Forget solar storms, solar flares or solar radiation. Flying solar panels are the dangerous new threat that can now literally sit on the roof of your caravan or motorhome. Self-build (bus) camper Facebook groups, YouTube vloggers and travel bloggers, are you reading along?
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Solar panel flies through the air
On December 22 last year, extraordinary video footage was posted on the AussieCams YouTube channel showing a large solar panel breaking loose from the roof of a large caravan. The solar panel flies through the air towards the car that follows the caravan. The driver of the car takes evasive action to prevent the panel from hitting him and thereby crashing into the guardrail. The driver of the caravan is apparently oblivious to the near disaster that is happening behind him and drives calmly on. The bizarre images can be seen below.
You would think this could be considered a bizarre incident, but unfortunately the reality is different.
Also American YouTuber, “Nomatic Fanatic” posted a similar video on his YouTube channel. In the video, he described driving through high winds when the incident happened. The screws holding the panel were torn from the roof of the RV by the tremendous force of the wind lifting the panel from below. He was visibly shaken by the incident, aware of the potential danger it posed to any vehicles that might be chasing him.
Fatal accidents due to flying solar panels
No one was injured in both incidents. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about another incident that happened in October last year. According to a police report on the multi-vehicle crash, the accident was caused after one of the vehicles lost control while trying to dodge a solar panel that came off the roof of a RV. That incident, which took place in Tasmania, Australia, tragically took the lives of three people, including one child, and hospitalized four others.
Police said the RV's driver was unaware of the crash and that he and his family were understandably distraught over what had happened.
Travel bloggers and vloggers are partly responsible
The problem of unsafe or incorrectly mounted rooftop solar panels is well known throughout the industry. The problem seems to be most common with second-hand motorhomes or DIY bus campers where owners have installed solar panels on the roof themselves.
People are often afraid to drill a hole in the roof, or they simply do not want to drill in a roof so as not to cause damage or leaks. They think it can be done with only a strong glue. In principle, this is also possible, provided it is done professionally and all kinds of peripheral matters are taken into account. The adhesive should also be checked regularly.
This video, however well intentioned, is exactly where the problem lies.
Unfortunately, in addition to the many do-it-yourself YouTube videos, there are also many travel bloggers who convert a bus themselves and recommend gluing the panels without drilling. Unfortunately, it is often not accurate with pre-cleaning, adding the adhesive layer, or the temperature outside is too high or too low during gluing. I recently found this out myself when I was looking for information about solar panels for my own camper, I was amazed at the ease and speed with which people 'just' put a solar panel on their roof. I therefore decided not to take any risks and called in a professional company with expertise.
It will happen to you that such a solar panel comes loose from your roof. I should not think about it! It may not be an immediate problem for you, but it is for those behind you. You just read how dangerous it can be, you don't want that on your conscience, do you?
Provide both a mechanical and chemical connection
If you don't want to take any risk, make sure you have both a chemical and mechanical connection to attach a solar panel to the roof of a motorhome. In other words, solar panels are best screwed or glued to the roof.
For a typical 150 watt solar panel you should use a minimum of 2 screws per bracket, 4 brackets and one tube of polyurethane glue per panel. You use proper brackets that are also glued and screwed to the solar panel itself. The brackets are then glued and screwed to the roof and then more glue is used over the base to make the assembly watertight.
The adhesive must be a high-quality product, such as a brand name such as Sikaflex. Properly pre-treating the surface is also very important and includes thorough cleaning and, in many cases, priming with a bonding or bonding enhancer. The thickness of the adhesive between the bonded surfaces and the temperature at which the adhesive is cured all play a critical role in the process. You really have to know what you are doing and unfortunately too many mistakes are made here. Due to a lack of time or simply because people really want to install the solar panels that day, while the weather and temperature do not actually allow it.
Have the installation performed by a professional
I would therefore advise everyone to have the installation of the solar panels carried out by a professional. Even if you are quite handy and you can save a few hundred dollars by doing it yourself, I would again think very carefully about it. You don't want to gradually get a short circuit because you have not installed something well enough, or have used the wrong cables that turn out not to be able to handle the peak power. That is on top of the danger of losing a solar panel along the way.
No regulations, rules or standards
Inherent in the problem is that there are no regulations or standards in the caravan and motorhome industry. The RDW does not look at your solar panels, even with a regular MOT no one actually cares about your solar panels. This and the many travel bloggers and vloggers who in flawed YouTube videos and blogs tell and show how to install a solar panel yourself, is the main reason that there has been a proliferation of do-it-yourselfers who lose solar panels along the way.
Any caravan or motorhome owner should check their rooftop solar panels to make sure they are properly secured before going on holiday. I think this is good advice, especially if you want to avoid becoming the next star of another YouTube video yet to be uploaded…