Solar Panel Installation Day!

So, with another generous donation, we shopped around and ordered a Solar Panel Kit with Charge Controller, Mounting & Cable from Bimble Solar for the van. The kit included a 12V 100W Vikram Solar Panel, 6mm cable, mounting brackets and 10A PWM Charge Controller 12v/24v (alongside this was a couple of DC breakers). We didn’t have a lot of money, nor did we feel we could ask for any more as this amount was a donation, so selected a simple set – not the £1,000 stuff advertised (would if we could!).
Delivery was a quick and low fuss affair!

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We were also kindly given a leisure battery from a Scouting friend which was fantastic! The generosity within the Scouting community never seizes to amaze me – Thanks, Rob!

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So, the first task was to set it all up in the home to before any drilling was due to happen. DT teachers at school helped me cut the wire into quarters and strip the ends – so useful working somewhere where DIY tools are readily available! Thanks, Shawnee and Chris K!

Connecting to the solar panel junction box was the easiest task to do out of all this process so naturally, I was able to do it.

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Then we got to work connecting the system, so we knew where everything was meant to be when we transferred it across to the van.

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Success comes in many forms and this one was in the form of little lights. The solar was charging but there was an issue with the load – this could just be a discharged battery requiring some juice maybe?

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The first major part was drilling the hole through the roof. After a couple of trips to Halfords, Screwfix etc all the bits needed were purchased and Terry got to use the tools that have sat idly in the utility room we have for many many days…

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Anyway – what a hole! Maybe a little further than we wished for but, if you look at photos of the roof, there’s a raised part that we avoided drilling through…

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The solar panel cabling was pushed through piping and sealed with a sealant to make it water tight – it might take a little longer in this freezing weather to set but the hole sits beneath the solar panel so that will act as added protection as well.

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Bailey, at this point, joined us and sat patiently in the driver’s seat. He probably thought we were going somewhere and didn’t want us to go without him… he didn’t offer to help, always the freeloader.

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Cracking on in the cold weather with the snow trying to settle around us, Terry glued and drilled the solar panel on to the roof. This was easier than expected. The hardest part was earlier on in the day when we disagreed over how to fix the panel on – Terry wanted this special amazing type of 3M tape that could probably stick a train to its tracks but me, being the panicked and cautious individual that I am, (read: overly panicking) didn’t like the thought of just tape holding the panel down – especially on the motorway at 70mph! So, in the end, Terry got to ‘stick’ the panel down with glue and I got the drilling that I wanted. Compromise.

I guess he didn’t really fancy spending ages drilling in the -2 degree Celsius chill… (sorry Terry!)
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The charge controller was quickly installed near the cable entry hole – this stops the battery from being overcharged from the panels. We decided to put the battery at the back of the van as I didn’t want the battery near the gas or water, nor under the seat/bed area or up front near the driver’s seat – so at the back, in at the bottom of the shelving unit it went.

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By this point it was sooooo cold Bailey was giving us a look of despair. Snow was coming into the vehicle (you can see the flakes on the floor in this picture). One last job of setting the cabling system back up (and installing a DC breaker) and we retreated quickly to the comfort and warmth of our house for dinner.

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I checked on the charge controller an hour later to see if there were any changes/it was on fire/the battery had exploded etc. Being amateurs with this kinda thing I am slightly worried that it’ll all go a bit, Pete Tong. Glad I purchased a fire extinguisher (did I mention I’m a panicker?).

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I think the placement of the solar panel is good. It gives us space to put a 1/2 size panel on top if needed (read: funds allow) next to the full one. I thought it would be very obvious it was on there but, unless you’re looking from the top it isn’t really. I could put a fake/modified ‘roof rack’ to disguise it further from the ground view but I think people would just happily walk past this and not see it.

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I can’t take credit for the fixing really, Terry did about 90% of the work (I passed him his tools).

I’ll be honest, I’m not good at DIY, AT ALL  – even making a metal insect in DT class in school when I was younger turned out to be a hideous effort where I was given a pity C grade and told not to take DT as a GCSE option… all I had to do was cut a length of metal, drill two holes, thread through two metal rods, bend and weld them to the rod… let’s say my stick insect looked like it was in horrifc pain with multilate limbs when I finished with it. Something weird that Guillermo del Toro would have dreamed up!
Anyway, I digress with stories of fond childhood memories of failing miserably at things when really what I should be writing about is what will happen next? The solar panel remains connected overnight (not that anything will happen) and will remain tomorrow to further charge the battery. Reading online it takes approximately 7 hours to comfortable charge to have good output voltage (20 hours in total? Is that correct?).
If the red light remains on then we will look at changing the battery to another one. If still an issue, then maybe cry, laugh at failing miserably again, curse the skies and seek out professional support!

But seriously, hopefully, it all goes well and we can connect the inverter and fix the lights in the van.

Goodies for van waiting to be put in!

Will also take a look at the heater – the van heats up but the fan is not blowing, but the whole section on the panel is not lighting up so it could be a sensor needing cleaning or something? This is certainly turning into an interesting van adventure!

Just Joanne

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