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Old 11-28-2021, 08:46 PM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: May 2021
Location: South Carolina
Posts: 42
Year: 2005
Chassis: Thomas (37 ft)
Engine: 5.9 Cummins
Mounting Solar

I've been scouring the internet on the best way to mount my solar panels. I currently have 4 170w panels measuring 58.3" x 26.4" x 1.38". Although I would like to add two more in the future. I'm trying to keep that in my plans because what I'm going for isn't going to be easily changed once it's made.

I found and fell in love with the way this blog has tiltable panels: https://www.buslifeadventure.com/tip...t-solar-panels

However, I'm wondering if their support system is strong enough? Just piano hinges and some L brackets?

So, my tweaks to their lovely plan go as follows:
1) Build an angle iron frame (to include room for the extra 2 panels I don't have yet) to go around all the panels because I don't trust their stock aluminum frame to hold up in transit.
2) Bolt the panels together within the frame, and to the frame (duh)
This is where I'm iffy
3) Bolt 4 sets of superstrut into the ribs of the bus along the same lines where the solar panels from that blog are bolted in
4) Bolt the attachments for the finger nuts onto each outer strut on the roof in accordance with the attachment on the angle iron frame. Maybe put 1 or 2 in the center for added stability because mine will be a lot longer than the blogs.
5) Pinao hinge or something of the like bolted to the struts towards the center of the bus, as well as the angle iron frame.
6) Bolt the gas struts to the bus along a rib as well as to the angle iron frame, one on each side.

How does that look to everyone? Its almost entirely the same concept, just with the panels bolted into superstruts bolted into the ribs of the bus, rather than just the panels themselves bolted into the ribs of the bus. And adding more of a frame as well.

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Old 11-28-2021, 09:37 PM   #2
Bus Crazy
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: Orange County, CA
Posts: 1,353
Year: 1990
Coachwork: Crown, integral. (With 2kW of tiltable solar)
Chassis: Crown Supercoach II (rear engine)
Engine: Detroit 6V92TAC, DDEC 2, Jake brake, Allison HT740
Rated Cap: 37,400 lbs GVWR
I have eight 255W panels that are individually tiltable, divided into two arrays of four panels each. Each panel is mounted in a frame of 1.75" x 1.75" x 1/8" 6063 angle; each frame is hinged with stainless hinges to a central walkway that runs between my two roof hatches, and each panel is supported by two stainless telescoping struts that can raise the panels to level, 21, 33 or 45 degrees up. The struts are hinged and pivot at either end, and their lower ends slide in an aluminum T-track that runs parallel to the walkway but close to the outer edge of the roof; this ensures that the struts see no torsional or bending loads at all. The struts use stainless snap buttons for each height setting, and can be easily raised or lowered by hand without tools when I stand on a 6-foot step ladder. The central walkway and the sliding T-track are all through-bolted to the roof ribs with stainless bolts and nylok nuts, and there are two quick-connect outlets for washdown water under the walkway so I can easily and safely wash the panels whenever they need cleaning. When the panels are stowed down against the roof for travel they are at 21 degrees down, and they are secured by locks that prevent any movement while traveling. It was a lot of work to do all this, but the results are worth it!

I strongly suggest mounting each panel in its own support frame, otherwise their combined weight will be much too heavy to raise by hand. Piano hinge is a useful way to make hinges of the exact size needed, but it should be stainless, as should be all fasteners. All metal should be aluminum or SS for corrosion resistance and to avoid needing to be painted.

Good luck, John
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Old 11-28-2021, 10:12 PM   #3
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: May 2021
Location: South Carolina
Posts: 42
Year: 2005
Chassis: Thomas (37 ft)
Engine: 5.9 Cummins
I'm also considering putting the struts along the outside and the latches along the shorter sides instead
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Old 11-28-2021, 10:13 PM   #4
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: May 2021
Location: South Carolina
Posts: 42
Year: 2005
Chassis: Thomas (37 ft)
Engine: 5.9 Cummins
Quote:
Originally Posted by Iceni John View Post
I have eight 255W panels that are individually tiltable, divided into two arrays of four panels each. Each panel is mounted in a frame of 1.75" x 1.75" x 1/8" 6063 angle; each frame is hinged with stainless hinges to a central walkway that runs between my two roof hatches, and each panel is supported by two stainless telescoping struts that can raise the panels to level, 21, 33 or 45 degrees up. The struts are hinged and pivot at either end, and their lower ends slide in an aluminum T-track that runs parallel to the walkway but close to the outer edge of the roof; this ensures that the struts see no torsional or bending loads at all. The struts use stainless snap buttons for each height setting, and can be easily raised or lowered by hand without tools when I stand on a 6-foot step ladder. The central walkway and the sliding T-track are all through-bolted to the roof ribs with stainless bolts and nylok nuts, and there are two quick-connect outlets for washdown water under the walkway so I can easily and safely wash the panels whenever they need cleaning. When the panels are stowed down against the roof for travel they are at 21 degrees down, and they are secured by locks that prevent any movement while traveling. It was a lot of work to do all this, but the results are worth it!

