One of the first things I knew I wanted to fit to the Talbot Express campervan was a solar panel kit.
This would allow me to go for days without hooking up to the mains, and would be especially handy when wild camping on Cornish surf trips, or rock climbing trips further afield!
My parents offered to stump up some of the cost of a solar panel for my birthday, so of course I said yes. I opted for a 150 watt solar panel, and it came with a charge controller and the plastic mounts to attach to the top of the van.
I chose to buy the solar panel from eBay, from a reputable dealer. The panel I went for was a 150 watt Bosch unit, as it is a well known and trusted brand.
Here's the solar panel kit that I bought:
The actual installation is straight forward, but just needs to be thought out before committing to drilling and gluing the panel in place. I tried the panel in a number of different positions before I was entirely happy with it.
I knew I wanted the cable to drop through the roof right above the battery box. This way I could minimise the length of wire, and didn't need to feed the wire right around the inside of the camper van.
So after deciding on the final position, I drew around the panel mounts with a pencil and put the panel to one side. Then I took some wire wool and rubbed the mount area on the roof. This would give a good key for the glue/sealant to attach to. The it was just a case of thoroughly cleaning the surface with a degreaser.
I then took the mounts and attached them to the solar panel using 8 stainless steel screws. It was now time to glue the panel to the roof!
Attaching the solar panel to the roof
I had done a lot of research into the best way to attach the solar panel to the roof, and the general consensus online was to use Sikaflex - which is a sealant and adhesive. Now Sikaflex comes in loads of different types - each with its own number - but I opted for Sikaflex 512 - which is for motor-homes and camper vans, and this is what people online had used to fix panels to their vans.
The solar panel mounts only have a right angle of plastic in contact with the roof, so as you can see in the photo below, the Sikaflex was placed in a right angle shape where the mount would make contact.
It took 2 of us to lower the solar panel into position and onto the Sikaflex. The weight of the panel squeezed plenty of excess out the sides of the mounts. I then let the Sikaflex set for around 2 hours.
Self Tapping Screws
So now comes the question I asked myself - do I trust just Sikaflex to hold the panel onto the roof when travelling at 60mph? Looking online, many people had - but for peace of mind, I decided to back up the Sikflex with some stainless self tapping screws.
So to do this, I drilled a clearance hole into the plastic mounts and then filled it up with Sikaflex. I then used a self tapping screw to pierce the roof and nipped them up - not overly tight - but just enough to get a "bulge" in the Sikaflex at the sides of the mount. I then topped off the with a liberal dollop of Sikaflex over the screw head.
So with the panel in place, I could now sort out the wiring. I drilled a 10.5mm hole in the roof of the van, so that I could feed the cable straight into an overhead locker in the living area.
I then applied Sikaflex around the hole, added in a rubber grommet (which will stop the wires chaffing on the aluminium), pushed the wires through, and topped it off with a load more Sikaflex.
Inside the van: wiring in the solar panel
Next it was time to sort out the routing of the cable. it turned out to be pretty straight forward. I just had to drop the cable through the overhead locker, behind the curtain and down into the battery box beneath the seat. But the wire wasn't long enough!
So I had to extend the wire, and to make sure of a good electrical connection, the extension piece was soldered in. The soldered joints were then wrapped in electrical tape, and then heat shrink applied over the top to keep it all protected.
With the cable extended, it was a simple case of wiring up the charge controller. Again, it is a simple job - the 2 wires (positive and negative) come from the solar panel and you attach them onto the controller on the terminals marked "PV".
Then take another 2 wires (positive and negative) from the terminals marked "battery" on the charge controller, and attach them to the leisure battery terminals. Now its worth mentioning, the instructions that came with my kit said to put an inline fuse on the positive wire close to the battery - so this is what I did.
With everything wired up, the controller confirmed I had power from the solar panel, and it also confirmed it was charging the leisure battery!
So there we have it, its a fairly easy job to install your own solar panel, well within the realms of a competent DIY mechanic. If you have any questions or comments, leave them in the comments section below, and I will do my best to answer them.
Here's some more photos of the install: