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Solar - fixed or portable

GrumpyGranddad

GrumpyGranddad

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Location
Wendover
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T6.1 Ocean 199
I am intending to install a solar solution in my Ocean 6.1 when it eventually arrives later this year. My dilemma is whether to go for a fixed solution with panels on the roof or whether to go for ‘portable’. I’m leaning towards a solution where the charge controller and remote display unit are permanently installed in the van but with the solar input terminating at a socket (either inside near the shower connector or maybe outside the van). The portable panel(s) with a long lead would then be plugged in when needed.
My thinking is as follows but is maybe flawed?

So i’d really appreciate feedback from those of you who already use and have experience of using solar.

Advantages of fixed =
1. Fit and forget
2. Always on

Disadvantages of fixed =
1. Solar not needed when driving as engine provides charge.
2. Solar not needed when on mains hook up.
3. Roof mounted solar not efficient if parked in shade or van orientation is wrong
4. Roof mounted panels make it difficult to clean van roof under the panels
5. Connecting cable unsightly (In my opinion) and potentially damages paintwork.
6. Unable to fit roof box etc.

Advantages of portable =
1. Positioning of panels is flexible to maximise sun’s charge.
2. Leaves roof free for mounting roof box or other kit.
3. Allows whole roof to be cleaned.

Disadvantages of portable =
1. Not always on
2. Setup time at campsite
3. Higher risk of theft of panels.
4. Valuable van storage space taken up by the panels.
 
Would a fixed one impact you using carparks with 2m height barriers?
 
You can fit a solar panel and roof box. I have my panel right at the back with the roof bars just forward of the panel. It will charge with the box on, but I remove the box when I’m on setup on site.

I also don’t have the curly cable for the solar panel, and tuck the excess in the boot area so the cable is less visible.

You’re comment on the cable not needed on mains hookup, I would argue that you don’t need to have mains hookup with a solar panel, saving you pitch fees. Although this mainly for a grass pitch rather than a motor home pitch.

A1C2E7E3-7452-4A62-A9F8-B22BD7A24ABF.jpeg
 
Would a fixed one impact you using carparks with 2m height barriers?
No. The slimline ones bolted to the roofrails raise it maybe a cm or two, but you still sneak under.
The awning housing is not the highest part of the vehicle (despite what people say) it's the centre of the roof.
 
You can fit a solar panel and roof box. I have my panel right at the back with the roof bars just forward of the panel. It will charge with the box on, but I remove the box when I’m on setup on site.

I also don’t have the curly cable for the solar panel, and tuck the excess in the boot area so the cable is less visible.

You’re comment on the cable not needed on mains hookup, I would argue that you don’t need to have mains hookup with a solar panel, saving you pitch fees. Although this mainly for a grass pitch rather than a motor home pitch.

View attachment 65702
Thanks. So you have the straight cable? Do you have to open the tailgate before raising the roof to ‘free’ the cable?
 
I am intending to install a solar solution in my Ocean 6.1 when it eventually arrives later this year. My dilemma is whether to go for a fixed solution with panels on the roof or whether to go for ‘portable’. I’m leaning towards a solution where the charge controller and remote display unit are permanently installed in the van but with the solar input terminating at a socket (either inside near the shower connector or maybe outside the van). The portable panel(s) with a long lead would then be plugged in when needed.
My thinking is as follows but is maybe flawed?

So i’d really appreciate feedback from those of you who already use and have experience of using solar.

Advantages of fixed =
1. Fit and forget
2. Always on

Disadvantages of fixed =
1. Solar not needed when driving as engine provides charge.
2. Solar not needed when on mains hook up.
3. Roof mounted solar not efficient if parked in shade or van orientation is wrong
4. Roof mounted panels make it difficult to clean van roof under the panels
5. Connecting cable unsightly (In my opinion) and potentially damages paintwork.
6. Unable to fit roof box etc.

Advantages of portable =
1. Positioning of panels is flexible to maximise sun’s charge.
2. Leaves roof free for mounting roof box or other kit.
3. Allows whole roof to be cleaned.

Disadvantages of portable =
1. Not always on
2. Setup time at campsite
3. Higher risk of theft of panels.
4. Valuable van storage space taken up by the panels.
Your deductions are sound I think. You will find ways to bend some of them if required.

