Tag: Solar

VanLife - Solar Problems

Solar Problems in Abbotsford

VanLife - Solar Problems
Solar Problems – No Damage to Panels

It all started about two weeks ago.  We are boondocking in the yard where I work.  Things have worked flawlessly so of course, that means something has to go wrong and sure enough we encountered solar problems.  After plugging in a USB fan, we would wake to a dead battery.  So I decided to pay closer attention to the Solar Charge panel and we noticed that our charge volts from the panels were cut in half.

Solar Problems

We first noticed the problem when we were boondocking down in New Westminster.  Our battery was only charging half way, and we were running out of power before we would head to bed.  I climbed up on the roof of the camper van and metered the panels individually.  One panel was putting out 12 volts as it was supposed to.  The second panel, however, was only reading an output of 58.4 m/volts.

Seriously, how could a panel that was less than 23 months old not be working properly already?  Though I know with my luck, if something could go wrong it would, and it would happen to me.  The last thing we need is solar problems.  Michelle is about to start her new job, I am working tons of hours, and we have yet to get a BC address so even if I was able to get replacements, we had no place to have them sent!!

My first thought was to contact Solar Warehouse, which has now changed their name to Solar Wholesalers.  Hmm, strange, but sure enough I was able to get ahold of them and at first, they were none too interested in standing behind their product.   But after some conversation and emails, they said they would contact the manufacturer and have them RMA’d (returned).  I had to prove I had not damaged them, so I sent a series of pictures.  But this past weekend something interesting came about.  A friend of mine (Mike) was down and I was telling him the problem, and being a handy guy that he is, he climbed up and took a look.  He discovered that one of the leads coming from the panel as loose.  He decided to loosen the cap, and while doing so the entire wire fell free.

Really What Can Go Wrong with Solar Panels

VanLife - Solar Problems
Solar Problems – Disconnected

It’s kind of interesting, as a kid I used to be very much into taking things apart, but in this situation, I reverted to the brain washed consumer and was simply happy to return the panel for replacement, paid the shipping and away it went.  I have to stop thinking like that and dive back in and trouble shoot things more closely.  Today, I went to Fraser RV, looking for Cabinet Catch for one of my doors in Freddy.  I thought I would ask some questions about batteries for my solar and sure enough, as soon as the Service Department person got a look at the camper van his attitude changed and wanted to get rid of me as fast as possible.

In the end, I am glad Mike took a look and I was able to repair the panel right there.  I needed to be reminded we can fix most problems, whether they are solar problems, electrical or mechanical.

VanLife - Solar Installation

Installing Solar, Batteries and the Niagara Region

VanLife - Solar Installation
Solar : Planning and Installation

We finally made the decision for our Solar, who we are going to buy from and how to install.  There are a large number of excellent YoutTube Videos out there to help in this journey.  One of the best videos is by Will Prowse.  Though he is just a young kid he has been living the VanLife for many years.   One of the most challenging things we found here in the Niagara Region, is finding someone knowledgeable to speak with person to person.  Most shocking is the RV Industry is the last place you should speak with here.  I spoke to a so-called Service Specialist at Sicard RV in Smithville and her information was outright wrong.

Selecting Solar – Who, Where and What do you Need.

Originally I planned to buy an RV kit from Renogy, as they are one of the big names in RV Solar.  Many different YouTuber’s have used Renogy and had fantastic luck with them.  I, however, could not get them to respond to an Email, or to return a phone call.  I am more than willing to pay a little more for a product if the company has good Customer Service, and in my opinion, Renogy was not offering that to me in any way.  Luckily I discovered a website for a place out of Calgary called SolarWarehouse.ca.  In my early research about solar, I called this company and got fantastic information from their sales people, but had intended to take that information and buy from Renogy.  But in the end, I went with the SolarWarehouse.

VanLife - Solar
Solar: Flexible 100 W Panels

Why did I use SolarWareHouse you ask?  I think the biggest reason is they responded to all my questions and offered recommendations to upgrade or downgrade items I was thinking of purchasing.  Even though the price seemed higher than Renogy’s once you figured in exchange, duty and shipping we broke even.  Once we placed the order, I know in my eyes it could not get here fast enough.  The thought of full power was so exciting since we had lived with the battery charge from moving Freddy around the Falls.   The original order arrived in just a couple of days, however, it was missing the 30ft of wire that was crucial to actually install the panels.  SolarWareHouse was fantastic ensuring our missing items got to us.

Installing our Solar Rv Set-Up

Since Freddy is an older Class B Motorhome I felt there were some challenges.  The first challenge was how to wire things to our existing house battery.  The battery is on the left side of the couch, in a small compartment outside under the head.  I am not overly happy with drilling through the floor, right by our black water tank.  We would need to run the wires from the solar panels to the MPPT charge controller in the shower area.  I know that is not going to happen.  It turns out it was a good thing the wire was late making it to me as it gave me more time to figure out how the wire run was going to work.

VanLife - Solar
Solar: MPPT Charge Controller

I finally watched a YouTube video that showed an excellent setup, and I was able to copy it for Freddy.  Our maintenance person at work also suggested I simply run the wire on the underside of the van instead of through the living area.  I am not sure why I did not think of that but it turned out being the best piece of advice I received during the planning sessions.  My niece’s daughter Becca helped me during the install.  She is pretty awesome and always seems willing to try something new!  Thank you, Becca.

I used 15 feet of #2 wire for the inverter, and I used 15 feet of #4 wire for the run from the MPPT charge controller to the battery.  It was an expensive purchase as the wire cost about $165.00, but it was well worth it!  I still need to finish the install for the inverter, but at least all the wire is in place!  We need to replace our old house battery with hopefully two 6V AGM batteries.

Thinking of adding solar to your RV?  Have questions? Feel free to email me and let me know, I am more then happy to give you some advice!