Monday, November 28, 2016

Deployable Solar Panel Project

August 2016


Many folks have posted about how they installed their solar charging system. This is the way I did it - not wholly original, but there may be something of interest to others.

You can click on any photo for a larger version. 

Feel free to skip the narrative unless you are interested in the details.

Introduction


I didn't order my camper with a solar panel system as I both wanted to reduce the purchase price and figured I would mostly only camp in one spot per night. I had them put in wiring to the roof, however, so I could add a panel later. Note, however, I did not use this wiring for this project - maybe later if I add a second panel and place it on the roof.

This year my camping style has shifted somewhat. I'm now more likely to stay in one spot for more than one, or even two days. It was time to add solar charging to my camper.

In reading various posts on Wander the West, I came to the conclusion that a portable, deployable solar panel was a better idea than a fixed panel for me. Yes, one has to store the panel somewhere while traveling and set it up each time one wishes solar power. However, that is outweighed by the advantage of being able to camp in the shade and have the panel out in the sunlight.

I'd read a post or two on WtW where folks had built a solar panel carrier attached to the underside of the camper overhang. That seemed like an efficient way to carry a panel. I had already installed a Rotopax gasoline container carrier in that location, but looking at the measurements of solar panels it looked like there would be space to carry a panel in front of the Rotopax carrier.

I didn't go back and search for posts by others on how they added solar charging or their panel carrier (which I suppose makes this post a bit ironic). As a retired engineer, researching these things for myself is a big part of the fun.

In my research I decided a multi-crystalline silicon solar panel would be the best solution. It's more efficient and smaller than an amorphous silicon panel, and although less efficient than a mono-crystalline panel, it is less affected by partial shade conditions, such as tree leaves, and slightly less expensive.

I knew I'd need a charge controller to sit between the panel and battery bank. The controller regulates the voltage from the panel and also insures the batteries are not overcharged. There are various technologies to accomplish this function. A PWM (pulse-width modulated) type controller would be a good fit in the power range I would be installing and less expensive than the MPPT type, which is better for higher power applications.

In looking at various panels and controllers, sold both individually and as kits. I decided upon a 100W kit from Windy Nation. Besides the multi-crystalline panel, the kit included a PWM charge controller that could handle up to four 100W panels - so if I wanted to add capacity later, I would not have to get a new controller. There is an LCD display on the controller where one can monitor charge voltage, current, etc. The controller also included a temperature compensation sensor & circuitry. This adjusts the charge voltage thresholds depending upon the temperature of the battery, which is recommended by the battery manufacturer. The kit also included wire & connectors to connect the panel to the controller. It included mounting brackets which I would not need. The kit, with shipping, was $185.

I've included a parts list at the end of the post. Most parts were purchased from Amazon and you should be able to find them there. Fasteners were purchased locally. Other items as noted.

Take heart that I won't include a step by step description of my installation. I will include a few notes and I will be glad to answer any questions you wish to include in the comments or in an email.

Charge Controller mounted on forward wall of camper

Panel and wiring


Close-up view of controller and wiring. Black wire on top leads to battery temperture sensor.

I wired the controller, panel, and batteries as instructed in the kit documentation. I used fuse holders to protect the wiring from the panel and battery bank as recommended in the kit instructions.

Battery compartment showing the two AGM batteries, ammeter shunt, temp. sensor, and wiring

As an aside, the LED ceiling lights in my camper always flickered when the water pump ran. This was most irritating and noticeable at low flow rates at night. The manufacturer never figured out how to fix this. It was suggested to me by Bill Harr, who built out his own camper from a shell, to run separate wiring from the battery to the pump. I ran a fused line from the battery positive terminal to the water pump switch in the original monitor panel, and a separate line from battery minus to the water pump. This eliminated all flickering in the LED lights. This circuit is not controlled by the master on/off switch of the camper, however, as the water pump has it's own switch (and is fused), I don't see this as an issue. Note that by wiring the pump this way, its operating current does not go through the shunt and is not monitored by the ammeter.