For me a campervan allows camping with minimal fuss and bother. I try to limit the number of things that require set up and strip out when camping to play to the strengths of the California.

Another potential advantage of any solar system is a dual battery charge controller can be used to maintain the charge of both the leisure batteries and the starter battery. A fixed system suits this best.

A roof box can be used with solar as @Amonkeyhint shows.

I don’t want to have to take my box off while camping. For this reason, I modified my roof box so the same mounting holes on the solar panel can be used to secure the panel to the box. That way, the roof box can be mounted near the rear of the roof so the weight is further back and the roof can be lifted without emptying or removing the box.

If you were planning to stay in one place for a longer time, you could get an extension cable, remove your panel and park in the shade and position your panel with best alignment to the sun. I would argue, with only four bolts, and a quick release connector, the solar panel could be removed in about the same time as a roof box.

You mention other roof loads. I can’t think of another way to integrate a fixed roof panel with other loads

4A5C00B4-40B4-4AC3-8423-5DF199E15711.jpeg60FBD1E0-858D-4C14-A256-3CD3067BAB4B.jpegC596CD79-50B8-44F7-A159-EE77A5607123.jpeg
 
Your deductions are sound I think. You will find ways to bend some of them if required.

For me a campervan allows camping with minimal fuss and bother. I try to limit the number of things that require set up and strip out when camping to play to the strengths of the California.

Another potential advantage of any solar system is a dual battery charge controller can be used to maintain the charge of both the leisure batteries and the starter battery. A fixed system suits this best.

A roof box can be used with solar as @Amonkeyhint shows.

I don’t want to have to take my box off while camping. For this reason, I modified my roof box so the same mounting holes on the solar panel can be used to secure the panel to the box. That way, the roof box can be mounted near the rear of the roof so the weight is further back and the roof can be lifted without emptying or removing the box.

If you were planning to stay in one place for a longer time, you could get an extension cable, remove your panel and park in the shade and position your panel with best alignment to the sun. I would argue, with only four bolts, and a quick release connector, the solar panel could be removed in about the same time as a roof box.

You mention other roof loads. I can’t think of another way to integrate a fixed roof panel with other loads

View attachment 65710View attachment 65711View attachment 65714
Thanks. Nice setup you have.
 
One system is not better then the other. It all depends how you use the van , when/why do you need a solar charge.
For my specific curcumstances:
1)in winter when salt is on the road I want to be able to bring the van to the regular carwash, i couldn't with a fixed panel
2) I have a new (=under warranty) Cali and not keen on cutting into the grommet to get the cable into the van.
3) I always go to camping sites, where most of the times electricity is included. When not, i might pay for power anyway to run my electric heater or the hairdryer.
4) If I go to campsites where i could save the charge for Electrical Hook Up, it would be for a long weekend, and the fully charged leisure batteries would be sufficient anyway
5) albeit a minor point , I didn't like the cable on the roof either
After long thinking i went for a 120W foldable portable panel connected to the same Victron mppt 75/15 charger used in a fixed installation. I've attached a +ve and a -ve wire to the front battery and to an anderson sb50 plug. The plug is fixed with a zip tie under the front left seat.
The charger is behind the front left seat. It remains always there except for the long summer holiday where I unplug it and put in the cellar .
The panel is easily placed behind the windscreen, so it is secured inside the van and protected from rain and birds escrement.
When i need the van i fold the panel in 3, place it between the front seats, unplug it, and off i go. It isn't a faff, it' 20 seconds max.
Viceversa when I park it for the day, i plugithe panel in, then open it on the dash against the windscreen, visors down to hold it in place and off i go.
Additional advantage, would be that while camping i can move it outside it to follow the sun, which is a lot easier than moving the van with the roof up maybe facing the opposite direction... but like i said i don't use it for camping.
The only reason i bought it it is to keep the batteries topped up, as where I park it at home I have no possibility of hooking it up.
With a simple cable, anderson sb50 on one side, cig plug on the other, i plug it in the dash next to the gear lever and charge the front battery. Or a cig to cig cable between dash and kitchen socket to parallel the Leisure batteries with the engine battery so that the solar charges all three, as @Loz suggested. It is very flexible.
With the plug under the seat, i could plug a pure sine inverter there, with a much higher wattage than the modified sine 150w on the left b pillar...
But it all depends on your personal use.
 
