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Old 02-04-2020, 02:56 PM   #1
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Gonna do me some solar - oh boy

I am getting ready to add on a permanent solar system on the van so just want to check to see if I have it all covered. E350 with 6.0 diesel engine with the heavy duty charger for the engine circa 2008. Not all that huge of an output when looking at whatís out there now, but seems adequate for the job so far.

Our current usage for amps is the standard small Norcold fridge, water pump, LED lighting, stereo, Espar furnace, Espar hydronic engine/water heater. I think the panel I have chosen from Renogy will work well.

Currently using a Zamp foldable panel system rated at 120 watts of power. Panels have their own controller and the 15 foot cord plugs into a SAE type of plug we installed in the rear Aluminess bumper and runs to the house battery under the van just in front of the rear axle. Panel seems to do OK but seems limited by programming how much power gets put out to the battery. The plus for this setup is that we can park in the shade (we have that in CO) and put the panels in the sun. Parking with permanent panels in the shade may not go so well for us after doing this. We shall see but there are plenty of times we are parked in Moab or elsewhere in the sun and it would be nice not to have to deploy and lock the portable panels. I suppose if need be we could use both.

We have a Sure-Power 1315 separator that will be replaced before doing all this by a Blue Sea 7622 ACR with a cut off switch to keep excess current from always going to the van/starting battery. Want to be able to only charge the house battery most the time when on solar. Our charging system is alternator and the shore power connection to a Tripp Lite 2000w inverter/charger. We want to keep the shore power connection available although the charger really doesnít put out the desired max voltage for charging the Lifeline 210ah 4D AGM battery (new in September í19).

I know enough to be dangerous here and have gotten some good info from Greg @SCALF77 and others on this site. I have also been reading a lot from handybob on the Internet as well as other sources on solar power. Some info is good and some seems not so good.

I have another SMBer buddy that took his solar panel wiring into the penthouse then wired it into one of his 12v connections for a light or socket. He has used that connection to get the juice back to the battery bank via that connection and it seems to work for him but not sure that is what I want to do as it may not be the correct wiring to avoid voltage drop and not really sure I would get all I could out of the system. Would it really be all that simple and all that is needed along with a controller??

What I am thinking about is:
* Renogy 165w mono crystal solar panel that is 51x 26. This panel has the bypass diodes to account for some shading. Seems about every other panel is 58x26 which is just a few inches too long to sit sideways on the penthouse roof. Going to mount on the front of the penthouse roof as we have Thule mounting and crossbars and have a big need to use our Thule top box. Will probably have to get a shorter but wider roof box for the future if shadows become a problem from the box. Will use a plug setup either MC4 and/or SAE mounted flush in the penthouse roof so that the panel could be removed if needed. Will want to run the heaviest wiring that I can which appears to be 8awg strait to the controller and then directly to the house battery.

* Bogart Trimetric PWM charger along with the Trimetric panel for programming and monitoring. Would like to have the Balmer SOH monitor but then have to find another way to have both monitors on different shunts (or could I use the same). The controller will be located as close to the battery as I can get it - same with the shunt. Reading up on the Bogart stuff either from Greg or others looks like a good one as you can adjust the input to the battery more in line with Lifelineís instructions rather than some random controller interpretation of what it needs to be. We are at 7k feet and it gets cold and the power to the battery needs to be higher in the cold than a normal controller will allow. The Bogart is totally programmable and has the micro equalizing feature which sounds like a good thing to have.

Biggest issue is that I suck at this stuff and being small town CO, there isnít anybody even close by that I can work with so here goes. Big issues will be getting underneath to drop the 130 pound battery out and then back feeding the solar wiring and temperature monitoring wires back to the inside from the battery location. What I believe I can do is get the wire from the penthouse to the back of the van pulling trim pieces and such from the interior and mount the charge controller under the couch. RB50 layout and I can pull the couch cushions out to gain some open space in which to work. From the controller the wires will feed outside to the battery. Have to run a connector cable to the control panel and mount that somewhere, just not sure where. The problem with the Bogart panel is that itís ugly but thatís the way it goes sometimes. The RV panel they have might make more sense and just flush mount it.

All this gets to be done outside in the cold weather as the van will not fit in the garage. Need to get it all done in time for a trip to Baja towards the end of March. Never pulled interior wall panels and donít know squat about electric except to not short it all out. As I disconnect some stuff, I will take old bike inner tube pieces to insulate any open ends of cable till I figure out which is which. I donít think it will be too hard but just time-consuming for me.

