Part of living full-time in a travel coach means being somewhat independent. Solar voltaic energy has always been a dream for us. Once Luna became a place we planned to live, solar was at the top of the list. Solar energy installed onboard has provided plenty of 12 volt and 110 volt electricity, to allow us a completely comfortable life. Except for A/C, we utilize electricity in our lives very similar to a normal home. Everything you can imagine gets charged, we sleep on a heated mattress pad, bake bread in an electric countertop oven, watch movies on a big TV, and cook, make coffee, dry hair, defrost the fridge, and all kinds of other stuff on the solar system. We started by doing an energy audit on our belongings, utilities, and accessories. Listing every electric item in the house, we estimated how many hours a day, week, or month we thought we use it. Everything was listed by voltage, wattage, and/or amperage. We sent the audit to Battleborn Batteries where they estimate a 4-5 battery system, including Victron electronics. Christina and I had already estimated a 4-600 amp hour system, so this sounded just about right. We purchased 5, 100 amp hour batteries and all the electronic components, the charge controller, battery monitor, Multiplus, and various smaller components.
After determining the wire gauge and length I ordered it, wire lugs, heat shrink, big fuses, shut-offs, a rachet drive crimper, by-pass cutters and dug out the heat gun. Our panels came from HighTec Solar. 5, 200 watt PV panels are up there now. We installed all of the batteries and electronics on the curbside, just inside the rear of the wheel well, under the cabinetry, and just inside an exterior access door, that used to reach under the bed. I strapped the batteries, mounted on black pipe insulation as a pad, to the floor.
Once I wired the inside of the battery/electronics compartment, I pulled the old converter, glass fuse panel, and 110V breakers, replacing them with a new 12 position, spade fuse panel, a new 30amp main breaker, and new A/C and outlet breakers, all in new boxes.
I installed an electrical management system between the main breaker and the exterior 30 amp connector, which is installed just outside the access door and allows the coach to be connected to shore power, without a cord hanging out the access door.
The new A/C breaker is fed from the Victron Multiplus, auxiliary output, and the outlets’ breaker is fed by the Multiplus main output. Both are backed up by the Multiplus, and battery bank in the case of a shore power reduction. However, that only works if the electric management system is bypassed, as the EMS shuts down shore power at 104 volts anyway. All of the electronics and neutral bus bars are grounded to a freshly bright spot on the trailer frame, directly below the compartment. The compartment is ventilated to the interior for air movement, and a smoke detector is installed inside. None of the components are on top of the wheel well cover, nor directly behind it. The solar charging wire goes up the same route the greywater vent stack takes, to a boot on the roof, leading to a junction box, leading then to each panel.
Each panel is wired with an in-line 30 amp fuse. These panels are wired in parallel. This system works great and we use a lot of electricity, however, we will soon order 3 more panels and wire those in 4 parallel sets of 2 series. It’s a long story, but we camp in a lot of cold, cloudy weather, so we are “over paneling”. I mounted the panels to the roof, low and close. None of the rooftop accessories are covered. The mounting brackets are made from 1/8″ sheet aluminum. I made them at Machine Head in Kansas City, and use stainless steel fasteners on the assembly and installation. All the wiring between the roof and panels is suspended using lots of black zip ties. We keep a Honda 2000 inverter generator on the van and use it when we find ourselves in long cloudy spells and short winter days. Adding 3 more panels will reduce that need somewhat. The crew at Battleborn always answer quickly or call us back, when we have questions. The electronics come pre-programmed, and when we did need to make one adjustment they did it with us over the phone, through our phone app blue tooth connection. We love the freedom the system provides. We don’t watch much TV during the days but watch movies at night. All of the light bulbs in the coach have been replaced with LEDs, the fridge is built for solar living, so it runs on 12v, and can run on 110 if we plug it in. The fridge/freezer has run on solar for over 18 months, 24/7. In sunny weather in the summer, we can’t burn through enough electricity to run the system low. In rainy, cloudy weather or short winter days, we are careful to time and conserve our electric usage.
Overall the solar system has provided a lot of freedom, and comfort. If we stop overnight in a Walmart, we can watch movies, bake food, charge everything and sleep warm, without firing up a generator. When we stay at state parks we park in sites with no hook-ups saving a lot of money. And of course, boon docking in amazing locations is made comfortable with solar. It’s one of our favorite investments.