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Old 04-24-2021, 10:27 AM   #1
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Best Solar Panels for Airstreams

Hello Everyone,

I didn't want to post about this until we had at least a year under our belt using our new solar setup. I know about the problems associated with flexible panels and I didn't want to say anything that wasn't tested.

So here we go.... I first was using a portable 85 watt panel that I took with us in the TV and moved all around to catch the best possible sun position; it worked well for a few years. I always wanted a better system that wasn't so cumbersome but really didn't know what the best route was.

I didn't want to install permanent bulky glass panels for multiple reasons:

1. I don't what to make any more penetrations in the Airstream if I can help it.
2. There is a slight possibility of the panel getting loose on the highway and blowing off the rig, damaging it and possibly hurting others.
3. The Tradewind looks so nice in the way the curves have been made I didn't want to detract from its beauty!

These were the main factors in trying to search for something better. Unfortunately it seemed in all of my research every flexible option turned out to be garbage within 5 years or less. How could they sell this CRAP?!

So more research lead me to find some older types of panels that might fit the bill, but the company who made them stopped and they were now dinosaurs in a fast moving industry. I finally found a company making CIGS panels (MiaSole). After a ton of research into what the difference of these panels were, compared to a readily available flexible panel was, I had been convinced enough to try them out.

Well, they were about 2$/watt and I had to pay 350$ for drop shipping. I had to buy a 10 piece minimum and resell the other 3 I didn't need. That turned out to be no problem. They were expensive but just what I needed.

My wife and I installed them ourselves in just a few hours. I bought a cheap solar crimp tool on Amazon and a few Amphenol Helos4 connectors and it was soooo easy.

I ended up with 7 panels in total on the roof @ 70 watts a piece for a total of 490 watts. I wired them in parallel, in a combiner box I bought on Amazon and used 4awg wire to feed the solar controller. I used the refrigerator exhaust chase to run the wires and didn't penetrate the skin. The combiner box was installed with double sided mastic and also didn't penetrate.

After a year of use they haven't had any problems. We just go back from a trip in the beginning of April in the Sierra Nevada Range in Northern California. We boondocked for 7 days in the woods and had no power problems at all. We used the furnace all night long due to 30 degree nighttime temps, watched one or two movies a night and used lights and pumps. We would draw about 50 amp hours per night and be at full power around 3 pm the next day. Our campsite rarely got full sun and in the beginning of April the Suns azimuth isn't direct.

I think that anyone moving to use solar on their Airstream should seriously consider these panels. We Love Them!!
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Old 04-24-2021, 10:39 AM   #2
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The panels sure look nice against the curved roof. I am watching the performance of these as a future option for our panels.

I hope you can see long term reliability as this tech gets better.
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Old 04-24-2021, 05:34 PM   #3
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Thanks for posting this info. (and noting that they've been in use for a year). I love how they look with the roof contour. I actually removed my roof top A/C because I didn't like how it interupted the lines, so seeing a solar install this low profile really makes me happy.
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Old 04-25-2021, 04:59 AM   #4
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Thanks for posting this as I asked about experience with CIGS panels on another solar thread and basically got 'zip' back.

Having removed the generators from both my motorhomes, and in Bella's case removed all the roof 'furniture' except for two FanTastic fans (AC is via a small 'tiny house unit hidden in the nightstand between two rear twin beds) have been looking for an 'invisible' installation.

One question I have is; GIGS have a useful wavelength range up to around 1100nm but sunlight includes IR region up to around 2500nm and it is that region (1100-2500nm) that is heat. Basically the CIGS panel will absorb and not be able to translate into electrical energy - which is a darn long winded way of asking if they get hot to the touch?

I have already applied Bus Kote to reflect that energy so keen not now attach a heat source to the roof!

Did you get them drop shipped from Japan or Korea? They seem to supply from both regions.
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Old 04-25-2021, 06:47 AM   #5
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get mono crystalline panels over poly panels.
get as much solar on the roof as you can.
use 3M UHB taps to hold the panels down, no holes needed

look into Victron energy for their High quality parts
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Old 04-25-2021, 06:52 AM   #6
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Funny, I thought I was the only nut considering removing the rooftop a/c for aesthetic reasons! Could use the extra space for solar panels but have zero interest in replacing the a/c with a “heater”.