I strongly suggest mounting each panel in its own support frame, otherwise their combined weight will be much too heavy to raise by hand. Piano hinge is a useful way to make hinges of the exact size needed, but it should be stainless, as should be all fasteners. All metal should be aluminum or SS for corrosion resistance and to avoid needing to be painted.

Good luck, John
Do you happen to have photos of your set up? It would be alot easier for me to process if I could see it. Sounds like a really solid build tho!
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Old 11-29-2021, 12:41 PM   #5
Bus Crazy
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: Orange County, CA
Posts: 1,353
Year: 1990
Coachwork: Crown, integral. (With 2kW of tiltable solar)
Chassis: Crown Supercoach II (rear engine)
Engine: Detroit 6V92TAC, DDEC 2, Jake brake, Allison HT740
Rated Cap: 37,400 lbs GVWR
Quote:
Originally Posted by Daybreakbus View Post
Do you happen to have photos of your set up? It would be alot easier for me to process if I could see it. Sounds like a really solid build tho!
Sorry, no photos (I'm photographically challenged!), but here are two YouTube videos that show my bus. The first video is from one of our annual get-togethers a few years ago, and it shows the panels' support frames in place but before I installed the panels into them. My bus is the third one leaving:
The second video shows last year's get-together, and my bus is visible at 5:00, 12:42 and 13:26. It's best to slow the replay speed to 0.25 to more easily stop the video. The left array's front panel is raised to 21 degrees up, a good angle for summer insolation:
I hope these videos give you some idea of what I made. Watch all of the second video - that was a fun day!

John
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Old 11-29-2021, 05:27 PM   #6
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Apr 2020
Location: Southern Indiana
Posts: 38
Year: 2001
Chassis: Blue Bird TC2000
Engine: Cummins 24V 5.9/ Allison 2500
We did our solar panels they way they did in that blog!

We ended up with 4 panels per array rather than the 3 in the blog you mentioned. Ours are the Renogy Eclipse panels, which I think are what is shown in that blog. (40.9 x 21 inches) They are heavy to raise by hand only, but no problem with the gas struts. We ended up using 2 40 lb struts per 4 panel array and that seems to work nicely. We’ve only driven about 2k miles with this setup but it’s going nicely so far.

I will add that the gas struts push the arrays outward when they are lowered to the roof, and that caused some issues with the alignment of our fingernut-to-array fastener holes. The panel mount holes are about 1/4” out of alignment now… Still have to figure out the best way to deal with that.
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Old 12-13-2021, 10:31 AM   #7
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: May 2021
Location: South Carolina
Posts: 42
Year: 2005
Chassis: Thomas (37 ft)
Engine: 5.9 Cummins
Quote:
Originally Posted by Iceni John View Post
Sorry, no photos (I'm photographically challenged!), but here are two YouTube videos that show my bus. The first video is from one of our annual get-togethers a few years ago, and it shows the panels' support frames in place but before I installed the panels into them. My bus is the third one leaving:
The second video shows last year's get-together, and my bus is visible at 5:00, 12:42 and 13:26. It's best to slow the replay speed to 0.25 to more easily stop the video. The left array's front panel is raised to 21 degrees up, a good angle for summer insolation:
I hope these videos give you some idea of what I made. Watch all of the second video - that was a fun day!

John
I think I have a grasp of everything but the telescoping struts and the snaps. Is there anyway you could explain that further or maybe even send links to all the parts you used so I can try and piece it together? The videos aren't close enough to see how it's put together. And I'm having trouble understanding how they lay flat
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Old 01-08-2022, 03:42 AM   #8
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Sep 2019
Location: In my Skoolie
Posts: 49
Year: 2005
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Saf-T-Liner HDX
Engine: Cat C7 7.3L
Rated Cap: 90 Passenger
I made my solar mounting modular by creating two parallel unistrut rails.

Its bolted through the ribs and I used hockey pucks as stand offs so the panels can span over the roof curve.

This design minimizes roof penetrations and allows me to completely change my panels without modifying the roof again.

The bolts and pucks are sealed with sikaflex 221.

I just mounted my panels on the roof but haven't got pictures of it yet.



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Old 03-25-2022, 11:23 AM   #9
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Join Date: Mar 2019
Location: New Orleans, USA
Posts: 56
Year: 1993
Coachwork: Bluebird
Chassis: P30
Engine: 454ci Big Block Chevrolet
How has this setup held up? I like the idea here, and I may copy your idea. Considering that the unistrut rails have an angle something like 30 degrees to the left/righht and relative to the horizontal plane of a structure that would sit on top of them, how did you mount the support structure that holds the panels to unistrut?
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Old 03-25-2022, 01:40 PM   #10
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Sep 2019
Location: In my Skoolie
Posts: 49
Year: 2005
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Saf-T-Liner HDX
Engine: Cat C7 7.3L
Rated Cap: 90 Passenger
Quote:
Originally Posted by craigify View Post
How has this setup held up? I like the idea here, and I may copy your idea. Considering that the unistrut rails have an angle something like 30 degrees to the left/righht and relative to the horizontal plane of a structure that would sit on top of them, how did you mount the support structure that holds the panels to unistrut?
I mounted the unistrut closer in towards the center of the roof. I don’t have an exact measurement but it’s closer to 10-15* If your roof slopes earlier it would be fairly simple to introduce a wedged hockey puck in each stack to bring the angle closer to 0*.

