120W Flexible Solar Panel

I dont have access to 240v power where I park the van, as such I don’t have any facility to keep the habitation batteries topped up when parked up between trips, the obvious choice was to fit a solar panel to look after this task.

As we plan to retire and tour abroad the need for self sufficiency was also a consideration whilst planning the installation as we do plan to take full advantage of the French Aires and the German Stellplatz, the canny Yorkshire lad kicks in as I am dammed if I am going to pay for electricity unless I absolutely have to!

Rapido pre-wire for solar so this should be a simple job, or not as the case may be, the hard part was tracking down the location of the wiring at the roof, the wiring in the boot near the electrical systems was easily spotted and worked out but the end up at the roof was a little elusive.

Solar Wiring

Solar Wiring

I contacted Highbridge who I bought the van from but they could only confirm it was behind a panel in one of the wardrobes or in one of the overhead lockers, well that narrowed it down to four possible locations. A little bit of logic applied and I started in the O/S wardrobe as there was already wiring for the TV controls and other powered accessories. After removing the wooden trim over the Alde radiator I was able to remove the false rear panel of the wardrobe to reveal a mass of wiring and in amongst it all was the pre-installed cables for the solar, they are the red and blue wires with the yellow crimped connectors at the left of the image and nowhere near the roof, short by a good foot and a half.

120w Flexible Panel

120w Flexible Panel less than 2.5kg

I had already bought a solar controller from Marcle Leisure, as having read the Rapido 10001 owners manual it states the solar icon on the CBE 320 control panel will only show when connected to a CBE solar controller. The CBE PRS240 is rated at 240 watts so is quite a capable unit, but be aware as it will not take 240 watt from a single or multiple panels joined together but is designed to take up to two 120w panels wired individually to the controller making 240w in total. As the Rapido pre-installed wiring only has two cables it is not possible to use this controller with more than 120w, the cables will certainly take more power but a different controller would be needed and that would not allow the solar icon to work on the main control panel. It would be possible to run more wiring from the roof to the second input on the PRS240 but this sort of questions the attraction and practicality of the pre-installation.

After trying to find how to connect the controller to the vehicle panel so the solar icon works when solar is connected, from all of the usual sources, I contacted CBE directly, they asked for the serial numbers of the control panel and the 12v electric distribution panel, the answer was not what I had expected and the reply stated the icon could not be activated with the set up I had.

I have to say that despite the setback from CBE the speed and clariity of the communication was first class and I would not hesitate to contact them again if the need arises.

Roof Gland

Roof Gland

The cable entry through the roof was a standard item bought via the internet and covers a single 14mm hole that carries the rubber covered 6mm twin core cable that is more than capable of taking the load from the one 120watt panel and any future expansion, as usuall Sikaflex was used to adhere the entry gland and the junction box to the roof panel.

 

Junction Box

Junction Box

I decided to keep the PRS240 controller and use it with the single 120w panel however I did everything in such a way as to make increasing the panel capacity in the future a simple matter of adding another panel and replacing the controller with a beefier unit. The junction box contains a simple busbar so adding another panel, or two, is just a matter of adding the extra wiring to the busbar.

I had wanted to put a service fuse in the junction box but the busbar took up too much space so instead the fuse is at the junction where I conected to the Rapido pre-instalation wiring, this makes it is easy to isolate the panel by removing the fuse.

On the rear of the roof I have enough space to add another two 120 watt panels but at the moment we don’t have the need and the power output from 360 watts might be a little overkill for the two 100 amp leisure batteries I have at the moment. I will see how the single panel performs over winter and then decide if I am going to upgrade to two panels, my previous Autotrail Delaware had a single 100 watt panel and it coped with both the alarm and the tracker over the dull dark winter days but as mentioned previously we are away most weekends, usually on hook up, so the van never really puts a lot of load on the habitation or starter batteries, however retirement is a whole lot different so who knows what we need.

 

Picture.

 

I have used the system for a couple of weeks now and am quite pleased with the performance of the single 120 watt panel and controler, when I first  commissioned the system I was seeing nearly 3 amps on a fairly bright day, within a day of using the solar panel the habitation batteries were showing a full charge and the vehicle starter battery was now seeing the benefit with the habitation electrics passing on a 1 amp charge, this is the maximum and is regulated by the Rapido habitation electronics.

 

Likes and Dislikes:

 

Likes.

The added freedom the solar panel offers.

Free energy.

Lightweight, the panel is less than 2.5kg, the wiring and controller weigh more!

 

Disslikes.

Drilling another hole in the roof.

Being on the “bloody” ladders again to do the above!