Low profile solar panel install

Dendisch

Member
I know that aerodynamics is not one of the Sprinters strong points. Still it bothered my personal esthetic taste to put solar panels on top of it that stick straight up. So I used a little different method for installing my solar panels. I wanted a low profile, but still use traditional instead of flexible solar panels.

First I mounted 6” wide 1/8” thick flat aluminum brackets to the roof rails. Instead of spanning the whole roof the brackets extended only to the panels. At the end point they rest directly on the roof with spacers and a small piece of VHB adhesive tape. Three of the four panels were then mounted onto the flat aluminum using the common z brackets. For the angled front panel I shaved off some of the front panel frame to make it thinner. I added some narrow 1/8” aluminum flat and angle pieces to regain the stiffness. For the front right corner I couldn’t attach to the roof rail, because it was already occupied by the awning bracket. I mounted to the awing bracket instead using an angle bracket. The rounded leading edge was created from a 4” ABS pipe section cut. Most of the bolts are M6 stainless steel carriage bolts.

Is it worth it? Making all the custom brackets is for sure a lot more work than using commercially available direct mount brackets (e.g. from Hein). Cost is similar or a little higher. The lower front edge may help a little with fuel economy, but considering the size compared to other extra items such as awning, MaxFan, and window flares the effect is probably barely measurable.

So in summary I really like it but I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody unless you have a lot of extra time at hand and are as crazy about your particular design as I am.

Cheers,
Denis

IMG_8054_from_above.jpgIMG_8742_front_three_from_left_side.jpgIMG_8747_front_right.jpgIMG_7958_bracket.jpg
 

marklg

Well-known member
Actually, the trailing edge is also very significant to the aerodynamics. An abrupt trailing edge can result in disturbed flow and more drag, although there are special cases where they deliberately direct the air from the trailing edge in a certain direction. I can't see much from your pictures as to what is done on the trailing edge. An airfoil has a rounded leading edge and a tapered, long trailing edge.

Regards,

Mark
 

Roamers

2020 4X4 170 Crew
GL, i am considering panel layout like yours, but plan to add filler pieces on both sides of the roof vent to maintain a flat surface.

Thoughts?
 

Dendisch

Member
I have a second piece of aluminum left over that I may use for the trailing end of the panels.
Nice. I like the clean look with the extra trim at the front edge, all in black. I might add something similar later at the panel sides. I'm still not done with my interior, so it's lower on the to do list.
 

Dendisch

Member
Actually, the trailing edge is also very significant to the aerodynamics. An abrupt trailing edge can result in disturbed flow and more drag, although there are special cases where they deliberately direct the air from the trailing edge in a certain direction. I can't see much from your pictures as to what is done on the trailing edge. An airfoil has a rounded leading edge and a tapered, long trailing edge.

Regards,

Mark
Hi Mark, yes, you are right, that's why trucks sometimes have panels at the rear to direct the airflow inwards.
Currently I don't have anything at the trailing edge. When I get to adding fairings to the side I may add one with a very small angle to the rear covering about the length of the MaxFan.
Denis
 

HarryN

Well-known member
It isn't a big deal, but just be aware that on most solar panels, drilling into the side of the panel frame ends the warranty.

I am not sure if warranty even matters as far as a solar panel on a van roof. They take a lot of abuse.
 

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