Installing a Solar Charging System/Inverter in a Travel Trailer
Our travel trailer exploring sometimes takes us to remote locations where site services are not available. To make sure the batteries stay charged for the duration of our stays, I installed a solar charging system. We also wanted the luxury of AC power for appliances such as a toaster and operating devices such as a tablet, and flat screen TV! So an inverter was also installed to convert the DC battery power to 110 AC power.
My experience doing home wiring was enough to tackle this project and do the complete installation. I could write a short novel on the installation but here I’ll tell you about things I learned that I didn’t read in any website!!
To find the size of panels and inverter check out this website: www.gpelectric.com/go-power-calculator. The inverter I installed is a 1000 watt. It’s enough for the toaster that draws 650 watts and when not using the toaster we can use the TV and computer simultaneously.
I purchased all the equipment from a marine supplier. The prices were very competitive and quality is excellent. It was a bit more than purchasing on-line but the store provided excellent advice whenever I had questions. Pay the extra and purchase a “pure sine wave” inverter.
Since we frequently camp in treed sites that limit sun exposure, I built brackets that support the free standing panels. I can move the panels around the site to maximize sun exposure. 25’ of #10 wire connects the panels to the solar controller inside the storage compartment.
From the solar controller on the panel inside the storage compartment I ran a positive and negative #10 wire through the trailer floor and connected these wires to the exterior plug (see photo). Note the marine Sika Flex white sealant used to stop any moisture from getting into the floor.
The panels are stored in the front storage compartment. Our trailer is 19’ but the access doors are wide enough for two panels.
The inverter, solar controller, and breaker are mounted to plywood located in the front storage compartment. The plywood board is mounted to the aluminum frame using self tapping metal screws (see photo). Note that the mounting panel for the inverter is in the centre of the storage compartment so it is as close as possible to the batteries located at the front of the trailer. This is important because the #4 cables from the inverter to the batteries should be no more than 4 feet in length.
The one challenge of this installation is getting the wires from the inverter (2-#4 wires) and from the solar controller to the batteries (2-#10 wires). My trailer has a fibreglass front so my initial thought was drill through the front wall of the storage compartment into the void space between the wall and the fibreglass nose. But this doesn’t work. Instead I drilled holes through the floor. I used a stud finder to locate the trailer frame so I wouldn’t drill through the metal frame and to locate any wiring.
The other challenge was making sure I didn’t drill through the water tank. My trailer has a ¼“ ABS enclosed underbelly so I couldn’t see the water tank that I knew was somewhere close to the front of the trailer. I called the service department where I purchased the new trailer and the manufacturer to find out where the water tank is located but no help from them!! So I crawled under the trailer and pushed up on the flexible underbelly where I wanted to bring the wires from the compartment through the floor to the batteries. It appeared there was no water tank there but to be sure I drilled a small hole through the belly cover and then with the eraser end of a pencil pushed it up to the floor. There was no resistance so it was safe to assume there was no water tank! I then drilled the hole in the floor and pulled the 4 wires from the panel to the batteries.
To protect the inverter I installed a breaker rather than a fuse. If you use a fuse then it would be prudent to have a spare fuse. However, if for some reason the breaker trips all you have to do is just press the reset button.
I protected the panel with a polycarbonate cover. It’s much stronger and shatter resistant then Plexiglas and should be functional considering all the stuff that gets thrown in the storage compartment (see photo of panel).
Since the inverter is at the front of the trailer, I ran a cable through the floor inside the storage compartment. It is clipped to the floor and runs down the trailer and then up through the floor to inside the kitchen cabinet where I installed a standard electrical box. Also installed is the remote control switch for the inverter (see photo). When inverter power isn’t required it should be turned off. The switch inside the trailer is convenient as you don’t have to go outside in the morning to turn on the inverter!!
It was a worthwhile project with a satisfying result. I tested it and it works great!
If you are considering a project like this feel free to contact me via this blog.
Published: October 6th, 2016
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