Question for the OP: does this setup transfer heat into the trailer?
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Old 04-25-2021, 07:41 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by martin300662 View Post
Thanks for posting this as I asked about experience with CIGS panels on another solar thread and basically got 'zip' back.

Having removed the generators from both my motorhomes, and in Bella's case removed all the roof 'furniture' except for two FanTastic fans (AC is via a small 'tiny house unit hidden in the nightstand between two rear twin beds) have been looking for an 'invisible' installation.

One question I have is; GIGS have a useful wavelength range up to around 1100nm but sunlight includes IR region up to around 2500nm and it is that region (1100-2500nm) that is heat. Basically the CIGS panel will absorb and not be able to translate into electrical energy - which is a darn long winded way of asking if they get hot to the touch?

I have already applied Bus Kote to reflect that energy so keen not now attach a heat source to the roof!

Did you get them drop shipped from Japan or Korea? They seem to supply from both regions.


Hi there,
Yes the panels do get hot. They are dark black/green and absorb heat. I havenít noticed any real difference in the trailer temp. That aluminum also gets hot!!

These panels are shipped from California. The company was MiaSole.
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Old 04-25-2021, 08:35 AM   #8
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Humboldt Air — Thanks. What are the dimensions of the 70w panels you used?
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Old 04-25-2021, 08:41 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Humboldt Air View Post
Hi there,
Yes the panels do get hot. They are dark black/green and absorb heat. I havenít noticed any real difference in the trailer temp. That aluminum also gets hot!!

These panels are shipped from California. The company was MiaSole.
Thanks Humboldt Air, you nailed my concern. Bus Kote is a white ceramic based coating and reflects rather than absorbing heat. If the GIGC panels get hot it will negate the benefit the Bus Kote.

Maybe because I am in the UK the local MiaSole supplier is Japan or Korea!
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Old 04-25-2021, 09:13 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by field & stream View Post
Humboldt Air ó Thanks. What are the dimensions of the 70w panels you used?


Hi,

These panels were 5í7Ē by 1í2Ē. But if you go to there web site you can find a wide range of sizes. They were very responsive to work with and can accommodate many sizing issues.

Iím not sure about shipping to the UK. You may still get them from the US?? When I was trying to order last year I could only order in bulk from the Asia manufacturers. But things have probably changed by now.
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Old 04-25-2021, 09:56 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Humboldt Air View Post
1. I don't what to make any more penetrations in the Airstream if I can help it.
2. There is a slight possibility of the panel getting loose on the highway and blowing off the rig, damaging it and possibly hurting others.
3. The Tradewind looks so nice in the way the curves have been made I didn't want to detract from its beauty!
As for argument (1) and (2), there are many threads and posts showing how to install panels without the need to drill any holes, done by pros (eg. Lewster) and owners as DIY projects. There hasn't been one post in the past years indicating that a panel that was installed with 3M VHB + Sikaflex has come loose.

As for your 3rd argument, well that has to be your main argument, you have a beautiful trailer and I can understand not wanting to mess around with its pristine lines. For those of us who already have ACs, fans, vents, etc., a few panels is easier to accept!
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Old 04-25-2021, 11:15 AM   #12
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Quote:
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Funny, I thought I was the only nut considering removing the rooftop a/c for aesthetic reasons!
I do think it's easier to get away with out here in Colorado. If I lived in the Midwest or Southeast, I don't think I'd have removed it without a better alternative solution for conditioned (anti-humidity) air.
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Old 04-25-2021, 11:22 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by martin300662 View Post
Thanks Humboldt Air, you nailed my concern. Bus Kote is a white ceramic based coating and reflects rather than absorbing heat. If the GIGC panels get hot it will negate the benefit the Bus Kote.
This may be more trouble than it's worth, but I am considering the possibility of a low profile "stand off" for a thermal barrier. If there were a one inch gap between the panels and the roof, not only would the heat not transfer, but you would effectively be providing "shade" to actually lower the temp. of the roof (at least while driving when there is air moving through the gap).

