Solar collector on a tow vehicle

The Perfect Tow Vehicle is going to be a solar energy powerhouse on wheels!

The Perfect Tow Vehicle is a 2005 Chevy Express 1500.

Plans are underway . . .

A 200 watt, 27.5 volt, 7.28 amp solar panel will be mounted on the roof of the Perfect Tow Vehicle by putting it on a roof rack. The solar panel will have a tilt mechanism to allow for optimum energy collection.  The panel will be connected to a 15 amp solar charge controller which will be connected to two, 12 volt, 75 amp hour, AGM Optima batteries.  The 3000 watt inverter that is already affixed to an interior wall of the PTV, in front of the right wheel well (This inverter came with the PTV when I bought it) will connect to the batteries to make 120 volt AC that is accessed through the Casita’s power cord.

I’ll use the same cord from the Casita that I presently use to hook to shore power.  The PTV cord will come out the back window to make the connection.  I’ll plug the Casita cord to the PTV cord!  Voila!

Putting the solar panel on the PTV rather than on the Casita has a few advantages.

No holes are drilled in the Casita.  The PTV’s roof is flat; the Casita’s is curved.  I can position the PTV in the most advantageous position for collecting solar power, regardless of how the Casita is positioned. The Casita can be in the shade while the PTV is in the sun.  Batteries are not taking up space in the Casita.  When I’m driving around in the PTV, the batteries are being charged by the sun!

What’s more, the inverter is already wired to the engine battery (It looks like it was factory ordered that way.), which means I could, if need be, charge the batteries by turning on the PTV’s engine . . . kind of like a generator.

That was a rough outline of the solar set-up plans.

I didn’t include all the components in my explanation, things like fuses and circuit breakers and the temperature sensor.  I’d probably explain it wrong if I tried to include a more detailed description.  You didn’t think I put this all together by myself, did you?

Ever since I decided to be a fulltime vagabond, my life has been “charmed.”

I seem to be in the right places at the right time for good things to happen.  People appear out of nowhere to help me. They give me things.  If I have a problem, someone comes along and solves it.  It’s mind-boggling.  Someday I’ll write a post about these “coincidences.”  Anyway.

Mick Kent is part of my charmed life.  He’s a guy who went to the same elementary, junior high, and high school that I attended in upstate New York, but I’ve never met him in person.  He now lives in Tennessee.  We’ve only communicated online.  It just so happens that this guy Mick is an electronics engineer  . . . .  Now how fortuitous is that!

He’s the brains behind my solar set-up!

I’ll tell you more about the development of the solar set-up another time.  I want to give you a glimpse of some work that’s being done to make solar happen for me and the crew!

Mick is fabricating the tilt mechanism for the solar panel. Here four shock mount clevis's are being cut. Notice the line of metal curlicues flying away in a straight line.

This is the adjustment strut for the mechanism that will tilt the solar panel at the correct angle to the sun. Notice the 15 - 55 degree markings on the strut.

I plan to show you all the parts, their specs, and links to where they were purchased.  I also plan to post photos of the installation process.  Today I worked on the custom battery box.  More about that in tomorrow’s post.

The crew and I have lived at Elephant Butte State Park for quite a few days. 

It’s a beautiful place to live, but I admit I’m getting itchy to move on down the road again.  However, I can’t think of a better reason for us to stay put.  We’re getting SOLAR!

The crew and I have a view of Turtleback Mountain from our back yard.



About rvsueandcrew

Fulltime nomad
This entry was posted in Bridget The Widget, Casita, Simple living, Tow Vehicle and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to Solar collector on a tow vehicle

  1. Darrell says:

    Sue; Your comment about people showing up when you need them reminds me of the “angels” that Malia Lane of “Malia’s Miles” talks about. Over the years she has described just what your talking about with your “coincidences”. I think it is neat. I think you’ve made a wise choice with putting the panels on the van.

