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Old 01-09-2015, 01:39 PM   #1
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SOLAR or GENERATOR? One "SAVES" the environment and the other...?

Part 2: Discussing the finer points of WHY... discussing, not criticizing.

Before I commit being a lawn chair Environmentalist and living the Environmentalist's SIN... it may appear obvious to some, that installing a Solar Panel is environmentally superior to a generator. The Environmental Sin IS TOWING one to three tons of aluminum and supplies with a Diesel / Gasoline V8 - V10 make some feel fuzzy and Saving the Earth by mounting a Solar Panel to justify everything else.

You could do a better argument by not traveling and leaving your trailer in storage.

Justify the USE of a Solar Panel and/or the "polluting" gasoline generator for function and dependability. Not that the purring of a Honda generator is killing birds and the planet's ecosystem. It is not. The Wind Power grids are doing that already.

Towing an Airstream uses more fuel in 30 minutes than I will use for an entire trip with my, less than one year old, Honda generator. Last Fall I might have used a quart of gasoline for two weeks on the road boondocking without any hookups.

The exhaust from a Diesel tow vehicle stinks. An untuned gasoline engine's exhaust stinks. An 18 wheeler idling at a rest area... really stinks. My Honda generator and/or a Solar Panel are of no consequence. I have parked where generators are idling... never gave it a thought or noticed what some on this Forum "fume" about noise and smell. You probably hear mice and their ultra high pitched squeaks too. This righteous moral high ground does not follow common sense.

The Airstream is dependent on 120v electricity. When at a full service RV Park... this makes the solar panel a waste of optional equipment stuck to the exterior of your trailer. Eliminate the 120v appliances and then we can all hold hands and agree that Solar wins. No argument from me.

But... which of you are going to give up your television(s), microwave? Not many. We traveled fine without a television and a microwave for 8 years. Solar served us very well. Solar was practical and saving the environment was not the motivating factor. If the batteries have been used for days... the generator is helpful, but not even necessary.

Consider what I am saying. How does this complement or conflict with your purchase of an Airstream, or any other brand of excellent trailer? I am practical. If I wanted to improve the environment, I would cut out one or two trips to the grocery store a month.

I have an Airstream for shelter and convenience in the back country. I need no camp fire. I get along fine with no HDTV television where it is not even available. A microwave... give me a break. But to say that your Solar Power is "better" than a generator...

Better for what? Why? The need is dependent upon YOUR personal camping style. I am finding that a generator may work out best for me when off the grid camping making up 90% of my time on the road. Those of you using RV Park hookups... have a need for neither.

Describe "your special needs for either system", not criticizing another's specific needs. My Airstream needs and uses have been well, more overdone, on the Forum. I can smell a cigar or a cigarette in the forest... so do not go there and criticize my "capability to hear and smell".
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Old 01-09-2015, 02:48 PM   #2
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Ray I had 700W of solar on my FC25. I liked solar since it was easy to use and with 440ah of batteries and the new Magnum Hybrid inverter made use of 120V painless. I could run the AC if needed with a single EU2000i generator. So nothing to do with saving the environment since you are right on point.

Only thing you didn't factor in, and just speculation on my part, is the cost to the environment of manufacturing solar panels. Wouldn't be surprised that the energy consumed isn't a bit concerning. Maybe similar to the energy needed to produce ethanol.

Really enjoying your stream on consciousness while we are swinging 50-60 degrees every day here in Colorado.
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Old 01-09-2015, 03:09 PM   #3
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Life is made of only two things NEEDS and WANTS.
You have to figure out what is needed to live and what is just wants to have fun.Food ,water and shelter are needs.
My Airstream is shelter.
Worring about the environment is like rockin' horse. it's something to do that don't get you nowhere.
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Old 01-09-2015, 03:52 PM   #4
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Ray I had 700W of solar on my FC25. I liked solar since it was easy to use and with 440ah of batteries and the new Magnum Hybrid inverter made use of 120V painless. I could run the AC if needed with a single EU2000i generator. So nothing to do with saving the environment since you are right on point.

