OUR SOLAR SYSTEM UPGRADES - Part 1
In July of 2016 we purchased a brand new Fleetwood Bounder 35k. We live in it full time with our 18 month old son and love it! In January of 2018 we travelled to Arizona and Southern California to boondock for our first "Real" time with the Xscapers group! While I had added some Solar it just wasn't setup how I wanted it. So I set out to complete an upgrade so that we could camp where we want when we want and this is it.
In April I found an amazing deal on Victron equipment. Initially I was only going to upgrade my panels and charge controller, but through working with Matt from www.continuousresources.com and Rich the US Sales Manager for Victron I decided to go with a full Victron system to replace my current Magnum equipment.
This blog will focus on everything on the roof as well as my wire runs and the charge controllers I used. To begin I will list the specific equipment I used with links to said items.
- 200w+ Double Sided Solar Panels, Hightec Solar, Ebay(More to come in this later!!!)
- Victron SmartSolar 150/70 Charge Controller
- Victron SmartSolar 150/100
- Gigavac High-Voltage DC Cutoff Switches
- 25' - 2AWG Welding Wire
- 25' - 6AWG Welding Wire
- 50' - 10AWG Solar Wire
- 20A - MC4 In-line Fuse
So now that we have covered that equipment we will cover the installation! We have 10 panels installed on the roof. All but two of them are mounted on tilt brackets. The two at the very front of the RV are fixed do to how close they are to the front. The four tiltable panels on the driver side are mounted on commercially available individual brackets. The four panels on the passenger side are mounted in a slightly different manner. The panels are first bolted together into pairs. Those pairs are then mounted on custom tilt brackets that will tilt to either side of the RV.
From there, I have used 10AWG PV wire with an in-line fuse going back to the junction box above the residential refrigerator. In that box, we have combiner posts for each solar charge controller.
I have the four panels on the passenger side running in a single string of four to the 150/70. The wiring for those panels is 10AWG to the junction box where is converts to 6AWG to account for the distance it will travel. The other six panels are wired into two strings of three panels each. Which panel is in which string is determined by the possibility of shading. The strings are on 10AWG wire to the junction box where they convert to 2AWG wire. In the compartment with the charge controllers i have installed two high voltage DC cutoff switches.
As for the panels, they are a standard 200w, 5 Buss Bar panel. The big difference is that the backs are also glass rather than white panel. This allows reflected light to be absorbed by the rear of the panel. Now this isn't an technology marketed for RVs but i thought I would try it. The panels are typically marketed and tested to work best when mounted 5-10 feet off the ground with a typical ground covering. I purchased them with the thought that the white roof on an RV may allow for some increase in output. Between that thought and the very minimal cost difference from a typical 200w panels I felt it was a feasible option.
The Victron SmartSolar MPPT Charge Controllers are a very capable, flexible and feature packed unit. The most notable feature is the bluetooth connectivity. Victron has set these units up for easy monitoring for an RV setup. They offer an app "Victron Connect" that allows you to setup, upgrade firmware, observe performance factors and even link it with a Victron Battery Monitor for a more efficient operation. Installation as very simple and straight-forward just like most other Charge controllers. They do offer MC4 version that allow you to simple connect an MC4 connector/wire from the panels to the controller. These controllers are also capable of parallel operation although they don't sync their operations. You will notice the block square on both units, That is a removable cover where a control panel can be placed if you want. The biggest issue with mounting these is that the heat sink is on the back and therefor you shouldn't mount these on a combustible surface. Finally, the Victron line has multiple different MPPT controllers that are of varying levels of capability. This wide range of products allows you to choose a controller that fits your system's design.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for part 2!