One system is not better then the other. It all depends how you use the van , when/why do you need a solar charge.
For my specific curcumstances:
1)in winter when salt is on the road I want to be able to bring the van to the regular carwash, i couldn't with a fixed panel
2) I have a new (=under warranty) Cali and not keen on cutting into the grommet to get the cable into the van.
3) I always go to camping sites, where most of the times electricity is included. When not, i might pay for power anyway to run my electric heater or the hairdryer.
4) If I go to campsites where i could save the charge for Electrical Hook Up, it would be for a long weekend, and the fully charged leisure batteries would be sufficient anyway
5) albeit a minor point , I didn't like the cable on the roof either
After long thinking i went for a 120W foldable portable panel connected to the same Victron mppt 75/15 charger used in a fixed installation. I've attached a +ve and a -ve wire to the front battery and to an anderson sb50 plug. The plug is fixed with a zip tie under the front left seat.
The charger is behind the front left seat. It remains always there except for the long summer holiday where I unplug it and put in the cellar .
The panel is easily placed behind the windscreen, so it is secured inside the van and protected from rain and birds escrement.
When i need the van i fold the panel in 3, place it between the front seats, unplug it, and off i go. It isn't a faff, it' 20 seconds max.
Viceversa when I park it for the day, i plugithe panel in, then open it on the dash against the windscreen, visors down to hold it in place and off i go.
Additional advantage, would be that while camping i can move it outside it to follow the sun, which is a lot easier than moving the van with the roof up maybe facing the opposite direction... but like i said i don't use it for camping.
The only reason i bought it it is to keep the batteries topped up, as where I park it at home I have no possibility of hooking it up.
With a simple cable, anderson sb50 on one side, cig plug on the other, i plug it in the dash next to the gear lever and charge the front battery. Or a cig to cig cable between dash and kitchen socket to parallel the Leisure batteries with the engine battery so that the solar charges all three, as @Loz suggested. It is very flexible.
With the plug under the seat, i could plug a pure sine inverter there, with a much higher wattage than the modified sine 150w on the left b pillar...
But it all depends on your personal use.
Thanks very that’s interesting Calimili.
Slightly confused where/how you plug in the panel? When you have the charge controller in the van I guess the panel connects to it and it in turn plugs into the Anderson socket which is connected to the front battery. But I can’t really visualise what connects to where when you’ve removed the charge controller. Sorry if I’m being a bit thick. What solar panel did you buy?
 
When you have the charge controller in the van I guess the panel connects to it and it in turn plugs into the Anderson socket which is connected to the front battery.
Exactly correct. When i remove the panel completely, i leave the mppt still connected to the plug under the seat , just because it doesn' take any space anyway. Or if i go on a long holiday I unplug the charger too and remove it as well.
If the panel is in the van and connected to the charger, i can decide which batteries to charge. I plug it under the seat to charge the leisure batteries or instead I can connect it to a cable anderson to cig plug , so that the anderson of course matches with the anderson on the cable coming from the mppt charger, and the cig plug into the dash, which is connected to the engine battery.

https://www.amazon.de/dp/B07GS3SH6M/
 
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Exactly correct. When i remove the panel completely, i leave the mppt still connected to the plug under the seat , just because it doesn' take any space anyway. Or if i go on a long holiday I unplug the charger too and remove it as well.
If the panel is in the van and connected to the charger, i can decide which batteries to charge. I plug it under the seat to charge the leisure batteries or instead I can connect it to a cable anderson to cig plug , so that the anderson of course matches with the anderson on the cable coming from the mppt charger, and the cig plug into the dash, which is connected to the engine battery.

https://www.amazon.de/dp/B07GS3SH6M/
Great thanks. You also mentioned cig to cig cable. Would this be in addition to the charger connection to the leisure battery to achieve a charge to all 3 batteries?
 
