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Old 03-25-2009, 03:43 PM   #1
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Solar 12V charging set-up - General Advice

Hi folks,

I actually don't own an airstream. But I am the new owner of a 1959 travel trailer, "canned ham style". I hope that you don't mind me posting here. I have searched and searched and have not found any decent looking forums for that style of travel trailer, so I figured that I'd try my luck here. If you think I belong some place better, please let me know about it!

I plan on making some improvements to the old trailer. And the first thing I have in mind is to install an a solar charged on-board 12V battery system. I'm hoping that somewhere someone has typed up a nice little "how-to" article on exactly how to go about this and what I'll need. Can anyone send me a link??

Other than that, my electrical is rather antiquated. The inlet fits a plug type that I cannot find, and it is 35A. So I reckon that is going to be one of the first things to get replaced.

This is a new hobby for me, so any advice would be greatly appreciated!!

Thanks much,
Tony
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Old 03-25-2009, 04:17 PM   #2
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Tony, here is a reply I sent to someone else on solar power. We bought a system in 2006 from a vendor in the high desert near Southern California, Solartron Technologies, because I could go see the product and knew that had it in stock and wouldn't sit on my money while they waited for all the parts to come in. I would recommend them if you are within an easy drive of Victorville. Also, there is more discussion about quality vendors now and I know Lewster in this forum now represents and installs AM solar equipment so I believe they are a good vendor also.

I did all the planning for the layout and my wife and I did the install, however I am an engineer by education and vocation and as an amateur radio operator, home repairman and mechanic, I work on every thing we own that I can dissemble and diagnosis; Airstream, car, house, motorcycle, radio equipment, etc. It is not hard, you just need a modest understanding on electrical or be willing to read some of the good books on the subject and be unafraid to cut, drill and work on the Airstream.

Our system uses two 135 watt panels (Airstreams factory system for large trailers is only 100 watts) and a MPPT (maximum power point tracking) charge controller that provides more charge output to the batteries than the older PWM (pulse width modulation) charge controllers. We have two Group 24 Gel Batteries Group 24 was the original size for our trailer and fit without modifying the battery box or installing the batteries inside).

We find that the system works very well in the southwest where we have lots of sunshine. The Airstream has not been plugged in to commercial power since we installed the system in July of 2006 except to get the refrigerator cold before a trip or when we stop overnight in RV parks when traveling across the country. The batteries fully charge up in 3 to 4 hours even after running the furnace with night time temperatures near or below freezing if we have good sun in the morning. I believe we might have to get our generator out if we were boon docking in one place and had three or more days with heavy cloud cover and night time temperatures at or below 32 degrees. We occasionally use a 12 volt lunch box cooker bought at a truck stop to cook, chili and hot dogs or hot sausage and even a pot roast for four people with potatoes, onions and carrots but we need good sun since the cooker requires 10 amps alone and I have seen charge currents of 14 amps when we were cooking and had other loads on in the trailer. We do use an inverter to run the factory Flat screen TV and also to charge things like our computer and small vacuum cleaner.

It does charge on cloudy days but might not be enough if you camp in lots of forest areas with shaded spots. I do plan to add more battery capacity in the future, probably modify the battery box to hold two larger six volt Lifeline AGM batteries wired in series.

If you have more questions or want to install the system yourself you might give me a call (951.780.5199 some days, weekends and evenings or 951.453.1944 cell) so I can give you some pointers and let you know what to watch out for. Two are you might need to use a little bit smaller panels to fit them on the roof of a trailer that is narrower and shorter and you need to make sure that you limit how deep you drill bit penetrates the skin in a couple of places so you don't hit any wiring in the roof of the Airstream.

You can view my article that was in the April 2007 Sierra Nevada Unit newsletter http://sierranevadaairstreams.org/sn...snu-nwsltr.pdf and a more verbose version with pictures on the SNU web site:

http://sierranevadaairstreams.org/ow...uvt/index.html
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Old 03-25-2009, 04:39 PM   #3
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Thanks for the quick reply Don. That's a lot of good info. I am going to check out Solartron Industries and see what kind of systems they have in stock. The links that you posted for the articles are dead unfortunately.

I am a pretty handy fella myself, amateur mechanic and what not. I am really hoping to find some sort of nicely written "how-to" article. My electrical requirements will be simple. I plan on running lights, a fridge, a radio, and some miscellaneous small appliances.
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Old 03-25-2009, 11:56 PM   #4
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Tony, the fridge will pull too much power for battery operation unless you just mean providing power for the fridge controller to operate properly on propane. Also, you may be limited by how many panels and what size you can put on the roof. Measure carefully an try to clear the black/grey water tank and the refrigerator vents by several inches. You don't want to disturb the air flow that helps pull out the odors from the tank vent and you don't want the heat from the refrigerator vent getting under the panel, it will reduce its output.

For lights use the slim line florescent lights which are reasonably priced or LEDs which are expensive.

Check out the 2nd web page reference I gave you. It has a lot of pictures but it is not written as a how to article.
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Old 03-26-2009, 10:32 AM   #5
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Thank Don. I'd love to view those pictures, but the links that you sent are dead. Do you have current links?
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Old 03-26-2009, 04:27 PM   #6
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This link works. If you have problems cut and paste it to a web page.

Solar Panel Installation
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Old 03-26-2009, 05:38 PM   #7
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Link works great. Awesome information! Thank you!
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