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Flexible Solar Panel Installation

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One of the major steps of this van conversion, is the addition of solar panels to the roof of the Ford Transit. It creates an independent source of energy, which in turn, makes vandwelling or boondocking a possibility.

I chose flexible solar panels for their light weight, bendable and stealth properties. Weight is always a concern during a van build and shaving 50-100 lbs off the total weight of the van is substantial. Making the panels conform to the curving of the roof and their minimal thickness makes them not only stealthy, but also aerodynamic, resulting in a lower MPG (Km/L).

Before starting the installation, I take the time to give the roof a good cleaning, as this is the last chance to access this part of the roof.

Choosing the optimal panel installation, was according to the following criteria:

  • Select panels with a length close to the width of the van. This simplifies the installation and optimizes the maximum amperage output.
  • The light and ultra thin (less than 1/8 inch) solar panels makes a one person installation easier.
  • The right type of fasteners. Bolts or screws into the roof used to be standard, but exposure to roof leaks has led to epoxy glues and the ultra strong tapes, that I use (3M VHB 5952 tape).
  • There is one more decision to make: leading all the panel wiring directly into the van or using MC4 branch connectors or a combiner box to reduce all the wiring to two wires (a positive and a negative wire), before guiding them through the roof of the vehicle. This choice heavily influences the wire size between the solar panels and the charge controller. Location of the solar components inside the van also determines the side of the roof where the wiring will be located.

The wiring of the panels and placement of the solar components inside the van are the next two steps of this installation.

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