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My Working 100W Solar Panel System: Made It Myself For $270

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#1 jazzjunkysue

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Posted 31 July 2014 - 11:30 AM

 My $270. 100 Watt solar panel package: (Not a package: I assembled it myself!) DSCN2918.JPG

 

 

1. Costco Solar Panel: http://www.costco.co....100054656.html

 

2. Lowes Charge Controller: http://www.lowes.com...oller=

http://en.wikipedia....i/MC4_connector

 

3. Lowes MC4 Cables: http://www.lowes.com...=mc4&facetInfo=

 

Nothing was available in stores: It was all online and shipped to my house.

 

Costs:

Lowes Charge Controller: $48

Costco 100 Watt Solar Panel: $135

Lowes 30’ MC4 Cables: $66

Tipping the guy who crimped it for me: $20

Total: $269.00

 

 

So, here’s the narrative:

 

Since I know nothing about electronics or batteries, and own no tools, I bought everything at stores where I could return everything without shipping in case this didn’t work. That’s why the great price for the Costco panel really made this a sweet deal. The Lowes price for the charge controller was high by $10, but I didn’t pay shipping, and I knew I could return it. Knowing it’s Chinese, that was important to me.

 

 

Having opened the controller I discovered that all of the cables were hard-wired into it.

Photo: http://ecx.images-am...61BnPpLQQyL.jpg

 

That’s good for me since I don’t know what I’m doing and I own no electronic tools. The o rings for the battery were simple enough, you just unscrew the wingnuts, slip them over the posts, red + black -  and re-tighten the wing nuts. The charge controller is made to just remain on the battery 24/7. Good. The mc4 cables will plug into the panel mc4 connectors. Great. Easy.

 

 

The only part of this I couldn’t do myself was connect the controller to the cables. The lines out from the controller to the solar panel were only about 24 inches long, and ended with plain wire, stripped to ¼ inch, with temporary protectors. The ends looked like this: 

 

https://encrypted-tb...UonJDZL9jIVpEqA

 

I need them to have these connectors on the ends so I can plug them into the longer extension mc4 cables. This is what I needed: http://en.wikipedia....i/MC4_connector

 

They had no connectors, just bare copper wires. I looked up online how to attach connectors and found the youtube how-to here:

http://www.youtube.c...h?v=W4yGfszChCA

 

I don’t own the crimper, and it’s something like $30-50+ dollars. I wasn’t sure I’d be buying the right crimper (there are lots of sizes) Plus, I don’t feel comfortable doing this myself. What if I’m not strong enough, or I do it wrong? Also, I’ll never need the crimper again.

 

So here’s my solution: I googled solar contractors in my area. The first one didn’t handle the hardware but he gave me 3 companies who do. I called them with my little story and they let me bring the controller to them. The men were out on jobs and no one in the office had the crimpers, so I left the controller with them, and the secretary asked the installers to crimp them for me when they came in. She called me when they were done and I went up and picked them up.

 

One important thing: Make sure you know if the positive end (always red) needs to be a male or female connector. That depends on your solar panel connectors. I drew myself a diagram of the positive (red) and negative (black) lines and noted all of the connectors for their male or female connectors, so that I knew which one was right for each line.

 

 

Now, my whole system is plug and play. I run the lines from under the bench into the sink area and use the power cord access panel for the cable. Everything is inside, nice and dry, except for the last panel connection, which I put underneath the panel in case of rain. I figure I’ll place it in the sun on a folding chaise lounge just to keep it off the ground. When I’m underway, it will be on the bed in my patriot.

 

I got it all home and connected, and it works!!! Yeah! I had un-plugged the casita from my house power a couple hours before, so, the battery had drained down to 12.5. As soon as I turned the panel toward the sun it re-charged up to 14 in a few minutes! I also turned on all 5 lights and the fantastic fan, just to put a drain on it. Sure enough, the voltage dropped, but the panel brought it back up.

 

I'll take it out and really use it and see how well it performs and add that to this post later.

DSCN2909.JPG DSCN2908.JPG DSCN2910.JPG DSCN2911.JPG DSCN2912.JPG DSCN2914.JPG DSCN2915.JPG DSCN2916.JPG


Edited by jazzjunkysue, 31 July 2014 - 11:32 AM.

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#2 jazzjunkysue

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Posted 31 July 2014 - 11:34 AM

2 more photos

 

DSCN2917.JPG DSCN2919.JPG


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#3 oregonlavender

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Posted 01 August 2014 - 03:37 PM

I just ordered the parts.  Hope I can make it all work, but you gave very clear directions.

 

Susan


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#4 jazzjunkysue

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Posted 01 August 2014 - 04:15 PM

I just ordered the parts.  Hope I can make it all work, but you gave very clear directions.

 

Susan

Dear Susan,

You'll be fine as long as you can find someone to crimp the 2 mc4 connectors for you. Also, do a dry run in your livingroom: make sure you snap everything together before attaching it to the battery, so you can see how the male/female +/- lines work. The only connection you'll be missing is the one from the controller to the mc4 cables, so, be careful to write down which connector on the controller is female (+ or -) and then make the other one male.

 

It's worked 2 days in a row,  now. My casita is off the house electricity completely.  I'll find out on my first trip tuesday how much electricity I can use during the day, but I think I'll be fine.

 

I love the feeling of being off grid!

Sue


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#5 jazzjunkysue

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Posted 24 August 2014 - 03:45 PM

Forgot to follow up! :rolleyes:

 

Spent 9 days during 2 trips and it works like a charm. Kept me above 12.5 volts every night. My rig draws electricity for the water pump, the propane  alarm, and the lights. I use propane for the fridge and hot water.

