The long awaited three 100 w GoPower! Solar Flex panels arrived. Well, not really that long, it just took a week.
Each box contains a 100w flex panel, mounting hardware, and a special MC4 bridging connector to parallel two panels together. Once you go over two panels you need a combiner box of some sort. I did it with Blue Sea bulk head connectors on my fridge vent. The odd thing is the manual says the expansion kit also comes with a 50′ MC4 cable, but the box does not and it was missing. I need one to wire in the second set of panels. I’ve contacted GoPower! to sort it out.
I’m going to mount the panels with 3M VHB (Very High Bond) 4941 tape. I know it sounds crazy, but this tape is specially formulated to bond plastic and metal. A typical use is to hold nameplates on vehicles. I followed 3M’s technical bulletin to install the tape. This is in place the rivnut installation I did on the first panel. I didn’t like it because the panel did not lay flat. Plus why drill more holes in your Airstream than you need?
I gathered my supplies and set out to get started. I have 15 yards of 3M tape, microfiber towels, soap to clean the roof, and isopropyl alcohol. You may also notice the black MC4 parallel adapters in the photo. These are used to parallel two panels together. More on that later.
After cleaning the roof with soap and water, and allowing it to dry, I wiped down the area with my 50/50 water-alcohol solution.
While the roof was drying, it was time to prepare the panels. The first step is to lightly sand, in a circular pattern, the back surface of the panel. This will allow the tape to adhere more completely.
Sand in small circles.
Then used my 50/50 water-alcohol solution and cleaned the edges of the panel that I just sanded, and let dry.
Clean off the residue left from the sanding.
The next step is to apply the 3M VHB tape. I just slowly worked it around the edges then used a J-roller to secure it in place.
Next I marked off where the first panel would go on the roof of the Airstream. I used the edge of the top aluminum panel as my reference and laid out blue painters tape to my desired location.
Measure twice. Stick once!
I got up on the roof and peeled off the backing tape and carefully lowered the panel toward my reference marks. The stuff sticks quickly. If you are VERY light with it, you can shift it somewhat, but you’d better be sure where its going before you lay it down. Don’t forget the direction the power wires need to go before you lay the panel down!
After the panel was in place it was time to J-roll the edges.
Securing the panel with a J roller
Repeat for the next three panels. I left about 1/2″ between panels on the roof because I intend to use SikaFlex 221 around the edges of the panel to help secure them even more and keep water off of the tape.
Yes, you can walk on them. It’s almost necessary on my Airstream just to get around the narrow roof. Here I am J-rolling the set. Ain’t they pretty?
BTW – here is a tip. Don’t lean on your sun rotted A/C shroud while maneuvering around the roof. – OUCH!
I’ve needed a new one for a while anyway.
With my existing cable I’m able to run these two panels into the charger controller. I just need another MC4 cable to hook up the front to panels.
It’s very easy to wire two panels together. Each panel has a positive and negative connection. Using the bridging adapters, you hook both negatives into one adapter, and both positives into the other.
Both negative leads from the panels into one adapter
Both adapters wired into the cable that feeds the charge controller
That’s it for now until I get the MC4 cable and Sikaflex that I need. With these two panels I was able to easily pull in over 10 amps. The only hard part is that my battery is always charged now, so I have to turn on a bunch of stuff to get the solar to ramp up. What a problem to have.
10amps from the rear two panels
It’s hard to tell with the trailer parked next to my house, but it doesn’t look like you will notice the panels very much. I cheated on the centering a little bit by allow more to show on the street side than the curb side of the trailer. I just thought that when you’re camping, you don’t spend too much time on the back side of the trailer.
As long as it holds, I can tell you the 3M VHB tape is the way to go. Much easier to install than trying to mark and center rivnuts all over the place. It even beats just drilling screw holes since these mounts won’t cause any leaks. Time will tell, but from my research its commonly used on the aluminum/glass solar panels, and those are much heavier and are mounted with brackets. That’s right, only VHB tape and sikaflex on the brackets.
I’ll end with some more photos of the panels. They look great curved to the stylish roof of my Airstream!
