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Installing a Solar Panel System

Above: The connectors and resettable circuit breaker was included in the kit

This system is nearly identical to the one in the Northstar and, with the three-port solar panel junction box, would allow us to upgrade to two panels (300 watts) or even three panels (450 watts) in the future.  That said, we do not anticipate needing more than one 150 watt panel.

Team Emerick

With a never-ending goal of living as simply as possible, we live in a HOA townhouse community.  This allows us to turn off the water, drain the plumbing, adjust the thermostat, lock the doors, pack the camper, and go.  Our neighbors keep an eye on the homestead, and the HOA keeps the snow, leaves, and lawn in check.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is that our HOA doesn’t permit us to keep our truck camper rig in front of our house for more than a few hours.  Other than loading up and filling with water, we are not permitted to work on our rig, or park it overnight.  We normally keep our rig in a storage lot, which costs us about $50 a month, and work on it at friends’ houses, or industry venues.  Everything in life has compromises.

For the installation of the Zamp solar panel system, we visited Tom and Pat Emerick.  Tom is a retired Plant Facility Manager from Allen Organ, and happens to own an Arctic Fox 990.  He and his son, Michael, have also refurbished an older Adventurer truck camper.  Between the Arctic Fox and the Adventurer, Tom is always working or modifying something.

When we told Tom about our solar panel system, he offered to help.  Tom and Pat’s sons, Donny and Michael, also volunteered to help with the installation.  With Team Emerick on board, we were ready to go.

Pre-Installation Planning

Most single or double panel solar panel systems are installed by professionals who regularly install solar panels in a few hours.  Since this was our first time installing a solar panel system, and we regularly stop for photography and note taking, we gave ourselves a full day.  After the experience, we recommend blocking off at least a full day for the task.

Zamp solar panel diagram

Above: The diagram in the Zamp instructions for the install – click to enlarge

First, we went to the battery compartment and disconnected our camper battery bank.  We took off the main negative cable and then the main positive cable.  By disconnecting the battery bank cables in this order, you prevent the possibility of electric shock during the installation.  The camper should also be disconnected from 110 volt shore power.


Then, we measured the dimensions of the Zamp 150-watt solar panel.  It measured 26.5” wide by 58.25” long.  Fortunately, our eleven-foot floor plan offered plenty of roof real estate options to place a panel of this size.

Since we wanted to leave room for adding more panels in the future, we placed the single panel where it would fit best and work in a two or three panel installation.  Again, we only anticipate needing one 150-watt panel given our positive experience with the 150-watt installation on the Northstar, and similar experiences with other solar-equipped truck campers.

For efficiency, we decided to place the single panel and junction box on the driver’s side front.  An additional panel could later be placed on the passenger’s side front leaving just enough space between the panels to walk and inspect roof seals.  A third panel is not likely, but could be added on an available space towards the rear of the camper roof.


Above: The 30-amp 5-stage PWM (pulse width modulation) solar charge controller with LCD display – click to enlarge

Once the locations for the roof mounted solar panel and junction box were determined, we moved inside the camper to plan where the Zamp solar controller should be mounted.  We considered several factors including (a) where we wanted the controller to be located, (b) where it would be easiest to run the required wiring, and (c) avoiding propane lines, heat ducting, and plumbing.

After nixing a few locations that conflicted with the above requirements, we found an inset panel area under the wardrobe closet.  This would be a relatively convenient location for daily observation, was directly underneath the planned junction box installation point, and was suitably distant from anything that would interfere with it.

Tom was pleased that the wire run distances between the solar panel, junction box, and solar controller would be kept as short as possible.  As he explained, the solar panel system would preserve more of the power it collected from the sun if the wire lengths between the panels, junction box, controller, and batteries were kept to a minimum.

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