  2. Sue: You are experiencing synchronicity at its best. It is so obvious you are on the path you were meant to be, but then you’ve known that all along…
    The info on the solar is fascinating! You are already a pro at fulltiming – and to think I’m still intimidated by the dumping process. (thanks for the pictorial guide the other day, btw). LOL! I’m learning so much from reading your blog!
    — Jool

  3. Old Fat Man says:

    Please keep in mind that for many places running your engine to charge the batts is counted the same as a generator running. The same generator time or do not use restrictions apply to a vehicle engine running to charge the batts. For example from Bibe rules “Generator use and the use of idling vehicles to generate power are allowed in designated areas between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.”

  4. Rubbertramp says:

    That is a very clever setup Sue! I can see people who already have solars on their RVs (me?) set up their tow vehicles your way and have additional power for whatever. Great job… I’ll be watching and learning! Jack

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hi, Jack!

      It is very clever, but don’t give the credit to me! I wouldn’t have a clue how to do this. I knew I wanted the solar collector on the van’s roof . . . Working with Mick led to the idea of putting the batteries inside the PTV. And of course I communicated with roadcam for his experience and expertise doing something similar.

  5. Clever and unique! I haven’t heard of this being done before, so that’s exciting!

  6. kayjulia says:

    You sure are going to have a lot of power with that set up you most likely will be fully charged by 10am every day ! I have 270 watts and two batteries and I am usually charged up by 9:30am everyday. I don’t use a lot of power even when I run the TV and laptop computer for hours. I have LED lights and that helps also. You will love your solar power, it will allow more freedom in where you camp.
    Happy Trails

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      I’m pretty sure I’ll have all I’ll need. I’m like you . . .I don’t use a lot of power. I’m looking forward to being set loose from electric hookups.

  7. Pauline says:

    I knew it was Mick!!!! He is absolutely amazing and so inventive. A truly brilliant man. Glad you are now solar.

    • Mick says:

      Do you think we can talk Sue into a BB57Bx ? Thanks for the compliment.

      • Chuck says:

        Mick, Thanks for helping Sue, she is such a nice person. We have friends that are converting a bus and are electronic geniuses and are working on ion/lithium battery installation. If you are interested, I’ll hook ya’ll up. Chuck

        • Mick says:

          Hi Chuck, And thank-you for giving Sue her best birthday ever. I have been watching the lithium battery scene carefully for years. I designed and built caving headlights using LiFePO4 lithium batteries. (the safe chemistry). The problem today is $$$. The developers are trying to re-coop their investment; can’t blame them. I pay $9 each for a battery about “D” size. Here is a link to RV people in Oregon that tested a Li battery. Hello to Geri.

    • rvsueandcrew says:


      Add to that list “the patience of a saint” because every time I don’t understand something, I email him and he explains it . . . again.

      Um… BB57Bx?

      • Pauline says:

        BB57Bx might be a tad big, Mick but maybe you could come up with a smaller version. I love reading how all of you are coming so “involved”…Chuch and Geri now know Mick, Susan met Mick through my alumni website and Mick and I graduated from the same High School and share the same birthday, September 6th, Our hometown is Cambridge New York…Mick is now in Tennessee, Susan in New Mexico and me in Mississippi. I love the internet!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Reine says:

    Slick setup. Remember all the headaches that inverter caused when you first purchased the PTV? NOW you know what was leading toward. As the saying goes, “God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform.” This will be money well spent and you’ll reap the benefits for years to come. Once you get all done, we’ll feel downright primitive by comparison – but our excuse is that we don’t full time.

  9. Bill Kelleher says:

    I am wondering if the PTV cord coming out of the back window might not let rain water inside in a high wind rain storm ?

    Bill Kelleher

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hi, Bill!

      That’s a possibility. If a flat cord is used, the soft, spongy trim where the door edge meets the body might compress enough to allow the cord to go through, letting me close the door on it with the window closed. That might not be necessary though . . . It’s not a great alternative.

      In Georgia I left one of the PTV’s windows open for about a week. (They’re the kind of windows that swing out only about 2 inches.) It rained really hard and the rain didn’t come in. The back windows swing out at the bottom. I’ll have to see how it goes.

  10. Collier Carlton says:

    Sue, Sounds like a great set-up. You should be charging when you are driving as well. Still enjoying your blog and reading it daily. Have fun. Collier

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hi, Collier!

      There are times when driving on an interstate is the best choice. When I have one of those long “interstate days” of monotonous road, I’ll remind myself of all the sunshine hitting the roof.