My fuse distribution is a bit unusual I admit it. I guess I’m a bit over protective by nature. My trailer originally had two glass fuses serving the entire trailer. During my restoration, I replaced the glass fuse holder with a standard ATC fuse holder and used the original wiring to power the lights, and charge line from the tow vehicle.
I also added two additional fuse blocks under each bed for powering new devices that I installed. I ended up with somewhat of a distributed fuse box system and it has worked well for the past five years.
With this latest power rewire, I moved the batteries near each other, increased the cable size, and wired for a balanced load. I ended up with 1/0 wire bridging the batteries. There’s something about having heavy 1/0 wire leaving the battery box unprotected by a fuse that doesn’t sit well with me. I know the standard is 18″ from the battery box before the first fuse is OK, but my batteries were only five cable/feet apart. I wanted a better solution, and I think I found one.
Enter the Blue Sea Terminal fuses. These heavy-duty fuse holders mount right on the battery post. They have up to 300a fuses available that attach right to the post. Your cable affixes to the post before it leaves the battery box.
Blue Sea Terminal Fuse Holder
You may notice these come in single and dual fuse holders. I opted for a 175a “catastrophic” fuse on each battery post, and a 125a fuse for the trailer DC source.
The nice thing is the battery box lid fits perfectly. It’s a very sturdy and clean install.
The #4 wire leaving the top of the post, bypassing the fuse, is for the 800w inverter. It’s only going about 8″ to a Blue Sea 100a DC breaker that leads to the inverter. The breaker is mounted to the side of the battery box.
Here is a photo of the rest of the fuse products that I used.
A variety of fuses.
The black device in the lower left corner is the DC breaker for the inverter. The box on the top is the fuse holder for the ANL fuses to the left of it. These are pretty common fuse types that will allow for more power to flow w/o a voltage drop. I used these to distribute power to my three existing fuse blocks that are scattered about the Airstream.
In a similar fashion I used a ground block to distribute the ground from the battery bank after it made it’s way through the 500a shunt that feeds the Trimetric battery monitor.
I’m one label short of a good time. There should be label above the converter that is marked solar, for the solar charge input. All fuses, save the converter, are 30amp. The converter fuse is 60amp. All the power goes through the shunt so the Trimetric can monitor the power in and out of the system.
Here is a drawing the may or may not help. It’s a little crazy, but it represents what I have going on.
Ambassador Power Distribution
The 30a Blue Sea breaker coming off of the solar panels is really just a service disconnect. It’s handy when you need to service the controller and its daylight. You want to make sure you never short out the solar wires during daylight, because you can damage the panels. To be more accurate, the breaker should be on the roof where the panel wires combine together. But that’s not practical in my situation. So for me, it just becomes a service disconnect. I don’t actually have it wired in yet, I just ordered one….
This is the prettiest that I could make it. Tie wraps sure work wonders!
It was a major redo of the power system for sure. I feel pretty good that its a nice upgrade and will service us better in the long run.
When I originally wired my Ambassador during the restoration, I wired it with one battery in mind. I put a 100Ah AGM Group 27 battery in the curbside closet. It fit perfectly next to the black tank that I had extended into that very closet. I built a false floor to cover the battery and tank. All was well….
Then, just before I put the belly pan back on, I threw a couple of #6 stranded wire through the floor. This linked each closet space with #6 wire. When we did our cross county trip a couple of years ago, I added the second AGM to the street side closet and used the #6 to connect the two.
With our full-hookup camping and light loads, it was fine. Now that I’m adding 400w of solar, I decided that I should put the batteries together. When you parallel batteries, you should use bigger wire than #6. You should also draw your power off the bank, not just one of the batteries. What that means is you pull the positive off of one battery, and the negative from the other. The batteries prefer this, be nice to them.
Moving the batteries was easy. However, once I moved them I had to move my inverter, transfer switch, trimetric, remote inverter switch, this was a big job.
You can see how this all was before I started in this post. I ended up with both AGM’s under the street side bed. Here they are sitting in their new homes.
