Solar Install & Leisure battery upgrade

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I decided I was going to go down the Solar route late last year because the costings didn’t seem particularly expensive. On top of that I had a mounting solution available already with the Sherpas Combi Translift roof rack system so it was a bit of a no brainer really. I figured that if we can eliminate paying for electric hook-up for one year by running off batteries, we could almost re-coupe the cash spent on all of the components included (approximately £300).

So for my birthday in November I asked for Amazon Vouchers and I got my first panel. I promptly sandwiched it between two of the four sliders on my Combi Translift. This was done using stainless fixings. 🙂

Panel2

For Christmas i asked for more vouchers and got my second panel plus the Dual Battery Charger Controller and the LCD Monitor.

Dual Battery Charger
Dual Battery Charger
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor

So the second panel was fitted…

20160125_142750.png_zpsi5ics4ktAfter a great deal of research I decided that the cable for my panels would be fed into the van via a cable entry gland. I found a black one that looked OK on the webpage, but when i received it I was disappointed. It was much larger than i thought and not very aesthetically pleasing. So I ended up getting a second one that was only available in white, but much smaller and less obvious. I plastic primed it and gave it a good few coats of metallic grey paint.

Cable entry gland
Cable entry gland

The only thing I was lacking now was the cables. I sourced these from eBay along with a pair of adapters that would allow both panels to hook into a single feed.

solar cables (Small)The next stage required drilling a hole in the pop top roof and mounting the cable entry gland with Sikaflex. I don’t make a habit of drilling holes in my van, but the way I looked at it was a hole drilled in the fiberglass pop top was far less intrusive than drilling a hole in the metal bodywork (which was an option I had seen done before). Each one achieves the same objective, and there is nothing to say that one way is right and the other wrong, but this is the route I decided to  go down.

So I positioned and marked the gland on the roof for reference. Then drilled the hole.

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The entry gland was positioned after feeding the cables into the aperture. And Sikaflex was used to bond it to the roof. This was held in position for a couple of hours with tape to allow time for the bonding agent to go off enough that I felt i could remove it.

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So the solar cables lay coiled up on the bed in the top bunk for a month or so before i started pushing forward with the internal cabling. First job was to try and establish the best route into the wardrobe. Then drill a hole (eeek!).

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Cable held down by cable clips

The cable drops into the top of the wardrobe area initially on the outside in between the rear window curtain. The com’s /data cable was just eased up along the rubber where the wardrobe front and the roof meet and follows the same path the solar cables take into the wardrobe.

Data cable
Data cable for LCS Display

I made a small nick in the seal where it will rest and feed into the LCD display unit.

The unit itself came in black as pictured previously, so that’s been plastic primed and sprayed ‘industrial grey’ to more closely match the Westy interior.

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Once the cables were fed into the wardrobe i needed to create a pathway to the location the solar controller would be sited. Since I decided solar would be a feature on my van I was looking constantly for information on how and where others had sited the components. The solar controller I had seen mounted in a multitude of places. These included

  • Inside the wardrobe – This would reduce space in an already narrow aperture and get in the way mounted higher up. Lower down this was not an option because this is used for the storage of shoes etc)
  • Outside the wardrobe underneath the LCD meter – This would look ugly with all of the wires feeding into the controller and would be an unnecessary eyesore (but i have seen it mounted there)

One particular location seemed better than any other. This was in one of the storage compartments next to the fridge underneath the rear table. It was deep enough that the controller would have enough room below it to accept the cables. So confident in my conviction that this was the place of all places, I set to drilling the two holes necessary to feed the cables and reach the unit. One hole was from the wardrobe to the first storage compartment above the water tank.

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Feed from inside the wardrobe
Inside the first compartment
Inside the first compartment
Feed into the second compartment next to fridge.
Feed into the second compartment next to fridge.

So once the cables were fed into the compartment the next thing was to mount the controller. I first placed the solar controller where i wanted it, marked the holes with a black pen and used a braddle to get the stainless self tappers to bite into the hardboard.

