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Old 01-18-2012, 07:39 PM   #1
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27FB Solar Installation Report Start to Finish

After a number of camping trips in our new Intl Serenity 27FB, we've learned that even with all the LED lights, we still use a bit of power. We like winter camping, and therefore, we like our heater. Also, can't bear the thought of missing the 49ers win the Superbowl on TV! And of course we need microwaved popcorn during the game. In addition, both Amy and I are heavy computer users. Finally, we're both addicted to freshly brewed Peets coffee. I realize that there are probably lower power consuming alternatives (boiling water for drip coffee, popcorn over the stove, etc), but given how hard we both work, sometimes its nice to just relax and do it the easy way.

Got a Honda 2000 companion last week and ran it while up at Bodega Bay. Certainly works, but we really don't like the noise and the smell. Sooooo, sounds like good enough justification for a solar system install! I've combed through all the many posts and discussions and have arrived at an idea of what we'd like to do.

I'm not sure whether it will be valuable, but I've decided to document the whole process with pictures and share here. I learned a ton from watching other efforts, so perhaps some will find it helpful. I'm off work, so can spend some time on the install, and will post while in process instead of at the end. If questions come up, I'd love it if those with answers could chime in!

Our trailer: 2012 International Serenity 27FB

System thoughts: Given the time I have now, I'd like to do this once and not go piecemeal. Therefore, we'll go for the end game system instead of expanding later. Regarding size, I looked at all the estimates done previously of power consumption, thought about winter camping with short days and low sun angles, and decided that I'd just size the system by the number of panels I could get on the roof. Below you can see my mock up, but looks like 600 watts. Yes, its probably overkill, but I'm not going to have to revisit the issue of power for a long time!

Given 600 watts, therefore need about 600 amphours of battery. This could be 4 AGMs, (Lifeline GPL-6CTs). But, to be safe, and since I'm doing the work now, we'll go with 6 GPL-6CT's. These will go in the front compartment under the bed. Though the batteries are sealed, I'm thinking about a venting system, since I'll be "sleeping on them". To keep wiring simple, I'll put all 6 under the bed and use the existing battery box for storage. Given that this will be a quarter ton of batteries, I'll be building a sturdy mounting structure.

Also we'll want a 2kw inverter, charger that will handle AGMs, and I'd like to use the normal AC outlets for inverter power automatically, so we'll have to separate the air conditioner and fridge from the outlets, microwave and TVs.

To help design all this and source the components we chose AM-Solar. I've already had a few conversations with them and couldn't be more pleased. In particular, I talked at length with their installer, Michael and he was super helpful in talking about locations and running wiring. Tomorrow I'll be finalizing the system and ordering, but for now, I thought I'd share some pics of my decisions on panel locations.

To help with visualization, I decided to mockup the panels with 2x4s. I sized them to the Am-Solar OM 150 and their GS100. I only had enough wood for 500 watts, so doubled up on one of the 100w's.
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Though the wood is the size of the panels, I knew I had to make room for the mounting hardware. I've assumed I can turn the mounts around so the mounting tabs are under the panel (eheffa). First I wanted to check if the 150s could fit up front:
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Placement was really controlled by the location of the toilet vent, which (per past posts) I did not want to cover.
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This puts the front of the panels fairly far forward, so I'm a little worried that at speed, air will be ducted under the panels. If it's a problem, I could mount a deflector in front, but AM Solar assures me that this will not be a problem.
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I then wanted to see if I could get 3 of the GS100s in the rear. I decided on two on the right side and one in the middle. OM150s are too wide to fit back here given the A/C unit.
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This left plenty of room for one more GS100 in the middle:
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Here's what it will look like from a distance.
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Given the front bedroom (bed/batteries in the middle of the room), I've decided to go the route of drilling a hole up from the rear of the cabinet between the right side bath and kitchen (microwave and other drawers) and not go down the refrigerator vent as it is on the other side of the trailer. The hole will go into the C-Box on the roof. To minimize any voltage drop, I'll be running 4 gauge wire down to the charge controller. The plan then is to run down the back of that cabinet, go forward into the bath, and then go down through the floor right next to the gas line for the water heater which is below the bath sink. The wiring will then run along the gas line until I can punch up through the floor of the front storage cabinet under the spare. All this sounds good in theory! This wire bundle will end up getting thick, as it will eventually have the #4 solar wires, wires for remote meters (charge controller and inverter), as well as the AC wiring required to separate the air conditioner and refrigerator from the other AC loads.

