Journey with Confidence RV GPS App RV Trip Planner RV LIFE Campground Reviews RV Maintenance Take a Speed Test Free 7 Day Trial ×
 


Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
 
Old 01-22-2024, 07:54 PM   #1
Junior Member
 
Join Date: Nov 2023
Location: Utah
Posts: 8
Send a message via AIM to TimRiker Send a message via Yahoo to TimRiker Send a message via Skype™ to TimRiker
Solar on the Penthouse

I'm planning on putting 4 200W Newpowa solar panels on my 1998 e250 penthouse top. There are quite a few posts on here with basic 60 inch track information. Are there recommendations for longer installs? I'm considering something like two 144 inch 80/20 Series 10 rails mounted through the penthouse like Thule tracks John Kalmbach describes here:

https://www.sportsmobileforum.com/fo...ement-899.html

These would extend slightly forward to mount a roof light bar, and rearward to flat mount a Starlink antenna and rear working lights.

My hope is to use something like the HG-OTA100 quick release hinges, two on each end of each panel. This is so, if needed, I could lift either panel end by quick disconnecting it, then put a lift bar in with the same hinge ends and clip that it.

My plan is to reinforce the aluminum frame corners by embedding something like this inside the frame:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08MD2XQGS/

I would still have to figure out how to reliably run the cabling so that it won't rub on things, particularly on the road, when the panels are flat.

If I could find hinges that use standard stainless trailer pins, that would rock. Just punch out the hinge pins, and replace with trailer hitch pins. Hitch pings (not the larger receiver pins) have a spring release on them that should handle the jarring. I'm not sure the HG-OTA100 hinges would take the off-road roof jarring without coming loose.

Thoughts? The mount through bolts for the penthouse lift itself are too far in from the edges or I'd consider using those. The Thule or Yakima tracks are too short. Is there a unitrack or other solution I should be considering?

Also, my top is manual lift, and this will add around 100 pounds to the top. Are there steps to convert a manual penthouse lift to electric?

Some other posts I found useful:Tim
https://4x4tent.com/
Attached Thumbnails
PXL_20240104_232539588~3.jpg   PXL_20240116_041905335.jpg   OTill.jpg  

TimRiker is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 01-23-2024, 08:03 AM   #2
Senior Member
 
boywonder's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
Location: So Cal
Posts: 4,070
A few thoughts...in no particular order......

100+ lbs on a manual top is a lot.....you will likely need to sleeve the crossbars to prevent them from bending. I have a 42 lb 400W panel on the roof mounted to yakima tracks and that setup flexes my sleeved tubes a bit.

Search for penthouse spring adjustments....you can (and will need to for sure) tighten the main extension springs by 3-4 chain links.....any more than that gets tricky sometimes. ..and again you'll see lots of flex in your crossbars lifting 100 lbs and that will likely lead to bent bars without sleeving.

I've seen one van (I think it was a 2006..can't remember) that had really beefy thick walled crossbars for some reason but every other top I've worked on had the regular walled crossbars which are around .060" or so from memory.

I mounted my old 3 panel setup to 6061 AL channels mounted to the bolts that hold the top on; that worked fine. You'll find that those bolts/hole location are not very accurate in the roof if you use them.

The idea of hinges with pull-pins on both ends is a good one. It sort of implies that the wires will need to route down the middle of the roof and have some slack since you'll be lifting both ends of the panels.

The 80/20 will provide some robust support; I would add this weight to your weight calcs if you haven't already. You may not need any 80/20....if you can make small blocks to screw the hinges to that will clamp to the tracks....or perhaps 80/20 laying on each track but no cross bar 80/20. .....trying to save weight. Personally I would machine and tap the 80/20 to create very robust corner joints but that requires access to a mill.

McMaster likely has some nice stainless removable pin hinges..it's worth a look.


https://www.mcmaster.com/products/hi...connect+hinges



What solar controller are you using? is it MPPT or PWM?

