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2000 Ford E350 15 Passenger Van Build
I finally got the rear two solar panels mounted on their tilting mechanism today!  I'm ecstatic about this! And really pooped out. 

Two front panels to build out next week and then I'll have my 640 watts and tilt-able too.

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There's the ladder racks and the two 10 foot long square aluminum tubes installed.

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There's the 2 panels and their aluminum supports and tilting mechanisms.

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And here they are mounted at the back part of the van.

They are set up to tilt towards the passenger side of the van, if I feel the need to have the extra energy from tilting available when I'm camping.

I have plenty of room to open both my roof vents even when the panels are down, and it looks like the panels might keep most rain from coming into the vents.

After I get the front panels installed I will have to tilt them up pretty far to do the wiring underneath and I will show some photos of them tilted then. If anyone wants to see closer photos of the contraption, let me know and I can take some more photos.
[-] The following 4 users say Thank You to S Cello for this post:
  • Blacktank (06-30-2018), rvpopeye (06-30-2018), daonacetpi1969 (07-08-2018), RoamingKat (08-18-2018)
I finally have more photos to post here now. My life has been busy taking care of mom and all her handyman needs as well as having my sister and her two dogs move in with me. But things have been slowly coming along in the van.

I must say, I have been impressed with the ability of two 160 watt solar panels to charge my battery bank, though I never had the bank go below 84% since I had put those first two panels on the roof. I've been experimenting a bit with the solar charger and getting to know how it works.

I had been told on here that with the Morningstar TriStar 45 MPPT solar controller I would be able to stop absorption charging at a selectable amperage, say 5 amps. But in my conversations with a service technician at Wholesale Solar, where I purchased the system, he says that no, it won't do that.
I told him that when I'm not out camping, the draw on the battery bank will be very slight. But when camping the draw down will be much more every night. How do I set it up to not over or under charge the batteries?

His response:

The TriStar cannot be set for end amp charging, but there are some fancy things you can do with absorption time using their MSView software.  Specifically if you look at page 40 of the manual, you could use absorption extension voltage and absorption extension time to setup a scenario where on a shallow depth of discharge you only absorb for a very short period of time, and on a normal DoD, you do a full absorb.  Moreover, you can in addition use 'Float Cancel Voltage' to do a full day long absorption charge if the battery bank is discharged really deeply (which I think is a great idea!).  So, for your bank, we would be looking at settings like this: 

Absorption time: 30 minutes 
Absorption Extension Voltage: 12.7V
Absorption Extension Time: 3.5 hours
Float Cancel Voltage: 12V

To explain what this programing would do.  Your absorption time would actually be only 30 minutes.  If your battery bank voltage were to fall below 12.7V, the controller would tack on an extra 3.5 hours of absorption time the next day for a total of 4 hours.  The idea being that when not used, the bank should sit at above 12.7V, as 12.75ish is probably 100%.  So you have a short absorption cycle when the system is in storage to avoid over-absorbing your batteries.  But, the minute you cycle the batteries at all, you get a full absorb time!  Pretty cool right?  The Float cancel voltage is pretty cool too.  What this does, is if you ever discharge your batteries below this voltage, the controller will cancel the float cycle and stay in absorb the next day.  So what this means is if you discharge below 12VDC (or bring your batteries below 40% SoC), your controller will naturally do an extra long absorb cycle the next day.  This is great, as it takes extra time to fully absorb a deeply discharged bank.  So I would recomend setting this setting around the 11.9 - 12V mark. 

Anyway, if Jim in Denver, Sternwake or anyone else would like to chime in on this, I would be very appreciative.

I have the solar controller set up to talk to my laptop through MSView software, and that is working well, but I haven't switched over to custom settings yet to start doing it this way. I have been just watching the "state of charge" as recorded by my Magnum BMK and shunt and flipping the breaker to the panels on about every three days.

So today I finished assembling my second solar panel tilting assembly and got it mounted on the roof and wired in.

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The panels are tilted to about 45 degrees there so I could get under to do the wiring. They can be set at 33 degrees or higher or lower as desired. The aluminum is all aircraft grade and the bolts nuts and washers are mostly stainless steel.

I have been working inside a bit on various bits and pieces. I have a trip planned next weekend down to visit my kids in southern calif, so the push is on to get the curtains installed along with a few other things so I can stay in the van in their driveways.

Hopefully I will post more inside photos end of next week.
[-] The following 1 user says Thank You to S Cello for this post:
  • AbuelaLoca (08-18-2018)
That is an interesting approach by Morning Star and it sounds like a pretty good compromise.

One thing now, if you are cycling thebatteries to 87% SOC over three days, well they would appreciate being returned to 100% every day, as long as they are not 'overabsorbed' to get there.

The full charge resting voltage of your particular batteries at their specific temperature, would be great to know exactly, for setting that 'absorption extension voltage'

For example my AGM rests fully charged at 13.06v, so I would want to set that figure much higher than a battery which indeed is known to read 12.7v when fully charged and rested.

One variable in the full charge resting voltage, is the electrolyte level in the cells. if it is low the full charge resting voltage will be higher, if they are topped up it will read lower. If Agm dismiss this variable.

