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Behavior Modificationist
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Having seen some interest on this topic from a few members already, I've decided to throw a quick write-up together on this project.

This project is about adding solar power to your truck in order to keep your batteries at maximum capacity which will ultimately ensure a longer and healthier battery life while potentially taking care of pesky parasitic draws that some may have. This application is also wonderful for running small appliances (whether AC/DC) and using an inverter without drawing down batteries.

Some materials needed for this are as follows:
-Your choice of solar panel
-Your choice of charge controller
-Several feet of generic copper wire (I used 2x 15ft of 10 gauge red/black)
-Solder/Soldering iron
-Wire snips
-Wire loom
-Zip ties (optional)
-Caulking
-Miscellaneous items you may want to use to connect the wires together (there are many different styles--I went with Anderson Powerpoles since they're inexpensive, great quality, easy to manipulate and are impossible in crossing the positive/negative connections).

The first order of business is deciding on a solar panel. There are numerous sites that go into great detail about solar panels, the science behind them, how they work and different types. At this point, whatever solar panel you choose is based on your needs. For example, I wanted as much power as I could get out of the small space on top of my truck box without breaking the bank so I prioritized dimensions over power and settled for a 40 watt monocrystalline panel that fit the budget and my allotted space (Amazon.com : ALEKO® 40W 40-Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel : Patio, Lawn & Garden)

Solar panels are made in three different fashions. There's monocrystalline, polycrystalline and amorphous. There are a lot of discussions as to which is "better" and solar technology has come a long way within the last few years so this will be an ongoing feud but presently, anything is better than amorphous. Amorphous is an older technology that not only breaks down significantly faster over time but doesn't have a competitive output-size ratio. A quick example would be to compare my 40w monocrystalline (31in x 14in) to an amorphous panel that has physically the same dimensions. The monocrystalline panel is rated to 40w while the amorphous will only produce 5w but they're both the same size.

After searching around for the solar panel that will work for you, the next step is choosing a charge controller. For my application, simple goes a long way. Some charge controllers are really fancy and have a ton of options. I chose a 10 amp charge controller (Amazon.com: Sunforce 60031 10 Amp Digital Charge Controller: Automotive). The key to choosing a charge controller that will sufficiently work for your application is to see what your solar panel is rated in amps. My panel not being rated more than 10 amps allows me to use this charge controller without any worry of frying the system but also allows me to expand in the future if I wish by adding more panels.

After you have your panel(s) and charge controller in hand, choose where you would like to mount your panel. Again, I chose the bed box on my truck since the panel would receive full sun while remaining out of the way. Ideally, you would want a panel on the roof but I prefer not to drill into the truck if I don't have to. There are many options for mounting and for years, I've had other solar panels mounted in the windshield and on the dash.

Once you've mounted your solar panel, you'll have to connect the panel wires to your newly purchased copper wiring. I recommend choosing the heaviest gauge of wire to prevent voltage loss with the length of the wire (again I chose 10 gauge). There won't be much loss if you decide to use a smaller gauge of wire but I like to ensure 100% is getting to the controller.

Using the wire snips, cut, solder and apply the Anderson Powerpoles (or whatever you decide to use to connect the wires).

If mounted behind the cab of the truck, once you've connected the copper wires to the panel wires, apply the wire loom to protect the copper wires and connections from the elements. This is not necessary but I always go overboard on protection to ensure longevity. Only enough loom to cover from the panel to the cab's grommet is needed I think this was about 3ft. Use a few zip ties to ensure the wire loom stays encasing the copper wires.

A view of the panel mounted with the copper wires encased in loom:


Now, run the wiring through the rubber grommet in the cab located in front of the truck box and collect the remaining wire inside the cab, behind the seat. Apply a little bit of caulking (or anything to seal) to the rubber grommet from inside and ensure a weatherproof seal.

Take the copper wires and run them under the carpet/kicker panel to the front of the truck where the parking brake is. You can easily pop the lower plastic pieces out and run the wiring behind the kicker panel and behind the dash.

***Be careful not to impede the parking brake, steering shaft, pedals, etc.***

Once you have the wiring in the general vicinity of where you would like to mount your controller, apply another set of Anderson Powerpoles (or the like) to the bare ends of your copper wire.

Move your attention to the charge controller. You can mount this anywhere (it doesn't even have to be in sight but it needs to be in the cab as it is not weather resistant). I prefer to see exactly what the voltage is at all times so I mounted the charge controller above the transmission, centered below the dash.