I can't recall anyone here doing a manual to electric top conversion, but if you have the skills it's certainly doable. The SMB electric tops use Linak actuators that look like this:





They are somewhat custom from the mfr...nothing really off-the-shelf....but there are plenty of used ones on Ebay from hospital equipment and electric wheelchairs. There are also plenty of other Chinese knock-offs on Ebay for cheap.
__________________
2008 E350 RB passenger 4WD SMB penthouse
2013 KTM 350 EXC
2008 KTM 250 XCF-W
2003 Honda Element
boywonder is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 01-23-2024, 09:46 PM   #3
Junior Member
 
Join Date: Nov 2023
Location: Utah
Posts: 8
Send a message via AIM to TimRiker Send a message via Yahoo to TimRiker Send a message via Skype™ to TimRiker
Quote:
Originally Posted by boywonder View Post
100+ lbs on a manual top is a lot.....you will likely need to sleeve the crossbars to prevent them from bending. I have a 42 lb 400W panel on the roof mounted to yakima tracks and that setup flexes my sleeved tubes a bit.
Re: sleeving. Agreed. The previous owner had Yakima gutter racks with a Yakima storage rack on top, said it was about 100 pounds. Nothing looks bent, but I think something to strengthen the crossbars is warranted.

Recommendations on sleeving? I'll look around the forum some more.

Quote:
Originally Posted by boywonder View Post
Search for penthouse spring adjustments....you can (and will need to for sure) tighten the main extension springs by 3-4 chain links.....any more than that gets tricky sometimes. ..and again you'll see lots of flex in your crossbars lifting 100 lbs and that will likely lead to bent bars without sleeving.
I'll take a look at the springs and see what it takes to tighten them up.

Quote:
Originally Posted by boywonder View Post
I mounted my old 3 panel setup to 6061 AL channels mounted to the bolts that hold the top on; that worked fine. You'll find that those bolts/hole location are not very accurate in the roof if you use them.
I'm hoping to run tracks down each side, and not have to tie into the top bolts. This should work as long as I can distribute the load over a lot of the length of the penthouse.

The four 200W Newpowa panels are 55.28x27.76x1.38 each which will take up most of the roof.

Quote:
Originally Posted by boywonder View Post
The idea of hinges with pull-pins on both ends is a good one. It sort of implies that the wires will need to route down the middle of the roof and have some slack since you'll be lifting both ends of the panels.
I'm thinking running the cabling down the center of the van with some kind of tension spring or something on the loose cable sections to reduce rubbing most importantly against the aluminum frames on the panels, but also against the penthouse itself. Not yet sure what that final design will look like.

I picked up some stainless L brackets to put underneath inside the frame on the panels. This should hold things together when only attaching 2 hinges on each end of each panel. I don't yet know what kind of flex I'll see in the panels at highway speeds and/or washboard roads. I may need to attach some additional supports along the length of the panels on the underside, but I'm hoping I don't. I'll likely put one 80/20 series 10 section in front of and along with wind facing end of the front panel to protect it from the wind and to hopefully reduce any wind force flexing the panels.

Quote:
Originally Posted by boywonder View Post
The 80/20 will provide some robust support; I would add this weight to your weight calcs if you haven't already. You may not need any 80/20....if you can make small blocks to screw the hinges to that will clamp to the tracks....or perhaps 80/20 laying on each track but no cross bar 80/20. .....trying to save weight. Personally I would machine and tap the 80/20 to create very robust corner joints but that requires access to a mill.
I'm thinking of using two 80/20 10 series rails and attaching those to the roof with some 1x1 aluminum angle brackets, perhaps five of those along each edge of the penthouse. I do not currently have any tracks there, as you can see in the pictures. If I install something like Thule tracks down each side, that would replace the 80/20 series 10, not be in addition to it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by boywonder View Post
McMaster likely has some nice stainless removable pin hinges.. it's worth a look.

https://www.mcmaster.com/products/hi...connect+hinges
excellent pointer. I see the hinges I'm already considering on that list, and some others I had not seen before. I don't want "lift off" hinges, I want hinges that lock in place, or release to tilt the panels toward driver or passenger side and lock in place when not tilted.