Great thanks. You also mentioned cig to cig cable. Would this be in addition to the charger connection to the leisure battery to achieve a charge to all 3 batteries?
Yep, mppt charger connected to the leisure batteries, and with the cig to cig you connect the leisure batteries from the kitchen unit to the engine battery via the front dash cig socket. This way the 3 batteries are connected and charged at the same time. The cig to cig needs a switch to prevent sparks. So first you plug it in and then flip the switch to on.
 
We have both. 160w panel on the roof and 100w flexi panel which we can plug in. The flexi panel lives on top the upstairs mattress when not in use. It does make a big difference to have the panel pointing at the sun.
 
We have both. 160w panel on the roof and 100w flexi panel which we can plug in. The flexi panel lives on top the upstairs mattress when not in use. It does make a big difference to have the panel pointing at the sun.
How have you set up your input to the charge controller from the two different panels please?
 
The two panels are just wired in parallel into the controller. A lead from the controller into the boot and then the flexi panel just plugs into it.
 
No. The slimline ones bolted to the roofrails raise it maybe a cm or two, but you still sneak under.
The awning housing is not the highest part of the vehicle (despite what people say) it's the centre of the roof.

My kit adds 14mm, which is almost always lower than the awning case.
 
It is swings and roundabouts. Horses for course. As are most thing. If you prefer the idea of a portable panel then I'd say stick with that. I'll try and answer the OPs main points, in my opinion.


Advantages of fixed =
1. Fit and forget - Yes
2. Always on - Yes - and don't underestimate this. Every time you go away from the van you have to put the portable panel away. I tried this with my van before I starter this business. You just , well I did, end up not having the panel out a lot of the time. You often have to move it too.
(I'll Add):
3. Leisure batteries protected from parasitic drain , or accidentally leaving something on when you are NOT camping/ using the van. Flatten both batteries on an Ocean and leave them like that for a couple of days and you are looking at more expense replacing two seriously damaged AGM batteries than buying one fixed solar panel kit.

Disadvantages of fixed =
(1). Solar not needed when driving as engine provides charge. - Correct - but not a disadvantage really.
(2). Solar not needed when on mains hook up. - Correct - but again, not a disadvantage at all.
1. Roof mounted solar not efficient if parked in shade or van orientation is wrong - correct - but mostly I found you are not parked in the shade, unless in a hot climate - like the South of France, in which case, I found reflected light still produced a significant charge. Also - you can't really park in the "wrong orientation" unless your camp site doesn't allow you to choose if you drive in or reverse in t yoru pitch - and I never found that anywhere. As long as the sun is behind your roof and not in front, you are good.
2. Roof mounted panels make it difficult to clean van roof under the panels - of course - but is that important? You can always loosen the 4 bolts and slide it out of the way.
3. Connecting cable unsightly (In my opinion) and potentially damages paintwork. Personal preference, and no reports of damaged paintwork in 7 years of trading.
4. Unable to fit roof box etc. - you can, and often my customers mount it forwards, or remove it when pitched up. That and canoes!

Advantages of portable =
1. Positioning of panels is flexible to maximise sun’s charge. Kind of, though an angled roof is absolutely perfect for panel alignment, letting the sun pass over from East to West, peaking when it is most powerful, perpendicular to the panel - optimal. Plus your portable panel is usually going to be significantly less powerful to start with unless you lug a large panel around.
2. Leaves roof free for mounting roof box or other kit. True
3. Allows whole roof to be cleaned. You already covered that in point 4 of disadvantages of fixed.

Disadvantages of portable =
1. Not always on - Correct
2. Setup time at campsite - True - though it is not exactly difficult - I did it for a while
3. Higher risk of theft of panels. Absolutely - and this meant mine wasn't out a lot of the time, which effectively made my 50w briefcase panel act more like a 10w panel.
4. Valuable van storage space taken up by the panels. Correct
 
It is swings and roundabouts. Horses for course. As are most thing. If you prefer the idea of a portable panel then I'd say stick with that. I'll try and answer the OPs main points, in my opinion.


