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Solar install on a T6.1 California Ocean ...

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California_Ocean

California_Ocean

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Location
Ammersee
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T6.1 Ocean 204 4 motion
Been spending the last week trying to nail down how best to install solar panels on the pop-top roof of my Ocean.

Requirements are:

1. Must not increase the height of the vehicle.
 
2. Must not use the rails for the roof bars.

3. Must be very neat and car-wash capable with no possibility to snag brushes

.... possible?

P.S. Couldn't work out how to edit the first post ... accidentally posted before it was complete.
 
'ridged' roof surface would make flat solar panel difficult, glue it on?

Why not use roof rail method? If roof rails for future rack use then Solar Panel would be obscured.

All Solar Panels will add height however thin.

Solution for your criteria would require a section of roof cutting out to be replaced by a Solar Panel which could be done at a cost. Perhaps have a look at how the GC is done plus other Campervans & Motorhomes.

This is as low an add on as I've seen

 
'ridged' roof surface would make flat solar panel difficult, glue it on?

Why not use roof rail method? If roof rails for future rack use then Solar Panel would be obscured.

All Solar Panels will add height however thin.

Solution for your criteria would require a section of roof cutting out to be replaced by a Solar Panel which could be done at a cost. Perhaps have a look at how the GC is done plus other Campervans & Motorhomes.

This is as low an add on as I've seen

Laidbackleisure is a great link - thanks!

My research so far has come to the following conclusion ...

To keep the height as low as possible then using 3M VHB tape to attach a fairly rigid marine grade panel to the pop-top roof seems to be the way to go. Preferably one with an aluminium backing plate.

I'm tending towards a pair of these which would give me 250W ...


... and the fitting instructions say they can be stuck directly to corrugated pop-tops with 3M Tape. :thumb

Then, horror of horrors, I'm going to drill through the pop-top towards the rear and fit Scanstrut marine deck-seals (DS-H6) to get the cable through the roof - they are only 20mm high and keeping the cable length on the roof to just a few cms should allow use of a car wash without fouling the brushes.


The reason I want to use the roof bars is to carry a canadian canoe which will be removed on site and the bars can be slid along the rails so they don't shade the panels. Don't use a roof box or anything permanently attached to the roof.

The wiring will then be run internally following the same route as the wiring for the pop-top LED lights. The rest of the system will be a Victron Smart Solar - probably a 100/30 as I may add a plug-in portable panel at a later date.

My sailing boat is self sufficient with 300W, so hope the van will be OK with 250W.

Any thoughts?
 
You can get thin panels that have the cable outlet UNDER the panels, so you cut a larger hole/s in the roof and the panel sits 100% flat with no protrusions. Like these:


Down side is you have to drill quite big holes. I've drilled plenty a Cali roof when I used to sell stick on panels. A few recommendations:

- don't buy "aluminium backed" panels. Buy panels with as few diffrerent construction materials as possible - so you don't get them all expanding and contracting at different rates. I've spent a very long time finding panels that last and I trust, and they are pretty much solar cells suspended in plastic.
- Give up drive through car washes :)
- Stick on panels seem to overheat and have a shorter life.

I would add, and it's not a sales pitch, as I can see you know what you want, but, my kits work with existing roof bars. You put my brackets in betweeen. I've got plenty of clients who carry canoes on the roof. My kits add 14mm at the highest point. There is no way I'd recommend using a car wash with them though.
 
I really think you should reconsider the desire to use a brush car wash, by which I assume you mean those ones with automated spinning brushes. Those are awful for paintwork.
Bummer, I live in Germany in a "Wasserschutzgebiet" - we live near a lake and a nature reserve so any pollution is controlled quite strictly - which means I'll get into trouble for washing my car on the driveway ... as a result the car washes near where I live are excellent quality and regularly serviced, and there is one "Washstrasse" which is fantastic including hand-finishing - size limits are Height: 2,05m, Width:2,2m so a Cali would get through without the awning (which I intend to remove anyway). I wash only when it starts to look dirty, so not that often. There are "SB Washboxen" where you can wash a car by hand with pressure washers but the brushes which dispense the foam get left on the ground so pick up all sorts of dirt and grit (I wash my motorbike in them) and the protective rubber bits get knocked off - so they're more likely to damage the paint than an occasional car wash. Well attached solar panels with no loose wiring or snagging points should be no problem though - I think I will find a solution.
 