Solar controller mounted.
Solar controller mounted.

Here you can see the full run through to solar controller.

From wardrobe to cupboard
From wardrobe to cupboard

To neaten things up a little i have wrapped the cables in  some cable tidy. I brought this from Maplin (UK) and was pretty pleased with the fact the colour is light grey. Far less obtrusive than black or white (although in the picture below it looks a little more obvious than it does in the flesh). The length was just right and i managed to feed all of the cables into the tidy and push it through the holes so it is one unbroken piece.  It feeds all the way into the wardrobe and as far up as the outside of the wardrobe so a real neat job if i don’t say so myself. 🙂

Cables wrapped
Cables wrapped

Next I ran a two core cable from the controller to  to leisure battery at the front. This was simply fed up through a gap in the unit and cable tied to the vent grid behind the cooker / draining board and sink. It then drops down into the cupboard.

Cable feed to leisure battery.
Cable feed to leisure battery.

Below you can see the LCD display unit matched up in the location it will eventually sit. Not a perfect colour match but much better than the original black colour.

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So the next thing to do was to wire everything together. I noticed that in the installation manual for the solar controller it states.

‘although the solar controller has built-in electronic protection, for safety and added protection please install inline fuses into the circuits between each battery and the controller, on the negative wire, as close to the batteries as possible. Current rating of fuses should be chosen according to the maximum power current / short circuit current of your solar panel’

I was a little confused because the printed installation / information manual that came with the controller also states that there should be a fuse fitted in the live from the solar panels also. So off I went to Maplin to get a couple of in line blade style fuse holders. I established that the rating of fuse i would use for both sides of the feeds would be 15amp. The short of each panel is just shy of 6amps so x 2 = 12 plus a little extra. I’m not an expert but my step dad (ex tv / radio engineer) confirmed this would be the rating i would need.

After a bit of wire stripping, soldering and heat shrink application I was all ready to connect everything. I had not gotten round to running the second battery cable to the diesel starter battery in the engine bay, but the dual battery controller will function quite happily with a single battery and does not have to have the second battery connected. Ultimately I want to get the starter battery connected. The charge from the controller can be split between the two batteries by percentage. I am thinking a 20% charge to the starter and the rest going to the leisure battery (house for those in the US) should work quite well for prolonged periods being static. This should maintain a few amps to keep enough charge in the starter battery to make sure we don’t get stuck, but the majority of the power will be diverted to the living area for TV, radio, phone / tablet charging and interior lights.

So here is the final install with the controller / LCD meter connected.

Controller Wired up
Controller Wired up

The only setting I had to change on the solar controller was to the battery type which should be set to Type 3 for ‘Flooded’ (Lead acid) battery. The other options are AMG and sealed (I think?).

LCD Display
LCD Display

Here you can see the LCD controller connected. I fixed it to the wardrobe unit using double sided foam pads. Having fed the data cable over the wardrobe top the flat cable was very tight and forced the face front out and away from the units. The low profile of double sided tape would have made everything tight and probably wouldn’t have given the extra couple of mm required to mount. However, the double sided foam allowed that extra distance to mount. It does tend to rock a fraction when the buttons are pressed as the foam gives a little, but this is livable and far better than drilling and self tapping the display into the wardrobe unit. I’ts pretty secure and certainly isn’t going anywhere in a hurry (*See amendment at bottom of page). Also, it’s a novelty now so I am having a play and seeing what does what, but I am sure I will settle on a particular screen that will give me the information I feel most appropriate and leave it set to that….in time 🙂

You can see two lights on the display. One is green showing that the panels are charging 🙂 , the second is red showing a warning 🙁 . The annoying thing is that the warning is just to show that the second battery isn’t attached. As said previously the controller functions perfectly well without a second battery, but there is no way of acknowledging you are happy with one battery to remove the warning. Anyways, all in all I have a working system so win, win 🙂

