Cost and Installation of Solar Power on Our Truck

Cost and Installation of Solar Power on Our Truck

Once we had our trailer and truck topper we bought a solar/battery setup for our truck.  We wanted to have two separate power systems on the truck and trailer so when we disconnect from the trailer we can still charge computers, phones, etc.  Here’s a list of items we purchased for our power for the truck:

 

Description Price
Topoint 190W Monocrystalline Solar Panel $135
Tracer 20A Solar Controller $140
Roof Brackets for Solar Panel $15
(2) 15A Fuse $34
(3) 78AH AGM Batteries $165
Grounding Block $18
10ft – #10 Solar wire w/2- MC4 Connectors $13.40
2 pr – #4/0 Cables for Batteries (+ to + and – to -) $39
7ft – #4 awg cables for S/C w/4 lugs $29
(4) #4 finger lugs for solar controller $12
(2) ¼’’ grommets for panels $5
80A breaker for solar controller to batteries $25
TOTAL $630.40

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We are super happy with this setup and bought it from Marion with Recycled Solar in Denver.  He was extremely helpful, and even walked us through the controller setup once we installed everything.  As you can see, his prices on AGM batteries are insane! Feel free to contact us at outdoorsisfree@gmail.com if you are interested in getting a discount on a solar setup with Marion.

Mounting the Panel

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We also bought some Lexel to seal the holes we made in the roof of the topper

To mount the panel, we first attached the brackets to the panel, put the panel in place, and marked the holes to drill.  In hindsight we should have securely attached these brackets so that when we drilled the holes, we got the placement right.  We left ours loose and secured them on later (also note its too hard to reach these bolts once they are on the pickup, so you have to secure them beforehand).

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We then drilled holes into the roof of the camper shell, which is seriously the most terrifying thing to do.  You feel like you’ve just destroyed the thing.  We had to run to the hardware store to get the right bolt length to secure this thing on the roof.  We also made the decision to use these super secure points to mount some climbing anchors on the inside of the camper that we could use to hang things from, so we got bolts that were a bit longer than would have otherwise been necessary.  We then put Lexel on the bottom of the mounting brackets and tightened it on.

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Once the panel was secure, we had to again drill holes into the camper shell to get the wires inside.  We decided to put the holes between the truck cab and camper shell/truck bed area so that it wouldn’t be exposed to as much rain where the holes were to reduce our risk of leaks.  In hindsight, it may have been a better idea to just run them inside right from where they attach to the panel, but we wanted to reduce the amount of wires inside so we went this route.  We plan to get some type of wiring cover to prevent sun damage on the outside wire.

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We drilled holes and inserted the flashing, coating the outside with Lexel.  Again, probably should have done this part and then waited a day to insert the wires because they are really rigid wires and didn’t want to make the bend into the hole, so it tilted the flashing, so the seal isn’t as good.  We’ll just have to redo the Lexel to make sure its sealed.

Once the wires were in we had to decide where we would mount the solar charge controller.  Our truck topper has a fabric lining on it, so we ended up securing it to the fabric with heavy duty Velcro.  At first we superglued a thin piece of plastic behind the controller to secure it, but that didn’t last and so we drilled into a 1/2” piece of plywood and put Velcro on the plywood.  We ended up having to use liquid nails to glue the fabric to the fiberglass because it did pull off after a couple weeks.  It’s working so far, but only time will tell if this is a long term solution.  We put it so that the wires from the panels were as short as possible.  Resistance in the wires causes power loss, and so the longer the wires, the more power loss.

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We then built a box for our three batteries.  We just bought some 2×4’s and cut them to hold each battery in a separate space.  It’s good to leave a couple inches between the batteries for small amounts of expansion and to allow airflow around the batteries.  We also installed some “vent tubes” from the battery compartment to some holes out of the truck.  While AGM’s are fully sealed, they still off gas and so we wanted to be sure we were getting them vented out of our living space.

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Our batteries are 12V 65AH, so we have them connected in parallel, so our voltage stays at 12V DC (what we want for most of our lighting and phone charging) that can then be inverted to 110V AC.

We have a 80A circuit breaker between the batteries and controller, as well as a 15A fuse between the PV panel and the controller (both on the positive wire).  We have our inverter connected directly to our batteries (we should have a fuse there, too… soon).

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It’s been about a month now we’ve had the system up and running, and we are so happy with it! Our next step is to get some DC plugs wired in.  We’ve even had a Wynter 65 refrigerator plugged into it with no problems (granted we’ve been in very sunny places recently). 




3 thoughts on “Cost and Installation of Solar Power on Our Truck

  1. Great job. I did notice one thing that will make a difference in the longevity of your topper. It looks like the mounting system is bolts washers and nuts. Over time vibration and wind will fatigue these areas. A simple solution is to get a plate of some sort that bridges the span of the bolts to distribute the load over a greater surface area. I used slotted angle iron on my overhead ski rack. Sorry I missed this when you stopped by.

  2. There are companies that make battery mounts for the frame of your truck. These do not require drilling and would allow you to have the batteries outside of your living areas. The cost varies quite a bit so a little research should find something that fits your needs.
    Battery gassing really bothers me because I work in the aircraft industry and have had three friends who died of stomach cancer, all three worked in the battery shop. The exposure level was high because they charged and discharged batteries all day five days a week in a small room but I don’t think ill ever have batteries in my living area. Good luck with your life of freedom I wish you both all the best.
    http://www.torklift.com/index.php/products/auxiliary-battery-storage/hiddenpower

    1. Thank you Sam! That is a sweet consideration! We will be looking into this and trying to help spread your word. Our batteries are AGM and we do have them vented, but it always had me concerned none-the-less.

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