Advantages of fixed =
1. Fit and forget - Yes
2. Always on - Yes - and don't underestimate this. Every time you go away from the van you have to put the portable panel away. I tried this with my van before I starter this business. You just , well I did, end up not having the panel out a lot of the time. You often have to move it too.
(I'll Add):
3. Leisure batteries protected from parasitic drain , or accidentally leaving something on when you are NOT camping/ using the van. Flatten both batteries on an Ocean and leave them like that for a couple of days and you are looking at more expense replacing two seriously damaged AGM batteries than buying one fixed solar panel kit.

Disadvantages of fixed =
(1). Solar not needed when driving as engine provides charge. - Correct - but not a disadvantage really.
(2). Solar not needed when on mains hook up. - Correct - but again, not a disadvantage at all.
1. Roof mounted solar not efficient if parked in shade or van orientation is wrong - correct - but mostly I found you are not parked in the shade, unless in a hot climate - like the South of France, in which case, I found reflected light still produced a significant charge. Also - you can't really park in the "wrong orientation" unless your camp site doesn't allow you to choose if you drive in or reverse in t yoru pitch - and I never found that anywhere. As long as the sun is behind your roof and not in front, you are good.
2. Roof mounted panels make it difficult to clean van roof under the panels - of course - but is that important? You can always loosen the 4 bolts and slide it out of the way.
3. Connecting cable unsightly (In my opinion) and potentially damages paintwork. Personal preference, and no reports of damaged paintwork in 7 years of trading.
4. Unable to fit roof box etc. - you can, and often my customers mount it forwards, or remove it when pitched up. That and canoes!

Advantages of portable =
1. Positioning of panels is flexible to maximise sun’s charge. Kind of, though an angled roof is absolutely perfect for panel alignment, letting the sun pass over from East to West, peaking when it is most powerful, perpendicular to the panel - optimal. Plus your portable panel is usually going to be significantly less powerful to start with unless you lug a large panel around.
2. Leaves roof free for mounting roof box or other kit. True
3. Allows whole roof to be cleaned. You already covered that in point 4 of disadvantages of fixed.

Disadvantages of portable =
1. Not always on - Correct
2. Setup time at campsite - True - though it is not exactly difficult - I did it for a while
3. Higher risk of theft of panels. Absolutely - and this meant mine wasn't out a lot of the time, which effectively made my 50w briefcase panel act more like a 10w panel.
4. Valuable van storage space taken up by the panels. Correct
Thanks Roger, useful feedback.
 
Thanks Roger, useful feedback.

No worries. It's all opinion, and experience.

I'll also try and respond to this one for some more balance.

1)in winter when salt is on the road I want to be able to bring the van to the regular carwash, i couldn't with a fixed panel - Correct - not a machine wash anyway. Using drive through machine washes is common in Europe, not so much over here. But then I sell a lot to Europe too, though I'm often asked by EU customers about car washes. I would also recommend avoiding spraying the panel with a jet wash directly due to the forces involved - though as long as you avoid the junction box it should be fine. You might blast the cover off the junction box. They often clip on only.
2) I have a new (=under warranty) Cali and not keen on cutting into the grommet to get the cable into the van. That's not going to void your warranty - putting a 2cm slit in a replaceable grommet. You can actually push the wire under the grommet and re-seat it mostly OK. I never have mind you, but I know you can because I do it with Bongos.
3) I always go to camping sites, where most of the times electricity is included. When not, i might pay for power anyway to run my electric heater or the hairdryer. - Fair enough, makes sense
4) If I go to campsites where i could save the charge for Electrical Hook Up, it would be for a long weekend, and the fully charged leisure batteries would be sufficient anyway - True - and I would always recommend you look at solar as a convenience item, not a money saver - you'd take a long time to claw back your money on that basis, and a lot of sites give you electricity included, like it or not, particularly in France.
5) albeit a minor point , I didn't like the cable on the roof either - Fair enough
After long thinking i went for a 120W foldable portable panel connected to the same Victron mppt 75/15 charger used in a fixed installation. I've attached a +ve and a -ve wire to the front battery and to an anderson sb50 plug. The plug is fixed with a zip tie under the front left seat.
The charger is behind the front left seat. It remains always there except for the long summer holiday where I unplug it and put in the cellar .
The panel is easily placed behind the windscreen, so it is secured inside the van and protected from rain and birds escrement.
When i need the van i fold the panel in 3, place it between the front seats, unplug it, and off i go. It isn't a faff, it' 20 seconds max.
Viceversa when I park it for the day, i plugithe panel in, then open it on the dash against the windscreen, visors down to hold it in place and off i go. - You lose a lot of the panel's performance behind windscreens due to the UV blockage - it can rob around 1/2 of the power, and it is also rarely optimially positioned. You can go from in the sun to partially shaded very quickly.
Additional advantage, would be that while camping i can move it outside it to follow the sun, which is a lot easier than moving the van with the roof up maybe facing the opposite direction... but like i said i don't use it for camping. - I think this is key. They are aimed at people who camp. You dont' need to keep moving the van, a common misconception, when camping. Just park up so the sun is behind you and the sun will track across the panel from morning to early evening.
The only reason i bought it it is to keep the batteries topped up, as where I park it at home I have no possibility of hooking it up.
With a simple cable, anderson sb50 on one side, cig plug on the other, i plug it in the dash next to the gear lever and charge the front battery. Or a cig to cig cable between dash and kitchen socket to parallel the Leisure batteries with the engine battery so that the solar charges all three, as @Loz suggested. It is very flexible.
With the plug under the seat, i could plug a pure sine inverter there, with a much higher wattage than the modified sine 150w on the left b pillar...
But it all depends on your personal use. Exactly - your setup works well for you.
 
