Solar panels Activate!I wanted to reduce the amount of time I would need to run the generator while living "off-grid" i.e. mostly boondocking (we do a lot of in-city boondocking). And I wanted rid of the ugly eyesore of a TV antenna that wasn't doing me any good (took the TV out in the first week). So I did a lot of research, and finally came up with the best set of solar panels to fit and a way to mount them using the same brackets that my awning uses (the 2014 Winnebago Travato 59G used a Carefree of Colorado awning - later models used Fiamma which had their own roof rack system, and most recently Winnebago has gone back to Carefree but sourced a rack system from another vendor).
Solar Panel SelectionI created a google docs spreadsheet "Solar panels power and cost" and added to it every panel I came across with all the specs necessary to calculate Watts output per Square Foot of panel. My goal was to maximize the output with the available roof space, with cost/watt as a secondary concern. After eliminating panels that were too large to fit, I came across the GS-Star-180W as being the best output. At first I thought I might be able to squeeze 3 panels in between the windshield and the fan vent, but as it turned out 2 was already close enough to covering up the running lights on the roof. I can still get one more panel between the fan vent and the air conditioner however, should I want to go that route. I did not concern myself with sticking to 12 volt panels (which would be compatible with the Zamp charge controller used by Winnebago in later models) as I instead wanted to use a Victron MPPT controller that would be compatible with my other devices, and provide more efficient power conversion. The one I chose can handle up to 100 volts of panels in series, or any combination thereof up to 700 watts. Putting the panels in series makes the wiring simpler, and is slightly more efficient due to higher voltage (under the same solar conditions) meaning less drop over the cable run to the controller.
I came up with my own roof rack system using 3/4 EMT pipe and a new connector from a Kickstarter called Maker Pipe (www.makerpipe.com). The Maker Pipe connectors allow you to clamp conduits together at right angles, and easily make changes. This has allowed me to add the solar panels, and even more recently a roof storage box (for more tools of course). Once I devised a way to mount the first two 10 foot pipes to the Carefree mounting brackets (I bought a second set to put on the drivers side), the rest of it was pretty easy.
PartsThis is not an exhaustive list of all the parts I used, but covers the majority (there was also some nuts and bolts and washers and the like).
- Carefree of Colorado -- BS0009 Freedom RM Adapter Bracket
- Maker Pipe
- 3/4" EMT Electrical Conduit Pipe
- Galvanized Mending Plates
- 3/4" EMT Hanger
- Grape Solar GS-Star-180W-US
- Roof mount cable entry box
- Solar Cable 10 Gauge 50 ft Red & Black
- Renogy MC4 Male/Female Solar Power Cable Connectors
- Victron MPPT 100/50 with Bluetooth