2. Must not use the rails for the roof bars.

3. Must be very neat and car-wash capable with no possibility to snag brushes

.... possible?

P.S. Couldn't work out how to edit the first post ... accidentally posted before it was complete.
Hi @California_Ocean
For your reference here’s a picture of panels fitted using the rails. They can be positioned to still allow you to fit roof bars. (Obviously when roof bars are ‘loaded’ it would obscure the panels). Minimal extra height (if any) - maybe the awning is higher? You could always lower your van by 30mm to give some peace of mind.
Car wash brushes! I understand your situation and perhaps you have better car washes in Germany but I wouldn’t put ours through a UK car wash.

340D9AF8-301F-41CF-ABAA-3F8E261889D1.jpeg
 
There are "SB Washboxen" where you can wash a car by hand with pressure washers but the brushes which dispense the foam get left on the ground so pick up all sorts of dirt and grit (I wash my motorbike in them) and the protective rubber bits get knocked off - so they're more likely to damage the paint than an occasional car wash.
This is my solution but I bring my own soap, pail, brush, sponges. Maybe not feasible with a motorbike but the Cali?
 
You can get thin panels that have the cable outlet UNDER the panels, so you cut a larger hole/s in the roof and the panel sits 100% flat with no protrusions. Like these:


Down side is you have to drill quite big holes. I've drilled plenty a Cali roof when I used to sell stick on panels. A few recommendations:

- don't buy "aluminium backed" panels. Buy panels with as few diffrerent construction materials as possible - so you don't get them all expanding and contracting at different rates. I've spent a very long time finding panels that last and I trust, and they are pretty much solar cells suspended in plastic.
- Give up drive through car washes :)
- Stick on panels seem to overheat and have a shorter life.

I would add, and it's not a sales pitch, as I can see you know what you want, but, my kits work with existing roof bars. You put my brackets in betweeen. I've got plenty of clients who carry canoes on the roof. My kits add 14mm at the highest point. There is no way I'd recommend using a car wash with them though.
Thanks for that, I'll give up on the aluminium panel idea, I've had solar on my boat for almost 3 years, and my experience regarding reliability of panels has been pretty bad until I used fiberglass PTFE coated marine panels attached to a PVC Foam Board (they live on the Bimini - see pic) - now they seem fine.

Looks like it's going to be a compromise and maybe I'll have to use a mounting plate - definitely ETFE marine grade panels (your link was excellent thanks - one more source to think about - the holes are big and I would be a bit concerned about my ability to seal them :oops:.)

I intend to use Scanstrut horizontal cable seals to go through the roof, they have proved bullet proof on the boat so I'm a big fan - with very short cable runs.


For me, the installation has to be aesthetically as perfect as I can make it while being as flat and low as possible, robust, and I'm not quite ready to compromise on the car wash requirement yet.

I don't know enough about the VW roof bars to determine how much of an issue the use of rail mounted panels will be unfortunately.

.. but thanks very much for your input, I pick up my van on Saturday so for the moment it is all just theory on my part.

DJI_0087.JPG
 
Hi @California_Ocean
For your reference here’s a picture of panels fitted using the rails. They can be positioned to still allow you to fit roof bars. (Obviously when roof bars are ‘loaded’ it would obscure the panels). Minimal extra height (if any) - maybe the awning is higher? You could always lower your van by 30mm to give some peace of mind.
Car wash brushes! I understand your situation and perhaps you have better car washes in Germany but I wouldn’t put ours through a UK car wash.

