In my last post, I mentioned that I had made good progress on the solar installation, but had not yet completed everything. Well, within this post I am happy to report that I finished the installation.
The first order business was to mount the various electronics which “talk” to the solar panels and the batteries. Principally, these devices are responsible for determining how much of the power collected from the panels will be sent to the batteries. Send too much and the batteries will be over-charged, resulting in damage. Conversely, if there is not enough charge sent to the batteries, the system will not operate efficiently as it is designed. This hardware, in coordinated fashion with fuses, switches, and other surge protecting devices, will ensure that the overall system reconciles these two scenarios, delivering what should be a harmonious and hassle-free supply of DC (direct current) power to the Airstream.
In order to connect the batteries to the charge controller (i.e. the “brain” of the system), I needed to run three sizable wires from the utility bay, forward into the existing exterior battery box. Unfortunately, there was no extra room for me to utilize within the existing cable run for this additional wiring. This being the case, I drilled a new hole through the utility bay floor to the exterior belly of the trailer and a second hole into the battery box. Utilizing some silicon and a leftover piece of flexible PVC conduit to connect these two holes, I quickly fabricated a weatherproof pathway for the wires (see image below).
Once all the wires were situated, I moved onto the final significant phase of the project – prepping all the wires to be connected. This process, while very straightforward, took a lot of time … longer than I would have expected, largely because each wire was cut to size, terminated with lugs and heat-shrink insulated, before finally secured into place. Unlike the employees on the Airstream assembly line, I tried to orient the wires in a neat and orderly manner, which took some time to complete. Looking at the finished project, I do not regret taking this part slowly and methodically.
When it was time to fire-up the system, everything was working fine, less the 12-volt DC system. This issue had me very perplexed, so much so that I spent a few hours troubleshooting the situation to no avail. Frustrated and sputtering curse words as if I were a curmudgeonly sailor, this proved to be one of the low points of the entire project. I finally accepted defeat and secured a service appointment with a local Airstream dealer in hopes they might identify the problem.
As luck would have, I was thrown a bone today (Tuesday), and was able to quickly solve my problem. Standing in front of the Airstream after work, I noticed my mistake and I’m embarrassed at what a silly error it was.
Imagine moving a lamp from one room to another, only to wonder why the light will not illuminate. In your attempt to troubleshoot why the lamp isn’t working you spend hours attempting to solve the issue. During this time, you change bulb, test and re-test wires for shorts, pour over manuals and scour the internet for added insights … essentially doing everything you can to resolve the problem. Everything. Yet despite these attempts, the damn lamp will not illuminate.
Convinced there must be a wiring short someplace deep in the walls of you home, you reluctantly and with a heavy head schedule an electrician to come inspect your home wiring. Then, two days later you notice that throughout all of this, the lamp is not plugged into the electric wall outlet.
That’s more or less what I did.
Three consecutive weekends I spent on the project, only to forget a task so basic and simple. I can be an idiot.
All in all, the process is completed and I can reflect back on what was a super cool and (mostly) fun DIY project. Also cool is that I managed to learn a fair bit about the onboard electrical systems while saving an estimated $1,200 doing the work myself. Not too shabby at all.
Now, as I type this, all systems are working properly and the next time we find ourselves dry-camping (Labor Day weekend), the generator can stay buried in the truck while each of the four 100 watt solar panels atop the roof bask themselves under the warm rays above. All the while, quietly and without any additional efforts on my part, our batteries will be recharging. So long as there is a sun above, we have an endless supply of energy to power our rig.
And that my friends, is bad-ass awesome.