What you all think? Sound like a plan? How hard can it be?
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Old 02-29-2020, 01:30 PM   #2
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Been planning & working (more of the former than the latter) on my E350 ambulance conversion and educating myself in the process. Just found that the Bogart monitor & controller charges batteries based on amp-hrs counting - measuring exactly how many *net" amp-hrs have gone back to the batteries - and not by some fixed voltage/time criteria. This has the advantage of fully reversing the trace levels sulfation that happens during every discharge. Going to investigate this some more.
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Old 02-29-2020, 02:56 PM   #3
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Unfortunately I'm not able to provide answers to your questions, but If you dont have Scalf77 respond in this Thread, I would send him a PM. Others here also very knowledgeable, and I have learned a ton from their responses/commentary. So no doubt you'll get the answers you need.

I will say though, When you start the wiring, I would most definitely leave an accessible connection outside for your suitcase panel. On occasion I've even used my suitcase panel(s) while in the sun to compliment the charge from the roof set-up.
Hope your set-up ends out being everything you expect + more.
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Old 02-29-2020, 08:35 PM   #4
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Must have missed this post by eddyturn originally

I love Bogart Engineering stuff, that said you could start making a case to move away from a PWM charger. Many more of the available panels are putting out 18+ volts, especially in colder temperatures you could be missing some of that power. A MPPT controller also opens you up to the high cell count (higher voltage panels if you like). While I generally agree with Bogart's assessment of PWM controllers, they are loosing that battle every year it seems.

Having the Solar tied into the SOC monitoring device is nice but not necessarily needed. The mini equalization is interesting but certainly would not be a deal breaker for me. Using as a DC to DC charger would be great, better if it was a MPPT controller, depending on your alternator output, it could be limited. Also hooking a straight supply is for a shore charger is interesting, but depending on your battery bank size this could be limited.

As far a wiring the controller, I would focus more on the output of the controller to the battery, minimizing voltage drop etc on that run. This is where plugging into a 12 volt outlet leaves a lot to be desired, Who knows how much drop along the way.

If sticking with the PWM controller I wouldn't invest in 8 awg from panel to controller. I do recommend running a aux connection in parallel, this will allow you to easily connect portable panel if needed. I am not a fan of the SAE connectors, I really dislike Zamps port roof cap, there are a couple out there now that have MC4 connectors

While the cost is high, if you are fighting over cargo box area and solar there is the Packasport Apollo. You could also try mounting panels on top of your own box.

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Old 03-01-2020, 09:02 AM   #5
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FWIW - I'm now a huge fan of the Harbor Freight transmission jack I picked up last year. It makes removing and re-installing the house battery an easy task. Maybe you can rent or borrow a transmission jack somewhere near you?
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Old 03-01-2020, 09:43 AM   #6
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Thanks all. Doing the install this Friday and have everything arranged BUT can't seem to find any info on if I need a breaker/fuse on the hot out of the solar panel. I see some diagrams that have a breaker inline but nothing about how big of a fuse to use. I see other diagrams with no fuse/breaker for the hot line from the panel.

I am good with putting a 30a fuse after the controller to the battery but not sure about out of the panel itself. Renogy's site is pretty generic and they don't have any info or diagrams on the site.
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Old 03-01-2020, 09:59 AM   #7
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What controller do you have and what size wire are you running from controller to where ( straight to battery, to positive bus bar?

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Old 03-01-2020, 10:27 AM   #8
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Thanks Greg. I decided to do the Blue Sky 3000i MPPT controller and the one Renogy 165W panel. I want to go from the panel to the controller then from the controller back to the battery using 10awg wiring. I see a big ole bus bar where the battery power comes into the van through the floor and goes to the bar and another positive cable goes from there to the inverter/charger. Would that work rather than going under the van to the battery?

One individual that I am working with on this has a SMB that was pre-wired for solar and seems to think that I could just come in from the panel - controller - to the wiring for lights or cig lighter on the driver's side and tap into that. Not sure I agree with that but he believes that the current would then flow back to the battery through the 30a fuse panel already in place. Is that even an option??

With one panel to the controller maybe I don't need a fuse there but if so, I think a 30a would be the right thing.
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Old 03-01-2020, 11:20 AM   #9
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Generally, it is good to fuse between the panel(s) and your controller, I believe even more important with pop top. If you are using MC4 connectors on the roof a MC4 fuse holder works great. The other place I would add is inside before wire goes through metal.

With the one panel your expected output will not come close to the 30 amp output of the controller. I generally only like to do it once so I would wire for the capability of the controller. You could tap into the that driver side circuit, it would not be preferable. The size of cable generally will be dictated by the length of wire. Generally for a 30 amp controller, I would go no less than 8 awg and fuse for 40. If you add more panels later, you won't have top worry about upgrading the output side later. You should be able to go to the bus bar, and ride the rest of the way back on an even larger cable. I suspect it is 2/0 if it comes from battery to inverter. The inverter should have a large class t fuse, the battery side of that is also a good place. No more than 4 connections. And don't forget ground, ride that back to the battery also. If you installed a battery monitor make sure it is on the correct side of the shunt.

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