View attachment 88027
That looks really nice :thumb ... how long can you go without an electricity hook-up? ... I've done some sums (see below) based around my boat install for the van but until I get it I can't actually measure the power consumption - the fridge was the biggest consumer and it was obviously dependent on temperature settings, but there may be some monster consumers in the van (e.g. entertainment system) ... so I haven't settled on the size of the solar array yet - just as big as possible. Does the solar installation confuse the Camping Unit?
1641810667991.png
This is my solution but I bring my own soap, pail, brush, sponges. Maybe not feasible with a motorbike but the Cali?
... I think this car wash thing is going to get me thrown off the forum for Cali abuse .... :oops:
 
That looks really nice :thumb ... how long can you go without an electricity hook-up? ... I've done some sums (see below) based around my boat install for the van but until I get it I can't actually measure the power consumption - the fridge was the biggest consumer and it was obviously dependent on temperature settings, but there may be some monster consumers in the van (e.g. entertainment system) ... so I haven't settled on the size of the solar array yet - just as big as possible. Does the solar installation confuse the Camping Unit?
View attachment 88030

... I think this car wash thing is going to get me thrown off the forum for Cali abuse .... :oops:
That looks really nice :thumb ... how long can you go without an electricity hook-up? ... I've done some sums (see below) based around my boat install for the van but until I get it I can't actually measure the power consumption - the fridge was the biggest consumer and it was obviously dependent on temperature settings, but there may be some monster consumers in the van (e.g. entertainment system) ... so I haven't settled on the size of the solar array yet - just as big as possible. Does the solar installation confuse the Camping Unit?
View attachment 88030

... I think this car wash thing is going to get me thrown off the forum for Cali abuse .... :oops:
so, my solar array is 2x100W panels. (3 panels would fit). I can’t say how long I can go without hookup because I haven’t tested that in an off grid camping environment. All I can say is that I left the fridge on at Level 4 all summer through to late October without any issues and the camping display was nearly always at >60 Hours.
Mine is wired to charge both leisure and starter batteries.
 
Whoops, did something strange with my reply and married it to your question!
 
Update .... after much messing around with panels, panel carriers etc. this is the way I have decided to go with a 310W setup ...

Parts List:

2 x Phaesun 310424 MARE FLEX 155 ETFE 155w Solar Panels
1 x Hess Campers 320W Solar mounting plate
1 x Scanstrut DS-H10-BLK cable seal
1 x Aluminium cable conduit 110mm x 50mm x 20mm
1 x 3M VHB Tape GPH-160GF, Grey, 25 mm x 33 m, 1,6 mm
1 x Victron SmartSolar 100/30
1 x 2 pole circuit breaker for isolating panels
1 x 40A waterproof circuit breaker (MPPT to Batteries)

Looks like this ...
1647008088571.png

Next question is where best to attach to the batteries for charging so that the CU continues to function properly ? ... any info would be gratefully received.
 
Don't forget that if you drill any holes in the Cali roof you will invalidate any VW paint/corrosion warranty :(
 
2. Must not use the rails for the roof bars.

3. Must be very neat and car-wash capable with no possibility to snag brushes

.... possible?

P.S. Couldn't work out how to edit the first post ... accidentally posted before it was complete.
One question, why don’t you want to use the existing roof rails. @Roger Donoghue can supply kits with detailed instructions:
3955EEDB-404B-4E8D-A49D-F5CE369C1C2E.jpeg
 
One question, why don’t you want to use the existing roof rails. @Roger Donoghue can supply kits with detailed instructions:
View attachment 90265
Your installation looks fantastic. I have my reasons which I have written on another thread .... but @Roger Donoghue has a loyal and happy customer base and a very good product so I don't really want to get into discussions about the pros and cons of his products.
 
Don't forget that if you drill any holes in the Cali roof you will invalidate any VW paint/corrosion warranty :(
This doesn't really worry me. The only panel I have affected is the pop-top so corrosion anywhere else on the vehicle will still stand under warranty - they would have a very hard time in court arguing that me drilling 5 holes in the pop-top was in any way responsible for underbody corrosion, stone chips, flaking topcoat etc. The paint/corrosion warranties usually require that the vehicle is inspected by a manufacturer approved service centre and a specific paint check done at predefined intervals - fail to do this and the warranty is invalidated - but if it has its checks on time then the warranty will be fine. I reckon any large claim on any warranty has a high chance of turning into a protracted dispute anyway.
 