Pardon my mess
Lovely wires everywhere. Goto love it. NOT!
The inverter and transfer switch had to be moved as well. Inverters need to be with in a few feet from the batteries. Depending on the wattage, they can draw 80 amps, no problem. My inverter is a 800w modified sine wave model. Just moving the inverter and transfer switch is a major project, but it was just a small part of this one!
I put them in the street side closet, along with the converter, that I also had to move and rewire. Notice the solar controller now mounted. The controller is made to be mounted in plain view, but I want to keep my 1960 interior with the technology hidden. I still have some split loom and tie wrap work, but its coming along.
Now comes the big issue. Getting the trimetric and inverter remote wiring to the opposite closet. As you probably know, there is a complete bathroom separating the two closets. There is no way I’m pulling the tub out to run new wire!
Just then I had a brain storm. I had some PEX tubbing running from under the vanity to the space under street side bed. This was left over from my hydronic heating system that I removed. This PEX made the perfect conduit for pulling the new wire I needed. Keep in mind that I had run extra wiring during the restoration, but over the years I used them for the Wi-Fi Ranger, control of my Atwood water heater, and other things.
So here is a new tip. Run an extra PEX tube from closet to closet during the restoration, just for that extra wire you will need!
PEX turned to conduit.
The only issue was getting from the vanity to the curbside closet that has the trimetric and inverter remote cables. Between the vanity and the closet there is the black tank and toilet. Once again, disassembly of the toilet and tank was not an option! I poked my bald head under the bathroom sink and felt the wire entry I made from the bathroom space to the tank space. Once again, another issue. I made the hole for the wires, just the right size for the installed cable.
Tip 2. Make these unseen cable routes with larger than needed holes for expansion!
It was a lot of blind work. I could barely reach my hand back to the opening and push a nylon fish tape. It barely fit. I only really had one shot at this. I struggled and struggled. Once I could not get any more in, I went to the curbside closet. I pushed my hand in as far as I could and low and behold, I got the fish tape! Happy dance! I was able to pull my cables, including another extra one, just in case.
So the rest of the day was a wiring marathon. Unfortunately, the eBay seller with my fuse blocks delayed my shipment so I had to go the entire memorial weekend w/o them. Ugh.
The two batteries are now connected with 1/0. Overkill really. I wouldn’t do it again. You only need to go as big as your biggest load, which is my inverter. Next time I would just go with #4. Of course, fused right at the positive terminal on each battery. Always!
I added this platform to hold my terminals for ground, power, and of course the trimetric 500a shunt. The ground block takes its ground from the battery via the shunt. Every other ground is connected to this block. This way, any power drawn from the battery bank can be monitored via the shunt. The #4 red wire is waiting for my eBay fuse blocks.
Waiting for fuse blocks.
Since I do not have the fuse blocks yet, my converter is not wired in. So I’ve been living completely off of solar. I did hot-wire the power so I could run my fantastic vent and test some other loads. It was fun to watch the controller deliver up to 5.6amps during the day. I had the fan running and the fridge on, which needs DC power, and the solar had enough energy to run both of those and still deliver 1.5 amps to the batteries! This is with only one 100w panel installed.
This was later in the day around 5:30pm when I was done for the day. I took a photo of the solar controller that was still delivering 1.5 amps.
The trimetric measured 1.1 amps because it does a net current display. If some current is going out and some coming in, that’s what it shows. There must have been a ,4 a draw on something.
And this is without a converter connected! Not bad having run the fridge and fan all day. Here’s the most important photo. A full bank of batteries by nightfall. Perfect!
Keep in mind you do not normally need to do all of this work to add solar. This is just me going thermonuclear on my power situation. YMMV!
OK, I’m pretty well set. I survived the move. I just need the fuse blocks to finish up. The batteries are together, the trimetric and inverter remote work. The inverter and transfer switch are happy.
Don’t forget there are three more panels coming too….
We get a lot of questions on theVAP about solar. As everyone knows, who listens to the show, we don’t boondock much, so solar has never been a concern. With all the questions I wanted to learn more about it. After some research, I investigated Go Power! because of their Flex-Solar panels. A perfect solution for our beloved curved Airstreams!