Quote:
Originally Posted by boywonder View Post
What solar controller are you using? is it MPPT or PWM?
I currently have a Renogy Adventurer PWM Solar Charge Controller. If that does not handle the current I need, I'm looking at a Victron MPPT controller. 100 / 50 perhaps?


Quote:
Originally Posted by boywonder View Post
I can't recall anyone here doing a manual to electric top conversion, but if you have the skills it's certainly doable. The SMB electric tops use Linak actuators that look like this:



They are somewhat custom from the mfr...nothing really off-the-shelf....but there are plenty of used ones on Ebay from hospital equipment and electric wheelchairs. There are also plenty of other Chinese knock-offs on Ebay for cheap.
I hope to look at someone's electic setup before considering electrifying mine.

Unorganized pictures in Google Photos:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/2d4yCXvJVUpsygst9
TimRiker is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 01-28-2024, 06:47 PM   #4
Senior Member
 
SierraHawk's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 325
Several things to consider. Make sure that you match your panels to the size of your battery (which is matched to the load you plan on needing) and a controller. I travel with a 29' travel trailer. Two years ago I installed a 300ah LiFe battery inside. My PV panels are rated at 300W. In unobstructed summer sun and using a matched MPPT controller, my battery will charge to 100% (from a level of 30ah) in three to four hours.

If you are using a single 12V AGM you will not need all of the PV panels you are planning to use. Consider using a 100ah to 200ah LiFe battery. It should be adequate but the install of the charging system involves parts that most people are not familiar with. Think about consulting with an electrician who specializes in installing a PV system.

To run wires through the Penthouse top, go to West Marine and pick up what they call a stainless steel "clam shell" (they are made for pass throughs on boats). Do not use any kind of silicone sealant on your van. It breaks down and leaks after a few years. Ebay sells tubes of PARR. Use it whenever you drill through the penthouse top and install bolts. Use the PARR liberally around any bolts you use to install the PV frames. PARR comes in two types, aluminum and clear. Ultimately, the color does not matter because both turn black after a year in the sun but it remains flexible and will not crack.

When you install the clamshell, do not skimp on the PARR. Once the clamshell is installed under where the PV panels will be mounted, run the wires through it and use a liberal amount of PARR to keep leaks from forming. Before you mount the panels put several coats of wax onto the gelcoat.

As mentioned above, make sure you have plenty of wire and all of the connectors are the same. You will need them to be long enough so that when you pop the Penthouse up there will be enough slack in the wires. If you want to increase the lift provided by the Penthouse springs, you might consider popping the top, peeling back the vinyl that covers the springs and their channels and look at the free space that is created at the end of the springs that push the bars up. You can drop in one or two PVC end caps to fill the gap. If that does not work, find posts that discuss how to shorten the chain.

Next time you go to a hardware store, pick up some PVC pipe and another eight end caps. Measure the diameter of the springs or width of the channel and buy whatever you think will fit. Also grab some 1' PVC and cut the tubing about a half inch short of the distance between the penthouse top (at each corner) and the shelf that runs around the perimeter of the bed. Glue end caps onto each of the tubes and place one of them in each of the four Penthouse corners. They will take some of the stress off the bars.

As boywonder pointed out, the more weight you have on top, the more stress is put on the support bars and bolts. Try to find PV panels that will not overload the PH top. Hear tell that the PH top will tolerate 300# but try to minimize the load you put on top. If it is difficult to push the PH top up, go to a hardware store or Amazon and look for a bar that has a ratchet that will extend the bar. They were manufactured to mount crosswise in a pickup bed to hold things in place but they are the right length for ratcheting up the PH top. Just make sure you find the (R?L) balance point on the front push pad. Do not put it directly onto the inside of the fiberglass roof.
SierraHawk is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 01-29-2024, 10:12 PM   #5
Junior Member
 
Join Date: Nov 2023
Location: Utah
Posts: 8
Send a message via AIM to TimRiker Send a message via Yahoo to TimRiker Send a message via Skype™ to TimRiker
Quote:
Originally Posted by SierraHawk View Post
If you are using a single 12V AGM you will not need all of the PV panels you are planning to use.
Thanks for the pointers. My hope is to work during the day and have ample solar for that and for future growth. Potentially eventually running AC during the day, etc.