Tomorrow I plan to order the parts and start figuring out the wire routing in reality while waiting for the system to arrive. I've got a hard stop of next Thurs (1/26) as we're going camping in Big Sur. I hope to have the solar on and the wiring done to under the bed by then.

Should be fun! Any thoughts on what we want to do? Also, for those of you who have done this yourselves, how do you work on the roof? Ladders? Doesn't look like you can/should walk on the roof.
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Old 01-19-2012, 09:39 PM   #2
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Hey Z8,

Thanks for the details and the pictures. We are thinking about solar after a few days at Wrights Beach north of Bodega over New Years. We have upgraded to LifeLine 6 volts and an IOTA PS but probably will not need the power you are looking for from solar. We are thinking of 300W of panels with a 400W system just in case. Most of the time we go with hookups as we have teenagers along but it would be nice from time to time to boondock and I'd rather put the $$$ into solar that a genny (we have solar at the house). It looks like our roof designs (27FB) are the same so I'll be very interested to follow your progress!

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Old 01-19-2012, 09:57 PM   #3
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Hugh, I simply leaned an extension ladder against the streetside awning tube, after wrapping the ladder with rubber cushioning where it contacts the trailer. Crawled around up there on hands and knees, keeping on the ribs. Most of the work I could do while standing on a step ladder alongside.

good luck with your project, have fun!
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Old 01-19-2012, 10:10 PM   #4
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I look forward to following your install. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 01-29-2012, 07:05 PM   #5
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Hope OP didn't fall off his ladder.
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Old 02-06-2012, 10:57 AM   #6
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Not only didn't fall off, but almost done! Problem is that I've been so psyched about progress and getting done (missed the first weekend camp trip, but will get to go this coming), that I've not had time to post! I've taken pictures all the way along, so within a few days I'll post part 2 through 10! First trial outside on Saturday at 3pm yielded 32 amps in!
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Old 02-07-2012, 08:06 AM   #7
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Whew!

Quote:
Originally Posted by z8 hm View Post
Not only didn't fall off, but almost done!
Whew! I was getting worried there!

I look forward to the details!

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Old 02-12-2012, 07:38 PM   #8
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27FB Solar Install Part 2 - Ordering

I thought I’d divide up the posts of our installation into the phases the actual work went through.

First, what to order…. As mentioned previously, we decided to go for 600 watts of solar.

Though I had mocked up three 100-GS panels from Am-Solar to go with the two 150-OM’s, AM felt that the slight voltage output difference between the GS technology and the OM would matter, and suggested that I go with the 100-OM panels, which use the same technology as the 150-OM panels. A slight bummer as the GS's are a bit smaller than the OM's.

A number of you also messaged me to be careful of the A/C shadow, so I rearranged to try and stay as far away as I could from the A/C unit.
Hopefully by wiring all the panels in parallel, reduced output on one panel near the A/C will not "drag down" the rest of the array.

Now, what wire size to get from the panels to the charge controller?…Though my peak output will be around 45 amps, I decided to go with 2 gauge wire from the roof to minimize any loss. By going 2 gauge, I keep the loss to 2.25% instead of over 3% for 4 gauge. This decision really ended up increasing the amount of time for interconnect, routing and sealing.

This means I’ll be ordering AM Solar’s 2 gauge kit and the five panels. On their recommendation, I got a 45 amp TriStar MPPT controller with remote monitoring panel and a Magnum Energy 2,000 watt pure sine wave inverter with its remote control. To this I added Magnum’s Battery Monitoring kit which will allow me to accurately measure current in/out of the battery bank as well as calculate State Of Charge (SOC). AM also recommended and supplied all the breakers, monster fuses, and misc bits that I’d also need.
For AC wiring, it turns out I have three 20 amp circuits I want to run off the inverter (microwave, front bedroom, and rear of trailer). This will leave the existing converter, water heater and A/C off purely shore power. The refrigerator is on the front bedroom breaker, but by manually keeping in it in gas mode, I can keep it from running off the inverter.

However, since the Magnum inverter can have at max two AC outputs with breakers, I’ll go with the single output model and put in a sub-panel. This means I’ll end up running the three AC loads from the current converter box, up to the bed to the new sub-panel. In addition, I’ll have to bring the 30 amp input from the converter box to the inverter up front. Bottom line, I’ll need to run one 10/2 romex for the input 30 amps to the inverter/charger, and three 12/2 romex’s for the branch circuits all the way upfront. I ordered the breaker box and 4 breakers from AM.