Only thing you didn't factor in, and just speculation on my part, is the cost to the environment of manufacturing solar panels. Wouldn't be surprised that the energy consumed isn't a bit concerning. Maybe similar to the energy needed to produce ethanol.

Really enjoying your stream on consciousness while we are swinging 50-60 degrees every day here in Colorado.
While it does require energy to produce solar panels, there's research showing that modern PV panels are net-positive in 1-5 years (depending on which technology the panel uses) and over their lifetime generate many times the energy required to produce them.

This is vastly better than ethanol, since you produce a quantity of ethanol once and if it doesn't return more energy when consumed than was required to produce it, you have a net waste for every quantity of ethanol produced.
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Old 01-09-2015, 04:26 PM   #5
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Our Interstate has an onboard generator and, because it is there, we decided several years ago not to add solar panels. Seemed we didn't need both, nor the added expense.

We use the generator to charge the battery, almost exclusively. On a handful of occasions, in the early days, used it to power the microwave to reheat something or to run the coffee maker.

With time and experience, we found other ways to reheat food and have gone exclusively to a stovetop percolator.....eliminating the need to carry one for electric and one for not.

Have never used the generator to run the television or the air conditioner. When camped without electricity, the vent fan does a great job of pulling air thru and television is simply done without.

When it is hot and humid enough to require air conditioning, or cold enough to require heat, the preference is for electric hook-ups.....with the exception of Padre Island NS, in which case you just go, use your furnace and all your propane.

Just how we decided to do it.


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Old 01-09-2015, 04:32 PM   #6
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If it says anything.... I have both. And the generator has not been used yet. I am kind of getting tired of hauling it around just in case I need the air conditioner. The real question...is how big of batteries and how big of inverter. I could have purchased a lot of small generators for the solar/inverter/install price. But I hate generators and love watching the meter on the solar

Also depends on when you travel, solar panels don't work nearly as well in the winter.
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Old 01-09-2015, 04:48 PM   #7
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I have solar but not a generator. I've thought about getting a small generator but in two years of camping with solar on the Airstream, and 15 with solar on a popup, have found solar to be sufficient. Sometimes we've camped in dark shady spots with no real solar benefit. The solution has been to relocate to a sunny campsite. Batteries on their own will last about four days at our regular rate of power consumption.

Another reason I'm dragging my heals on the generator is that my tow vehicle is a SUV, so the gas filled generator would have to be carried inside the passenger compartment of the SUV, or inside the trailer. Not ideal.

I do have an inverter. We use this to watch DVD's at night, and sometimes to run the blender. Also to recharge tablets, cellphone, laptop, etc. Not the microwave, but really have little need for the microwave anyway.

We typically use about 20% to 25% of our battery capacity every day. It takes from two to four hours for the panels to refill the batteries depending upon season and so forth. It happens silently while I'm present or gone for a hike. I don't think I would prefer to have to sit around the camper for several hours waiting for a generator to refill the batteries every day.
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Old 01-09-2015, 04:54 PM   #8
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When camped without electricity, I charge the phone, mifi, 12volt vacuum and IPad off the dash....either while parked, or during drive time between sites.


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Old 01-09-2015, 05:16 PM   #9
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Ray,

No solar No problem.


How I rationalize..We 'dock almost exclusively and use one Honda 2000i Dual fuel.


+1 for LPG, cleaner & no stink & runs for 15-20hrs, (load dependent), on it's own little bitty tank.(12daze)
Rain...it putt's happily in it's own tent & transports in a 24gal ActionPacker with no fumation concerns.


+2 Usually only in use for an hour or so during B-fast, need it for the Joe grinder, toast and all exhaust fans running to spread the smell of bacon & coffee to all the real 'campers' in tents. (plenty long enough to keep two grp27 Lifelines charged.)