If you are really seeking ideal you will need to bust out the hydrometer and verify if the absorption times the controller is allowing are as much as required, or perhaps they are being 'overabsorbed' if only being shallowly cycled. If AGM then insure the amps have tapered to 0,5% of capacity or slightly less, before allowing it to revert to float voltage.

but in the mean time, and it is not a huge deal taking three days to drain the batteries to 87%, but it would be better if they were returned to 100% the next day rather than going 3 days before flipping on the solar panel breaker.

How much better...?, hard to say. I'd be guessing.

Just know that is is not as if you are actively murdering them. That would be taking 2 weeks to drain them to 50% before flipping that breaker on.

Just the fact thet you know enough to ask the seller the questions you asked, speaks volumes, and your batteries will likely have much better treatment than most, and achieve a high cycle figure before they start getting petulant.

One thing to always keep in mind is ideal absorption times are always changing, and as the batteries age they will require more time in absorb before wither the specific gravity maxes out, or the amperage accepted by the batteries at absorption voltagr tapers to 0.5% of the total battery capacity, using the 'When new' rated capacity, not the estimated remaining capacity.

Charging still happens at float voltage, but it is much much slower than if it werre held at absorption voltage.

now sitting in the driveway it is not as if it is back to back deep cycles where getting only to 97% each cycle would cause obvious capacity loss and the rewquirement of an extended absorption stage to reset the batteries to their maximum potential remaining cpacity, but remember, the lead acid battery alwayts wants to be 100% charged, and while slightly less than this ideal might not really mattery in the grand scheme of things. if it is possible to achieve this, adn ideal is what is wanted, and It is not done, then it is negaitvely affecting the longevity to some unknown degree.
[-] The following 2 users say Thank You to sternwake for this post:
  • S Cello (08-18-2018), American Nomad Patriot (10-03-2018)
That is a sweet setup. I really like the idea, but in my case...I haven’t the strength to lift the panels.

Have you considered motorized lift?

1989 Honeywell motorhome
Ford E350 chassis.  460 engine
[-] The following 1 user says Thank You to RoamingKat for this post:
  • American Nomad Patriot (10-03-2018)
I tested out yesterday that I could set them up myself, and I could. The two panel sets are heavy though for sure.

I have considered motorized lift, but not looked into it much as my budget is laying trashed on the floor.

Sternwake, as always I treasure your input and suggestions as well as the time you take to answer our questions.

As per your input, I will be getting the battery bank fully charged today and I will shut off all draws/breakers on the bank overnite so that I can see what my fully charged rested voltage is in the morning. That should help me choose the settings.
Then I will need to turn the breakers on and let the normal residual draws over night bring the battery bank down to whatever voltage it does and check that voltage next morning. That could give me another set-point, and so on.
nice heavy duty setup,have you had it at highway speeds? does it howl or whistle?
With just the back two panels, I had the van up to 90 mph, no noise. I'll be on the freeway next weekend with the whole setup and see what it sounds like. If it makes much noise I could install a wedge shaped air diverter on the front of it, but I'm hoping I don't need to.
(08-18-2018, 05:52 AM)S Cello Wrote: I tested out yesterday that I could set them up myself, and I could. The two panel sets are heavy though for sure.

I have considered motorized lift, but not looked into it much as my budget is laying trashed on the floor.

Maybe some heavy duty assist shocks like the ones used on an SUV back hatch.  They won't pick it up but probably make it feel like its 75% lighter.  Cheap and I'm sure easy to rig on your structure.
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[-] The following 1 user says Thank You to Motrukdriver for this post:
  • S Cello (08-18-2018)
I finally built a shelf for my prescription medications above the desk and I also completed the wiring above the desk. I installed a switched 120v outlet for the computer, speakers and tool battery charging. I installed a couple 12v switches, one for the water pump, one for future use. There are 2 USB chargers for phones. I mounted the control device for my inverter there as well. It looks like a little radio.

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I was cold on my last camping trip so when my SS check came last week I purchased a regulator and hoses so I could install my propane tanks and finally fire up my little RV furnace. I put together my hitch mounted cargo carrier and loaded propane tanks, generator and some gas cans. I strapped things down real tight and weaved a security cable through everything. I had been thinking about building a lockable wooden box to secure everything, but this van is really getting heavy. So I just covered this stuff with a $10 tarp and some kind of bungee net to hold it down.
I pulled out of the back yard driveway into the front driveway and proceeded to back into the garage door support pillar.
Luckily there was a folding chair there to absorb some of the impact. The cargo carrier is a bit lopsided now, but still seems able to carry the weight.  

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Today I went to the local dump/garbage transfer station. They have a truck scale there and I got the guy to give me the weight on the rear two tires. It read 5500 lbs for the two rear tires. On the way out, I put just the drivers side rear tire (the heavier side, water tank, ect) on the scale and it read 2780.
I was quite interested to see how close I was to the rated weight that the tires can handle. I am really close! the tires can handle 3040 lbs at 80 psi.
I have the van all loaded up for my next adventure and about 30 gallons of water, full gas tank plus 20 gallons of gas in cans.
The van drives okay, but the rear is sitting slightly lower than the front, maybe an inch or two.  I see I am going to have to be getting a couple of those air bags sometime soon to help lift the rear back to even with the front.
[-] The following 2 users say Thank You to S Cello for this post:
  • rvpopeye (10-02-2018), Blacktank (10-02-2018)
Your next adventure?

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