OK so fast forward about a month and I find myself on the Cayuse Ranch camping on a beautiful patch of rolling prairie, as a guest of Eddie Glonek and his family. With gorgeous views to the east of the Missouri Buttes and Devils Tower, I was camping on-location on what was nick-named “Solar Hill”, because it was the location of many a successful solar install.
Along with The Glonek’s, I was also camping with John & Brenda (more on their solar setup later) as well as Kim & Jesse, all folks that have had Eddie do some install work (solar and general work) in the past, and more work scheduled when our job was complete.
This was a lovely place to camp off the grid, quiet and dark with horses and cows wandering through camp (from the ranch) as well as an unbelievable number of pronghorn.
After getting set up at camp on Tuesday evening, Eddie did a quick walk-through of our Rockwood Mini Lite 2104S, as well as all the parts and components I had brought and we made a work plan for Wednesday morning.
Eddie got started on Wednesday morning with the battery install and layout. This involved creating custom-made battery cables out of the #2/0 cable that I had brought.
Eddie has a little mobile workshop that happens to have an I-Beam chunk in it, perfect for pounding out cable connections. This workshop also has a space to make custom parts (such as our aluminum footer rails for the batteries and our Antenna mount).
Eddie used this style of tinned copper connectors for all of his terminal ends, along with a healthy helping of Noalox (to keep any moisture or oxidation from happening) as well as heat shrink wrapping all ends (with a black or red wrap for later visual identification of the overall system)
Having properly made connections is very important for the long-term maintainability of the system.
Eddie was starting to layout the basics of the system components, placing the panel disconnect (this acts as a service disconnect, to drop all incoming power from the panels) and solar controller. In the picture below, Eddie is looking for a good location to anchor down the solar controller breaker.
Eddie also then built all the cabling for the batteries (2 x 100ah Battle Born LiFePO4 in series) as well as between the battery and the system disconnect. As you can see between the battery and the disconnect we have the Class T 300 amp fuse. Why this Frankenstein looking thing ? Well, as the guys over at Bestconverters.com state :
Class T Fuse Blocks are designed to provide code compliant over-current protection for mobile applications. It protects the battery bank, inverter and cables from damage caused by short circuits and overloads. It uses a fast acting, current limiting class T fuse cartridge which provides instantaneous protection in the event of a short circuit but also employs a time delay to allow momentary current surges common in inverter applications.
Eddie custom cut some Aluminum angle and attached it to the floor inside the compartment. He used this to create a simple frame with which to anchor the batteries with cam straps. Another feature of this setup was to have the capability to easily remove the batteries (for service or potentially to bring indoors for long-term winter storage).
At this point, we took a short break from the system layout to do a test placement of the panels. The purpose of this layout at this point, was to make a decision about where to do the drop from the roof, through the trailer, and then down to the solar controller.
A decision had to be made prior to actually attaching the panels to the roof : Should we bother to do panel tilt setup ? I didn’t actually bring the correct feet to do this, but Eddie can custom make them. His feet look something like these, but it would take time and energy for Eddie to whip these up in the field. Although it does make a large difference in efficiency to have the tilt option, it really is a bit of a hassle to crawl up on the roof and monkey with the hardware to do the tilt. Its also really only needed in early Spring and late Fall. Also, only having 400 watts, there was some discussion about potentially adding a 5th unmounted panel that could be set out and moved and angled when needed. Therefore, I decided to not go with the tilt, which saved some time, money and makes things simpler.
In the end, the configuration below was changed slightly. As you can see in the picture : Eddie has the 2 smaller Renogy panels at the front, and the 2 longer Renogy panels towards the middle. Due to a possible shadow from the radio antenna, we actually ended up with the smaller panels on the passenger side (awning side) and the longer panels on the driver side. The panels were to be placed on the outside edge to allow for walking room on the roof, as well as easy access from a ladder (from the side of the trailer) to clean the panels periodically.
wrapping up day 1, Eddie did the cabling and basic layout of the Inverter. The inverter isn’t really nailed down yet, but its wired up to the battery via the 2 way disconnect switch.
This was about as far as we had gone on day one. After only one day, I can say that I’m extremely impressed with Eddie’s work. He was very patient about explaining every aspect of the system design, involving me in the major layout and configuration choices. Eddie works at an efficient pace, but never rushing and always trying to perfect and beautify the system as he goes.
Being that he and his family lives off the grid in a 5th wheel, he is a plethora of insight, tidbits and helpful nuggets of knowledge when it comes to “dry camping” or “boon docking”.
Day one done ! Looking forward to the next steps.