I mounted the Zamp connector, which includes a snap-on cover, under the front camper edge where it extends just over the sides of the truck bed. This will connect the panel wiring to the charge controller. I had to drill through the plywood and carpet. The wood split a bit which is why the black silicone sealant is smeared all around.

This is where the wiring from the solar panel connects to the charge controller wiring.
The gizmo at the top of the photo is one of the LED downlights.

I purchased a digital panel meter that displays Vdc, Amps, Watts, and Energy (Wh). This is not necessary but informative. I wired it as per its instructions. The model I chose came with a 50A shunt which I installed between the battery bank negative and the camper ground. That way it monitors all the load current though the batteries. As of this writing I have only temporarily mounted it (see photo). I intend to cut a hole above the original battery/water monitor panel, and below the 12Vdc outlets, and install it in that location.

Digital panel meter near location to be installed permanently

Carrier


I ordered two pieces of aluminum C-channel from onlinemetals.com, as I didn't find any channel of appropriate dimensions locally. The 48" lengths would extend about 4" beyond the panel on each side. In retrospect cutting them a bit shorter would have been better as the panel tended to slide from side to side between the padlocks (see next paragraph.) I later cut pieces of plastic and drilled them for the padlock shackles to remove the slack (sorry, no photo).

C-channel with bolt "stud", plastic strips, and padlock hole

To mount the C-channel under the camper I first drilled and tapped holes for the bolts. This allowed the bolts to act as studs. It is important to select the bolt length so it doesn't stick above the surface of the bed platform. I drilled holes in the channel sides near the ends that would allow me to add padlocks once the panel was in the carrier. These would make it harder for someone to steal the panel and prevent it from sliding out.

I used contact cement to hold plastic strips on the side and "bottom" of the channel to allow the panel to slide more easily and prevent metal on metal contact. See the photos. The plastic strips were left over from the installation of replacement windows in my house. There might be something similar at your home improvement store.

I then drilled and counter-sunk holes from inside the camper, under the mattress. I could then push the "studs" up into these holes and screw on the nuts from the inside. This worked in theory much better than in practice. It was difficult to get the holes in exactly the right places, so I had to widen the holes more than I would have liked to get the channel to fit flush with the camper. This technique did have the advantage that I could install the carrier "mid season" without removing it from the truck.

I spaced the channels based upon the width of the solar panel, plus about half an inch. In reality it worked out to be slightly more than this, but the space is needed to more easily allow the panel to slide into the channel without binding.

I used silicone calk on the top surface of the channels and especially around the base of the "studs" to seal the holes into the camper. Inside the camper I squirted E6000 glue in the holes especially those holes that had been enlarged to fit the bolts. This was to help strengthen the attachment of the bolts to the camper.

Carrier mounted under camper above the truck cab

Panel, with end-caps, in the carrier. You can just barely see the front bit of the Rotopax carrier.

The panel slides into the channels with the tempered glass side down. The resulting cavity conveniently holds the panel electrical cabling. I fold the cables in a cheap plastic tarp to keep them from rattling.

Close-up view of panel, with end-caps, and padlock

I purchased 22 feet of vinyl coated wire rope and crimped small loops in each end. I taped this to the solar panel cable. When I deploy the panel I padlock one end of the wire rope to one of the holes in my camper lifting jack brackets and the other to a hole in the solar panel frame. That won't stop a determined thief, but will hopefully discourage casual pilferage.

Panel legs


Solar Panel deployed with legs set for optimum sun angle. Note also wire rope taped to electrical cable.

I used 1" x 2" lumber I had in the garage to fashion legs. The legs were cut the length of the short side of the solar panel (see next paragraph). I drilled the panel flange and the legs for a 1/4-20 bolt, washer and wing-nut. This would allow the panel to be set at any angle to face the sun the most directly.

