Installing a Solar Power System

by | Jul 25, 2012 | 16 comments

Installing a Solar Power System

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Here I’m holding one of the panels with the rest of the kit around.

My friends James and Kyndal are camping near us and they were constantly running out of power. So they decided to upgrade their solar. I have long been a fan of Northern Arizona Wind and Solar. (their website is here:  http://www.windsun.com/). I’ve ordered a solar panel from them before because they have great prices and they support you both before and after the sale. I was confused by the installation of the panel I bought from them, so I called them and they walked me right through it. I’m their biggest fan.
So James bought a 280 watt complete solar kit from them (find it here: http://www.solar-electric.com/rvmakitwi280.html). It was a $923 for two Kyocera 140 watt panels, Morningstar solar controller, fuse box with three fuses, 40 feet of 10 gauge UV resistant wire, and the Z feet to mount the solar panels. It’s a good kit, but I think you are better off to order the individual parts.

This a “Z” foot mounted to the bottom of the panel. It’s obvious why it is called a “Z”.

For one thing, while the Morningstar is a good controller, it is not MPPT and doesn’t have a digital display. I think a better choice would have been a Blue Sky 2000E MPPT controller with digital display. I also think a simple in-line fuse would have been cheaper and worked just as well as the fuse box. But this is a all-in-one kit that will work very well.
So here are the steps to mount the kit.
1) You have to bolt the Z feet to the bottom of the two solar panels. Since they were going on the roof of an Astro minivan, the fit was very tight. The only way we could make it work was to mount the feet on the ends of one of the panels instead of on the sides.

Here is the first panel being wired. You just strip the ends of the wires, slide them under the plate on the post, and tighten down the screw. Be sure to put the weather-proofing nut on first, otherwise rain will get in and short the system.!!

2) Since we have two panels, we have to wire them together in Parallel. To do that we open the junction box of one of the panels and punch out the cover on one of the openings. James used a drill to drill it out. Wiring it is simple, just strip ½ an inch off the end of the red (positive) and black (negative) wires. The junction box is clearly marked as positive and negative, to connect the wire, you just use a Phillips scewdriver to loosen the screw that holds down the connecting plate. Slide the stripped end of the wire under the plate, then screw the plate back down tight. Simple! Don’t cut the other end of the cable since we don’t know how long it needs to be yet.
3) With the junction box wired, we were ready to mount the solar panel. James was more concerned with the strength of the mount than its looks, so he used long 5/16 th bolts with large flat washers.

This is the junction box of the second panel. One set of wires comes from the first panel and goes under the plate of the post. Then a second wire goes under the same plate and goes out into the van to the circuit breaker box. So you only loosen one screw for positive and one for negative and all the wires go to those two posts.

To mount the panels he climbed on the roof and drilled down through the feet, through the roof and then through headliner. Then we pushed the bolts through from the bottom, through the feet. To keep water from coming through, he used silicone caulk on the bottom of the feet and a bead all around the foot. To keep the nut from coming loose, he used Lock-Tite on the threads. Later on he will go back and cut the bolts down.
4) With the first panel wired and mounted, next we need to wire and mount the second panel. We laid the panel upside-down on the roof next to the first panel. We pulled the wire from the first panel over, made sure we had plenty and cut it off. Wiring it is also simple. First punch out both of the openings and run the wire from the first panel in through one of them. Then strip ½ an inch off the red and black ends and attach them under the terminals of the

Here we see where he penetrated the roof for the wire and used lots of caulk. It is just above the drivers door. Notice how little room there is on the roof for both panels.

junction box. Now the panels are wired in parallel. Next we need to wire in a second cable to go from the second panel to the solar controller. So we strip the ends off the cable and attach them alongside the cable coming from the first panel and tighten down the terminals in the junction box.
5) Next we mount the second solar panel just like we did the first.
6) To get the cable from the panel to the roof we drill a hole through the roof, run the cable through it, and use plenty of caulk to seal it.
7) Next we wire the cables into the fuse box and mount the fuse box on the wall. I don’t think the fuse box is necessary, so I’m not going to go into details on how to do it. I think it is better to use an

The 6 vot batteries wired in series to become 12 volt


in line fuse between the batteries and the solar controller.
8) To get the power from the fuse box to the controller, we stripped

The panels mounted on the roof of their Astro minivan. They have their solar shower on the back right now, but they plan to mound a cargo carrier back there very soon. Two people living in a minivan need all the storage room they can get!

the ends and screwed then into the fuse box on one end, and the controller on the other. Then we mounted the controller on the wall beside the fuse box.
9) We then stripped wires and ran them back to another fuse in the fuse box and from there to the battery. To my mind the fuse box was unnecessary, but I have to admit that doing it this way has the advantage of there being a fuse between all the elements of the solar system,
10) James bought a pair of Lifeline AGM 6 volt golf cart batteries, so we had to wire them in series to make them 12 volt. We ran a heavy 0 gauge wire from the positive post of one battery to the negative post of the other battery. Those two posts are still 6 volt, but the other two posts (with nothing else on them yet) have become 12 volt. The batteries have to be grounded, so he took the driver seat off and used the seat bolt as a ground.
And that’s it, he now has a 280 watt solar system producing an abundance of power. As long as there is sun, they will have all the power they need.
 