At first I decided on one Solar-Flex 100W kit from Go Power!, but soon decided more is better. More on that later.
Go Power Solar-Flex 100W Panel
The kit is fairly simple. It includes the 100W panel, charger controller, and 50′ of MC4 cable. The first step is to determine where you are going to mount the panel, keeping in mind your entry point for the cables. The most common entry is the refrigerator vent, or a vent stack. Some may choose to make their own entry, especially if your trailer came pre-wired for solar. I opted for the fridge vent, because solar pre-wire wasn’t an option in 1960!
I used the box the kit came in to cut to a panel template and try different positions on the roof. You want to be mindful of objects that can cast a shadow on the panel, like an air conditioner or vent. Don’t drive yourself crazy here as there is only so much space on the roof to work with, but it’s smart to keep it in mind. This is the perfect position for one 100W panel. There is no way you can see this from the ground. You can fit a second 100W panel on the front of a 28′ trailer for a total of 200W and be total solar stealth!
However, the included solar controller can handle 400W or four panels, which happens to be the exact amount of panels my roof can hold. As Tim the Tool Man would say, “More power!” With two panels on the front, and two on the back, I’m maxed out. The panels are 42″ long x 21″ wide. Which means they take up the same space no mater which way you turn them. It’s like a geographical anomaly!
Now that they cross over the top panel by 3.5″ on either side, you can see them a bit as you back from the trailer. It’s not that bad though, certainly better than the standard aluminum/glass panels that have to be mounted 1″ above the roof. They look like you’re hauling around a table for the smurfs!
I only have one panel now. I’m ordering three Solar Flex 100Es, which is the 100w panel expansion kit. These include the panel, cable and a special Y adapter to parallel the connections.
Go Power Solar-Flex panels can be installed with screws or adhesive. I opted for stainless bolts with rivnuts. A rivnut is a cool little gadget. It installs like a rivet, but leaves a threaded hole for a bolt. This way the panels can be removed easily if needed. After speaking with Go Power about my concern for wind getting under the panel while driving, they mentioned using Sikaflex around the perimeter, especially the front.
Rivnut installation tools
Installing the rivnut
Before securing the panel, I gently roughed up the bottom perimeter of the panel so that it will adhere better to the sikaflex. I also took a photo of the panel spec’s for the nerds out there. Here is the panel mounted with the rivnuts, and to honest, I don’t like the way it turned out. Even trying to add the sikaflex would just make a mess. The bow is there for a couple of reasons. One is the fact that Go Power only put eyelets on the four corners. I think it would be a nice addition to have a third eyelet on the long sides. The second reason is probably just my alignment of the rivnuts. It’s a real chore to get them to line up perfectly under the 8/32″ eyelets. Come to think of it, it would be nice if the eyelets were a little larger and robust.
Anyway, I don’t like the bow or the trouble of the rivnut installation, so I started researching and found that a lot of installers use a special 3M tape called VHB tape. VHB, stands for Very High Bond. How creative…
Lew, who is a certified RV mechanic and hangs out on airforums.com, has a lot of experience installing solar. He recommends the 3M VHB tape. I’m going to order some 3M VHB Heavy Duty Mounting Tape 4941. This should hold down all the edges. I’ll also use stainless screws in the eyelets.
I’m going to have two panels up front, and two behind the air conditioner. I decided the best place to bring the wire into the Airstream was via the fridge vent. The kit includes #10 MC4 cable, which the manual said is good for up to 240W’s and 25′.
Since I am going to have 400W and slightly over 25′ run, I decided to install #6 wire. The wiring coming from the solar panel uses special connectors that come in the kit. You still use this to enter the trailer. The included cable is UV rated and very flexible. You don’t want just any old wire on the roof in the sun all day.
If you go with two 100W panels, they connect together and run into the trailer on the same single pair. It only gets slightly more complicated when you go over two panels. You need some sort of junction box on the roof. I opted to use Blue Sea marine feed-through bulkhead connectors. These things are great quality, made from thermoplastic with a 5/16″ bolt for the wire. Next I had to remove my fridge vent cover to allow access for mounting the bulkhead connectors and run the wire. I dry fitted the Blue Sea’s and they look great.
