Boris Gets New Solar Panels

Since Boris the Bus is turning 40 soon (he’s a ’71 VW bus), we thought it was time to pimp him out with some new gear – like solar panels! Although they don’t create enough power to charge the bus, they create enough energy while we’re on the road to charge lights, fans, iPhones, and iPads – because that’s what camping’s all about. We can go without running water, but go without Facebook or Twitter? I don’t think so.

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Harbor Freight Solar Panels »

Mike got Boris’s solar panel kit from Harbor Freight. It was on sale for
My very very say highly improved perozide will product, you little awesome.

$159 for a set of 3, which is a great price. Mike is demonstrating how heavy the were – they’re mostly made of glass.

Unboxing the goodies – there was an unnecessary amount of styrofoam.

Each solar panel was labeled “solar panel”. Just in case you forgot what you spent your money on.

The back of the solar panel.

The specs are labeled on the back. Each solar panel has a maximum output of 15W.

The solar cells are attached to the backside of the glass.

Each solar panel has a thin aluminum frame.

The box of hardware that came with the kit.

The controller, two lights, and all the wires.

The front of the controller has a readout of the energy that is being produced, and even has a USB port. We usually average about 14 volts.

The solar panels and car battery connect to the back of the controller.

It comes with two fluorescent lightbulbs. That’s being powered by the sun! Cool, right?

It came with a stand for the panels, which we didn’t use since it was going to be mounted on the top of the bus.

It fits all three panels perfectly across.

He’s thinking about it. Very hard.

The panels are

glued onto Ikea bed slats with silicone, which are in turn glued to the roof with Liquid Nails. The slats are also bolted to the roof for extra strength. Metal brackets are a safety mechanism in case the glue fails.

Mike’s Instructions for Mounting Solar Panels on the Bus

I also bought the HF panels, mostly because they were cheap ($160 for the kit).

I thought about using brackets, etc. to hold the panels down on my fiberglass top, but nothing seemed like it would be super strong since the roof is so thin and flexible. I ended up using liquid nails in combination with some drywall anchors to mount a few IKEA bed slats that I got a while ago for things just like this. The anchors I used sort of flowered open on the inside, and gave me a threaded socket in the surface of the roof to bolt into. You can see in the picture I routed the edge of the slats so I get better gas mileage. ;)

Once I had the wooden slats bolted and the glue dried, I used silicone indoor / outdoor caulk to attach the panels to the wooden slats. The slats gave me the strong, non-flexing surface for the panels to mount onto, as well as provided material for me to screw little metal brackets into as a safety precaution should the silicone fail. I picked silicone for the panels because it can be cut & scraped off if I should break a panel or something like that. I’m not really that concerned if the wooden slats ever come off of the roof. Before I put the panels on, they looked like roof rack rails, and they seem to help stiffen the roof.

The whole thing is rock solid, I can shake the bus by the panels and there are no rattles, etc. I’ve gone on a long trip with

these like this, and it worked like a charm.

My only problem is it adds a lot of weight to the pop-top, but since mine wasn’t really staying open on it’s own anyhow, I figured I’d beef the system up when I get around to actually repairing it so it can handle the extra weight.

On a side note, I’ve used 3M VHB or Very High Bond tape, and it’s crazy strong. You do need quality surfaces for it to adhere to.

Posted on The Samba

It took about half an hour to set it up, and about 3 hours to mount it onto the camper top. Mike is happy. All I did was observe and take photos.

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Harbor Freight Solar Panels »


Got something to say? Feel free, I want to hear from you! Leave a Comment

  1. Mike says: (Author)

    Great post! It feels good to see the photos and know it’s all done, haha. Maybe you can update with another photo once the controller is mounted into the side of the backseat pod.

  2. Paula is QuiteCurious says:

    Sure thing!

  3. Thats a nice upgrade ;D!

  4. Paula Chang says:

    @Chris: Unless we're camping in death valley, we're going to need a LOT of solar panels for that. Haha!

  5. Ash Kiel says:

    Death Valley is actually pretty nice. When I went last year during August, it was about to rain so it wasn't too hot.

