How to Install Solar Panels

I spend my winters in the desert, which makes me the perfect candidate for solar power. I saved as much money as I could and got started with a basic system which was a Single 55 watt Kyocera solar panel ($250), and an inexpensive BZ250 mppt controller ($110).  I bought everything necessary from Solar Mike at the Slabs, near Niland, CA (for more info on the Slabs, see article under Boondocking on this site). That was all I could afford at the time but since then I have added another panel, a Kyocera 135 watt panel ($360). That’s one of the great things about solar power, you can start small and expand it as you have the money.

In this picture you see basically everything you need to install a solar power system.: 1) Solar Panel, 2) Solar Controller, 3) Cable, and 4) Fuse

In this picture you see basically everything you need to install a solar power system.: 1) Solar Panel, 2) Solar Controller, 3) Cable, and 4) Fuse

Here is the panel mounted on the roof of my home-built camper at the Slabs.

Here is the panel mounted on the roof of my home-built camper at the Slabs.

Below is a picture of a panel mounted with simple L brackets. It’s quick and easy but doesn’t allow the panel to tilt. Panels work better when they are cool so we need air to circulate under them to cool them. The L bracket raises the panel up in the air so air can circulate under it.

 solar_panel_bracket

soloar-55-tilted

Pictured above is another way to mount the panels with tilting brackets. These are custom brackets made by Solar Mike and they cost me $45. But they are simple enough you could make your own, They are just aluminum L-channels. You mount one channel to the panel and the other to the roof. Then you drill a hole through the front and the back of the channels and put a bolt through it. Too tilt it, you loosen the front bolts, remove the rear bolts and then raise the panel, and put the aluminum arms in, then re-tighten the bolts. Whichever mount you use, put mastic tape down first so the screws go through it, then cover the screws with high quality silicone caulking.

In this picture you see the junction box on the bottom of the panel.

In this picture you see the junction box on the bottom of the panel.

This is the junction box open and the wires connected. You can see it is very simple. You strip the ends of the wire and crimp on the ends, then you screw out the screws, put the wire on, then put the screws back in. It’s just that simple! The terminals in the box are very clearly marked as positive or negative. These wires don’t carry much current so you only need 10 gauge wire from the panels to the controller.

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Below is the controller I used. It’s a BZ250 mppt controller. I’ve had it for two, trouble-free years. It comes with a 5 year warranty.

solar-55-bz250

Below is the back of the controller. Installation is very simple. You just strip and crimp on ends to the wire coming from the panel and then going to the batteries. Remove the screws, put on the wires and put the screws back in. It’s very clearly marked for positive and negative, and from the panels and then to the battery.

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So how do you get cables into your vehicle home? I suggest running the wire through a wall somewhere if you don’t already have vents through your roof. Drill a hole, put in a grommet to protect the cable from the sharp edge, then cover with silicone.

In these pictures we see the fuse. Installation is simple. You strip and crimp a “butt” connector (picture at right) to the positive wire coming from the controller, and then strip and crimp a ring connector to the other end, then connect it to the battery. The MPPT controller increases the current by 25-30 percent, so I used 8 gauge wire from the controller to the battery and a 15 amp blade fuse.

solar-fuse

solar-55-fuse

 I later added a second panel. This is a Kycoera 135 solar panel. It has a junction box just like the one you saw for the 55 watt panel. It is also easy to connect. The cable leaves the junction box of the 55 watt panel then goes into the 135 watt panel. A second set of cables goes on the same posts and leaves the junction box and goes to the controller. The cables that are on the roof and exposed to the sun are a special UV resistant cable made for this purpose.

solar-55-135

Here is the website for Solar Mike at the Slabs:  http:/ www.thesunworks.com/id5.htm

Website for BZ250:  http:/ www.simpleray.com/BZ-250-Watt-MPPT-Controller-MPPT250-p/20402-01.htm

My favorite website for everything solar (great prices, great service):  http://www.solar-electric.com/