The Drop Van Build - Part 2 - Solar & Electrical Install

The Drop Van Build - Part 2 - Solar & Electrical Install

March 20, 2019

Part 2 of our custom van build we'll be going over our solar system install and general electrical layout. Our goal with our van conversion was to have a solar system that would run all of our basic electrical items for days at a time. Some of the items we were accounting for would be our LED lighting, MaxxAir MaxxFan, fridge, water pump, electrical outlets for charging laptops, phones, etc. Other than these few items we wouldn't need to power much else. We're camping so just having the ability to power these things is by far a vast improvement from traditional camping. So we'll forego espresso machines, TV's and the like.

There's plenty of pre-packaged kits you can purchase from manufacturers like Renogy, WindyNation, etc. We didn't purchase a pre-packaged kit, but we are using mostly Renogy equipment. Including the panels, batteries, inverter and charge controller. Our system is a 200 Watt 12 volt system, 2 x 100 Watt Renogy Solar panels. We have 2 x 100Ah Renogy Deep Cycle AGM 12 volt batteries for our battery bank.

Now for the disclaimer, we're not electricians and we spent a substantial amount of time building out our system in our heads and on paper before ever purchasing anything. Anyone aspiring to build their own camper van should do the same. There's tons of resources far more detailed than ours. This is merely a blog meant to document our process and adventure. We aren't going to talk about how to properly size your wire or the details of battery charging, discharging, etc. That's far more detailed than any of us have the patience for. We much rather be mountain biking instead. So with that said... we hope this is enjoyable and perhaps informative in some manner, but make sure to do your own research and hire a professional if you're unsure.

 Parts List (not affiliate links):

These are the main components of our system. For the cabling and tools we're just going to provide a summarized rundown of the different items we needed without links to the specific products. If you want to know more details on the specific items we purchased, please shoot us an email and we'll be happy to share.

Cabling and Connectors:

  • 2 AWG Black & Red Wire: We used this to connect our battery bank together and batteries to inverter.
  • 4 AWG Black & Red Wire: This connects our charge controller to our battery and fuse block.
  • 12 AWG Black & Red Wire: We're using this to wire electrical components to our fuse block (lights, fan, fridge, etc) . You can get away with smaller guage wiring for most of these items, but larger cannot hurt and we didn't want to constantly be switching out our wiring size.
  • 2 x Heavy Duty Battery Switches: We have a switch to cut off power from our panels to our batteries and from our batteries to our 1000w power inverter.
  • Ancor Marine Grade Heat Shrink Butt Connectors: We strongly suggest these for any serious wiring project. It allows you to crimp the ends of two wires together and then use a heat gun to get a tight waterproof seal. It does away with the need for electrical tape and makes things much cleaner.
  • Ancor Marine Grade Heat Shrink Ring Terminals: We used these in every size available on Amazon. It makes crimping ring terminals a breeze and foregoes the need for electrical tape. They don't seem to make these in the larger 2 and 4 AWG sizes (that we could find). So we purchased regular copper ring terminals, heat shrink tape and custom cut our own heat shrink sleeves for those ends.
  • Assorted Standard Blade Fuse set: This is for our Blue Sea Fuse Block. Every electrical component should have an appropriately sized fuse.
  • 3 x ANL Inline Fuses and Holders: We have 2 x 20A fuses between our panels and charge controller. As well as between our charge controller and batteries. The last fuse is a 100A fuse between the batteries and 1000w inverter.

That pretty much sums up the major parts and pieces to get everything connected. There's obviously some tools and parts we're missing here, but this is a solid base of what you'll need for a similar setup.

Panel Install:

Now onto the install itself. Screwing anything into the bare metal roof of your vehicle can be pretty intimidating and it certainly was for us. We went back and forth on whether we should or not. There are some people that have simply used industrial strength double-sided 3M tape, but we didn't want to bet our panels on tape alone. We ended up deciding on the use of 3M tape on each Renogy Z bracket and screwing the provided screws into our roof. We would then seal it all up with Dicor Self-Leveling Lap Sealant.