 
 

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16 Comments

  1. Solar Panel Kits

    A perfect example for Do it Yourselfers. All those who want to install solar power system themselves using solar panel kits must read this story. I really praise James and Kyndal for their nice efforts and also you bob who did a good job by explaining the entire story in front of us.

    • Bob

      Thanks for the kind words! While I think you can get more for your money by buying individual parts, the kit makes it seem much safer and easier for people who are new to solar. That alone is worth a few extra dollars! Bob

  2. MichaelinOK

    Bob,
    This post, as well the blog overall and your other websites, shows your wonderful and uncommon mix of people-oriented kind-heartedness and machine-oriented technical ability. I appreciate you sharing both sides of that balance with the public, and I’m sure many others do, too. Thank you.
    Michael

    • Bob

      Thank you for the kind words Michael, they are much appreciated. Whenever I sit down at the laptop I ask myself how can I help people to find the wonderful life I have found for myself. That really is my goal. I also have the advantage that the mechanical stuff doesn’t come easy or naturally to me. I’ve done it all wrong many times before I got it right. So when I write about it, I just imagine how I did everything wrong and try to help people around the mistakes. Thanks again for your kind words! Bob

  3. Nemo

    one modification I would suggest for em.. though it’s not a biggie, is installing a cut off switch to tie in their starting battery, that way if it is every running low, they can jump themselves with the flick of a switch. just a bit more convenient than breaking out jumper cables from one bank to the other 🙂 just have to remember to shut the switch back off when they are pulling power from the house batteries.

    • Bob

      Nemo, that is a a great idea, I’ll pass it along. Are you going to move your solar system from your house back to the box truck? Bob

      • Nemo

        yep, mentally laying it out now, gonna modify the mount so that I can tilt up the panels in the winter when I’m parked, though with 2400AH of battery, I really dont need to.

        • Bob

          With 410 watts of solar and 2400 ah of batteries, I think you could power a small city or an aircraft carrier! BUT as Captain Kirk was so fond of telling Scotty, you can never have enough power!! Tilting panels seems like a good idea. Have you considered a wind generator? As you know all too well, the Arizona desert has plenty of wind in the winter.

        • Bob

          One more thing, I think Aluminum angle iron from Home Depot would make great tilting mounts. Mount one to the bottom of the panel and another one to the roof so that when the panel is down they form a “Z”. A bolt at each end keeps the panel down. To raise it, loosen the front bolt (which now acts as a hinge) take the back bolt out of the back and raise the panel up. Put in a 2 foot (just a guess, you’ll have to measure for right length) piece of flat aluminum between the back hole and a hole in the top aluminum angle iron mounted to the panel. Put bolts in and tighten the front bolt. Hope that makes sense. Bob

          • Nemo

            I have a few old bed frames that I’ll be cutting up to use as the angle iron 🙂 in the old mount, just used tubular fence posts, will still incorporate those but then modify to allow me to pull the panels up, like having the tubular steel there to protect the panels while on the road.

          • Bob

            Sounds good, and cheap!! Bob

  4. JD

    Yep, Thanks for the help with the install Bob! Everything is running like clockwork and we no longer have any worries over power moving forward! Super happy with the system and Northern Arizona Wind and Sun!!

  5. Solar Systems Melbourne

    It is not easy to install solar power system. It requires good knowledge and experience. I am very pleased to find excellent way to install solar power system.

  6. stp

    ok, that sounds simple and all but to those of us with no electrical experience, its lacking details. how exactly do you wire fuses and what size and type and holder etc etc? how about a picture? how do you run the ground from the battery to the seat bolt…what type of wire do you use and how and where do you connect them??? everyone tells the sequence but no one shows/mentions the particulars of sizes and wires or even explains simple things to the novice like how wire is sized…is zero thicker or thinner than 10? this is all simple info that would help a beginner really be able to wire their own system safely but the people who know how to do it make too many assumptions. remember, if you are going to teach someone something, you have to break it ALL down. people who know these things already probably don’t need instructions. just sayin….! please, can you give us the basic basics?

    • Bob

      STP, you make a good point! The problem is that giving that much detail will require a book, not just a brief blog post. So I try to cover as much as I can, knowing that I won’t cover it all. I think I have covered everything at one time or another in my websites, blog and forum, but you would have to go back and gather it all and read it all to cover the whole gamut of information. That would be very difficult and time consuming.
      It has actually been my goal for awhile to write a Kindle book on Solar that brought everything together in one place. It would have 3 parts, the first written for people who know nothing about Solar or 12 volt and never want to know anything about it. The Second for those willing to learn about controllers, inverters, fuses and wire sizes. The third covering more advanced topics for those willing to learn more.
      The book would cost $2.99 and the pictures would be on a separate web site because the Kindle does not handle pictures very well. Now all I need is time to write it!
      Bob

Table of Contents

16 Comments

  1. Solar Panel Kits

    A perfect example for Do it Yourselfers. All those who want to install solar power system themselves using solar panel kits must read this story. I really praise James and Kyndal for their nice efforts and also you bob who did a good job by explaining the entire story in front of us.