A number of you cautioned me on the idea of 6 batteries. The primary issues being tongue weight, overall GVWR and the resultant reduction in payload and perhaps towing feel. Given that my TV is a maxed-out F350 that doesn’t even seem to know that the trailer is connected), I decided to go ahead with the 6 battery path. My idea is to connect them in such a way that I could go from 6 to 4 batteries pretty easily if I’m camping in the summer, while in the winter, could run with 6. If the weight really is a problem, I’ll have two spares!

AM shipped everything but the batteries and I got it in 2 days, while the batteries were drop shipped from Lifeline in about 4 days. Packaging was excellent, nothing was damaged, and all the bits and pieces were bagged and labeled very clearly. Great quality that shows that AM really cares.

Next up, planning the actual install…..
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Old 02-12-2012, 07:53 PM   #9
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27FB Solar Install Part 3 - Planning

Planning the install…

I had already decided that the batteries and electronics were going to go under the bed in front. The big question in my mind was how to get a 2 conductor 2 gauge wire, 4 romex cables, 2 RG-11 control lines, etc from wherever they originated to under the front bed.

Here, Michael, AM’s head installer, was invaluable. After consulting with him at length, here was the plan:

The five panels would go on the roof with AM’s standard mounting kits. Made of stainless steel, the system looks to be solid, water tight and easy to mount. They would be wired to AM’s standard combiner box on the roof.

The 2 conductor cable from the combiner box would come through a new hole in the roof into the top of the cabinet that runs from floor to ceiling to the left of the stove. The two control panels (inverter and solar charge controller) would mount to the left of the sliding overhead compartment above the stove. There is about 10 inches of space there with a dead area behind it.

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After running down the back of the three section cabinet, the wires would then snake forward to under the sink in the bathroom. It turns out that there is about 4 in. of space between the water heater and the left wheel well, where (if you can get to it), you can drill a hole and get beneath the trailer.

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AM-Solar then runs the cables along the gas line that is already beneath the hot water heater, following the gas line forward until under the bed, and then drills a hole up into the bed compartment.

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Given all the wires in my bundle, I was concerned about just tie-wrapping to the gas line, so decided to run a conduit forward.

Just for the future, I decided to run two, 18 gauge, 2 pair wires along in the bundle.

Under the bed, I decided to build a wood cabinet to hold the six batteries and provide a mounting surface for all the electronics. Much like auto stereo installers, by having a panel outside the car that everything mounts to, it is much easier to wire before going into the car (trailer). Given the weight and wanting to minimize voltage drop, I would not put 2 batteries in the existing compartment and four under the bed. I’ll remove the existing batteries and put all six new ones together. I planned to mount the 6 batteries side by side, and luckily, the bed compartment is just wide enough for the batteries and the seven ¾” thicknesses required for the plywood to hold them! I want them as far back in the compartment as possible to minimize the already significant impact on tongue weight.

The two existing batteries will go, and the 6 gauge cable from them routed instead to the new battery bank. All the existing wiring will be left as is, except that the front jack (which is wired directly to the existing batteries), will need to be wired back to the bed compartment.

Finally, though AM Solar doesn’t do this, I decided to add an intake vent and exhaust vent to the area under the bed, with a temperature controlled fan.
My contractor generously loaned me two sets of scaffolds, so I could access the roof.

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All set to go! (little did I know that installation would take 3 weeks and about 12 trips to Home Depot, 10 trips to Orchard Supply Hardware, 6 trips to Fry’s Electronics, 1 trip to Grainger’s, 3 trips to West Marine and two trips to a welding supply shop on the other side of San Jose!)

Next up - Installing the Solar Panels
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Old 02-12-2012, 08:12 PM   #10
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Sounds like you are doing the 'mega' install. Good for you. A couple of comments:

Your Magnum inverter has a far superior battery charging section that ANY converter on the market and has specialized firmware in the ME-RC remote for Lifeline batteries (AGM-1 setting). You should plan on incorporating the charger section of the inverter to properly charge your batteries when on shore power or generator (if you have one).

Also, I NEVER use Romex in any RV installation. I don't care what the manufacturers use; solid copper wire will eventually work harden and break after extended vibration and use. I see it in motor homes with increasing frequency. The best wire to use for your AC circuitry is stranded, tinned marine cable. This is available in 14/3, 12/3 and 10/3 with a hot line, neutral and ground.

You will also find that class K welding cable is the best for the heavy DC loads from your 6 batteries (are you using the GPL-4CT or the larger GPL-6CT). I generally use 4/0 AWG welding cable for all battery-to-inverter routings in any battery bank 400 amp/hours or above. Overkill, I don't think so. It lets both me and the client sleep better at night.
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Old 02-12-2012, 08:21 PM   #11
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27FB Solar Install Part 4 - Solar Panel Install

Others have described in detail the AM-Solar panel mounting kits and process, so I’ll just focus on what might have been different (mainly 5 panels).