*Note: We do have an issue with the two outside brackets leaking a very small amount of water into the van. We're still trying to rework that to completely seal it. With our van we really only had one place to mount the panels and as a result the two outside brackets at the front of the van are oddly placed resulting in leaking at the screw holes.

*Also note: Originally we used silicone caulking to seal the brackets and screw heads. That wasn't a good solution. Water would actually get in under the silicone on the bracket and started to rust the screw heads. We later peeled all that off and used the Dicor Lap Sealant which is a far better solution.

  1. We started off by installing the Renogy Z brackets onto our panels.
  2. We then cut our 3M double-sided tape to the size of the bracket that'd contact our roof. Peeled one side and adhered them to our brackets. Make sure to leave the tape on the other side until you're ready to place them on the roof. This tape is really strong and it will be very difficult to move them.

3. We then took our panels to the roof to dry fit them. With the length of our van and shape of the roof we mounted them towards the front of the van. This unfortunately causes the front outer brackets on both sides to bump up to a weird shape on the roof. This is what's caused the leaking we mentioned above.

4. Once we had decided on the final location we drilled two holes in the roof where our solar panel cables would enter the van. We placed the Renogy Cable Entry Housing just to the front and centered between the two panels.

5. We ran our cables through the entry housing and through the holes in the roof into the van. We then used Liquid Nails Fuze It adhesive to glue the housing to the roof of the van and seal it. This hasn't had any leaks or issues so we didn't use Lap Sealant or anything else to further seal it.

6. Our final step in mounting our panels was to actually screw each bracket into the roof and then seal the brackets. We first peeled the other side of our double-sided tape and stuck our brackets in place. We drilled pilot holes using the holes on each bracket with the panels in their place. This made getting the screws in a lot easier. Once the panels were adhered to the roof, and screwed in, we sealed them with lap sealant.

System Wiring:

  1. Now with our panels mounted, and wires ran into the van, we moved into the inside to actually connect all the components together.
  2. First, you want to connect your panels together in Parallel or Series. You should do some research on this topic and decide which is best for your setup. We went with a parallel setup meaning both panels positive ends are wired together and negative ends are wired together. Our Renogy MC4 branch connectors make that process a breeze.
  3. Next, you want to connect your battery bank together. Since we have 2 x 100Ah batteries the positive terminal runs to the positive terminal of the other battery. Then the same for the negative terminals.

4. Now we'll connect our batteries to our Charge Controller. We did install a 20A ANL inline fuse and a heavy duty on/off switch between them. So the setup is, battery positive terminal to one side of our ANL fuse, fuse to switch and finally switch to the positive terminal of our Charge Controller. Next we ran a cable from our negative battery terminal directly to the negative terminal on our Charge Controller. Make sure to connect your batteries to your Charge Controller before connecting your solar panels.

5. With the batteries now wired to our Charge Controller we went ahead and connected our 1000w power inverter and Fuse Block. We didn't want to connect our panels until we were done connecting and disconnecting things to our batteries. We ran 4 AWG wire from the positive terminal of our battery to one side of our heavy duty switch, then switch to our ANL 100A inline fuse, fuse to positive terminal of our inverter. We also ran 4 AWG wire from the negative terminal of our battery to the negative terminal of our inverter. We are also grounding our inverter to the vans chassis from our inverters negative terminal.

6. Our fuse block is also wired to the positive and negative terminals of our batteries. Our fuse block has an integrated negative bus so it's also grounded directly to the vans chassis.

7. Our last step is to connect our panels to the Charge Controller. We do have a ANL 20A inline fuse between our panels and Charge Controller. We cut the positive cable of our Renogy supplied cables, place a ring terminal and connected it to one side of our fuse. We then placed a ring terminal on the other end, connected it to our fuse and then the positive terminal of our Charge Controller. Our negative panel wire runs directly to the negative terminal of the Charge Controller.

This pretty much sums up the overall solar system install. Our electrical components lights, switches, fridge, fan, etc are just simply ran to our fuse block. We aren't covering that here as it's pretty straightforward and we don't have the van ready for the install of all of those just yet.

Our next blog in the series will cover our MaxxAir MaxxFan Deluxe install and then we'll get into the build of our pull-out bike rack and framing. Thanks for reading and we'll see you on the road!

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