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Old 03-28-2020, 09:35 AM   #1
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Solar questions for PH top: flex panels, controller

I've actively searched and perused previous posts, but haven't really come up with the answers I'm looking for. I'm planning to add solar to my newly purchased 2011 SMB with manual Penthouse. Current setup is no solar, no prewiring. Two Group 31 AGM batteries, 2000w inverter/charger, standard-issue Sure Power 1315-200 separator.

Thought is to add 2x100w solar panels on PH top. I already have two 100w Renogy rigid panels that I bought a year or two ago, as well as PWM controller and most install parts for an install I never got around to. Also Thule tracks that I was planning to mount them to. However, with Renogy's recent sale on some parts I was looking through their site and am contemplating a different route, as follows:

1. Flexible panels 2 x 100w Renogy, mainly for weight reduction since my PH is manual. Saves 10# per panel (4# vs 14.3# for rigid panel), so 20# overall, which is welcome. Flexible panels are about 6" longer than rigid, but still only 48". BUT, I really would rather not glue/tape them to the roof, both for ease of future removal and also heat-transfer and cooling of the panels. Has anyone mounted flexible panels on the PH but on some sort of frame? Is this just stupid and I should just bond them directly to the PH and not worry about it?

2. Controller: Thinking of getting an MPPT controller that supports Bluetooth for monitoring, like Renogy Rover Li 40 Amp MPPT Solar Charge Controller ($170). I'll likely go this route, but am also considering...

3. DC-DC charger with MPPT: Looking at the Renogy DCC50S 12V 50A DC-DC On-Board Battery Charger with MPPT ($300). I like that this provides a multi-stage charger from both solar and the alternator. A lot of our charging is done while driving, and a "smart" charger would be nice rather than just a straight line from the alternator to the battery. It will also trickle-charge the starting battery from solar, which is useful since our van stays parked quite a bit. Concerns: 1) Is 50a enough to handle an OEM Ford 120a alternator's output? Seems not, but maybe I'm missing something. 2) No remote monitor available, not much info on the unit itself either (just a few lights). I guess I'd have to add a separate monitor of some sort. 3) No Bluetooth available for remote monitoring (not a dealbreaker, but would be nice). 4) If I install this, does it replace the Sure Power separator?

Thanks!
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Old 03-28-2020, 11:47 AM   #2
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If you go with flexible panels, make sure to mount them flush to the roof or with something rigid that will prevent them flexing. I'm pretty sure that my flexible panels suffered an early demise because they were mounted on thin aluminum bars between my roof rails, and as I drove the aluminum bars and solar panels constantly flexed in the wind, likely causing microscopic cracks in the leads between the individual wafers that make up the panel.



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Old 03-28-2020, 02:48 PM   #3
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Most seek shade to park under, I would allow for a suitcase hook-up. When parked, both my suitcase panels adopt the burden of charging the house battery - roof panels do little at that point.
Couple good threads on the subject, and Scalf77's input was a revelation for me, which changed my entire approach ... for the better!

https://www.sportsmobileforum.com/fo...ing-21140.html

https://www.sportsmobileforum.com/fo...els-23929.html

https://www.sportsmobileforum.com/fo...-eb-25690.html

***Can find more if you search "solar suitcase panels"
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Old 03-28-2020, 03:21 PM   #4
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Thanks @twoxentrix. Considered portable panels but I really donít have the room for them. I may wire in an access port for one just in case though.
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Old 03-28-2020, 03:45 PM   #5
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I also have a 160wt flexible panel on my roof, suspended on the Aluminess roof rack with aluminum "L" channel frame all around the outer edges - with a thin aluminum 1/8" sheet that sits inside that channel frame, panel sits on the top of the sheet...mounting screws about every 6" along the outer edge which screw into the outer channel frame. The lip on the outer channel frame sticks up above the top of the panel by about 1/2" so wind doesn't really play a role in trying to lift the edges of the panel.
This system has been in place with no issues - First flexible panel lasted 8 1/2 yrs, put the new one on 5 years ago and continues to perform as new.
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Old 03-28-2020, 04:58 PM   #6
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I mounted my flexible panels to some white coroplast (Home Depot) with 3m double sided tape and then mounted that to my roof with 3m dual lock.
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Old 03-28-2020, 07:04 PM   #7
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Another thing to consider with rigid vs flexible panels is durability. The tempered glass on rigid panels makes them quite durable, which could be beneficial if you drive through wooded areas where tree branches may scrape across the panel. I agree with your thought of not mounting the panel directly to the PH top, but keep in mind that your mounting solution will need to be rigid enough to accommodate snow loads (assuming the van sees winter weather).

Basically, if you're not taking advantage of the mounting flexibility of a flexible panel, you're paying 2x the cost for weight reduction (always good!) but with some loss of durability and the need to build your own mounting frame (just my opinion).

Regarding the DC/DC controller, the 50A rating means that the controller will supply up to 50A output to the batteries. The input current from the alternator is irrelevant, except that the output will be reduced if the alternator can't keep up.
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Old 03-29-2020, 09:13 AM   #8
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If I was to go with flexible, I would look at panels that are made with Sunpower cells. The coroplast idea would be some help. Obviously Twoxentrix method is better, but you would need roof rack for that. Anything you do could minimize the weight savings.

The DC to DC charger looks good at first, and actually has a couple of nice features. But the battery charger setting seem to be limited, and I would make sure that match your batteries. While it does have some temperature throttling, it does not have and input throttling. This would mean if your alternator could not keep up with desired output, it would just shut off not reduce output. Is this the end of the world? No, but there are units out there that can throttle the output.

While it is nice to have the output data of your solar and alternator source chargers, the important one would be the battery monitor.

-greg
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Old 03-29-2020, 12:40 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scalf77 View Post
This would mean if your alternator could not keep up with desired output, it would just shut off not reduce output.
Good catch Greg! That's what I get for ASSuming.
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Old 03-29-2020, 10:22 PM   #10
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Just did the flexible solar install with inspiration from this video


They have hold up well so far, a bit of a pain to mount them on a non flat surface, but at least I can easily swap them out now if one of em breaks.
Pictures: https://imgur.com/a/Se7efEw
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