I purchased some 5/16″ plastic caps that will go over the bolts once I’m finished.
I’ll save you the part about running the #6 Home Depot wire. Lets just say it’s lack of flexibility made it tough. Next time I’d go with a high-strand count wire, much more flexible! Here is the #6 stranded wire connection at the bulkhead connectors. They were crimped and soldered. I took a lot of time to add some heavy duty strain relief. I know how much things bounce around in these trailers.
It’s important during all of this wiring to keep the solar panel disconnected until the end. You don’t want to accidentally short the wires from the panel in full sunlight as you can short out the internal diode in the panel. Carefully check all of your wiring for shorts and polarity issues.
Back on the roof I connected the UV rated MC4 cable that I routed around the A/C to the bulkhead connectors. The panel is still disconnected at this point.
You may noticed that I used aluminum tape to hold down the wiring. I was mentioning to Colin about needing to screw nylon clamps to hold the wires in place. Colin says he used aluminum tape for this sort of thing all the time as it doesn’t deteriorate. If it’s good enough for Colin…. I ran the entrance cable back to the solar controller. The #6 is too big and stiff to connect directly to the controller, so I connected a couple of feet of the flexible #10 MC4 cable before connecting to the controller. This makes mounting the controller far easier and more reliable. I’m not worried about the power loss going from #6 to the #10 since the #10 is only a couple of feet. It’s a far better solution for the health of the controller.
I also used sections of the MC4 cable to connect the controller to the battery via the included 30 amp fuse holder. Again, this is a very short run from the controller to the battery. With the controller powered up, and the solar wiring tested for shorts, it was time to head back up to the roof one last time to plug it in.
You are not supposed to connect or disconnect the panels when they are in the sun as they are producing voltage. so I decided to steal my dog’s blanket for a minute to cover the panel. She wasn’t too happy about that! Now it’s safe to plug in the MC4 plugs from the panel. They only go one way and are clearly marked.
Here is a final shot of the roof, with the three remaining panel positions in waiting. I have two 12v AGM 100Ah batteries for a 200Ah capacity. A very basic rule of thumb is to have one panel per 100Ah. Since I’m going to have 400w, I really should get two more batteries, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I really do not have the space for them. My extra capacity will help out in two ways. One, my two batteries will charge up quickly in good sunlight. Second, on overcast or rainy days, I’ll squeeze out more power from my four panels than I would with just two.
By this this time it was about 5:30 pm and the sun was already low in the sky. I also have not removed the protective film from the panel since I will need to remove it to add the 3M VHB. Even so, the controller shows the batteries were charging with two amps. The batteries were fully charged already, and they have no loads right now as I’m rewiring the trailer power.
Here is the solar controller showing the voltage, charge amps, and percent of battery charged. I’m putting the controller in the street side closet so it will be closer to the batteries under the street side bed. I have a Tri-Metric in my pantry that will give me good details on what is going on. I’ll still be able to see the controller whenever I need to.
2 amp charge
Batteries at 100%
Just for kicks, I checked the voltage from the panel on my bulkhead connectors. BTW with this bulkhead junction, it will make wiring the three remaining panels very easy. Interesting that it’s 13.35V while providing 2 amps. When I tested it on my driveway with no load, it measured 19.8V.
Ahh, free power from the sun.. That’s it for now, stay tuned for 400w. “Scotty, we need more power!” “I’m giving her all we’ve got, Captain!”
Hitting the road should be a fun time, but if you’ve got a family and aren’t prepared, it can be frustrating. No one wants to hear, “Are we there yet?” mile after mile!
Hopefully these tips will keep everyone happy as you tool down the road. As we all know, if momma’s not happy, nobody’s happy!
Plan your trip together.
Get the kids involved in the plan. Print out a map with the trip laid out so they can check off places as they go. It’s a great way to learn too. Just don’t tell them that!