+3...and most importantly the Classic is made of leaking,(not), Aluminum....the most recycled metal in the world...I tink?

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Old 01-09-2015, 06:06 PM   #10
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Some would tend to call us environmentalists and we would tend to agree, but that's not why we prefer solar to taking a generator along. We have the nice little Honda 2000i but we just find travel without it simpler and more pleasant, so it stays at home. The solar, managed to our needs and it's capability, is a wonderful modern convenience.
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Old 01-09-2015, 06:21 PM   #11
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There will be some happy trade off between solar and fuel generated electricity. Looks to me like a propane genset plus a good sized solar install makes the most of both while keeping fuel freshness and transport safety problems to the minimum.

If indeed we can now combine solar and a genset to run an AC unit ( to cool the space off the last few hours before dark), then we're at the present reasonable maximum of what can be called self generated electricity.

What AM Solar calls a "mobile office" might be the reasonable goal for solar. Whether it is our regular use or not, it seems to me it is like having too much water or fuel as there is not such a thing, so to speak.

A genset that can cover all other uses in a paired combination with the above seems like the top end of things.

Electricity is a luxury, not a necessity to run an RV (past the furnace fan). So there is one heckuva range that can be covered.

When it comes to RVs the environmental costs are pretty much irrelevant. It is what can I do, and for how long can I do it it that matters. Two days or two weeks? That's a very big difference between needing to do re-supply of any sort.

Thus direct the above cost question to the forced use of the TV. One can't escape circularity, but practicality can be emphasized and enlarged at the point of actual use.
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Old 01-09-2015, 07:30 PM   #12
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The first year we owned the 2006 Safari, our ceiling vent cover blew off the top in a parking lot at West Wendover, Nevada. It was cranked up to circulate air within the interior. It was summer. No wind when we entered the Casino and no wind when we left. I used duct tape to seal the opening and picked up a vent cover in Reno, Nevada. Needed to borrow a ladder to climb up to the top and do the repairs. Once home, I installed the heavy duty "vent covers" to protect these lids when open...and immediately installed the same on the 2014. Any weather and no worries while camped.

Because of that event, I hauled a collapsable ladder (tube ladder that might be 10+ feet tall and goes down to 30 inches). Hauled it around for six years and never needed it again... I have used it at home when I need to get on the top of the trailer and it leans against the rolled up awning.

The point I want to make is concerning my first season having a generator. I hauled it and the 2.5 gallon gas container around expecting to use it more than I did. The only reason I fired it up to the west of Buffalo, Wyoming was, first, to see if there was any television signal, and secondly, to watch the weather report. By chance we watched the Broncos game, which was just a coincidence. A cold front was coming, so we left Buffalo, Wyoming and headed home. That evening we had sleet and cold weather arrive to Castle Rock that evening... TV and generator paid off for me, that time.

I will not put fuel into the generator until we need it. I might not even need to fill the gas container as the fuel in the Honda may be more than we will even need. We will see...

The Honda is kept in the back of the pickup with a shell. The "complicated" plastic gasoline container as well. Even in this enclosed environment I did not smell any gasoline fumes. Surprise was my reaction from reading posts in the past of no odors of exhaust on the tail gate nor gasoline fumes. I keep it concealed by having the generator sitting on the lid of a plastic laundry container and the bottom is put over the top. A thief would not suspect a generator was in the back of the pick up.

I carry a complete set of tools... metric and US... in the handy carrying case. Just like the generator and the ladder... have not used it for years. Not that I am complaining. But, if I ever NEED the supplies/tools in the foot locker sized aluminum military box... I will not be stranded. I used the duct tape more often than any single tool. It is "insurance" just in case. Be Prepared was the Boy Scout's motto. I am just a bit more weathered.