The first task is to wire the connecting cables to each of the panels. My advice, buy a heat shrink gun! They cost less than $25, and you will use it a lot! Also, the two conductor cable that AM-Solar provides is nearly impossible to strip unless you know “the secret technique”! I spent an hour just stripping the five cables to connect to the panels, then called AM and learned that there is a far, far easier way to do it. They are talking about doing a YouTube video to show how it’s done. Luckily I still had the other ends of the five wires to do and could utilize the new technique.

Since I knew where the panels were going from my mock ups, I first mounted the combiner box.

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I ended up drilling a 1 1/8” hole to minimize contact between the cable and the skin.

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The whole assembly is then sealed with lots of Dicor sealant.

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This is the one change that I would make if I were starting again. To ease cable routing, I had two of the watertight cable clamps facing forward. One blog suggested that instead I turn the box 180 degrees, so that wind and water wouldn’t be forced against the two input wires while traveling at speed. I don’t think a big deal, but for anyone doing something similar…..
Next up, mounting the panels. First I placed each of them and then mounted using the supplied double sided tape.

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Then I removed the panels and drilled and screwed in each bracket with the supplied screws. Next, each bracket was masked to prepare for applying Dicor sealant around them.

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After becoming stiff, the masking was removed.

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The panels are now ready to be mounted. All the connecting cables need to be routed so that if the panels are swung up for service, there is enough length.

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Combiner box all done!

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And…. It works!! (note, voltage is from rather dim fluorescent lights)

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All done!

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All ready for the hard part - Running the cables.
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Old 02-12-2012, 08:39 PM   #12
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27FB Solar Install Part 5 - Cabling

This ended up being the hardest part of the project!

The first job was to get the cables down the back of the kitchen cabinet. Here is the solar cable going through the first shelf, note the hole from the overhead compartment that will house the monitors.

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Here’s a shot of the other side of that bulkhead, showing the holes for the monitors and cables.

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The two RJ11 cables plus the solar cable go down through the bottom of the cabinet. They will then be joined by the romex from the converter box and then routed to the left into the bathroom cabinet.

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As mentioned earlier, we wanted all the outlets in the trailer plus microwave and TVs to automatically work off the inverter without having special outlets just for the inverter. This meant that instead of being powered from the breaker box in the converter, they need to be powered by the inverter up front. The three circuits thus need to be disconnected from their circuit breakers and then run on new wires up front. Note: breaker #2 had both the converter power and the front bedroom on it. I left the converter on breaker #2 (for emergencies if the Magnum quit), and removed the front bedroom wire. Now left on the converter breaker box are A/C, the converter and the water heater.

Here’s a shot of the finished connections with the new wiring leaving the rear of the box.

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In addition, the Magnum charger needs a 30 amp supply. On the back of the existing converter box is a relay that selects either the street side 30 amp connector or the front 30 amp connector. The output of that relay used to just supply the existing breaker box. I simply added another 10/2 romex from the relay output to go forward to the Magnum inverter. It has a built in, input breaker, so can be wired directly. Below you see the new cable on the right.

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All of this now needs to be fished under the bathroom sink. Below you see the solar cable coming through first.

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Next I drilled holes in both the floor and the aluminum cover beneath it for the conduit. Once attached and sealed, the wires were fished through. I now have the full complement together (solar cable, two RJ11’s, three 12/2 romex’s, one 10/2 romex, and two future 18/2, two pairs.
In the picture below you can see the wheel well cover in the upper right and the insulation for the water heater on the left. A tight fit!

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Here is all the cables exiting below.

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After a ton of wrestling, all the cables were fished through the 1-1/4” conduit, and the conduit attached below the trailer. The conduit will be painted black later!

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And finally, here are all the cables entering the bed enclosure! Whew!

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Next up - What does this all connect to?......
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Old 02-12-2012, 09:19 PM   #13
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27FB Solar Install Part 6 - Batteries and Electronics

The two principle ideas I had about the batteries and electronics were 1) that I wanted the batteries secured and their weight distributed, and that 2) I wanted a platform that could be wired outside the trailer and then put into it. I ended up designing a platform that looks like below.


This is the rear, or battery side, and the electronics will go on the opposite side.


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The extension on the left replaces the existing cover over the factory wiring.