  6. Paula Chang says:

    @Ash: I've been there too, but I was in a car with air conditioning then! I'd love to go again, actually.

  7. Ash Kiel says:

    My mom and I went in a truck with the windows down :D We wandered around for a bit through some of the big crevices from the rain. And then it started to rain! It's was amazing. I'd love to take a road trip to the Grand Canyon again. It was a magical experience for me the last time I went.

  8. Nobu Haga says:

    Very cool. Totally pimped.

  9. Steven G. says:

    I just bought these solar panels.. Good deal. I’m using them up in northern michigan for my ham radio set up.

  10. Pam Rieli says:

    We don’t have a name for our converted schoolbus camper, but it is the next candidate for a mobile version of our solar turbogenerator CHP system. Through our New Turbine Workshop at we are showing DIY’ers how to build low-cost solar troughs, 1-kW Tesla turbine-permanent magnet generators & related cost-saving projects based around our turbogenerator designs.

    Our free online Phoenix Turbine Builders Club is where the action began. Since 2000 we’ve been leading people in 80+ countries toward energy efficiency, do-it-yourself power & heat, and a Free Energy lifestyle powered by the sun. Check it out at – You’ll find DIY solar turbogenerator plans & more!

  11. Alisa says:

    Wow!That’s a great deal on the solar panels and I like how Mike installed it on the roof.

  12. Bruce Monger says:

    I like what u did w/solar panles. Are they mounted permently> won’t they break? How many batt do you use now?

  13. Mike says: (Author)

    @Bruce Monger
    The panels are semi-permanent. I used a heavy duty mastic to stick down the wooden rails, but I just used indoor / outdoor silicone to adhere the panels themselves. I can always use a knife and cut away the silicone should one of the panels break or need replacing. They’re in a spot that doesn’t flex much at all, especially with the wooden rails reinforcing them, so I’m not worried about breaking. However, if a big bird decided to drop a coconut on the bus–that might not work out so well.

  14. Wheels Up Dave says:

    Mike, excellent setup. Nice work. One question I have is: How does the inverter fit into all of this? How is it hooked up? And do you know what it does?

  15. Wheels Up Dave says:

    oops… appears that was three questions…sorry.

  16. Mike says: (Author)

    For now I’m just plugging the inverter into the charge controller (there’s a 12V socket on the front of it.) I’m only using a 150W inverter because all we do with it is charge laptop computers or other small electronics. Eventually I’ll wire the inverter into the bus’ interior AC sockets so I can flip a switch between inverter and external power.

  17. solar cells these days are not yet very efficient in generating electricity”-*

  18. Mike says: (Author)

    @Thomas Williams
    I agree. I’d love to get some super efficient film cells one day. Maybe cover the entire bus! The HF panels will have to do until then.

  19. Steve L says:

    Thanks for posting all the great pictures Mike. I am using this kit for our goat barn. The barn is an old steel silo and the angle of the roof is such that I mounted the panels right to the roof. We use a deep cycle marine battery and a 400W inverter to light the barn for feeding, etc. I also have an outlet for brief power tool usage.

    I love the way you mounted your panels to the bus!

  20. Sean says:

    Love what you did for your install. I have on order from Walmart a pair of 12Volt electric blankets for $25ea. So many have lost their homes and could use these panels to power blanket, radio lights. Not for the homeless that are insane sleeping rough (nothing but what can be scrounged in trash) but those that have a boat, car, motorcycle, or bicycle with trailer&tent. More will need these to power their cell, laptop it might be their only chance to feel like they are right at home if only for a little while. When you are out there you need very little but it seems impossible to get the things you need. If you are facing homelessness do this little bit to insure you have some comforts it is a real cruel world once you get there so many people out there make their money off of the homeless you would shocked the bottom feeders that keep them there.

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  23. Chris says:

    So great! This is the first time I have seen an installation of solar panels on a bus; it’s been a plan of mine to eventually fit my Westfalia’s top similarly, so it’s nice to see it done so well.
    Excellent post, and excellent blogging! I really enjoy your writing / documenting style.

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