LCD Display Illuminated
LCD Display Illuminated

UPDATE

It seemed a shame to have all of this available power, yet only a single leisure battery to save it to. So my next job was to source a suitable battery that would fit in the compartment behind the right hand (passenger) seat. This would be linked directly to the first battery giving a larger source of power to draw from. The one I chose was advertised as a T25 battery on ebay and is branded Xplorer. The seller is alpha_man_batteries. This battery combined with my existing would give me a total of 180ah 🙂

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I decided I would get this done by an auto electrician as it would involve feeding cables under the van and i preferred it to be done correctly. I did mention to him that if he had time that he try and route a cable from the solar controller to the starter battery in the engine compartment. I had quite recently been made aware that the interior lights run off this battery and i was mindful that this would reduce the chance of finding myself in a position where i could not start my van should too much power be used. It was at this point I also made the decision to change my fluorescent interior light for LED (Guide here LED interior light upgrade)

After two days I collected my van and was really happy with the work he had done fitting the leisure battery. As an added bonus he had managed to route the cable from controller to starter battery. This is the leisure battery. As you can see it’s snug but not not too obvious when the compartment door is closed.

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Battery
Door only slightly proud
Door only slightly proud
Door only slightly proud
Door only slightly proud

Here you can see where the black cable for the starter battery enters the wardrobe (right) , and feeds through a hole he drilled in the floor, which in turn is fed into the engine bay and round to the battery. The hole was sikaflexed to stop water ingress.

Routing of cable in wardrobe from solar controller to battery
Routing of cable in wardrobe from solar controller to battery

Below you can see that the LED solar display is now showing two batteries connected and the red error / warning light has gone out 🙂

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Well that’s pretty much my solar install from start to finish. I hope this has been useful and if anybody needs any more information please leave a comment and i will message back accordingly 🙂

Andy

*Amendment

Although the LCD controller appeared to stick to the units like glue with the foam sticky pads, I think the change in temperature  on hot days \ cool nights was enough to upset it enough and it kept coming away leaving it hanging from the data cable. I realized that the surface area of the small foam pads on the thin outer edge of the display molding wasn’t enough to keep it in place. This got really frustrating so i set to concocting a more permanent fix. This consisted of a piece of ply board cut to shape and painted grey to match the interior of the van.

Cut Ply Board
Cut Ply Board
Painted Grey
Painted Grey

13226908_1224402384237009_870532570502685584_nFour holes were drilled in the board to match up with the holes in the LCD display unit. I brought 4 stainless countersunk head screws which were fed in from the bach of the ply board, through the display and tightened up. The strange shape hole cut in the ply allowed the data cable to feed out of the back.  The controller has a much greater contact area at the rear of the display for double sided adhesive tape, and as a result has stayed firmly in place since mounted. Result 🙂

 

Find this interesting? Please leave a comment 🙂

9 thoughts on “Solar Install & Leisure battery upgrade”

  1. Very informative and helpful ! We will be attempting our solar conversions for the first time EVER on our 85 westy this fall. Definitely will keep all this information in mind! Great page!

  2. Andy,

    This is all nicely done but forgive me, one aspect of the install bugs me and I know you must have a good reason for it.

    Why so far forward on the roof? It’s covering the roof top vent and raising the pop top would be a tad easier with the weight further back.

    Maybe perhaps, the reason is the kayaks you carry? So long that having the racks any further back would have the kayaks interfering with rear hatch opening?

