Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Archive for the tag “Solar”

Setting Up the Intrepid’s Solar Ground Panels

The video below shows how the Intrepid carries its two 100-watt solar ground panels onboard, and how they are removed and deployed. The usual setup on Four Wheel campers is to carry one panel by using two aluminum rails attached underneath the bed area of the camper, but there isn’t enough of a vertical gap between the camper and the truck’s cab roof to stow two 100-watt panels in this way. Plus, the then-owner of Four Wheel personally interceded on the phone to dissuade me from using that method due to his fear that the combined weight of the panels and the inherent violence of off-roading might cause delamination of the board used in that area. I had wanted to use adhesive tape rather than drill for machine screws through the board from inside the camper, something I’m squeamish about when accuracy is vital. It’s a moot point, though. There isn’t enough physical space available.

So I designed, prepped and had a highly experienced welder assemble an aluminum carrier rack that is bolted to the forward jack mounts of the camper. It’s a twin-track affair which carries Read more…

A Punch in the Solar Nexus

My thought diversion for today is an update on the Intrepid’s solar system. I mention it because, it now being January, the sun arcs low enough in the sky to starve the flat-mounted 360-watt roof panels. This is not a surprise to me nor too many other people. Since these panels are trying to recharge some 420 amp-hours of battery capacity while a 12VDC compressor fridge is running for unusually long periods of time in hot weather, this power drain and poor panel aiming tends to prevent the pack from reaching and holding its 14.4V peak for its intended 3-hour span. So, the 200-watt ground panels were deployed everywhere I camped, when practical, and re-aimed throughout the day. In a cloudless sky, this combination can get the pack fully charged by 2 PM. Partly cloudy skies slow or prevent that, obviously. The main culprit is the inability to aim the roof panels toward the sun, but a close second is the unusually long runtime of the Dometic compressor fridge. In a marginal charging situation, it pulls enough power and runs long enough to prevent a full charge, and that can be a battery killer. Combine that with clouds, and you have an undesirable situation, even with the ground panels deployed. These were my thoughts as of last fall, anyway.

None of this is a problem over the winter months in Yuma, since the fridge is off and nothing else is pulling power, either. However badly oriented, the roof panels alone can easily recharge the pack then. Were I to have to keep the camper in service over the winter, some changes would be needed because that fridge would be on. The first impulse was of course to increase panel wattage, but this is not a practical option for me. There’s no more space on the roof for additional panels. While I could theoretically add another 100W ground panel or two to pump 300 or 400 watts through the separate Morningstar 200-watt charge controller (a good way to increase charging in poor sun conditions), my storage rack is maxed out and, as far as space in the truck cab and camper goes, there’s no room at the inn. I’m already panel-heavy. Enough with more panels, already! Important note: Don’t try this at home. Don’t exceed your own controller’s Read more…

State of the Intrepid – Solar Power Mods

You want trauma? Try drilling and sinking sheet metal screws into a pristine, seamless 1-piece top.

You want trauma? Try drilling and sinking sheet metal screws into a pristine, seamless 1-piece top sheet, where every screw must intercept a supporting thinwall rib somewhere underneath. And it’s up to you to figure out exactly where those aluminum ribs might be.

The Grandby by default came with an electrical system intended to be powered off the Ford’s twin starting batteries. This is not a bad way to go if you travel a little each day, don’t use much power, and preferably swap in some Optima AGM deep cycle batteries under the hood to deal better with the dual-purpose stresses. Lots of overlanders do this, but it starts to make less sense once you begin to stay planted, use more power, and/or don’t care to lug along a generator and gas can. Stranding your own vehicle by depleting its starting battery is seldom advisable.

I recommend wiring an inexpensive digital DC voltmeter to your battery to get a rough idea of its state of charge. This one is simply perched on top of a Samlex 150-watt pure sine inverter, which allows even sensitive electronics to run safely. It uses less than 6 watts at idle by itself. Since Samlex recommended 10-gauge wire for my length of hookup wire, that's what I used. No unpleasant surprises.

I recommend wiring an inexpensive digital DC voltmeter to your battery to get a rough idea of its state of charge. This one is perched on top of a Samlex 150-watt pure sine inverter.

I was already sitting on five 3-year-old AGM batteries, as well as a suitable solar charge controller and four 200-watt solar panels. Whoops, overkill! Right? A distinct lack of storage space and roof acreage prompted me to keep just four of the batteries and the controller. Couldn’t I make do with fewer batteries? Yes, definitely. Just two 104Ah batteries would possibly Read more…

Intrepid Solar, Part Deux

Have Space, Will Travel. This rack caries two framed solar panels, resting on their sides.

