In May of 2011, I embarked on several projects to improve the functionality of my 1985 VW Vanagon Westfalia camper. After installing a Bostig turbo charger and designing & building an Arduino-based battery monitor, I designed and installed a solar panel system to keep my beer cold all summer long. But of course, just as I finished the project, I set out on a 10-day kayaking road trip that was part of my kayaking 100 days in 2011! I always intended to share my experiences with this solar system and after having it installed for almost 2 years, it seems like a great to do so!
I put together a video walk-through of the system, so if you have about 14 minutes and want to see and hear all the nitty-gritty details, have a look below! (If you’d like to watch a 2 minute synopsis, check out the video at the bottom of this post.)
The goal of the solar panels was to allow for continuous use of the 12V refrigerator in my van during the summer months, since that would simplify the need to add or remove items from the fridge. Considering that I am always on the go during the summer, I wanted my van to always be ready to support my next adventure and that meant that the fridge needed to already be cold and stocked with beer! And since the pop-top portion of the roof is always loaded with kayaks and other gear and I wanted the panels to be useable without having set them up and take them down each time, it meant that I needed to mount them on the area over the luggage rack. But wait, I have more requirements! The solar panel also needed to be removable so I could set it in the sun when the van was parked in the shade. And finally, just one more requirement—I wanted to retain partial usage of the luggage rack!
Yes, I was able to meet all of those requirements and am extremely happy with the entire system almost 2 years later. The best way to understand how the system works is to watch the video above, but I thought I’d provide a little bit of detail about the components that went into the system in case you are interested in building something similar.
- (2) Ramsond 50 Watt panels for about $150 each
- Various aluminum extrusions and hardware: about $30
- Cabling: about $10 for a 50’ extension cord
- Weatherproof Multi-Con-X connectors from Switchcraft/Conxall: about $90
- Morningstar SunSaver 10A solar charge controller: about $60
Finally, I’ve included a few photos that show the solar panel system in action as well as some details of the mounting system.
If you would rather spend 2 minutes instead of 14 to see how the solar panels mount on the luggage rack, check out this abridged version of the video: