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Friday, September 9, 2016

Solar on a mini-van

I'm going to talk about the solar system on my 2005 Chrysler Town & Country. It's going to be short but will have ten or twelve photos

Various place on the internet people ask about solar for their van or RV. Fairly often I see replies where the adviser has a very different view of solar than I do. When I see thousands quoted as "necessary" I just have to speak up. My system was less than $500.

I thought it would be nice to have what I did written out and some photos of it... Then when I see the question I can write a few words, drop a URL & go do something else

I have a 100w panel on my roof that I bought off craigslist for $90. The solar controller is a Tracer 20 amp mppt that I bought at Amazon for $109. The 12v fuse block was from Amazon & around $32. The two 122 amp hr, 12v batteries were from Walmart, $86 ea ($12 more if you don't  have a turn in, if you buy them in Oregon there is no sales tax).The battery boxes were about $9 ea at Walmart. I bought the 10g dual solar wire from a tent in Quartzsite, 80 cents a ft maybe & I bought 20 feet.  I used 4 sets of NC4 connectors all together ($3 to $6 each set in Quartzsite), just two on the van set up, there others were so I could move the panel & use my 50' 12g extension chord if I wanted the van in the shade & the panel in the sun. I did the remote panel thing in the beginning before the panel was mounted on the van.

The panel is almost hidden in the roof top rack, people have stood by the van as we talked of the solar & I had to point it out to them.

Can't see the panel

Hard to notice if you don't know

Money stuff....
Panel              $90
Controller      $109
Fuse               $32
Battery           $86
(second)         $86
Boxes (2)       $18
Wire               $16
NC4 sets        $20

How much?       $457

Of course there was more, any project costs more but it's still in the neighborhood of $500. Shop around, the controller & fuse box can be had for less today.

This powers two led lights & two 12v outlets plus a 410w inverter (12v to120vac) in case something needs household current.

The 100w panel

Mounted to the roof rack

MC4 connectors

Wires going into the van

The batteries are under the plywood

Ikea cutting mat to insulate the terminals 

View of the batteries in back where the seat used to stow
The 2 batteries in their cases

The solar controller, fuse box & inverter

I did mention using the panel off the vehicle. I made two cables. One hooked to the solar panel & the other plugged into the solar controller, between the two I could run my 50 ft long extension cord. This worked well with very little voltage drop (as measured with my Fluke multimeter)

The left cable to the controller, the right to the panel

I have lights, computer & phone power in the winter desert nights... it's Magic!


  1. The controller is completely unnecessary if the panel couldn't overcharge the battery.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. But it can...

      I'm not here to argue, I'm not an expert but this has worked for me..

      That panel does put out in excess of 5 amps all day long, the controller just gives the battery what it needs.

  2. I like how you laid this project out in easy to understand terms , with pics!

    1. Thank you. I was aiming for clear!

  3. I think you did a nice job and it's a neat blog too.
    Thanks for sharing it. I would consider using an agm battery when it comes time to replace the one you have. We have one agm and 3 solar panels in our Roadtrek and it is awesome. Panels seen here: http://www.ipernity.com/doc/289359/34705705

  4. Thanks for visiting & you're welcome!
    The next time I buy batteries I'll probably be getting real deep cell 6v golf cart type batteries. With a little shopping they don't cost much more than the 12v batts I'm using now.
    Cost is a factor.

  5. this is interesting
    the Ol'Buzzard

  6. I started my solar experience with a couple Harbor frieght 45 watt sets, expanded to 120 watts of thin film amorphous panels and a mechanical relay PWM controller. Added a house battery connected to the starting battery with a knife switch. (I never opened the knife switch in reality.)

    On my new van I started with the 100 watt poly panel and just hooked it up to the starting battery. Eventually I added a battery (SLA the same as the Starting battery) in the seat well with circuit breakers (worked as over current and/or switch) on both ends near the batteries.

    Have ran my compressor refrigerator, lights, charged my phone and tablet, and 12 volt flat TV, microwave, and vacuum with no problems in over 2 years.

    One thing I do have is a "Volt Minder" adjustable low voltage alarm set at 12.2 volts. It's only gone off when I fell asleep with the TV on at night.

    Recently, I have become aware of Joule Ringers, and "Super" capacitors, for lighting they have some unusual properties.

    In reality I have no need for any more solar power than I already have. But, out of curiousity, I am planning a small stand alone (3@15 watt {Harbor Freight panels}, charge controller, 6@ capacitor {in series 12 volt}, 4@ 12 volt LiPO 1 Ah batteries, and a Super Joule Ringer 3.0) solar powered contraption. Maybe I'll have to get an electric stand up scooter or Folding electric bike to charge with it.

    1. It is amazing what you can do with a little solar isn't it? I like the idea of the volt minder, thanks!

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