I was thinking I would use a couple of "bulkheads" that conform to the contour of the roof, rivet a sheet of aluminum to the bulkheads/ribs, and then adhere the panels to that mount.
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Old 04-25-2021, 12:06 PM   #14
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Sounds like a very interesting idea. Sort of a rigid panel but curved to fit the roof profile of the Airstream. I am sure the fixed panel connectors that are glued to roof with the 3M tape and sealant could be used in this case to avoid drilling into the roof panels.
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Old 04-25-2021, 01:36 PM   #15
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For what it's worth, here is a link to PV-Magazine describing a situation late 2019.
Hopefully the issues have meanwhile been solved.

https://www.pv-magazine.com/2019/12/...-global-solar/

Safe travels,

Dick + Blanche Bogaard
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Old 04-25-2021, 02:22 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kidjedi View Post
This may be more trouble than it's worth, but I am considering the possibility of a low profile "stand off" for a thermal barrier. If there were a one inch gap between the panels and the roof, not only would the heat not transfer, but you would effectively be providing "shade" to actually lower the temp. of the roof (at least while driving when there is air moving through the gap).

I was thinking I would use a couple of "bulkheads" that conform to the contour of the roof, rivet a sheet of aluminum to the bulkheads/ribs, and then adhere the panels to that mount.
That is pretty much what Keyair is doing over on the Classic motorhome forum. If you are making that 'close clearance frame' you may as well use flat panels.
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Old 04-25-2021, 02:58 PM   #17
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That is pretty much what Keyair is doing over on the Classic motorhome forum. If you are making that 'close clearance frame' you may as well use flat panels.
Except then you get a "faceted" look for the curve. I agree that it's a subtle difference, but hey, some of us are just that crazy.
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Old 04-25-2021, 03:44 PM   #18
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These panels seem to be far less efficient than standard rigid panels

70w/(67x14) = 0.075w/sq in

A standard Renogy 100w compact panel
100w/(42x19) = 0.125w/sq in

The renogy panels are 66% more efficient, that's a huge margin to justify for most applications.

They do look nice though.
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Old 05-02-2021, 09:26 AM   #19
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These panels seem to be far less efficient than standard rigid panels

70w/(67x14) = 0.075w/sq in

A standard Renogy 100w compact panel
100w/(42x19) = 0.125w/sq in

The renogy panels are 66% more efficient, that's a huge margin to justify for most applications.

They do look nice though.


To really understand all of the benefits of CIGS solar panels I highly suggest everyone do your own research. It isnít as cut and dry as measuring square inches per watt of production and comparing.
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Old 05-02-2021, 10:50 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kidjedi View Post
This may be more trouble than it's worth, but I am considering the possibility of a low profile "stand off" for a thermal barrier. If there were a one inch gap between the panels and the roof, not only would the heat not transfer, but you would effectively be providing "shade" to actually lower the temp. of the roof (at least while driving when there is air moving through the gap).

I was thinking I would use a couple of "bulkheads" that conform to the contour of the roof, rivet a sheet of aluminum to the bulkheads/ribs, and then adhere the panels to that mount.


I had the same concern about heat and the same solution idea when I installed my flex panels. I ended up deciding that the gap didnít need to be that big to provide the desired ventilation and shading and I could accomplish what I wanted with a much simpler solution. I installed the panels with 3M Dual Lock SJ3870 in evenly spaced strips that follow the curve of the roof, allowing a convection air current to flow. SJ3870 has a 1/4Ē engaged thickness, so the panels ďfloatĒ off of the roof by that amount. If you had a less rigid flex panel, like the CIGS look like they might be, attaching a sheet of aluminum with Dual Lock and then gluing the panel to that could work well.
Iíve had my flex the panels installed for nearly two years now with no problems at all and have been in most every weather condition, from snow to Phoenix during severe heat warnings. I think properly selected and installed flex panels have a very undeserved bad reputation on this forum. Itís true that a while back the panels had problems and some installation methods werenít good. Things change. I would never dream of putting rigid panels on an Airstream after my experience with flex.
The first picture here is the Dual Lock strips when I was installing the panels. The second is a picture of the installed panels when I was wiping them off after driving many miles down a dirt USFS road. You can sorta see the air gap under them. That was taken about a year after they were installed. Click image for larger version

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