To close off the ends of the carrier, to make end-caps if you will. I bought pieces of white vinyl wall cove base at Home Depot. I trimmed the vinyl to fit between the channels and the underside of the camper overhang. Note I had to cut the vinyl wall cove to be longer than the legs if I wanted to close off the cavity, as the channels were farther apart than the panel width/leg length (see the previous section). This seems to work fine, but I wonder if it would have been better to cut the legs to fit the distance between the channels (minus a bit for clearance) instead.

I used E6000 adhesive to glue pieces of vinyl wall cove base to the outside of the legs. Once the glue cured, I drilled and inserted (previously painted) round-head wood screws to insure the vinyl would not come loose.

I then painted the wood legs with the white spray paint that I'd used to paint the wood screws. This would provide some weather protection and make the finished assembly look a little nicer. The vinyl is thick enough to be fairly stiff. It deforms enough to fit over the bolt heads as the panel slides in, but stands straight enough to close off the cavity against wind or rain.

Note that during my first trip with the panel in the carrier, the panel bounced up & down slightly when on rough roads. This not only made a racket, but I felt it might damage the panel if the impacts were too strenuous. I tried various shims on the road to minimize the problem. I thought about it for the remainder of that trip and came up with a solution. I drilled holes in the legs and panel at the opposite end from the hinge bolts. I inserted another set of 1/4-20 bolts and wing-nuts. This held the legs firmly against the solar panel and the stiffness of the vinyl wall cove held the panel firmly enough against the bottom of the channel that on my next trip out I had no issue with banging or rattling of the panel even on rough roads without shims or pads.

Conclusion


The system works great. In full sun the 100 watt panel/charger pumps between 5 and 6 amps into the battery bank. The output drops a surprising amount with even thin high clouds, but not much one can do about that. FYI, the refrigerator draws about 4.5 amps when the compressor running.

The carrier also works very well. It does require lifting the panel horizontally and sliding it into the channels. The extra space between the channels allows it to slide in easily without binding, especially if the panel is slightly misaligned when inserted. The second set of fasteners on the legs keep the legs in position while lifting and sliding, and prevent the panel from bouncing on a bumpy road in conjunction with the vinyl wall cove end caps.

Parts List


Panel, Controller, and electrical


WindyNation 100 Watt Solar Panel Off-Grid RV Boat Kit with LCD PWM Charge Controller + Solar Cable + MC4 Connectors + Mounting Brackets

DROK Digital Multimeter (panel mount) with 50 Amp shunt

Zamp Solar RV RVROOFSIDE Sidewall Port

CES 2 Pin Quick Disconnect Harness SAE Connector Bullet Lead Cable

Sea Dog Watertight Inline Fuse Holder, 30A, 10AWG

Scotty Marine In-line 30 Amp Fuse Holder

10AWG and 12AWG copper stranded wire

crimp butt-splice connectors

Legs


1" x 2" pine for legs

White 4" x 48" x 0.080" Vinyl Wall Cove Base (Home Depot)

1/4-20 Hex Head Bolts

1/4-20 Wing Nuts

small round-head wood screws

contact cement

white spray paint

E6000 adhesive

Carrier


2x 48" length Aluminum 6063-T52 Bare Extruded Channel Architectural, 3" x 1" x 0.125"

1/4-20 Hex Head Bolts

1/4-20 nuts

plastic strips

silicone sealer

Security


3/32 in Vinyl-Coated Wire Rope (Home Depot)

2x Cable Ferrules (to make a loop at each end of cable)

2x small padlocks with common key

Tools needed


Power drill and bits

1/4-20 metal tap

crimp tool for electrical butt splices

crimp tool for wire rope ferrules (Home Depot let me use theirs in the store when I purchased the wire rope and ferrules)

wood saw

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Moon House Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Utah - October 23, 2016



In a slight departure from the format typically used for my blog, this October 2016 trip to southern Utah has been broken into parts not perfectly in chronological order. I have separated the hike to the Moon House Ruins into its own post. The trip begins in this post, where this hike would have taken place near the end, and continues in this post.

