Long Distance Traveler
This setup works well if you:
- Run your vehicle every day for a few hours
- Plan to install in a minivan/van/car
- Want a lightweight setup that is aerodynamic
- Plan to run a small fridge, laptop, USB charger, and some LED lights (but do not plan to run any large motors/microwaves or large appliances)
- 50-150 amp hour deep cycle battery
- Battery Isolator installed on the vehicle with at least an 8 gauge wire
- 100-200 watt flexible solar panel and a MPPT charge controller (PWM controller if on a tight budget)
- 500 watt inverter
What I recommend
Buy this battery:
Buy This battery isolator:
In past times, battery isolators were a solenoid ( a large on/off switch) that was wired to your ignition. In order to install these, a person would have to wire it to an ignition circuit. Not fun.
Welcome to the future! Instead of using a big dumb switch, we use a "smart" switch. This device measures the voltage of your vehicles charging system to know when the vehicle is running, and will then initiate charging the solar battery bank.
It is super simple to use (no settings, everything is automatic), and easy to install in any vehicle, small or large.
This little device requires only 3 wires: A black ground wire (which attaches to the chassis of the vehicle, or a negative terminal on the battery), one positive wire that goes from the vehicles battery to the device, and one positive wire that goes from your solar battery bank to the device (see picture below).
The hardest part of installing this device is running a wire from the engine compartment to the solar battery bank. If you look at your firewall (the piece of metal that separates the engine compartment from the rest of the vehicle) you should find some holes that are covered with rubber. If you do not, you can easily drill your own hole, or run the wire under the vehicle. If you look at your engine compartment long enough, you should be able to find a way to do it. If you do not feel comfortable doing this step, nearly any mechanic shop would be able to install it.
High efficiency battery isolator
Buy 100- 200 watts of Solar Panels:
Flexible Solar Panel:
41.8 x 21.7 x 1.3 inches
Click Here for a high quality 100 watt flexible solar panel
Glass solar panel:
Weight: 16.5 pounds
Click here to buy a high quality 100 watt glass solar panel
Choose a Solar Charge Controller:
If you are on a budget, a cheap PWM controller will work... but I highly recommend buying an MPPT charge controller. The increased efficiency of an MPPT charge controller makes it worth the money. The MPPT will take care of your batteries better in the long run (it has temperature compensation and other battery maintenance features). The MPPT controller below will also let you know how much power your solar panels is producing (if you buy the MT-50 with it). There are more reasons that I could list, but buying a MPPT is a no-brainer. Spend the extra money and buy it (unless you absolutely cannot afford to do so).
Recommended MPPT Charge Controller
Max. Solar Input Power:
260W (12V panels)
520W (24V panels, or 12V panels in series)
This charger has over-current protection which means that the figures above can be doubled!
20 amp MPPT charge controller (98% efficiency)
Recommended MPPT Accessories:
Temperature Compensation Module (click here)
MT-50 Control Display and Interface (click here)
Recommended PWM Controller
Buy an inverter:
Either one below works great and will power a laptop, lights, a fridge and more!
Solar Panel Cable Entry Gland
When your solar panel array wires enter your vehicle, you will need to drill two holes. Use this cover to prevent roof leaks from developing.
Solar Panel Mounts:
Every vehicle is different, so check out my book or this page (click here) to figure out how to mount your solar panels
When connecting fans or lights or pretty much anything, use these quick connectors that are rated to 60 amps! I have used them for years for my rc airplanes and helicopters, but they are insanely useful for living in a rv.