Bring some books or load up your eBook reader with information about your destinations. The more the kids know about the place you’re visiting the better. It makes the experience much more personal and memorable. You can quiz them about the facts on your destination, just to see if they are listening!
Load up the backpacks. One thing Deb and I like to do is let the kids pack personal items, like toys and books in a backpack. This way their stuff is all together and easy for them to get to. Plus they feel more in control since they get to fill the backpack the way they want. It also makes it easy to transfer their belongings from the vehicle to the Airstream.
Road Trip Journal
Pack a road trip journal in their backpacks. Tell them to write about their experiences each day on the vacation. It can just be a few short sentences. Make sure they do it everyday while it’s fresh in their head. There will always be something to write about. It may be something they did or saw that day. Be sure they date each entry. This will be something they treasure when they are older. A simple spiral notebook will do, or you can get creative and decorate the cover before your trip.
Don’t forget the snacks! As the mom, you are the event coordinator while dad’s driving down the road. You’re the head of the entertainment and food committees too. So be prepared with snacks. Lots of them! Pack your kids favorite snacks that are vehicle friendly, meaning easy to eat without making a mess. Once you’ve packed enough for the day’s drive, add some more! Along with those snacks be sure to bring plenty of water. It’s important to stay hydrated. Since you have your Airstream in tow, it’s easy to restock.
Bring some entertainment. When Debra and I started out years ago on our family road trips, we’d let everyone pick a couple of DVD’s. These DVD’s go in a separate bag that rides in the vehicle with a portable DVD player. The kids would take turns watching movies. The entertainment committee leader would constantly have to deal with changing DVD’s, plugging in the charger, monitoring complaints on how the movie skips. This ends up being a lot of work!
On our trip across country we figured out a way around this tiresome issue. I loaded up my
macbook with several of the kids favorite movies that they could access from their iPads. I also purchased iPad holders for the seat headrests. Each kid could select and watch their own movies and listen to them via their headphones. No more messing with DVDs!. Problem solved! Since they are iPads, they can also play their favorite apps.
Some cars have screens built-in for the rear passengers that helps check this one off your list. If you’re vehicle doesn’t, you can buy after-market radios or head units that have the capability. Honestly, the iPad option probably gets you more bang for the buck! One more thing on apps. Make sure the ones they bring do not require the internet unless you have a mifi type connection while on the road. A mifi can provide wireless internet, but requires service from a cellular provider.
Make sure to get some screen-free time too! Pack some books for reading or coloring. Maybe it’s time to bring the kids back to your roots by teaching them the alphabet game, or the good ‘ol ‘I Spy’! A big part of being on the road are the sites you see out the window. Don’t let the little ones miss it!
Prehistoric Gardens, OR
Make frequent stops. Everyone can use a stretch break now and then. We carry a frisbee for rest areas, just to get the kids energy out. Since your Airstream is in tow – pull over and rest a bit before lunch in the trailer. No need to grab fast food when you carry your refrigerator and healthy choices with you.
Stop and see the sites. Don’t make the destination be the only thing on your mind. Remember the journey is just as important.
Bedrock City, SD
If you happen across a roadside attraction, don’t think you’ll catch it next time, you may never be this way again. Take the time.
Make memories. Take lots of photos. One thing we like to do is take a picture of the Airstream near each of our stops. Of course we also take photos of the family and attractions. Makes a nice photo album project once you’re home.
Make stopping to visit family and friends priority. On our cross-country trip we were able to visit four different family members in four different states! Something that wouldn’t be possible if we flew in a plane. We also found that our kids enjoyed visiting their cousins, uncles, and aunts, even more than the attractions. So don’t count them out.
Boondocking in Texas
The great thing about visiting family in your Airstream is that you have your own place to sleep. Sure its fun to visit and catch up on things, but its nice to return to your trailer for a peaceful nights rest. If your lucky, you’ll get to boondock there too!
Enjoy the time together. As mom’s know all too well, time files while watching your kids grow. Don’t let the time slip by and wish you had spent more time together. A family road trip can bring everyone together for memorable experiences. Enjoy the journey and build lasting memories together!