Installing a Solar Panel

Materials used:

TOTAL: £233.26

Here it is: How to install a solar panel. Or as I like to call it: ‘Hopefully the last time I have to go on the roof for a while’.

In this post, I want to keep the wiring and electrics separate, so I’m only going to be looking at the installation of the solar panel itself.

Having said that though, in order to work out how big a solar panel you need, you will have to work out your total estimated watt hours based on all the appliances in your van. There are some great tools online, such as Parked in Paradise’s Solar Calculator, which allows you to add all your electrical components and their watt hours and the calculator will recommend the minimum solar panel size. It will also recommend a minimum battery size, solar charger size and inverter size. Using this solar calculator, it recommended a solar panel no smaller than 260watts.

The lovely people at the Climbing Van also had a more simplified version which made a similar recommendation.

With that information, I initially bought two 175watt solar panels from Renogy but because of the placement of my roof vents, I couldn’t quite get them to fit on the roof. Luckily, Renogy have a 30-day return policy so I sent them back and managed to find a 260watt panel on CraigSolar which fits perfectly!

Drilling new holes into the frame of a solar panel

Mounting the Brackets

In order to make the panel fit in between the roof vents, I had to rotate it 90degrees which meant the brackets faced the front and the back of the van. The holes to attach the brackets to the panel happened to fall directly over the ridges that run the length of the roof.

So that I could attach the brackets to a flat surface, I drilled some new holes in the frame of the solar panel and attached the brackets using those holes. I purchased the brackets themselves separately and they came with nuts and bolts to attach them to the frame.

Two well nuts placed in holes drilled in the roof of the van

Fixing solar panels

The brackets also came with self-tapping screws to fasten them to the roof, however to further prevent leaks, I decided to use well nuts instead. Well nuts have a little rubber grommet that expands when you screw the bolt into it which should make a nice tight seal around the hole.

I lined up the panel on the roof and then drew around each bracket with a sharpie and drew through each screw hole in order to know where to drill. I made a pilot hole with a 3mm drill bit first and then made each hole larger with a 9.5mm drill bit which was the perfect size to fit the well nut.

Once each hole had been drilled and a well nut placed in each hole, I added sealant around the outline of each bracket and around the outside of each well nut. I then placed the solar panel back in position over the sealant and holes.

I then fixed the panel into place with the screws and tightened them into each of the well nuts. I then applied more sealant around the head of each screw and the edge of each bracket.

Attaching the Entry Housing

Like the brackets, I placed the cable housing on the roof where I wanted to fix it and then drew around it with a sharpie. Within that outline, I marked where I would like to drill the hole that the cables would feed into. Again, I drilled a small pilot hole before then drilling a 16mm hole.

I then placed a rubber grommet around the hole and added some more sealant around the seal. I fed both cables through the housing and then through the hole in the roof of the van.

Last of all, I applied some sealant around the drawn outline of the cable housing and then pressed it into place. Once dry, I added some more sealant around the outside of the housing to form a tight seal.

If you have any questions at all, feel free to ping me an email or drop me a message on Instagram!