Remember to click any photo to see a larger version - highly recommended.

A Hike to Moon House Ruins


There would be five of us from the Wander The West forum meet-up (see previous post) hiking to the ruins today. A permit from the Kane Gulch Ranger Station is required year-round for visiting Moon House ruin in the McLoyd Canyon-Moon House Recreation Management Zone (RMZ). Cayuse and allanb reserved permits in advance and volunteered to drive us to first the Cedar Mesa visitor center to pick up the permits, then to the trailhead. Besides the permit holders, hoyden, allanb's wife, and I would take the hike. The official BLM webpage says the hike is "a strenuous three mile hike and is not for those who fear heights." A couple of blog posts I read in advance opined that the hike was only moderate. I would say now that it is likely moderate for young, active adults and strenuous for an old guy like me with poor knees - but I'm so happy I went. This is the BLM webpage for Moon House.

cayuse paused at the junction to allow allanb to catch up.
The spur to the left is a parking area; to the right, heading north, is the road to the trailhead.

One drives south on the highway from the visitor center, then east on Snow Flat Road. This road gets quite bumpy especially when it crosses areas of slickrock. There is a parking area at the junction, after which you need a high-clearance vehicle. Get detailed directions when you pick up your permit.

Starting off from the trailhead

Starting our descent into McLoyd Canyon

Upper section of the canyon trail

The hike traverses down the south side of McLoyd Canyon and climbs up the other side to the cliff dwellings. The trail gets very steep in a number of sections and in one spot you have to step off a ledge down onto a stack of rocks. This is tricky going down and helps to have someone along to help position your feet (or go for help!) The views of the canyon are delightful at every step.

This is the tricky spot where you have to step off a ledge onto a stack of rocks.

Almost to the bottom of the canyon. The ruins can be seen in the cliffs across the way under the overhang.

When the trail wound around a curve in the canyon we would see the cliff dwellings on the far side. We paused for snacks halfway down, looking across the canyon and wondering just where the path up would be - it wasn't obvious from where we sat. The canyon bottom was slickrock where it met the trail. There were giant boulders and up above an enormous fist of stone sat on a pedestal. It was quite a sight.

hoyden volunteered to provide scale to the canyon and point to the balanced rock above.

The canyon bottom here is slickrock. The group begins the ascent of the other side.

Then began the scramble up the far side. Much of it was slickrock and there were clefts to ascend.

Climbing up toward the cliff dwellings.

A view back along the way we hiked.

The central complex of Moon House Ruins.
The cliff dwellings are very well preserved. They comprise several rooms in the central complex accessed from a hallway behind a unique facade. Some rooms still wear their mud-based plaster and painted decoration.

Some of the room entrances inside the "hallway."

At the far end of the hallway this pictograph can be seen well above head level.

The hallway; note the mud plaster with painted design is very well preserved. The motif was repeated inside the room, but all the rooms were much too dark for photos.

There are additional exterior rooms along the ledge under the cliff overhang - round and square rooms, and a perhaps kiva-like structure, too.

Exterior rooms in the central complex. The logs appear to be what's left of a roof structure (see next photo).

Another view of the exterior rooms in the central complex.

Looking back at the facade and the entrance to the hallway.

Ruins of an exterior room suspended above the ledge near the balanced rock.

There are several smaller, outlying rooms, perhaps granaries, located in both directions along the ledge on which the central complex is found.

If you walk past the balanced rock and look up canyon, there is another ruin (see next photo.)

A closer view of the ruin shown above. I didn't bring a telephoto lens on this hike.

Walking along the ledge down canyon there are several other room/buildings.

Looking back toward the central complex from along the ledge.

Another room/building along the ledge. There were more farther along, but this is where I turned around.