    • Bob

      Thanks for the kind words! While I think you can get more for your money by buying individual parts, the kit makes it seem much safer and easier for people who are new to solar. That alone is worth a few extra dollars! Bob

  2. MichaelinOK

    Bob,
    This post, as well the blog overall and your other websites, shows your wonderful and uncommon mix of people-oriented kind-heartedness and machine-oriented technical ability. I appreciate you sharing both sides of that balance with the public, and I’m sure many others do, too. Thank you.
    Michael

    • Bob

      Thank you for the kind words Michael, they are much appreciated. Whenever I sit down at the laptop I ask myself how can I help people to find the wonderful life I have found for myself. That really is my goal. I also have the advantage that the mechanical stuff doesn’t come easy or naturally to me. I’ve done it all wrong many times before I got it right. So when I write about it, I just imagine how I did everything wrong and try to help people around the mistakes. Thanks again for your kind words! Bob

  3. Nemo

    one modification I would suggest for em.. though it’s not a biggie, is installing a cut off switch to tie in their starting battery, that way if it is every running low, they can jump themselves with the flick of a switch. just a bit more convenient than breaking out jumper cables from one bank to the other 🙂 just have to remember to shut the switch back off when they are pulling power from the house batteries.

    • Bob

      Nemo, that is a a great idea, I’ll pass it along. Are you going to move your solar system from your house back to the box truck? Bob

      • Nemo

        yep, mentally laying it out now, gonna modify the mount so that I can tilt up the panels in the winter when I’m parked, though with 2400AH of battery, I really dont need to.

        • Bob

          With 410 watts of solar and 2400 ah of batteries, I think you could power a small city or an aircraft carrier! BUT as Captain Kirk was so fond of telling Scotty, you can never have enough power!! Tilting panels seems like a good idea. Have you considered a wind generator? As you know all too well, the Arizona desert has plenty of wind in the winter.

        • Bob

          One more thing, I think Aluminum angle iron from Home Depot would make great tilting mounts. Mount one to the bottom of the panel and another one to the roof so that when the panel is down they form a “Z”. A bolt at each end keeps the panel down. To raise it, loosen the front bolt (which now acts as a hinge) take the back bolt out of the back and raise the panel up. Put in a 2 foot (just a guess, you’ll have to measure for right length) piece of flat aluminum between the back hole and a hole in the top aluminum angle iron mounted to the panel. Put bolts in and tighten the front bolt. Hope that makes sense. Bob

          • Nemo

            I have a few old bed frames that I’ll be cutting up to use as the angle iron 🙂 in the old mount, just used tubular fence posts, will still incorporate those but then modify to allow me to pull the panels up, like having the tubular steel there to protect the panels while on the road.

          • Bob

            Sounds good, and cheap!! Bob

  4. JD

    Yep, Thanks for the help with the install Bob! Everything is running like clockwork and we no longer have any worries over power moving forward! Super happy with the system and Northern Arizona Wind and Sun!!

  5. Solar Systems Melbourne

    It is not easy to install solar power system. It requires good knowledge and experience. I am very pleased to find excellent way to install solar power system.

  6. stp

    ok, that sounds simple and all but to those of us with no electrical experience, its lacking details. how exactly do you wire fuses and what size and type and holder etc etc? how about a picture? how do you run the ground from the battery to the seat bolt…what type of wire do you use and how and where do you connect them??? everyone tells the sequence but no one shows/mentions the particulars of sizes and wires or even explains simple things to the novice like how wire is sized…is zero thicker or thinner than 10? this is all simple info that would help a beginner really be able to wire their own system safely but the people who know how to do it make too many assumptions. remember, if you are going to teach someone something, you have to break it ALL down. people who know these things already probably don’t need instructions. just sayin….! please, can you give us the basic basics?

    • Bob

      STP, you make a good point! The problem is that giving that much detail will require a book, not just a brief blog post. So I try to cover as much as I can, knowing that I won’t cover it all. I think I have covered everything at one time or another in my websites, blog and forum, but you would have to go back and gather it all and read it all to cover the whole gamut of information. That would be very difficult and time consuming.
      It has actually been my goal for awhile to write a Kindle book on Solar that brought everything together in one place. It would have 3 parts, the first written for people who know nothing about Solar or 12 volt and never want to know anything about it. The Second for those willing to learn about controllers, inverters, fuses and wire sizes. The third covering more advanced topics for those willing to learn more.
      The book would cost $2.99 and the pictures would be on a separate web site because the Kindle does not handle pictures very well. Now all I need is time to write it!
      Bob