Your installation looks fantastic. I have my reasons which I have written on another thread .... but @Roger Donoghue has a loyal and happy customer base and a very good product so I don't really want to get into discussions about the pros and cons of his products.
The advantage to us was that we can quickly remove panels without any trace should we ever sell the van (and then transfer the kit to new van). Plus the roof is strengthened under the rails so the weight is not on the aluminium roof panel itself which may cause it to sag slightly under the panels. If it was a fibreglass/epoxy roof (similar to a yacht) it would not be so much of an issue as it would have more strength.

We are also on the waiting list for roof corrosion warranty work (been on waiting list for +2years!), so didn’t want to do anything that might cause VW to reject the claim. VW are experts in court, remember the emissions scandal.

If you plan keeping the van long term then drilling the roof should not be an issue, but bear in mind that it’s likely to put off buyers if similar vans on the market are hole free. Any water leak/staining in the roof lining will be difficult to get rid of.
 
The advantage to us was that we can quickly remove panels without any trace should we ever sell the van (and then transfer the kit to new van). Plus the roof is strengthened under the rails so the weight is not on the aluminium roof panel itself which may cause it to sag slightly under the panels. If it was a fibreglass/epoxy roof (similar to a yacht) it would not be so much of an issue as it would have more strength.

We are also on the waiting list for roof corrosion warranty work (been on waiting list for +2years!), so didn’t want to do anything that might cause VW to reject the claim. VW are experts in court, remember the emissions scandal.

If you plan keeping the van long term then drilling the roof should not be an issue, but bear in mind that it’s likely to put off buyers if similar vans on the market are hole free. Any water leak/staining in the roof lining will be difficult to get rid of.
As I said, I really don't want to get into a pro/con discussion over @Roger Donoghue products. They look excellent and he has a loyal customer base so they must perform well too - I'm glad they are a perfect fit for your requirements. I enjoy assembling the components myself and building my own systems, I will end up with a system that I am very happy with too - it will suit me just as much as your system suits you. I have attached a few previous boaty "projects" for everyone to have a laugh at :thumb ...

1647092877120.png
1647093021367.png
 
Update .... after much messing around with panels, panel carriers etc. this is the way I have decided to go with a 310W setup ...

Parts List:

2 x Phaesun 310424 MARE FLEX 155 ETFE 155w Solar Panels
1 x Hess Campers 320W Solar mounting plate
1 x Scanstrut DS-H10-BLK cable seal
1 x Aluminium cable conduit 110mm x 50mm x 20mm
1 x 3M VHB Tape GPH-160GF, Grey, 25 mm x 33 m, 1,6 mm
1 x Victron SmartSolar 100/30
1 x 2 pole circuit breaker for isolating panels
1 x 40A waterproof circuit breaker (MPPT to Batteries)

Looks like this ...
View attachment 90225

Next question is where best to attach to the batteries for charging so that the CU continues to function properly ? ... any info would be gratefully received.
I love the Hess mounting plate, the Hess 220W solar system is good but pricey. Sure the plate could be made by a good metal fabricator for a reasonable cost.
 
Any wild campers ever hooked up a wind turbine for off grid power? Some fairly small vertical ones available.
 
Any wild campers ever hooked up a wind turbine for off grid power? Some fairly small vertical ones available.
Its a great idea but needs to be supported independently of the van for vibration, I remember nights in a mountain hut in winter with a turbine attached to the brick wall, it was like someone reving a motorbike all night.
 
I love the Hess mounting plate, the Hess 220W solar system is good but pricey. Sure the plate could be made by a good metal fabricator for a reasonable cost.
I am off camping in Switzerland in a few weeks, will be picking the plate up there (cost CHF 320) ... with the two 155W panels (€610,50 delivered), the VHB Tape - (€41,47) and the Scanstrut cable seal ( €31,49) the solar bits on the roof come to around €1000 (around £850 in british money). I'm happy so far.
 

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