It is good to discover other trailer owners that can talk about these issues on the Forum without taking it personally. There is no Right or Wrong way to keep your comfort level while traveling. It makes no sense to expose yourself or family to excessive cold or heat, when you could do something about it. Solar or fuel sourced electrical power. Even if your tow vehicle provides some (?) if not all or your battery charging while traveling. (Lewster might know the specifics... as I do not.) I now have a television... if I am in an area where I can make use of it... the generator will work or if I am hooked up at a RV Park... no problem.

You can run out of fuel for a Generator. You find the evenings and cloudy days affecting Solar. We will get over it. That is why you have batteries, effective ceiling fans and can open screened windows and the front door.

We sit a battery operated small self contained fan to recirculate the air inside the trailer on those 104 degree Desert camping days that cool down into the upper 80's at night. I have yet to grow three inch finger nails, grow my hair out and hitch hike on highways going into Las Vegas... not yet. Experience is a wonder thing. Learning from your mistakes is even more wonderful. Then taking this scattered information and passing it along on this Forum... is a gift that keeps giving.
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Old 01-10-2015, 06:27 AM   #13
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A mixed blessing in the Interstate, the generator runs off the propane that also fuels the furnace and the frig when not plugged into electricity.

Long-term boondocking has never been a goal for us, but we've done it 5 days at a stretch when camping with others. More often, one or two nights, and move on.

To conserve the propane when boondocking for days, we turn on the engine and run it for a bit to recharge the coach battery, plugging electronics into the dash at the same time.

The feeling of self-sufficiency is priceless.


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Old 01-10-2015, 12:37 PM   #14
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Panels for Peace

We have a Yamaha Generator that we haven't used for 6 years. We fire it up every now and then just to keep it operating for emergencies. We never need hookups and camp for several weeks watching movies every night with the heater blaring. We just don't need the generator and here is why.

Solar panels are really easy to install on top of an Airstream trailer. Where there are rivets, there are strong mounting points. The mounting brackets are sort of Z shaped and bend easily to the curve of the roof. We have 4 80 panels mounted permanently up there.

The trailers are pre-wired for solar after sometime around 2003/2004 and the factory can tell you where to find your wiring. Mine was in the roof behind the Fantastic Fan. I put the wire through the roof using a waterproof cable clam outlet plug for boats from West Marine. I mounted a junction box on the roof also. All wires from each panel are exactly the same length and tie in to the junction box on top of the trailer.

The pre-wiring on our 22 CCD came out under the bed where the junctions are from the battery box. We have the best charge controller ever that looks like it was made in a garage but has worked beautifully for 7 years.

We have a 2500 watt converter for AC/DC needs. It does not run the air conditioning. I believe that you need at least a 3000 watt generator for that but we don't ever run the air.

We have extra large Trojan 6 volt in series that I mounted which added a lot of tongue wight but I've never had a problem. I tend to travel with most of my cargo in the back of the trailer and it seems to work great. An alternative is to have extra batteries and a secure ventilated box that you can lock outside the the trailer and connect to your current batteries. The right amount of batteries is one of the things that most solar systems lack.

In fairly sunny locations, we never worry about running out of power. In the shade or winter, we can camp for at least a week with out draining the batteries. If we don't watch movies at night and turn down the heat, they last longer. (I know that watching movies is not camping but my wife is disabled and gets bored due to her daytime physical activity restrictions).

Converting all of your lights to LED (we only use Soft White LEDs) with save a fortune. Coloniel Airstream has all of the lights that will fit Airstream fixtures at competitive prices.

Also, think about using LED camping lanterns for some things inside. The GE camping lantern from Costco puts out incredible light an the batteries in that lantern last forever. We still use most of our installed lights but every little bit helps when the power does get low.

You could always bring your generator but it takes up space, calls for a gas can, makes noise and takes up the time to set it up and pack it away. In the winter or in the deep shade, this would be your back up plan but we haven't had to do it yet.

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