You can fit a solar panel and roof box. I have my panel right at the back with the roof bars just forward of the panel. It will charge with the box on, but I remove the box when I’m on setup on site.

I also don’t have the curly cable for the solar panel, and tuck the excess in the boot area so the cable is less visible.

You’re comment on the cable not needed on mains hookup, I would argue that you don’t need to have mains hookup with a solar panel, saving you pitch fees. Although this mainly for a grass pitch rather than a motor home pitch.

View attachment 65702
What Wattage is yours
Did you fit it yourself
Was it easy.

Will it keep the fridge on without the need for a hook for many days?

Thank you
 
I'm not on commission (!) but my advice would be to take your van on a wee camping trip near Roger's and get him to fit the solar panel and then forget about it. We did that on way to Europe last year for Winter and no regrets. Good 'after sales' too. Folks at Campercentrum in Amersfoort even commented on its neatness.

Sent from my Pixel 3a using Tapatalk
 
What Wattage is yours
Did you fit it yourself
Was it easy.

Will it keep the fridge on without the need for a hook for many days?

Thank you
I’ve got this kit:

Very easy to fit, instructions are very clear. The hardest bit is running the wire through the boot grommet and into the wardrobe at the back. I’ve done 10 nights without needing electric hookup.
 
I am intending to install a solar solution in my Ocean 6.1 when it eventually arrives later this year. My dilemma is whether to go for a fixed solution with panels on the roof or whether to go for ‘portable’. I’m leaning towards a solution where the charge controller and remote display unit are permanently installed in the van but with the solar input terminating at a socket (either inside near the shower connector or maybe outside the van). The portable panel(s) with a long lead would then be plugged in when needed.
My thinking is as follows but is maybe flawed?

So i’d really appreciate feedback from those of you who already use and have experience of using solar.

Advantages of fixed =
1. Fit and forget
2. Always on

Disadvantages of fixed =
1. Solar not needed when driving as engine provides charge.
2. Solar not needed when on mains hook up.
3. Roof mounted solar not efficient if parked in shade or van orientation is wrong
4. Roof mounted panels make it difficult to clean van roof under the panels
5. Connecting cable unsightly (In my opinion) and potentially damages paintwork.
6. Unable to fit roof box etc.

Advantages of portable =
1. Positioning of panels is flexible to maximise sun’s charge.
2. Leaves roof free for mounting roof box or other kit.
3. Allows whole roof to be cleaned.

Disadvantages of portable =
1. Not always on
2. Setup time at campsite
3. Higher risk of theft of panels.
4. Valuable van storage space taken up by the panels.
All points admirably answered by Roger anyway but as an owner of one of his panels I can only say it’s completely hassle free power available all the time in any conditions (so far...). Once it’s set up it just does the business of keeping fridge cold whatever and wherever... Fit and enjoy off grid energy then get on with worrying about something else
 

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