By Holy Solar
In the previous post, we covered some of the main reasons why we chose the Unisolar 64 Watt solar panel for supplemental power in our alternative energy bus. We made the purchase at the Real Goods store in Hopland, California, but because our roof had no metal to fix the mounting brackets to, installation was pretty much up to us.
Erik at Real Goods helped us develop a plan, drew a diagram showing the proper way to hook up the wiring between the junction box of the solar panel, the regulator, and batteries, and wished us well. We had his card in the event of emergency; fortunately, we never needed it.
The first issue we confronted was the fiberglass roof. Since Mahayana was not new when we met her, we lacked electrical diagrams of the wiring scheme, although we could make some educated guesses. We decided that the region on either side of the visible wire bundle ought to be safe for drilling, and this turned out to be correct.
Along with the Unisolar Thin Film Panel, we chose the Uni-Rac RV mounting bracket set, which brought the total bill to just under $500. The bracket set is simple enough, but to avoid undue stress to the fiberglass, we mounted a T-plate to the roof beneath each bracket and attached the mounts to those.
This works well, but at high speeds there is some vibration noise, which makes us wish that we had insulated the T-plate with felt “washers,” such as battery terminal pads. Live and learn!
Each T-plate was mounted with a pair of fittings to the roof. The holes were drilled with a 5/8″ bit and secured with 1/2″ X 2 1/2″ mechanical bolts.
Since our solar panel is bus-mounted, we didn’t need to worry about connecting the panel to a ground, but those working on residential installations will need to ground the frame of the panel.
We drilled an additional hole through the roof in order to accommodate the positive and negative wires which passthe charge from the panel to the batteries, making a total of nine breaches in our ceiling. Preserving the integrity of the roof being a priority, we were glad to see that we made only as many as were needed. We were quite happy as well to see that the holes were confined to a relatively small area, approximately two feet across and three back. This means that there is room for at least one more panel like this if- and when- we expand our solar collection potential.
After making sure we had all of the wire, connections, splices and fuses we needed- all of which are included in the Global Solar Energy Extra Connectivity Kit– we proceeded to connect the SunSaver controller first to the deep-cycle marine batteries, and then to the panel. We made sure to splice the included fuse module to the positive wires on either side of the controller for overload protection.
It’s been a little more than two weeks since we added the Unisolar Thinfilm Panel to our alternative energy houseboat, and the results have exceeded expectations. The little green light, signifying charge, goes on with the first glint of dawn and stays fiercely bright, in shade and beneath cloudy skies, until the last flash of sunset disappears from the horizon.
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