Have Space, Will Travel. This rack carries two framed solar panels, resting on their sides.

Stowing one framed solar ground panel aboard the Four Wheel Grandby is an easy matter. It’s merely a matter of affixing a couple of aluminum angles and wood slats to the bottom of the bed overhang, above the truck’s cab. For a workable presentation of the details, head for Two Happy Campers. Doubling the number of panels presents a clearance problem, however. The panels I have are a bit too wide to fit side-by-side, so that’s out. There’s enough room under there for just about any size of single panel you might care to heft, though higher weights mean you need to pay more attention to exactly how those slide rails are attached to the surface above. As far as clearance goes, there’s plenty available. The combination of the camper’s comparatively light weight and the F-250’s frame strength simply won’t allow the panel-to-roof gap to close much. I wouldn’t expect roof contact during slow off-road articulation either, since the Ford’s roof is curved and negates much of the effect of frame twist in closing up clearances to the hanging panel.

So that’s the “traditional” external storage solution. I opted for an alternate approach: a rack mounted to the Grandby’s Read more…

Intrepid Solar, Part 1

Roof beams marked in pen, the first solar panel is taped to protect paint, and placed about where it is planned to go.

Roof beams marked in pen, the first solar panel is taped to protect paint, and placed about where it is planned to go.

Technically, the Intrepid’s solar system is fully up and rolling. I’m calling this post “Part 1″ because there’s still no place to stow the two Renogy 100-watt ground panels.

This is a long post. The executive summary is that three Aleko 100-watt solar panels and one 60W panel are now roof-mounted on the Four Wheel Grandby, using four pairs of 1.5″ x 1.5″ x 31″ aluminum L-angles that each span three structural roof beams. #8 x 1/2” self-tapping stainless steel screws were used as the fasteners. The roof panels feed a Morningstar TriStar MPPT 45A charge controller liberated from the Defiant, while the ground panels supply an Outback Smart Harvest MPPT 20A controller. A Battery Life Saver desulfator is wired in as well, controlled by an LED-lighted toggle switch. Four 104Ah Sun Extender AGM batteries have been stuffed into the Grandby’s bench seats. A rather complex wiring scheme has been used to minimize unequal draw and charging among the four batteries, with equally elaborate fusing to protect all positive and some negative cables running between the two benches. A 150-watt Samlex pure-sine inverter handles all AC power needs. There you go.

For those of you who are gluttons for punishment, here’s the nitty gritty. I was originally going to install one of Read more…

Revenge of the Catch-22


Per my last post on the topic of solar panels for the Mighty Intrepid/FWC Grandby, I had a decent planned setup with a 100W solar panel at each corner of the roof, each panel being held with a 20.5-inch long ABS adhesive mount fore and aft, for aero and dependability reasons. I figured that would be long enough to catch a couple of structural roof ribs under each one, and apply an abundance of adhesion to hold to the roof securely. The only real limitation was that I could come only so close to the roof edge because of tapering of the roof’s thickness.The panels would be held to the mounts with horizontal screws. The panels might be closer to the start of the taper than I liked, but it seemed promising.

As for using ground panels to add solar power, stowing a solar panel in slides mounted under the Grandby’s bed overhang has been done for awhile. After all, that platform is engineered to carry a heap of weight, being a 7″ or more vertical aluminum extrusion wrapped around the bed perimeter. Plywood forms the mattress platform, and a 20-pound panel hung under it should be no big deal, right? Given that the camper is now installed and that drilling holes from underneath is hit or miss because of its closeness to the truck cab’s roof, I thought about attaching a panel-carrying set of rails underneath, held by 3M VHB (Very High Bond) tape and supplemented toward each end with screws, since drilling there from underneath is not a problem. But what was the facing surface under this platform? There are a few different versions of VHB tape, each tailored for certain surfaces. I emailed Four Wheel Campers to ask.

This is what holds the bed platform, so there's no concern about hanging some weight under it - as long as it's done properly.

This is what holds the bed platform, so there’s no concern about hanging some weight under it – as long as it’s done properly.

What I promptly got back was a reply saying, “If you could please call us at ___-___-____, we can discuss a number of issues at the same time and wrap this up for you.” Say what? I’d expected Read more…

All Stop!

Looks like I'll be starting over on solar!

Looks like I’ll be starting over on solar!

