How to Install Solar Panel(s) on a Camper Van Conversion




Introduction: How to Install Solar Panel(s) on a Camper Van Conversion

About: Hello! We're Isabelle and Antoine, a couple dreaming of being on the move and ride more. We bought a Ford Transit van, converted it to a campervan and we are selling our house to make our dream a reality. We a…

The autonomy of our DIY camper van conversion depends on power, and extracting power from the sun feels a bit like cheating to us. If you say freedom, we say solar panels!

We listed all the steps in this Instructable, but head over here for all the material list (with links to products), tools and more:

We hope this helps, don't hesitate to ask questions if you feel like it! Cheers!

Step 1: Material Needed for This Project

  • 2 x Grape Solar 160W 12 volts panels
  • 3M VHB double-sided tape 1″ width
  • 2 x Renogy Z mounting brackets
  • MC-4 Multibranch Connector pair
  • Right angle cable gland 3/8″
  • 30′ Extension Cable with MC-4 Connectors 8 AWG (cut in half to get 2 times 15 feet length)
  • Dicor 551 LSG-1 Lap Sealant
  • Isopropyl alcoholPrimer, Paint & Clearcoat

Clickable links to the products above:

Step 2: Pre-install the Brackets on the Solar Panels (4 Brackets for Each Panel)

It’s easier to do this on the ground…

Step 3: Relocate the Brackets on the Inside Edge

We're installing 2 panels side-by-side: this is to minimize the gap between the panels, so they are installed toward the middle of the roof and are less visible from the ground. A minimum gap should be left to account for thermal expansion and mostly for installation ease.

Step 4: Install 3M VHB Tape on Brackets

We selected 3M VHB tape to avoid drilling through the roof. AM Solar have been doing it for a long time and reported to never have lost a panel. A screw will grip through the sheet metal, the tape rely solely on the paint to hold; therefore, we don’t recommend to use tape on rusted, damaged or used paint. In other words, we trust the tape method because the van is NEW. Also, we check our panels installation regularly.

Per manufacturer recommendation, the minimum application temperature for 4991 tape is 60F.

Step 5: Cut the 30′ Extension Cable in Half and Pass It Through the Glands. Leave About 12 Inches Between Connectors and Gland.

It required a lot of force to pass the cable through the gland thanks to the right angle. It’s better to do this on the ground.

Step 6: Pre-fit Solar Panels on the Roof to Define Location of Cable Glands

This extension cable is not very flexible. We found it easier to work with if we install the glands at approximately 12 inches from the panels.

Mark the location of the solar panel to avoid having the measure again afterward.

Step 7: Remove the Solar Panels and Drill Holes for the Glands

We pre-drilled and then use a hole saw.

Step 8: Break the Sharp Edges With a File and Smooth the Surfaces With a Fine Sandpaper

This is tTo prepare the surface for touch-up.

Step 9: Apply Primer, Paint & Clearcoat on Drilled Holes

This is an important step to prevent corrosion in the future.

TIP: You can have your exact van color prepared for you in almost any auto-parts store. Just give them your color-code (printed on the driver’s door frame), year of production and make.

Step 10: Think and Prepare Cable Routing on Solar Panels

This is to prevent cable chafing on the roof and damaging the paint. We also installed a protective tape on the roof afterward just in case.

Will the tape withstand the test of time? You might come up with a better solution than the tape!

Step 11: Fit Solar Panels on the Roof and Connect All the Cables

Step 12: Pass Wire Through the Roof Without Securing the Glands Yet

Step 13: Clean the Roof With Isopropyl Alcohol, Peel Off 3M VHB Tape and Press Firmly to Adhere

No picture here. We had to act fast and it turned out more complicated than anticipated: you get no access to the center of the roof, the cables must be neatly fitted and you get one chance only to stick the 3M tape at the right place…

Step 14: Fasten the Glands to the Roof

Step 15: Seal All the Brackets and the Glands With Dicor Lap Sealant

The bracket are sealed to prevent water contamination with the tape; it should help in the long run. We could not seal the inner edge of each bracket because we had no access.

Step 16: Final Test

You can validate that the panels are working by taking a reading the voltage.

It works!

Step 17: Here Is What It Looks Like From Above

Nice! Time for a road trip!

Step 18: Looking for More Inspiration?

We're documenting thoroughly our van conversion! We tried to capture every details and share our experience, tips, lessons learned, etc.

This is our Build Journal:

Or if you're very new to this, you might want to look here:

Thanks for reading!

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    5 years ago

    I've used that tape for a variety of things, and I can vouch for its extreme strength. I also understand why you didn't want to penetrate your roof with fasteners. However, now that the sheet metal is sealed by the tape and sealant you applied around it, you could drill through the brackets, tape, and roof to situate a bolt, so you aren't completely reliant on the tape. It's strong, but in your application it will get hot, and heat will weaken the bond.


    5 years ago

    Nice setup. You could even make an angled peace to allow the air flow over the panels on the front. That would decrease turbulence and help keep rain and such from hitting the front of the panels as well. Just an idea.


    Reply 5 years ago

    I was thinking the same thing. It would be a shame for wind to get under one of those panels and smash it on the road. Cool project.


    5 years ago

    I think you rely on what sellers tell you too much . Build in some safety in case the panels come loose from the tape . They are fairly costly to leave lying broken on the road. just one or two holes in the center would do .