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Old 02-03-2017, 10:55 AM   #1
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Solar panel mounting ideas

I've been thinking of a way to mount panels to reduce shading by items especially AC units. This still doesn't solve the problem with vent fans other then increasing the height of the panels above them or using a low profile fan.

The issue with most mounting methods is that you're always going to have shading of panels mounted next to an AC unit unless you raise the panel high enough, close to 10", so the shadow doesn't hit the panel. This is most prevalent in the winter when the sun angle is very low or when using larger panels such as the AMSolar 160 watt units.

In the diagram below I have a suggested mounting arrangement that solved that issue so the panels stay close to the roof when driving but are high enough when tilted to clear the ACs shadow. Understand this is only a basic diagram with no details as to how the mounts are made.



Basically the idea is to extend the pivot point of the panels on one side of the coach. This allows the panel when raised to clear any shadow cast by the AC units or the panels on the other side of the coach. The panel on one side does raise about 18" taller than the other side but it still presents the same about of area that can catch the wind so I don't think there will be an issue.

There are no fancy machined parts need mostly just aluminum angle or "T" pieces plus brackets for the roof. The AMSolar roof mounts should work fine although you may need to mix sizes. Tilting bars would need to be different that the ones you can get from AMSolar.

I've only showed tilting to one side, usually the street side, but I feel it's possible to make it work both ways with a slightly more complex design.

I totally admit there are issue to be worked out but it's a starting point to think about.
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Old 02-03-2017, 11:51 AM   #2
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We have a Class B built on a 22 foot T1N Sprinter, which has pretty much the smallest available roof area of all RVs, and we got around the shading issue (Handy Bob made us true believers of the need to avoid shading) by vaulting an entire 3-panel AM Solar assembly above our coach air conditioning unit. We used 80/20 for the frame. It's expensive but wonderful stuff to work with.

The leading edge of this assembly is on a pivot hinge so that the whole thing can be tilted upward out of the way if the air conditioner needs to be serviced. Theoretically it could be also be tilted up to maximize sun angle, but we haven't found a need to do that yet.

I'm embedding a pic of our panels and if you'd like to see more detail regarding our approach, I've got a series of solar-related blog posts here.

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Old 02-03-2017, 01:02 PM   #3
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John,

You just solved the problem that I've been wrangling with on my truck camper for some time. Brilliant! A bit of aluminum angle attached to the modules and some right angle brackets and the whole problem is solved. It should be really easy to fabricate and install. One additional thought: If you make the center pivots taller than the outside ones the panels will automatically shed snow and rain and your pivot arms won't have to be as long.
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Old 02-03-2017, 06:04 PM   #4
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Good idea for tilting.
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Old 02-04-2017, 02:19 AM   #5
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John,
You just solved the problem that I've been wrangling with on my truck camper for some time. Brilliant! A bit of aluminum angle attached to the modules and some right angle brackets and the whole problem is solved. It should be really easy to fabricate and install. One additional thought: If you make the center pivots taller than the outside ones the panels will automatically shed snow and rain and your pivot arms won't have to be as long.
Since we're not yet ready to get our coach you'll likely do yours first. PM me if you want to bounce any ideas around.

As I said this is a concept drawing and a lot depends on the roof. Since most roof are curved the bracket will need to adjust for the curve. You'll also need to cut part of the angle where it connects to the bracket.

As far as slope on the panels when down you don't want a lot, just enough to shed rain. You'll never get enough to shed snow so I wouldn't even bother to try.

Spacing of the ACs could make it trickey to get maximum number of panels but you can always connect two panels end to end using some additional angle to keep them rigid.

As far as using 80/20 rails there great if you're going for with a very small roof, as the great one shown above, or you need lots of power. If I needed more power I'd seriously consider it. It's also possible to remotely control the tilt when using this design but it's much more expensive.
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Old 02-04-2017, 08:44 AM   #6
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I hadn't considered using 80/20 rail, although it would make for an easy installation. My concern would be loosening of the fasteners in the rail and I would probably rely on Belleville washers to help keep things tight. Aluminum C, L, H channel or extruded tubing would have the advantage of using more precisely drilled holes, that (at least in theory) would help to keep things more secure.
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Old 02-05-2017, 04:36 AM   #7
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I hadn't considered using 80/20 rail, although it would make for an easy installation. My concern would be loosening of the fasteners in the rail and I would probably rely on Belleville washers to help keep things tight. Aluminum C, L, H channel or extruded tubing would have the advantage of using more precisely drilled holes, that (at least in theory) would help to keep things more secure.
We've put at least 10,000 miles on our rig following our 80/20 panel frame installation, over all kinds of road conditions, and I haven't noticed any adverse changes. I'm frequently on the roof for one reason or another (cleaning, repairs, re-caulking, unrelated component installations) and I check the frame from time to time. Nothing has begun to shake loose. It's built like a brick outhouse.
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Old 02-05-2017, 07:39 AM   #8
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We've put at least 10,000 miles on our rig following our 80/20 panel frame installation, over all kinds of road conditions, and I haven't noticed any adverse changes. I'm frequently on the roof for one reason or another (cleaning, repairs, re-caulking, unrelated component installations) and I check the frame from time to time. Nothing has begun to shake loose. It's built like a brick outhouse.