Once you have applied the Anderson Powerpoles to the receiving ends of the charge controller and have them connected to the copper wires you just ran from the rear of the cab, you have to now connect the battery side of the charge controller to a heavier power source (most choose the battery). I have a RIGrunner installed (hence the compatibility of the Anderson Powerpoles) that runs its power source directly from the batteries but this is merely to run all of my other applications in the truck while fusing with ease. Here's the RIGrunner: Amazon.com: RIGrunner 4005: Home & Kitchen

Once your battery side of the charge controller is connected to the battery, it will begin to register voltage and show if your solar panel is charging and or floating/maintaining the system. ***The charge controller will not operate without being connected to a battery source*** (so if you're thinking your controller is broken, check your connections).

The finished product:

The charge controller showing the output of the panel as it charges:


The charge controller floating the batteries:

I imagine this thread will evolve in time and I will add photos as they become available and upon request.

There's a lot of ground to cover in this topic and I've slowly learned over the years how solar works just by tinkering around with what I have. Once you've enjoyed the power of solar and realized it's potential and reliability, it gets pretty fun! I also use this exact application on my boat with a 20w panel.

ENJOY
 

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Nice

I just got done putting 2 panels on my truck camper

and it's nice to see fully charged batteries in no time as soon as the sun comes up
it will also charge the truck when it it on the truck

I had thought about this and was thinking a stick on or thin panel on the roof '


nice work on your install looks clean
 

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Behavior Modificationist
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks guys. Ideally I would have loved to have put this one on my truck's roof since it's able to flex to the contour of the body and would be nearly invisible but the budget wouldn't allow it. Amazon.com : Renogy® 100W Monocrystalline Bendable Solar Panel : Patio, Lawn & Garden

The prices of solar panels are constantly fluctuating so before you drop any money on any one of them, pay attention to the pricing trends and buy when they're at their lowest.

My 40w went from $72 with free shipping to around $90 + $12 shipping shortly after I purchased it.
 

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Behavior Modificationist
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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Streamlight has a panel, I forget who actually makes it but it's designed for vehicle mounting. They aren't as efficient space/dollar per watt but they work well.




That's the style I've wanted to do for years but it's always been so expensive. How many watts are one of those rated??
 

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They are only 14w ea. so it's no where as efficient space or money wise but as far as roof mounting goes it's the best option I could find. In my case I have two with one going to each of two isolated battery systems. Another advantage is at 14w they aren't quite large enough to overcharge a pair of group 65 batteries so a charge controller isn't necessary.
 

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Nice writ-up. Too bad I have the bumps on my roof, probably would have been nearly invisible with my paint color. Like this other option though too :thumb:
 

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Depending on the type of charge controller you use, some have places for solar;Batt;load and on the load side you can wire lots more goodies (backup lights;foggers;inverters;12v socket bank) depending on the amps for the load and rating of the controller. Remember to use in line fuses (pulling it all to find a fried wire, and re-running), and running the load to a distrib bank and switches look nice as well.
 

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california deplorable
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I wanted to put something like this on my shell with two batteries in the stirage banks and an inverter some 12v take offs and a relay, if that is the term, or switchable secondary circuit to maintain batteries.
book marking this so i can hopefully find it again when the time comes
 

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Behavior Modificationist
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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Depending on the type of charge controller you use, some have places for solar;Batt;load and on the load side you can wire lots more goodies (backup lights;foggers;inverters;12v socket bank) depending on the amps for the load and rating of the controller. Remember to use in line fuses (pulling it all to find a fried wire, and re-running), and running the load to a distrib bank and switches look nice as well.

Ideally, you'd want to run a MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) controller to maximize the efficiency of whatever solar panel(s) you choose but for my application, I went the less expensive route. There are so many options to choose from, it fits every application.
 
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Behavior Modificationist
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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I wanted to put something like this on my shell with two batteries in the stirage banks and an inverter some 12v take offs and a relay, if that is the term, or switchable secondary circuit to maintain batteries.
book marking this so i can hopefully find it again when the time comes
Glad this helped :thumb:

Depending on what you're using your inverter for, consider a pure sine wave. They're more expensive but able to directly power the sensitive electronics without damaging them. I have a standard inverter in the truck and boat but will be installing a higher wattage pure sine wave in the camper.
 

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california deplorable
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I have 2 pure sinewaves and 2 standard... trailer has a pure sinewave as well already installed. so hopefully thats one area i dont need to spend money i no longer have
 

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you can get charge controllers like a Go Power PWM 30 ( I didn't spring for a MPPT ) that can maintain multiple banks of batteries it treats one as the primary and then will charge the secondary

or you can run a ARC automatic charge relay like Blue Sea or Surepower
those will connect battery bank A to B when one gets to a charge of 13.4
they sell them as bi directional so your truck running can charge both banks after the
primary is charged or the better side is the solar that is charging your bank B batteries will also charge the truck once bank B is fully charged
 

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california deplorable
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I have something similar in the toyota dolphin motor home :thumb:

which would be way more efficient at keeping both batteries charged up if i were driving it. :rofl:
 
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