      You have fun, too.

  11. Chuck says:

    Hooray! Hooray! So happy you have such good friends to help you make such wise decisions! I would love solar, but we don’t boondock that often… mmmm… however, with solar we might boondock more often! 🙂 Geri
    ps I get my computer back today… here’s another hooray! haha!

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hi, Geri!

      Good for you! I know you’ve missed it.

      Do you know my computer is missing two keys? Spike got so irritated with me typing on my laptop (instead of paying attention to HIM) that he pawed the keyboard. Luckily the keys he tore off are the bracket keys. I never use brackets, so no problem. Like I said, a charmed life . . .

      • Bill Kelleher says:

        Is your computer a Dell ? I had one of my key’s just fall off without help.

        “Do you know my computer is missing two keys?”

        Bill Kelleher

        • rvsueandcrew says:

          No, it’s an HP. Spike really attacked it with claws out.

          I remember the Dell computers in my classroom lost keys all the time, with and without help.

          • Geri says:

            Both of my laptops have been Dell, but I have never lost a key! This one is 4 years old! I was having issures with corrupted files!

            • Bill Kelleher says:

              RETRACTION, ( I don’t like getting old )

              I just went out and LOOKED at my laptop and found out that I have a HP not a Dell.

              My last desktop was a Dell. ( Oh well what can I say ) 🙂

              Bill Kelleher

  12. Terry says:

    Hi, Sue –

    So you are itching to get on down the road again?? Which way will you head? I seem to remember that you may go to South Dakota sometime? In any case, I know we will all enjoy reading your further adventures.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hi, Terry!

      I’ll head south at first . . . I might go on over to southwest AZ . . .Yuma . . . I don’t know. I want to stay out of a hard freeze.

      South Dakota .. . probably in late Spring.

  13. Chuck says:

    Left a message for Mick. Sounds like this is going to be a really neat system. Is Bakers doing the installation? Please let us know as we would like to be there and watch. We’ll have him set up ours and check that water problem.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Chip from Baker’s is doing the mechanical installation.. . . putting the roof rack on, and putting the panel together with the tilt mechanism onto the rack. Another person is doing the electrical/battery/controller part. I’ll talk more about this other person in today’s post.

  14. butterbean carpenter says:

    Howdy Sue,
    You can now be a Bob Difley protege– A REAL BOONDOCKER !!!!!!!!! He’s the boondocker’s guru..
    Hope y’all are having a wonderful day!!!!!! Pet the puppies for me…

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hi, Butterbean!

      I don’t mean to be too personal . .. but my curiosity is getting the best of me, so here goes: Are you male or female? I usually have a mental picture formed in my mind of people who write here, even though I don’t know what they really look like. You keep changing gender in my mind! Please settle it once and for all! Thank you.

  15. cathieok says:

    Sue, Last night I thought about you and your “charmed life”, being in the right place at the right time, etc. I have a miserable cold and my coughing was keeping me awake, so was playing a game on my Iphone in bed at 1 a.m., trying not to wake my husband home. Suddenly, I heard water running and figured a toilet was leaking. It kept running and sounded pretty loud. Got up to investigate. Went into the den and water was pouring out from under the bar sink. We had a lot of sopping up to do. While I lay in bed feeling sorry for myself because I couldn’t sleep, my “charmed life” came into play. Thank goodness I wasn’t asleep, or we weren’t on a week long trip. Today I am sitting in my jammies waiting for your next blog!

  16. DAYTON CRUMMEY says:

    Great post! It’s so clear and concise. I’ll look for ward to the parts and links.
    As the commercial says, that’s what friends are for. The super sleuth hidden inside me says there are really no coincidences. But, whatever! It all counts.
    Is the work being done in ToC?

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hello, Dayton!

      I don’t think I’ve welcomed you to my blog …. so here’s a big WELCOME!

      The work is being done here in Elephant Butte in my campsite . . . how handy is that!

  17. Bob says:

    Congratulations on what should prove to be a shining addition to your rv life (pun intended). I’ll look forward to each chapter in your solar project . I hope to have a similar system someday.

    Thanks for sharing,

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