After exploring the site and enjoying the view it was time to head back down into the canyon and up the other side. I didn't take more photos on the way out as the side of the canyon was now in shadow. It was more difficult to climb up the aforementioned ledge on the way out. I managed, but stressed my right knee which has been complaining to me now for weeks about the abuse. Fortunately, it didn't start complaining until the end of the trip, so I was still able to enjoy more hiking on this trip.

Thanks for reading this post. I hope you enjoyed it. If you are encouraged to visit Moon House, remember you need to pick up a permit at the ranger station (except in winter, I believe.) Only 20 people are allowed per day to hike to the ruins, so during the high season call the Kane Gultch ranger station at (435) 587-1510 to reserve your permit. They may be reserved up to 90 days in advance.

Southern Utah (& NM) - October 2016: Part 1


October 21 - 27, 2016


I really enjoyed my trip around southern Utah in September and now had an excuse to return to the area. I was to meet friends from the WanderTheWest.com forum for week-end camping, a pot-luck dinner, and hiking. WTW is where lots of folks who own, or are curious to own, pop-up pickup truck campers hang out to share information. The site also features info on travel, parks and camping primarily in the western US. After the meet-up I would spend a few more days exploring on my own.

Not including Angel Peak and Aztec NM in New Mexico, this trip took place within the Cedar Mesa area in Utah. This beautiful natural area with a large number of ancient ruins and native artifacts is primarily administered by the Bureau of Land Management. It, along with other areas adjacent to Canyonlands NP and Glen Canyon NM,  it is included in the proposed Bear's Ears National Monument which would be administered by a coalition of native Indian tribes along with the U.S. Park Service. As of this writing the fate of the monument is unknown. It's formation is being fought by the current Utah legislature and some county officials. They seem to favor the state taking control of all Federal lands in Utah to be dispensed as the state sees fit. Based upon recent history, this would likely mean increased oil & gas development, and the opening of sensitive and fragile areas to unrestricted motor vehicle use. I suspect you can guess on which side of the argument I stand. I encourage you to visit the Bear's Ears Coalition website

Remember to click any photo to see a larger version - highly recommended.

Friday, October 21


I'd seen the BLM signs pointing toward Angel Peak Scenic Area every time I drove US-550 to and from the Four Corners area. I'd wondered what was out there as they seemed to point off toward nothing. My schedule this trip would allow me to find out. As I wouldn't be able to leave town unti Friday afternoon, I could spend the night at Angel Peak which was only a couple of hours drive. Then it would be only a short drive to Aztec National Monument, that I'd never visited, the next morning. I could view the ruins there and still have plenty of time to meet up at Valley of the Gods and prepare for the pot luck.

Angel Peak Scenic Area


I found the BLM webpage for the area and determined there would be camping at Angel Peak Scenic Area, and that it was only six miles off the highway. I turned north off 550 though a new "Landfarm" - what?! That wasn't there a month ago! Acres of land was plowed and furrowed. The soil looked darker than the native sand. A subsequent web search returned this result describing the soil reclamation project.

Not far past the landfarm was a junction, go right for the campground, ahead for an overlook. I'd never noticed in all the times I'd driven by that there were "badlands" just over the horizon. I was aware, and had briefly visited, the Bisti/De-Na-Zeen Wilderness badlands off to the west of the highway. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to find similar geology here.

There are several picnic areas along the rim before arriving at the campground. This no-fee BLM facility has several campsites, a number of which are located on or near the canyon rim. There are tables, many sheltered by roofs, and vault toilets. I had intended to arrive about an hour before sundown, instead got there about sunset, but was able to get set-up and take a quick look about before dark.

My campsite

The last of the sunset over the badlands.

Saturday, October 22


I took a walk around the campground area before heading off. I discovered there is a nice trail that follows the rim. There were great views off across the badlands and of Angel Peak.