Additionally the use of hockey pucks which are essentially rubber/poly shock absorbers allows for some error in angle and greatly reduce panel vibration as it’s essentially completely isolated from the body. If it wasn’t for the bolts thru the hat channels it would be electrically isolated as welll.

The mounts as of yet are rock solid. No loose panels. Lots of off roading on BLM land. Heavy wind loads. No problems.

It’s mounted on two stacked hockey pucks center punched with 3/8in g5 bolts all the way thru the hat channels. I can rock the bus to the limits of its suspension with the unistrut.

My way of solving my angle problem is using the spring nuts designed for unistrut with 1.25in square washer clamps, they clamp on both or either of the underside of the unistrut lips. It allows the bolt/washer combo to clamp on the solar panels flush.

I used a two stack of pucks specifically to allow the panels to be mounted across the top of the bus without impacting the roof peak. On my roof particularly it creates a 1.5in gap between the panel frames and the roof. Creating a nearly 3in gap from the back of the panels. Gap=airflow/cooler panels/‘less’ heat transfer to the roof.

I will be redesigning my panel clamps in the future, the square washers is what I had on hand at the time.
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Old 03-26-2022, 03:46 AM   #11
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Location: Southern Oregon
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Coachwork: AmTran (Now Navistar)
Engine: DT444E (7.3L) International
Rated Cap: 31,800 pounds
We're looking at a system with four unistrut rails the length of the bus with two at the outer roof edge and two inboard so that we can mount panels length wise and have a wooden walkway between them for cleaning and maintenance. Haven't done any measuring yet but thought we be able to do just one puck at each mount point on the inboard rails. Same idea about sealing with polyurethane (we'll use PL 3X) and bolting through the roof ribs for the inboard rails. Outboards will be bolted through ribs as well though using steel base plates and risers.
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Old 03-26-2022, 12:49 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by enigmamdw View Post
I mounted the unistrut closer in towards the center of the roof. I don’t have an exact measurement but it’s closer to 10-15* If your roof slopes earlier it would be fairly simple to introduce a wedged hockey puck in each stack to bring the angle closer to 0*.

Additionally the use of hockey pucks which are essentially rubber/poly shock absorbers allows for some error in angle and greatly reduce panel vibration as it’s essentially completely isolated from the body. If it wasn’t for the bolts thru the hat channels it would be electrically isolated as welll.

The mounts as of yet are rock solid. No loose panels. Lots of off roading on BLM land. Heavy wind loads. No problems.

It’s mounted on two stacked hockey pucks center punched with 3/8in g5 bolts all the way thru the hat channels. I can rock the bus to the limits of its suspension with the unistrut.

My way of solving my angle problem is using the spring nuts designed for unistrut with 1.25in square washer clamps, they clamp on both or either of the underside of the unistrut lips. It allows the bolt/washer combo to clamp on the solar panels flush.

I used a two stack of pucks specifically to allow the panels to be mounted across the top of the bus without impacting the roof peak. On my roof particularly it creates a 1.5in gap between the panel frames and the roof. Creating a nearly 3in gap from the back of the panels. Gap=airflow/cooler panels/‘less’ heat transfer to the roof.

I will be redesigning my panel clamps in the future, the square washers is what I had on hand at the time.
When you say hockey pucks do you mean something that looks like a hockey puck or an actual hockey puck. A picture would be appreciated.
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Old 03-26-2022, 03:27 PM   #13
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Sep 2019
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Posts: 49
Year: 2005
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Saf-T-Liner HDX
Engine: Cat C7 7.3L
Rated Cap: 90 Passenger
The pictures are above in the thread. I used legit hockey pucks. All the other options were ridiculous, price wise. I bought a box of practice pucks from Amazon for $50.
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Old 03-26-2022, 05:57 PM   #14
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Yup, actual hockey pucks. Brian and Erin of BEAP on YouTube used them on their two inboard rails. We're kind of doing like they did
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Old 03-26-2022, 06:17 PM   #15
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I didn't notice the puck pics. Must not have been logged in which I neglect to do sometimes, my bad.

I also have some pucks I bought a couple years ago, assuming I can find them.

Good idea, thanks.
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Old 03-26-2022, 09:05 PM   #16
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Put "Puck Inspection" on your annual maintenance plan. Using hockey pucks is also a popular po-boy truck body lift trick, but as hockey pucks aren't really designed for it they'll deteriorate over time and there have been folks who had them fail. They won't just crumble a year later, but you may have to replace them after a few years. They don't like UV light and can fracture or split out from the hole.

A better way, pickup truck body lift kits are available for 150 bucks and will have 1, 2 or 3 inch lifting blocks, and can have 10 or 12 in a kit depending on what the kit is designed to lift. It'll also come with bolts, since the truck's existing body mount bolts won't be long enough to do the job. These guys are designed for carrying a thousand or more bouncy pounds for years on end so should have no problem supporting something as comparatively light as solar panels in framework.
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