 

I found that if you're in full sun, you can get topped off in a few minutes, no matter how much electricity you draw. So, as long as you know you've got a clear day, you can use alot more electricity and replenish it before dark. I take showers mid day for that reason. It's not about the number of hours, it's about the intensity of the light. Intermittent sun doesn't power up nearly as fast, but it does just fine in the long run.

 

I keep seeing people who have attached the panels to their campers, and that doesn't make sense for me. I am in the northeast and many of the camps I use are full of trees. I find I move the panel around 3-4 times a day to chase the sun as it moves between trees and around the camper. Also, if the morning is rainy, you'll want to point that baby directly into the sun when the clouds part. I use an old folding chaise lounge to keep it off the ground. It makes it easy to point and move and angle.

 

I also wonder about rocks on the highway. Mine travels on my bed, nice and safe and sound. Plus, tree sap and bird doo doo would have to be cleaned off the roof. That requires a full ladder. I don't know, but it just doesn't make sense to me to attach it to the outside of the camper. You could never camp under a tree, so you'd lose the natural shade and cooling. Makes no sense at all.

 

My advice: keep it loose, and buy 2 30' MC4 cables.

 

The panel gets alot of attention at the parks. Well, the Patriot does, too! I give tours all the time! They're unknown up here.

 

One woman said she blew out her charge controller connecting the positive to the negative. My advice, as you see in my photos, is to wrap some nice red tape at each end of the + lines, at the controller and the panel, so that in haste, you won't get it wrong. I also put black on each negative,  just to be sure. The circuit needs to be + (red) from the battery + all the way to the panel + (red). Likewise with the negative (black.)

 

If you're thinking about going solar, and it's the hot topic now, watch solar rv youtubes. Lots of good advice and explanations. The web has some simple diagrams, too.

 

When you see people talk about inverters, I don't use one. Just the charge controller. It feeds the energy directly into the battery, and everything else runs off the regular camper wiring, which already has an inverter.

 

Thanks, to everyone who posts on here. You've all made my new hobby/dream come true!!! :wub:


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#6 Louise

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Posted 29 October 2014 - 04:17 PM

Fabulous instructions, and thank you for them. We also have a Patriot, but don't have hot water to deal with. We may end up getting a small panel, but not sure yet.
I wasn't sure what the last two photos represent. Can you make it clearer for me.
I like the idea that you ran the wires out through the electrical door -- that was brilliant!
We'll be in Vermont ths summer up by the Canadian border. If you're in the area, let me know.
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#7 Moenkopi

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Posted 31 October 2014 - 08:29 AM

For those folks thinking about going solar, there are some good reasons for mounting a panel on the roof (we have an 85W panel on our roof):
1) it collects whatever sunlight there is, all day long. We have camped in shady spots in the Smokies, in the fall, also up in Glacier, and still had a full battery by 1 in the afternoon.
2) it charges your battery as you are going down the road. Leaving early and no time to set up the PV? Raining at camp? Head on out and collect those photons as you drive!
3) they are much harder to steal when they are nine feet in the air. As cheap as solar has gotten, there are still people out there who don't want to go out and buy their own. I know a couple of folks who have lost expensive setups.
4) you don't have to chase the sun around camp during the day. I have watched people become downright obsessive about this. Usually they have bought a fairly small panel, so this may be necessary. With your hundred-watter, you probably barely need to think about it. We'd rather go out and hike, paddle, fish, or sight-see.
5) you can always buy a second panel to use as a moveable unit; just wire it in to your existing controller. Smaller panels work well in this application, since they are only supplementing power from the roof-mounted unit.


All that being said, it is strictly a matter of taste...just the way we decided to go for our needs. Your unit looks great! For those considering this, plan on converting to LED lights as part of your investment. They are essential!

#8 Dex

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Posted 31 October 2014 - 09:34 AM

For those folks thinking about going solar, there are some good reasons for mounting a panel on the roof (we have an 85W panel on our roof):
 

How did you attach it to the roof - generally - I'm not asking for a detailed description.


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#9 Moenkopi

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Posted 31 October 2014 - 05:30 PM

Dex,
I built 8 brackets out of 2" aluminum angle, bolted 4 to the panel using the mounting channels, then attached the other 4 to the roof with VHB tape, backing up the tape with 1/4" stainless bolts through the roof. The VHB tape makes a great gasket and I've had no leaks. Used 1/4" stainless bolts to connect each upper and lower bracket before taping to the roof, made for a pretty foolproof setup. The VHB tape is strong enough that you could forego the bolts through the roof, I just wanted extra security.

#10 CantC2tie

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Posted 17 March 2015 - 05:35 AM

Looking into options of installing solar panel or keeping the panel mobile.  More interested in the connection going into the battery box and the connection at the trailer avoiding having an open door or an open hole.  Interested in any and all comments...



#11 ArizonaEileen

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Posted 17 March 2015 - 01:36 PM

No need to assemble a solar panel anymore. Folks are now purchasing a 100 watt suitcase found on Amazon. Reviewers are giving it 4.75 stars.

 

http://www.amazon.co...ords=B00HR8YNK6

 

Solar is THE BOMB!  Makes dry camping, especially in the sunny Southwest, a pleasure.

 

Eileen


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#12 BillG

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Posted 06 July 2015 - 09:41 PM

And the charge controller can remain attached to the battery all the time? Even when trailer is on AC power supply? Thanks! Your photos are perfect!





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