This is the second of two posts on adding a solar power to our Ford Transit Connect. This post will focus on the process of actually installing the solar panel.
The first rule in installing a solar panel is to always make sure that the panel is completely covered while you are working with it. As long as the panel is exposed to light, it is producing electricity. To prevent a shock, our first step was to make sure the panel was covered in cardboard until it was fully installed.
The next step in installing our solar set-up was determining where we would store the battery. (As I mentioned in the last post, we decided to go with the Adventure Power Portable Power System 800.) We decided to install it under the platform we created next to the passenger side rear door. This place keeps the battery out of the way, but still allows us to easily read the battery monitor. We also wanted to make sure that the battery would not be sliding around the bottom of the van, so we mounted a cage of “L” brackets to the platform bottom. We then slid the battery into that cage.
We also installed pieces of wood surrounding the battery to prevent other items from sliding into the battery wires. We were careful to leave at least 3 inches of free space around the battery, as recommended by the owner’s manual to ensure proper ventilation. We installed a fire extinguisher nearby as well.
The next step was to drill holes into the roof of the van to pass the wires connecting from the solar panel junction box down to the battery. This part was quite nerve racking – as we did not want to damage the exterior of the van. We used cobalt bits to drill through the steel of the van. We went slowly and carefully and it ended up working just fine. Of course, we wore safety glasses for this part…We then pushed rubber grommets into the holes to prevent the wire from rubbing up against exposed metal.
We do not want any moisture seeping down through these holes into the interior of the van. Luckily, there exists a grommeted cable feed through gland that is designed to be mounted to the roofs for exactly this purpose. So we passed the wiring through the cable box, into the van, and sealed the box down. We then passed the wires through the side paneling and down to the battery box.
At this point, the we had to deal with the connection cables. The solar panel came installed with wires with MC4 connectors. Our battery, however, accepted Anderson connectors. Therefore my boyfriend removed the MC4 connectors and added the Anderson connectors to the wires.
We mounted the whole solar panel onto a piece of wood, and then mounted that piece of wood onto our roof rack. With a few tweaks everything was in place and we were ready to start using the sun to collect power.