Hi-top Van Solar Power




About: Semi-retired, like to fish, ride Mountain and Road bicycles, make stuff, hike, and hang out with the family... 3 kids and 5 grandkids

The Hi-top van is now transitioning from a work vehicle to a toy hauler/sort-of RV.

When riding motorcycles or just camping, it's nice to have off-grid power. I had some solar panels, but they were poly whatever, aluminum framed and I didn't build the roof with them in mind....Was kinda bummed...Then, enter the monocrystaline (sp) flexible solar panels.....They are smaller, fit the roof, and were easy to mount. 2- 100 watt panels were pricey, $230, they are getting cheaper on-line delivered. I mounted them with 6 screws each and caulked the perimeter with White gutter caulking, then, wired them in through the roof, causing around the holes. They showed that around 6 amps would be going through the wires, so 14 Ga. was adequate for the 10' run to the controllers. 1 controller (PMW) per panel was used 1: because they are $10 and 2: if a panel goes out and two are hooked to the same controller, you get no power.

The system has 2 105 Amp., deep cycle, 12V batteries, a 3000/2000 watt inverter, connected with 1 #4 wire PER battery terminal.....This runs a 15 AMP 120V appliance (15A x 120V + 1800 Watts) less than half an hour. So electric heaters and ovens are not very practical. Microwaves work just fine....for breakfast.

The van has a cooler, thermoelectric, but maybe a generator and a fridge may work better..not sure yet.

Anyway, this is about the solar system, with 200 Watts of panels.


Step 1: Batteries - Cables - Energy Storage - Lots of "Potential"

Ya gotta have batteries....really, the more Amps, the better. The solar panels are like biking up a hill.

Using the batteries, is like coasting downhill.

It takes way longer to bike uphill than to coast down.

Those wheel wells seem to always get in the way of cargo. But, look! They make a great place to put the batteries. The work van had a shelf just in the right place....so the shelf support got a hole to hold the battery cables, which then hooked up to the inverter.

Step 2: Charge Controllers and the Inverter - Time to Eat!

The charge controllers first get wired (14 min.-10 ga.) to the batteries (per instructions). The solar panels get wired (14Ga) to the charge controllers, the wires are run behind the panelling. The batteries are connected to the inverter (4 ga min. each battery).

120V appliances then can be plugged into the inverter.

"Hi-top" has the inverter easily accessible to outside, to allow an extension cord, etc. for convenience.

The picture shows the microwave lit be 120V....It doesn't even hiccup to run the microwave (1500 Watts)

a worm drive saw, 45 lb jack hammer, a 5000 btu air conditioner.....but it does not like any but the smallest

air compressors.

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    7 Discussions


    1 year ago

    Really cool. Something that my van came equipped for, was a cable running from the alternator to the back where you could(we didn't) hook up a battery and let it trickle charger whenever you were driving. I wonder if you could do solar and that so that the batteries would get a boost whenever you drove places. I didn't use any electrical skills for my van because our power consumption needs were REALLY low, and I wasn't confident in this area, but your set up looks cool. Thanks for giving an idea for what the amount of power you have will do. When I was trying to learn about it everyone kept talking technical term and gave no real world comparison for what it will do in "normal people talk"

    2 replies

    Reply 5 months ago

    I thought I replied earlier, but don't see it so here goes.....There was not a feed from the alternator to the batteries to charge the solar batteries, not a bad idea. With that feed, however, you would probably, somehow, need to isolate the solar batteries from the engine battery with a battery isolator, or battery switch, so you wouldn't use up your engine battery when you are parked. This wire and isolator (switch) could be sized for the maximum output of the alternator so that you could use the alternator as a source for "shore" power to extend the use of the 120V inverter by running the engine. This makes the engine alternator a source of power for the 120v by providing around 1000 watts of power to the inverter system. (100 Amp alternator x 12V = 1200 watts, less engine use and line loss - guessing at 200watts = 1000 watts.) This looks like about #4 wire, but check wire charts. Hope this helps.


    Reply 1 year ago

    From what I can find, it looks like I need a continuous solenoid to isolate the starter battery from the "House" batteries. It would be nice to have the alternator do that. If you don't mind sharing, what alternator (or van) has this feature? Thank you.


    Reply 1 year ago

    It looks like the inverter is the problem. It doesn't get to power fast enough.

    The motor has a starter capacitor, but needed more starting umph than the inverter was able to supply, right away. The inverter is an HF 4000/2000 watt inverter.

    To start the A/C (5000 watt) it works best to start it on the fan, and shut it down on the fan (per manuf. instructions.)

    If I had their 5000 Watt inverter, things might be different.