Currently I have 2 AGM 100ah batteries, so that's close to 100ah of total usable power which should get me through the night as long as I can charge up during the day.

Intentionally over-speccing the panels, with the hope of:
  • making it through less than ideal sunny days
  • not having to angle the panels when there's plenty of sun

If I was building from scratch, I think I'd go with LiFe batteries, but I already have two 100ah AGM batteries. Switching to LiFe I'd need to replace the direct engine charging, but other than that I think the other components I have would support LiFe if/when I decide to upgrade that portion.

First step is to get enough solar on the roof and mount the Starlink so I can work on the road.

I have some wooden posts with rubber ends on them that I use to prop up the PH. The previous owner provided them. They work great.

I'll be adding around 100 pounds to the PH top. I'm considering sleeving the pipes, shortening the chains, and replacing the bolts to handle the weight. I may wait on the upgrades until after I get the panels mounted. The previous owner had Yakima gutter racks and a storage unit up top, and the hardware looks like it handled that ok. 100 pounds is significant though, so the upgrades are on the plan. I'll look when I'm in there about adding the PVC caps too.

I think I see what you mean about the ratchet bar. This would go from the floor to the push pad where the handles are? I assume with a block of wood or something over it, and perhaps under it too to spread the load?

I'll check into the other items you mentioned. Thanks!
TimRiker is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 01-30-2024, 10:19 AM   #6
Senior Member
 
boywonder's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
Location: So Cal
Posts: 4,070
A few of us here use this panel:

https://tandem-solar-systems.com/pro...ar-module-bob/

It's a 400W panel and weighs 48 lbs, and has the cells wired in series-parallel for great partial shade condition performance.

Unless you have lots more panel power and a large LiFePo battery bank there is no hope of boondocking with AC running. That question comes up here on a regular basis.
__________________
2008 E350 RB passenger 4WD SMB penthouse
2013 KTM 350 EXC
2008 KTM 250 XCF-W
2003 Honda Element
boywonder is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 02-22-2024, 04:15 PM   #7
Junior Member
 
Osstropolys's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2023
Posts: 1
Your solar panel plan for the e250 penthouse sounds awesome.
Osstropolys is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 02-22-2024, 04:19 PM   #8
Junior Member
 
Join Date: Nov 2023
Location: Utah
Posts: 8
Send a message via AIM to TimRiker Send a message via Yahoo to TimRiker Send a message via Skype™ to TimRiker
Quote:
Originally Posted by Osstropolys View Post
Your solar panel plan for the e250 penthouse sounds awesome.
I've ordered all the parts I think I'll need. Waiting for some things to come in before I get started. Photo album linked from the minimal site:

https://4x4tent.com/
TimRiker is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 02-22-2024, 04:48 PM   #9
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2013
Location: Georgia
Posts: 734
Can't seem to "advance" photos on site from # 8 post ?
doublevan2 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 02-22-2024, 06:34 PM   #10
Junior Member
 
Join Date: Nov 2023
Location: Utah
Posts: 8
Send a message via AIM to TimRiker Send a message via Yahoo to TimRiker Send a message via Skype™ to TimRiker
Quote:
Originally Posted by doublevan2 View Post
Can't seem to "advance" photos on site from # 8 post ?
Click the Sportsmobile link on that site to get to the Sportsmobile Google Photos album.

The photo on the main site does not advance.
TimRiker is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Tags
electric penthouse lift, penthouse, solar

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off

» Featured Campgrounds

Reviews provided by

Powered by vBadvanced CMPS v3.2.3
Disclaimer:

This website is not affiliated with or endorsed by Sportsmobile SIP or any of its affiliates. This is an independent, unofficial site.


All times are GMT -6. The time now is 05:00 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.8 Beta 4
Copyright ©2000 - 2024, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.