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Free 600-Watt Solar System Plans (Full-time Vanlife)


Download the higher resolution wiring diagram here.

These Free DIY plans will show you everything you need to know to install 600-watt solar system on your camper van, RV, or off-grid cabin.

Summary

This Solar System is ideal for people who…

  • Live and work full-time from their vehicles (Digital Nomads)
  • Prefer not to worry if they have enough power
  • Don’t spend much (or any) time plugged in at campgrounds

Skill Level: Advanced
Cost: $4000+
Capability: 180 Amps/day @ 12Volts (2160 Watt)

This Solar System uses three individual 200 Watt solar panels, which when combined – can produce up to 180 ah (amp hours) of energy per day with maximum sunlight. With the addition of a DC-DC charger, this solar system can produce an additional 40 ah for every hour of driving that you do.

This solar system is also designed to use an inverter/charger combo from Renogy (50 amp MPPT solar charge controller). This allows you to plug in common household appliances (120 volts) and charge the batteries through a standard wall outlet.

Project Overview

Before we begin, let’s get an overview of what we’re building. It’s best to think of a solar system as being 3 separate parts. We will build each of these sections separately and connect them together at the end.

The Solar Array is composed of three 200 watt solar panels, wired in series for maximum efficiency.

The Main Component Board is the “power distribution section” of your system. This is mounted inside your van.

The Battery Bank is your energy storage section. To stay off-grid it’s best to have a big battery bank to store lots of energy.

Components needed for this project

Here is a list of everything needed to build this project.
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Battery Bank

Component Board

Step One – The Main Component Board

In the first step, you’ll create your component board. Create this by mounting your charge controller, DC-DC charger, 12-volt fuse panel, and any other components you can reasonably fit onto a board or inside of an enclosure.

Pre-wiring these components in your house or workshop will save you time and headache later because you won’t be crawling in tight spaces trying to fit everything perfectly. This picture is an example of how you can arrange your components on a board to make the layout less complicated.

For installing the component board in your van, pick an easily accessible area with good airflow. Since your 12-volt fuse panel is mounted here, relatively easy access in the middle of the night is essential if you need to change a blown fuse.

Pay attention to the fuse locations in the diagram. The fuses are where they are for a reason. If you look at the solar charge controller and the DC-DC charger, the fuses are mounted very close to the actual component.

That’s because these components are considered power sources, and fuses should be mounted close to the power source. In a system fault, the fuse will blow, and anything after the fuse should be protected.

Step Two – Building the Battery Bank

Next, we’ll build our 12-volt battery bank. Please wear safety glasses anytime you’re working around the batteries.

The battery cables must be kept short, ideally under 3 feet from the battery to the busbar. The inverter cables should also be kept within 3 feet of the busbars.

For the batteries choose a secure location in your van while considering cable run lengths. Ideally, you’ll want a space that receives good airflow but is also protected from loose objects rolling around. You need to be positive that nothing can accidentally fall on the batteries and loosen or short out the terminals.

LiFePo4 batteries cannot be charged below 0°C (32°F), otherwise, their charge capacity will be damaged. If you’re using LiFePo4 batteries, it’s best to keep them mounted in an area that will stay above freezing temperatures.

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Traditional lead-acid batteries (AGM batteries) produce small amounts of hydrogen gas while being charged. For this type of battery, it’s even more important to maintain good airflow, as the concentration of hydrogen gas will reach a dangerous level if enclosed in a small space. Make sure gas can escape upwards, and fresh air can be pulled in from lower on the enclosure.

The battery bank in this system is 12 volts – so if you’re using more than one battery you’ll need to wire them in parallel. This means positive terminals will connect to positive terminals, and negative terminals connect to negative terminals.

Starting with the positive cable, your main fuse needs to be mounted close to the main positive cable coming from the battery bank. How close? Usually within 18 Inches is acceptable, but the closer the better. Any wiring between the battery and the fuse is not protected from short-circuiting, so keep this wire length short.

After the fuse, it’s a good idea to install a main cut-off switch. This makes maintenance, long-term storage, and repairs much easier and safer. And after the cut-off switch, you’ll connect directly to a busbar. This busbar distributes power to the rest of your components.

On the negative cable,  install the shunt/ battery monitor (if you’re using one). The shunt needs to come directly after the battery, so no electrical components should be mounted between it and the battery bank. After the shunt, the negative cable will connect to the negative busbar.

Step Three – Building the Solar Array

This system uses three 200-watt solar panels wired in series. Wiring your solar panels in series will raise the voltage of the solar array allowing it to charge your batteries with less available sunlight. Click here to learn more about series vs. parallel installations.

If you wish to use a different solar panel configuration, feel free to do it. Just remember the size of the solar array needs to match the size of the solar charge controller, otherwise, there can be a fire hazard.

We recommend mounting your panels to a roof rack or using purpose-built solar panel mounts that bolt onto the roof of your vehicle. A bolted connection is, in our opinion, a safer way to mount your panels. You can, however, mount your panels using plastic mounts, VHB tape, and Sikaflex like many other people do. We just prefer bolts ourselves.

The solar array cables will enter the vehicle through a cable entry gland and then tie into the main component board through the DC circuit breaker. When you are ready to connect the solar cables to the circuit breaker, make sure the breaker is in the off position.

In the next section, we do our final connections and check that everything is working properly.

Step Four – Final Connections and Testing

Now, that the three sections of the solar system are completed, all that is left is to connect them together. But before connecting them, turn off the main cut-off switch (battery) and the DC circuit breaker (solar array).

Check all the wiring and connections one last time to be sure that everything is tight and correctly installed. It pays to double-check your work before you commit.

Once you’re finished with your checks, connect the main battery cables to the main component board. Keep the switches in the off position.

Next, connect the solar cables to the DC circuit breaker.

Go back to the main cut-off switch and turn it to the on position. Your inverter, solar charge controller, and DC-DC charger should now “turn on” (the indicator lights should be illuminated).

Once you’re satisfied with this step, flip the DC circuit breaker on, to allow the solar array to begin charging. If there is sufficient sunlight your charge controller will indicate that it is charging. And that’s it, you’re ready to go off-grid.

Conclusion

If you need a powerful yet compact solar system to go completely Off-Grid for long periods of time, a 600 Watt system is a solid choice to build. A system this size is ideal for people who:

  • Live and work full-time from their vehicles (Digital Nomads)
  • Prefer not to worry if they have enough power
  • Don’t spend much (or any) time plugged in at campgrounds


Download the free wiring diagram above to view the system layout with wire sizes included.


Use this list which includes everything you’ll need to build this solar system.

Other Useful Resources

Guide to Wire Size Selection Learn to size your wires the uncomplicated way. Learn more…
Guide to Fuse Size Selection Fuses protect your investment. Learn how to size them quickly and easily. Learn more…
The Basics of Solar Energy The bare minimum knowledge, in less than 10 minutes. Coming Soon…

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