Originally Posted by almcate
Well, no expert here, but after a year full-timing and finding battery management needing a graduate level instruction set... I've gleaned a little bit. The experts here have great advice, but generally tuned particularly to their own circumstances. Vastly different perspectives. First, my circumstances: working from the road, needing reliable charging for a variety of electronics, and proximity to cellular connection. That's daily life, but about a week a month we head for national parks or places a bit off the grid where the batteries become critical. Installed solar has the drawbacks of being expensive and permantly aimed directly up (which is fine in summer). The remainder of the year, being able to match a portable solar panel ($200-250 for 100W) to the sun angle adds a great deal more efficiency to the Watts produced. Sun between 10am and 2pm is really about the only usable window much of the year and no point wasting 20-40% of the generating potential. Likewise, many park settings have more shade than sun and positioning the portable panels again add a little more flexibility. With the built-in power management included with portable solar, battery charging is also healthier with smart charging. 100W won't power a lot of extras, but to keep batteries topped off for normal lighting and trailer life, it seems just enough. Which leads to those days of overcast or hopeless shade (not otherwise a bad thing) and time to pull out the generator. Honda/Yamaha first picks are great, but as I may go a couple months between use, $900-1,000 was hard to spend. Champion has a very serviceable 2000W generator/invertor in the $500-600 range which has worked well and has comparable weight and decibel rating to the Big Two. As noted, the mix of power sources has taken a bit of trial and error and owes a huge debt to the experts here, but unique to my circumstances. Now go out and start working on that graduate level learning curve... ;]
Good points in your post save one; a properly designed and installed solar panel array is NOT 'permanently aimed up'. the proprietary mounting feet that I use from AM Solar will allow the panels to be tilted to the sun up to a 45º angle for much better solar radiance in off-season use.
In addition, a larger solar array will also keep your batteries charged in marginal solar conditions, such as cloudy (and even some rainy) days. This si why most of the systems I install start at 200 watts and escalate repidly from there. It all depends on what you want and the condition of your check book.
I have a couple of full-time web developers on the road now with 300 and 385 watt solar arrays, 300 amp/hour Lifeline battery banks and 1000 watt Magnum inverter/chargers. one carries a Yamaha 1000 and the other no genny. Both have not plugged in to shore power for extended periods. The generator user only fires up his Yamaha when he has been in rainy/overcast weather for longer than a week and doesn't want to draw his batteries below 50%. Last I heard from the other client, he had been running 2 months with no shore/generator at all.