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Boulder, CO

A guide to the wilderness of the West.


Installing a Solar Panel

Derek Bartz

Solar power is a beautiful thing.

Simply put a panel on your roof, plug it into a solar charger, and wire it to your batteries and you have a never ending supply of free energy (assuming the sun makes an appearance somewhat regularly).  I wanted to have as many watts on the roof as possible.  Most of the time the van will be parked and I will be relying on the panels to keep the fridge running and the lights on at night.   

After already taking up most of the space on the roof at the front of the van, I was left with the back third to play with.  A bit of research led me to the Grape Solar 265-Watt Polycrystalline solar panel.  At 65"x39" this panel is huge!  This barely fit the remaining space I had, and my only option was to mount it the width of the van, rather than the preferred direction running the length of the van.  I was a bit worried that the panel would stick too far above the van due to the slight concave curve of the roof but decided to go for it.  Having only one panel to deal with was a big bonus too.  When you have multiple smaller panels, like a couple 100W's, a combiner box is needed to pair the two together.  This just means more wire and another thing to mount to the roof.  When comparing price, the Grape Solar 265W is also the exact same per watt than three 100W panels.

The Install

The panel came on a pallet damaged, a fork from a fork lift punched right through the cardboard box and dented the back of the panel.  So another trip to Home Depot to exchange it (my 6th time there that week) and a week later I had a nice looking panel that was ready to go up on the roof.  I had also ordered the 40mm rocker foot mount set from AM Solar and 50 feet of solar cable to finish out the install.  The whole thing ended up being a bit tricky due to the size of the solar panel.  Getting it up on the roof was the first challenge.  A 12 foot ladder I had borrowed from work proved useful, and I was able to slide it up top in the cardboard box. Once out of the box it was nearly impossible to handle it in fear that I would scratch the hell out of the roof.   It turns out the rocker foot mounts are not made to fit this model of solar panel, but I was able to fix this by drilling an extra hole in the attachment piece and then drilling an accompanying hole in the trim of the solar panel.  A bit of a headache considering it meant bringing the panel back down to the ground and the stainless steel foot mounts were a pain to drill through; I quickly destroyed my two drill bits requiring yet another trip to Home Depot to buy another.  

The sketchy ladder situation.  Also a good look at our work place, an ally way on a noticeable slant.

You can see what the problem was

All lined up, now to get it flipped over!

I drilled two holes for the wire to enter into the interior of the van directly under where the panel would sit.  I fit two rubber grommets to protect the wire against the sharp metal edges. With the foot mounts all ready to go and attached, I placed the panel in the correct position on the roof.  Getting all of the feet to line up to a place that allowed each foot to mount flat to the roof was a bit tricky, but I eventually found the sweet spot.  For smaller panels, AM Solar states you can secure the panel to the roof by only using the commercial grade 3M tape they have included on the bottom of the foot mounts. But, due to the large size of my panel I chickened out and drilled a screw into each of the six foot mounts just in case. The last thing I need is this thing flying off the van going 70 mph down the interstate.  The panel does protrude up from the roof on the sides a bit more than I would like, but nothing to noticeable.  This is partly due to the design of the foot mounts, I wish AM Solar would have made these a bit more streamlined.  

Grommets leading the wire through the top of the van.  A bead of silicon will further weather proof this.

A good look at how high the panel sits above the roof on the edges.  I think AM Solar could avoid this if they moved the attachment holes closer the the foot.  


Winter has come and gone the past couple weeks here in Boulder with a snow storm followed by a weeks of sun and 50's/60's.  A big storm is always a motivator to get out of bed early to catch a glimpse of the freshly fallen snow before the sun gets to it.   This was one of the bigger dumps I have seen up on Green with thigh deep snow on the summit.

 Winter.  Also a beautiful thing.

Winter.  Also a beautiful thing.


Getting to be Spring?