Solar Install (Part 3)

As we left our story I had just got the cables (battery, monitor, and temperature) ran to the back of the refrigerator through the underside of the dinette bench. I showed Roxie the progress and she asked if I was going to put the controller under the dinette.

I said that I was going to put the controller behind the refrigerator and had already put a lock on the refrigerator door:

However, she had a really good idea. By putting the controller, switch, and breaker under the dinette it was much more secure and more accessible. All I had to put in the refrigerator area was the 2 gauge wires going to the top of the trailer through the refrigerator vent. That proved to be a bit problematic.

In our ’92 the area behind the refrigerator was wide open. Lots of room. However, in the 2012 it appears that Airstream created more of a controlled updraft for more efficiency. In looking at the specifications for the refrigerator they do have plans for a tight air draft configuration. But this makes it harder, nearly impossible, to drop a cable behind the refrigerator. But another problem was that I had the cable at the BOTTOM of the refrigerator!

I have to take the refrigerator out. I have done it before in our other trailer and knew there weren’t too many screws, etc. holding it in. It is just a larger one than our other one and much more cumbersome. As luck would have it our son came by right when I was going to take it out. He was able to muscle it out and I had all day to work on it. Alas, I did not take pictures.

Another issue was the gauge of wire. At the top of the trailer, the combiner box attaches to the refrigerator vent but I could not bend the 2 gauge wire enough to get the combiner box cover on. I had to use a smaller gauge for the combiner box, I chose 6 gauge. It would still handle the current.

I followed her recommendation and mounted it all under the dinette:

Above you can see the solar panel cutoff switch, the solar panel controller, and the circuit breaker.

Also, the wiring behind the refrigerator is much simpler:

The next step was doing the panels on the roof but first I wanted to get some of the internal wiring cleaned up. The set of three wires that go from under the dinette to under the couch goes along the base of the wall and needed some wire management:

There is also a set of two wires that go to the IPNPro Remote that I mounted on the wall:

Now off the panels on the roof. I have 3 Grape Solar GS-160 panels to mount. I had an idea where to put each of them but still had a bit of trepidation of the actual fitment. Our son helped me with the fitting and bracket mounting since the panels are 26lb and awkward. They went up very easily and the VHB tape worked well on most of the brackets.

We removed the panels leaving the brackets for me to secure further. We decided to put two screws in each one and put a lap sealant completely around each bracket:

But there was ONE bracket that gave me fits. Trying to put a screw in I hit something very hard and twisted off a head of one screw. I tried to flip the bracket and another screw would not go in. Great, now I have 4 holes to fill (maybe some FlexSeal Tape?). I moved the bracket on the solar panel and was able to mount it finally!

Here are some shots of the panels:

Wiring is next. I had to build a few MC4 cables to get to the combiner box but that was easy. They hooked up just great and I was ready to flip the switch:

I go down to the solar panel isolation switch and turn it. I check the voltage on the wires from the solar panels at the controller. 0 volts? It should be around 15-20v. I look at the switch and realize it was already ON and I had turned it OFF! Ok, really turn it on now. Now the voltage is 0.2v, still not enough. I turn the switch off and check the voltage on the panel side. 18 volts! Turn the switch back on. 0.2v. OK. That is enough for the night and I am losing the sun.

The next day with good sun there was still the same issue. Time to call Blue Sky. I talked to Ryan and he was extremely helpful. He said it sounded like some type of wiring issue. I wired the panels directly and not through the switch, same issue. I was perplexed and Ryan was also.

On the controller, there are 4 places to attach the 2 gauge wires. A positive and negative to/from the battery, which I knew was working fine since the monitor was working. Another connection point was from the solar panels (PV – photovoltaic). I looked at those connectors and saw something. The wire I was using is stranded and about 3-4 of those strands didn’t fit in the negative connector but pushed out to the side and actually touched the positive connector! There was the short!

I bent those wires away and the controller came to life! I was slightly embarrassed but pleased that it was working.

Now I get to play with tracking the in and out of solar power energy. As a non-scientific empirical test, I disconnected from shore power, turned on both Fantastic Fans and let it run all night. In the AM I had 84% battery capacity remaining. Once the sun started hitting the panels, the energy started flowing. Here are some screenshots of the monitor at a peak time:

It shows the panels charging up the batteries just fine. The batteries were fully charged up around noon that day.

I am pleased with the performance and very pleased that it is done!

Here are a couple of shots of all 3 panels on the roof:

Many thanks to the numerous blogs, videos, information that I used to plan and execute all this.

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