remained.

 

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A few minutes with a file, followed by my trusted sandpaper create a perfect finish.

 

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Now the exterior fitting.

 

23And interior checkup.

 

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28Final inspection shows that the extension cord is not obstructed by the rear door.

 

Since everything is a perfect fit, it’s time to put everything together.

 

29First cover the bare metal with some paint. I spray some paint in the cap of the spray can and dab it onto exposed metal.

 

30While the paint dries, I pull out the battery charger wire and prepare the components of the socket.

 

31First the outlet rear cover and the metal attachment ring slide onto the wire.

 

3233The wire is guided through the hole to the outside. I almost forgot a piece of heat shrink, but that is added before attaching the socket to the wire. The power inlet has a blank, black and green wire opening, as well as a silver, black and green connection screw, which makes it a foolproof installation.

 

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The heat shrink is slid in place and heated for a perfect fit.

 

37After I applied Silicone II as a weather barrier, the socket is attached to the van with the metal ring on the back. Finally the outlet is capped with the included black cover.

 

3839Not necessary, but I also used the three included screws, mainly to cover the predrilled holes in the white ring.

 

4041

 

The finished 110V power inlet.

 

 

12V Cooling Fan

The compartment under the bed that will hold the charger, controller, inverter, etc. is a small enclosure and needs some form of cooling.  I choose a 5” computer fan with thermal control, that automatically adjusts its speed as the temperature rises. Other considerations were low noise level (<18dB), high airflow volume (up to 42cfm) and low current (<0.2A).

 

 

8182The package includes the fan, the thermal sensor, an extension wire and some screws.

 

83Installation will be as high as possible, because that’s where the hot air is. I make a simple paper pattern of the opening of the fan and glue it with some spray adhesive, on the outside of the compartment.

 

8485With a Dremel tool, a rough opening is created and later sanded smooth. At the same time the screw holes are predrilled.

 

8687The fan is now installed directly under the 12V Power Socket with the 4 included screws.

 

Now we need an outside cover.

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A solid, but thin piece of cherry will function as the base for the fan cover. A small piece of window screening material is applied to both sides of the cover and fastened with a few staples. Two screws hold it in place.

 

The toilet is still visible under the pull-out shelf; next to it are the 12V power socket and the new fan with cover. At the end of the bed, at the rear doors, is an entry light and a 110V outlet. The flooring is Trafficmaster Allure Ultra.

 

Wiring(4)

Having batteries, doesn’t automatically mean access to 12V. Thus, two access points are planned in the van. One 12V socket is located at the solar components (controller, charger, inverter, etc.) compartment, under the bed. It’s immediately next to the pull-out shelf and serves to power my laptop.
 

12V Power Socket

It’s a standard 12V power socket, that includes a faceplate and wires.

 

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First a hole, the size of the socket, is drilled with a Forstner bit in the ¼” plywood. The hole sits at the top, right under the bed overhang and is largely out-of-sight.

 

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The 12V socket is held in place by the round rear cover, which is screwed onto the main body. The thickness of the plywood prevented that, so I shortened the cover by removing a short length with a metal saw.

 

68Next, two little wood blocks were needed, to support the screws of the face plate. Each of them is pre-drilled to hold the screw.

 

69And then glued in place with some ordinary wood glue.

 

70The included wires are easily attached.

 

71The job is finished by adding the two screws to the face plate.

 

I recently pulled the 12V wire from the battery compartment, but for now, I hold off connecting it to the socket, as I also plan to install a 12V fan at the same location and connect it to the same 12V wire. The fan should supply some needed cooling to the solar components.

 

Wiring(3)

Another post on wiring of the van. Two heavier wire gauges will support the appliances to be installed on the driver’s side.

 

Appliances

Most of the wiring has now been done on the passenger side, except for the #4. The focus is now on the appliances that will be featured in the row of cabinets on the driver’s side of the van.

For a while now, I decided to go with a small electric pump to power the faucet in the kitchen sink and the 12V NovaKool R4500 fridge for my supplies. As an option I would like to add a Propex propane heater for those cool nights. I will take a small risk by calculating the wire sizes based on these appliances, as I might go with different brands or better options. In addition, another 12V outlet will be fitted in the kitchen area.

 

As the fridge is the largest, continuous electrical consumer, a proprietary cable is chosen consisting of two individual 8 AWG wires, as recommended for distances up to 32ft (the actual length is approx. 25′).

 

The remaining pump, heater (1.4A continuous running), 12V outlet and some lights are to be connected to a separate 12/2 AWG run of wire.

 

3839The 12/2 wire at the top, is a double landscaping wire; the bottom two are 8 AWG single wires, all of them are stranded, as these are easier to handle than solid wires.

 

404142All cables start at the battery compartment and are partially led through the channel. Midway the landscape wire appears and is tucked away to the side.

 

4344When it reappears at the top of the channel it is guided through a preexisting hole and continues on top of the channel, towards the rear of the van.

 

46As I still have to remove both the ceiling and all of the opposite wall panels, I’ll leave the wires here, until I star working on the remainder of the van.

 

47The same process is applied to the #8 wires.

 

4849First along the channel to the ceiling.

 

5051Then to the rear of the van.

 

All the wires are labeled; they’ll be tied in place at a later time.

 

Only the #4 welding wire remains to be done; that is used between the batteries and the solar components, like controller, charger and inverter.

 

Wiring

While working on the multi-use cabinet, I started with some of the wiring. Before I can continue building new cabinets, the majority of the electrical wiring has to be installed.
 
 

Battery Monitor

The monitor will be located on the wall next to the side doors and connected to the batteries with 4 small wires. A short piece of Cat5 cable will do the job, because the battery compartment is only a few feet away.

 monitor and battery compartment

 

1211The cable is guided through the door channel to the floor, where it will be connected to the battery bank at a later time.

 

13

The cabling is left as is, until the hardware is installed.

 

Battery Charger

Under the bed are two shallow window compartments, which are above the wheel housing. Adjoining is a regular compartment that will contain most electrical devices, such as charger, inverter and controller. It has a removable side-wall for easy access.

 

Because the wheel housing is in the way, any cabling will have to go through the shallow compartments. A hollow core separation will serve as a divider between the two spaces, while at the same time hiding the wires.

 

14The divider consists of two 1/8” plywood sides, one solid base and a top divided in three, for later access to any cables.

 

15The parts are glued together in several steps and sanded to final dimensions.

 

The divider easily slides in at one side of the compartment.

 

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After fitting, a few holes are drilled on both sides of the compartment, that will accommodate the wiring.

 

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After a final check, the divider is glued-in and reinforced with two nails.

 

2122The actual wiring is just a matter of pulling the Romex wire through the divider and along the wall towards the right rear brake light.

 
2526The wire is then connected to a 110V power inlet, that will be installed below the brake light.

An extension cord plugged into the power inlet at the outside rear of the van, will power the battery charger.