    Don’t mean this to be a criticism, I’m just puzzled 🙂

    Cheers

    Alistair

    1. Alistair, you’re quite right to question this. I have done as the roof bars were already fitted when I brought the van, so the decision had already been made. This particular type of roof bar was a factory option (so I believe). I’ve seen many of the roof bar runners (if not the bars themselves) fitted on vans of a similar age to mine (1989-90) in a similar location. Think it was a European option only as they are extremely rare to come by now. It’s not an ideal location. I needed to fit additional gas struts to get the roof up. I don’t want to go repositioning the bars as each of the aluminum runners is held in place by 3 fixings. So a full repositioning would mean drilling 12 new holes (and subsequently filling the old ones 🙁 ). I think I will leave it be 🙂 . I can live without the skylight. If it’s really warm I can drop a window on the roof canvas. 🙂

  3. Ah, there you go then , I suspected you had a good reason 🙂

    I do like your install, the wiring runs and the controller remote display. I’ve got this cheap ass controller that I’m a bit disappointed with. Just a two stage charging profile ( equalization and float) with no provision for adjusting equalization time. And the screen is not back lit. And it looks kinda crappy. But hey , it was inexpensive.

    Seems one needs pop top assist with almost any load on the roof. I made my own copies of the jack Bombay gizmos ( I think camper van culture sells those in the UK) and am using old hatch struts. I need stronger struts. And now I’m worrying about the H bar mechanism being worn. I pulled out my spare this morning to remind myself how badly they are worn. Yes, the horizontal tube is cut partially through. Yup, another T3 project. They bloody well never end do they?
    Cheers

    Alistair

  4. Andy, you parked up next to my wife and red T5 (Helen and Rosie) at Three Cliffs last month. She told me about your solar installation and after a couple of weeks wilding in Kerry we’ve decided to follow your example. What make of panels are you using. And not sure if you mention the output you really need? I’ve seen 80A mentioned. Any thoughts?

    1. Bryan,
      Really nice to meet Helen and Rosie. From memory you brought the van from a place literally just round the corner from where we live in Derby (Hillside). There is a picture of your van here 🙂 http://www.daswolfgang.com/three-cliffs-bay-wales/ . The solar panels, controller and LCD display were all brought from a company called Photonic Universe. You can either order direct from their website or via Amazon. The panels I have are 100w each. I have 2 so effectively 200w. You may decide that this is overkill and want a single panel. Really depends on your usage. I add say that mine are non flexible panels which are framed in aluminum. Although they are not heavy it may just affect elevating your roof slightly. You can get flexible panels which would weigh less and you would need to bond them onto your roof. I didn’t like the thought of doing that so went for a rigid, removable solution. I can’t see me ever wanting to remove them, but if one fails its an easy task to swap in that respect. Since having the solar installation it has been a real breath of fresh air. We have ditched the electric hook up cable and are free to do some real off grid camping. Your fridge is a Waeco CR50 so the consumption it uses is similar to my CRX. My only suggestion would be to possibly get a second leisure so you have a little more power in reserve. Hope that helps Bryan 🙂

      1. Andy, thanks for that, very helpful. You are right that we bought the van from Hillside, and in fact I have to take it in to them in a week’s time for them to look at a few problems. I wondered if you might be around for me to come and pay my respects to Wolfgang and learn from your experiences? I’m dropping the van off at 10:00 on Monday, September 5. Probably not good if you have work commitments, but let me know if it would be convenient.

      2. Andy,

        Following on from reading your information, I went ahead with my own solar installation. I ordered a 250W flexible panel from Photonic Universe, which I chose because it is thin and fits very snugly to the flat SCA roof, so no problems with multi-storey car park ceilings. It is also considerably lighter than a rigid panel and so has no implications for raising the roof. I went for a panel with a high-power output as I hope this will be adequate during the winter months.

        Getting all of the cabling through from the roof into the interior was interesting because of the high-quality of the Hillside fittings, but it all worked pretty well. I got a proper electrician to do the final connection from the charge controller to the leisure battery, as this is in the engine compartment. And now it all works very well, and we are hoping to get off for a non-hookup weekendto really test it all out in the field (literally).

        1. Brian, sounds like you have a great setup there. Let me know your verdict. It’s great to have the flexibility of not being tied to a mains supply. Enjoy 🙂

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