Angel Peak

Angel Peak Campground area

Morning view toward the northwest

Aztec National Monument


As Bloomfield was only about a half an hour from camp, I stopped at the Blake's there for one of their enormous breakfast burritos. It was large enough to be breakfast and lunch!

The town of Aztec is only a short drive north from there and the national monument is just off the state highway. Here's a link to the Aztec NM website.

The Great Kiva

The main archeological site is a large ancestral Pueblo Great House with over 400 rooms.
Archaeological work began in 1916. Under the direction of Earl H. Morris of New York City’s American Museum of Natural History and the visitor center is housed in his original home. The West Ruin also contains the 48 foot in diameter Great Kiva, reconstructed by Morris in 1934.

Interior of the restored Great Kiva

Smaller kiva and the West Ruins

Masonry

Looking across the West Ruins

An interior room

Mysterious green stripe of Greywacke sandstone along the western wall.
One theory is that is was included to represent the nearby Animas River

The back of the visitor center.

From the monument I took NM-516 toward Farmington. My navigation app directed me west on Piñon Hills Blvd. This bypassed downtown and I was able to see some of the newer, more affluent residential areas of this small city. I turned left on NM-170 and right onto US-64. 64 joins US-160 which I followed to the Mexican Water area where I turned north on US-191. But instead of following the highway into Bluff, I went left on US-163 to the turn off for Valley of the Gods.

Valley of the Gods


View to the west from our group's camping area.

We set up next to this wash where the cottonwood leaves were changing.

One of the meet-up organizers, "hoyden" (I will use everyone's forum username in this post), lives in Arizona and she had earlier scouted the area and selected the location for our group camp. She chose an excellent site. It was large enough for all, level, easily found, but far enough off the road to avoid dust. Sited on the rim of a wash, the view in every direction was amazing, from the nearby bluffs and formations, to the silhouette of Monument Valley on the horizon.

There were 10 people attending in 7 vehicles, 6 pop-ups and one small travel trailer: "cayuse" and "hoyden" were the organizers, "allenb" & wife, "mikedunn" & wife, "driller" & wife, "searching for nowhere" and me.

We gathered and became acquainted IRL. Meanwhile, I mixed & prepared the ingredients I'd brought from home for this evening's potluck supper. The supper was enjoyed by all and we adjourned to the campfire for stories and companionship. (There were 'No Campfires' signs posted, but Cayuse had called the BLM office in Monticello and they told him the fire restrictions had recently been lifted. He let us know in time for several of us to bring firewood.)

Wander-the-West folks enjoying the pot luck supper

View from the camp at dusk

Sunday, October 23


The group camp in the morning light.

It was a beautiful morning. Those of us who were going to hike to the Moon House ruins, slowly got ourselves organized. mikedunn elected to stay in camp and relax. Cayuse volunteered to lower his pop-top and transport hoyden and myself on the drive to the hike. allenb, the other permit holder, was also going to drive.

Morning coffee klatch.

We left Valley of the Gods and drove up the Moki Dugway, about which I've written before (you can click the name in the column to the right of this text for my posts on that subject) to the Kane Gulch ranger station to pick up our hiking permits.

In a slight departure from the format typically used for my blog, this trip is broken into parts not perfectly in chronological order. I am separating the hike to the Moon House Ruins into its own post. Read about the hike and the ruins here.

After the hike to Moon House we drove back to camp, though the west access to Valley of the Gods, hoyden spotted a tarantula crossing the road. We stopped for photos.

hoyden spotted this guy crossing the road and directed him back off.

The view on our way back to camp

We had a lovely evening in camp with a beautiful sunset, and once again enjoyed hanging out around the campfire.

Sunset at camp

Silhouette of Monument Valley on the horizon.

Monday, October 24


We said our "nice to have met you in person" farewells as all us Wander the West folks broke camp to go our separate ways. Some were continuing their journeys, others returning home . I was planning to explore up Comb Wash then the northern parts of Cedar Mesa.

The rest of my journey is continued in Part 2.