That's good to know.
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Old 02-12-2017, 10:09 AM   #9
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We have a Class B built on a 22 foot T1N Sprinter, which has pretty much the smallest available roof area of all RVs, and we got around the shading issue
Nice setup and design. Are the round pipe style rails what came with your van or did you add those?
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Old 02-12-2017, 10:22 AM   #10
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I've been thinking of a way to mount panels to reduce shading by items especially AC units. This still doesn't solve the problem with vent fans other then increasing the height of the panels above them or using a low profile fan.

Basically the idea is to extend the pivot point of the panels on one side of the coach. This allows the panel when raised to clear any shadow cast by the AC units or the panels on the other side of the coach. The panel on one side does raise about 18" taller than the other side but it still presents the same about of area that can catch the wind so I don't think there will be an issue.
That is an interesting idea on how to reduce shadowing. I wonder if you could just fix mount a larger panel at 30 degrees (vs 60) on the right side. The left side could then be a mirror image for use when the sun is on that side.

On my son's concession trailer, we had the roof built in an "A" shape (like a single story house) and put panels on each side for similar reasons.
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Old 02-12-2017, 05:39 PM   #11
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That is an interesting idea on how to reduce shadowing. I wonder if you could just fix mount a larger panel at 30 degrees (vs 60) on the right side. The left side could then be a mirror image for use when the sun is on that side.

On my son's concession trailer, we had the roof built in an "A" shape (like a single story house) and put panels on each side for similar reasons.
You could. If you never use more than half your panels.

I looked at a layout using 190W panels that are 32" wide and the tilting can still be done although it requires a little adjusting. That will give you a real world 1,500 watts with just 10 panels 5 down each side.

Right now I'm trying to find telescoping tilting tubes that will make tilting easier than using knobs.
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Old 02-13-2017, 06:33 AM   #12
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Nice setup and design. Are the round pipe style rails what came with your van or did you add those?
They came with - they were a standard feature on all 2004 - 2007 Airstream Interstates. Furthermore they were extremely high quality stainless steel with remarkably tight tolerances - we speculated that perhaps Airstream had sourced the steel from an outfit that sold primarily to businesses that manufactured components for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) - it's the same steel as shower grab bars and the like, we think.

But at the same time, the resulting roof rack was perplexing because it wasn't good for much due to the fact that the coach a/c unit extended up higher than the rails (was in the middle and poked up above them). So nothing could be placed on them.

We saw a sales listing where a previous owner of the same Class B had actually added a second roof rack on top of this OEM stainless steel roof rack, to get around that problem of clearance. That owner had used the resulting configuration to carry a pair of kayaks. I figured, well, if he carried kayaks, something similar could work for solar panels.
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Old 02-13-2017, 12:33 PM   #13
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You could. If you never use more than half your panels.

I looked at a layout using 190W panels that are 32" wide and the tilting can still be done although it requires a little adjusting. That will give you a real world 1,500 watts with just 10 panels 5 down each side.

Right now I'm trying to find telescoping tilting tubes that will make tilting easier than using knobs.
I like your idea and that will be nice output, especially for winter sun capture. I had not considered the idea of parking W/E so that one side of the RV would always be pointed south and the panels tilted at an angle optimized for the season.

For some reason, I always think of parking the vehicle N/S and having "mostly morning" and "mostly afternoon" panels capture the sun as it passes E-W as the day goes on, but your concept is probably better. Perhaps this thinking is a hold over from how the concession trailer had to be oriented.
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Old 02-13-2017, 12:40 PM   #14
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Right now I'm trying to find telescoping tilting tubes that will make tilting easier than using knobs.
I wonder if the gas filled struts that are used to assist the opening of car trunk lids and SUV rear doors would be helpful?
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