I was preparing to order semi-flexible 100W solar panels from Windy Nation early this morning, the same panels that Renogy offers. Six of ’em weigh about 25 pounds, versus three of the 195W panels from the Defiant that weigh 129 pounds to get the same wattage total. The Intrepid’s roof lift struts help a lot, but not that much!

Then I came across a post about how the cells on semi-flexible panels tend to cup (distort) on exposure to solar heat (pooling dirt), and that this deterioration is evident after just one year. That made me think about the usual warranty on these, which is just 5 or 10 years, and that’s a lot less than the 25 or 30-year warranty on rigid panels. Instead of glass, the protective coating is transparent plastic. When I then stumbled over a Read more…

Intrepid Solar Solutions

This 100W panel offered by Windy Nation appears to be identical, but comes with additional connectors.

This 100W panel offered by Windy Nation appears to be identical to Renogy’s, but comes with additional connectors. Its 20% efficiency is considered pretty good.

When it comes to angst in planning mods to the Four Wheel Granby, AKA Intrepid, fitting it out for solar comes right behind dealing with its lack of interior space. On the face of it, adding solar to the Granby is unusually easy: it comes prewired for solar whether you want it or not. There’s an SAE socket installed on the roof, and another on the back wall for plugging in ground-based solar panels. Order Four Wheel’s battery option, and you get your choice of one or two 80Ah (amp-hour) AGM batteries, as well as a battery separator to keep you from running down your truck’s starting battery. You can order their solar panels, whether roof-mounted, ground, or both, with a charge controller that comes along. It’s easy, it works well, and you’re rolling the instant you take delivery.

Four Wheel's 100W roof panel is one option that's light enough to cause no issues.

Four Wheel’s 100W roof panel is one option that’s light enough to cause no issues.

Heck, with 240 watts of panels available from the factory powering an optional 160-some Ah of batteries, it’s all anyone could want. I mean, it’s enough to run the compressor fridge and a laptop, as long as weather conditions are decent and you don’t overdo it. And, it’s a “top-heavy” system: there’s enough Read more…

Solar Demystified

These are 195-watt solar panels, and where you put them is up to you or your rig's limitations.

These are 195-watt solar panels, and where you put them is up to you or your rig’s limitations.

I’m no expert on solar systems, but that of course doesn’t stop me from having opinions and expressing my ignorance. Since I’m currently having to engineer a simple solar system for another camper, I thought it timely to write this epistle on what to consider before it’s time to cough up your hard-earned dough.

I know that I’m supposed to break this up into smaller, frequent posts, but I find the loss in continuity disruptive, and kind of a gimmick to boost readership numbers. I have no sponsors, so there’s no point in artificially pumping up visits to impress commercial interests enough to give me money. Yeah, I’d like to have something for you every day just for its own sake, but that ain’t gonna happen. I almost have a life. This blog is based on providing complete and useful information or references, as well as inane trivia, in single packages that don’t force you to wait for the next installment. But at some 7,800 words, it does require tolerance on your part for unending tomes of ignorance. Enjoy.

For the purposes of this article, I’m sticking with simple, almost-affordable systems that you can easily design and build yourself. More costly and sophisticated systems, no. I’m electronically-challenged, and bottom feeder systems are my realm. They are relatively easy to design, install, and wire up.

Where to begin

It’s tempting to assume that the first order of the day is to wonder how many solar panels you’ll need, because that’s what Read more…

Solar Suds


This is the 3rd day of heavy overcast out of a predicted 4-1/2, and that will be followed by another couple of partly cloudy days, so the Defiant’s solar systems are getting a workout. If you have not looked back at past posts, the Mighty Defiant has three independent solar systems, each dedicated to specific tasks. The (2) house batteries power ignition for the fridge, water heater, water pump, and lights, as well as the iPad that I’m typing this on and the iPhone4 that connects it to the cellular Internet. At night, the house batteries also power 3 ultrasonic speakers in an attempt to keep any wandering rodents out of the trailer. (So far, so good.) The (4) batteries in the office pack power the desktop computer and the mission-critical entertainment system that offers moving picture amusement each evening, and the vast majority of them are talkies! It also recharges the Evelo e-bike’s battery, which is no easy task. At times like this, I’m glad I got a spare for it so that I can still get around in the manner to which I am accustomed. Lastly, there is also a single battery and panel dedicated to running a CPAP device, which battery is now doing double duty to desulphate someone’s old AGM battery to bring it back to life.

This is a pretty decent test period for the house batteries and especially the office pack, which I sized to last for

Read more…

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