to simplify     notes from the open road

Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Solar Story

Several days later, the new flexible solar setup is totally finished. At last.

Astute readers will notice that my snappy DIY solar combiner is missing in the above shot, and the astutest of the astute will notice that the two panels towards the front of the van are no longer the same size. What happened, you ask?

It all started when I lost the forward 75 watt panel while cruising somewhere out on the 210 a couple of days ago. On the upside, I just so happened to be checking my sideview mirror when it happened, and I can confirm that a busload of kindergarteners were not sent plunging off the road to their fiery deaths. So there's that. On the downside, well, I'm now down one panel. I can't help but think of that Moses scene in History of the World, Part I – "...the Lord has given unto you these 240...[WHOOSH]...these 165 watts!"

Fear not, however. This story has somewhat of a happy ending.

Crawling slowly back to Q's compound so as not to lose either of the two remaining panels, I was fortunate to come up behind an old lady in a Prius doing 45 in the right lane. Things were looking up already.

Once back on home turf, I pulled out the extra 90 watt panel that I hadn't installed yet and, just for kicks, tossed it up on the roof. Eureka – I discovered that this panel along with the 75 watt panel that had survived the 210 would make a perfect fit for the middle section of the hightop if only my snappy DIY solar combiner fit underneath the panels instead of in between them.

Of course, my combiner was way too bulky for that, so research ensued, and I came up with these flexible 3-to-1 MC4 branch connectors on Amazon. Long story short, they sit perfectly out of view in the crevice formed by the back side of the hightop's roof vent bump, and a far sleeker layout emerged – with 15 more watts even. It never would have occurred to me to make this change had I not lost that panel out on the 210, and since no kindergarteners got so much as a hangnail in the process, I'm actually kind of glad it happened. Sure, I'm down about $145, but it's minor bump in the road on a project of this scope.

By the way, it was the Dual Lock tape that failed me, or more accurately, it was my not having used nearly enough of it, so in this new and improved layout, the entire perimeter of each panel is secured with the stuff. Everything feels spectacularly solid now, so kindergarteners everywhere can rest easy.

Moving on, one aspect of this installation that I haven't covered yet is how I handled the run of cables from the roof all the way down to the charge controller inside the van. Behold:

I started out with a couple feet of 3/4" PEX pipe, bent it to match the contour of the top using a heat gun, glued it to the top using Sikaflex 252 (the same stuff that holds the top to the van), and then masked off and spray painted everything to match the top. The result is a rock-solid path for the cables to follow down and through the same rear vent that my previous solar installation used. Best of all, I didn't have to drill any holes.

A day off tomorrow due to work and rain, but Monday I dive into the interior. Onward.