We Have Solar!

I’d planned to install my solar panels yesterday, so naturally, it was the first day in a month that it rained. I did a few other things inside the van so I wouldn’t waste time.

I wasn’t going to finish off my interior until later, but I decided to pick up some coroplast panels as a quick, easy solution, and to keep the wool contained inside the walls. This is basically corrugated cardboard, except it’s plastic instead. It’s easy to cut and work with. Scissors and a utility knife are all I needed. It looks pretty easy to clean, too. Two 4×8 panels were enough to cover the top and bottom side walls.

I also found that the local Ace Hardware sold angle iron for less than half the price Home Depot was charging. I picked up a few pieces so I could install a shelf all the way down the driver’s side wall. I already bolted it to the wall using the pre-threaded holes. After I cut a few short pieces for the sides, I can build the rest of the frame, then grab some of my uncle’s plywood scraps for the shelf itself. They’re thicker than I need, but they’re here, and they’re free.

The sun was out today, so it was solar panel day. This picture gives a good idea of how I did it. I already bolted the aluminum L-channel to the roof racks. I drilled holes through it and the short ends of the solar panels, then bolted them together. I also drilled holes in the long sides of the panels and bolted them to each other as well. I had to deal with a few minor fitment challenges along the way, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. With my uncle’s help to hand me stuff from the ground while I was up on the ladders, I got it done during the morning and early afternoon.

As a side note, I realized another benefit the solar panels give me besides electrical power. It’s pretty hot again today, but there’s a huge temperature difference between the part of the roof that’s exposed to the sun and the roof in the shade under the panels. About half my roof is now always in the shade, which should help prevent it from heating up as quickly inside.

Next came the wiring. The only thing I had to buy was the three-into-one adapters, which I plug all three solar panels into and run one wire each for positive and negative into the van. (I reused cables from the old van for that.) I had to drill a new hole in the roof to feed them through, then promptly covered it with an entry gland, using leftover butyl tape and lap sealant from the roof vent to weatherproof it. I ran the wiring down to my charge controller, with an 80-amp circuit breaker along the way just in case, hooked it up, and closed the breaker.

Immediately I got 500 watts of power out of my 600 watts of solar panels! That’s quite good, especially considering that it’s April and another two months until the sun is as high as it gets in the sky. Even with 550 watts of solar hooked up to my old van this past winter, I never got much more than 300 watts of charging at most. Rigid panels are more efficient than the flexible ones I had on my old van’s roof, so it’s possible I may not need a fourth panel in the future. I’m all set up to add one if I need it, though.

This is a major achievement for me. Another major cleanup session is my next step. There’s still some electrical work to do, but I’ll leave those tools out, and then I can start putting the rest of the interior together. That’s when I can start to move into the new van. It’s pretty exciting!


  1. Loved reading this
    This is great to see how resourceful and determined you are in getting your solar panels installed and all the other necessary components done. The use of coroplast panels as a solution for covering the top and bottom side walls is impressive, and the savings you got for the angle iron shows how a little research can go a long way. Congratulations on your major achievement!
    Great DIY Ideas


    1. Thank you! Shopping around is worth it, even for things like angle iron you wouldn’t expect to vary in price so much. I got the coroplast as a cheap temporary solution, but the look is growing on me, so I might end up keeping it. And, of course, the solar install is a huge milestone! I wired up interior lights yesterday, and am figuring out where to put outlets and what kinds.


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