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Next up I mounted all the major components and started the wiring. I had never had experience with “negative” gauge wire sizes, but rapidly gained experience with #2/0 gauge (“two ought” gauge). The maximum continuous current that the Magnum will use is 222 amps. However, with the 125% NEC derating, we’re up to 278 amps! If the cable distance is less than 5’ and in free air, #2/0 is fine. Given how tough it is to work with #2/0 welding cable, I’m glad #4/0 wasn’t required!

The big learning experience with this gauge wire is how to connect the lugs. AM-Solar will make up the cables for you, but given that I wanted to design the cables in realtime, I decided to learn how to terminate them myself. To attach the lugs there are two options: mechanical crimping, or soldering. For #2/0 gauge, UL wants you to crimp. Their reasoning is that with a big short/overcurrent situation, the solder would melt from the heat, and then you’ve really got a problem. Given the low probability of a long lasting short given my mounting scheme, I decided to go with the technology that was easiest to use, given that I had a lot of terminating to do.

I went with “Fusion Lugs”, that come pre-loaded with solder. Basically, you strip the cable, put the lug with the cable-end up in a vise and heat it up with a torch. Once the solder is liquefied, you jam the stripped cable in the lug and hold it till solid. What I did learn is that is really important how you cut the cable. I started by using a hacksaw, then metal blade in a sabre saw, but after cutting, none of the cables fit in the lugs. Turns out that any vibration or fraying will cause the wire bundle to expand and not fit. I finally found a pair cable cutters (essentially a big loper), that made a clean cut.

Here are a couple of shots of the wiring process:

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In the shot below you can clearly see (from left to right, top to bottom): the new AC breaker box, the solar charge controller, the shunt so the battery monitor can measure current in/out, the battery monitor unit, the breaker for the solar system, the main fuse for the Magnum, the on/off switch for the Magnum, and the inverter itself. You can see that the shunt is in series with the negative line to the battery. All loads (even the battery monitor) are connected to the left side of the shunt so I can capture the current of every load. (even the battery monitor uses a small amount of current that adds up). You can also see that solar input on the left of the controller is not hooked up yet, that happens in the trailer. The green wire is the grounding wire for all the units.

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Next I had to decide how to interconnect the six batteries. Each battery is good for 300 amp-hours (AH) at 6 volts. This means I have 1,800 AH at 6 volts or 900 AH at 12 volts. To get the 12 volts I need some combination of series and parallel connections. I chose a wiring architecture that would allow me to remove two batteries easily without disturbing the center of mass of the battery bank.

Essentially I will have two banks of 6 volt batteries, which I will combine in series in the middle. This way, I can remove the outermost battery on each side and still have 12 volts, and the center of mass stays in the center. Conventional wisdom says that with this configuration, the innermost batteries will take the brunt of discharge and charging, causing shortened life. I hope to counteract this by both using huge cables and swapping the inner and outer batteries periodically.

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Here you see the implementation, helped with a Corona Light! This is after making nine jumper cables out of #2/0.

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Next, I removed the batteries and moved the entire system to the trailer. Luckily it fit! I then connected the solar cable, the four 115VAC cables, system ground, and the two monitor cables. I also re-mounted the interior light.

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I then mounted the two monitors in the interior, and powered up the inverter/charger. I went through Magnum’s bring up and check out process with no problems, and though there was no sun, the TriStar seemed to be working.

What I did notice was that when the Magnum is in bulk charge mode (115 amps into the batteries), the compartment got a little warm.

Time to think about cooling……
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Hugh and Amy
2012 International Serenity 27FB
2012 Ford F350
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Old 02-12-2012, 09:26 PM   #14
2 Rivet Member
 
2012 27' FB International
Palo Alto , California
Join Date: Nov 2011
Posts: 24
27FB Solar Install Part 7 - Cooling

Given the power being dissipated in the small space, I decided to implement some type of cooling system. I was concerned that some type of passive system with simple vents would not do the job. In addition, I didn’t want to disturb the water resistant front of the compartment. This meant an active, fan based system that had intake and exhaust under the trailer. I decided to use a marine tubeaxial fan and ducting. Temperature control would be an attic fan thermostat that was adjustable between 80 and 120 degrees, and could handle the 5 amps easily.

After a lot of thought, I decided that when the fan was running, the compartment would be negatively pressured, so air would be sucked into the compartment, not pushed out. This was because I was concerned about my ability to truly seal the compartment from the rest of the trailer interior, so I’d rather have trailer air going into the compartment then compartment air forced into the trailer.

I ended up using cooling intake and exhaust horns used for engine compartments in boats. Here’s a shot from underneath the trailer looking up into the electronics compartment, before adding the air scoop. Note I added the anti-rodent screen.

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Here’s the same exhaust port with the cover installed. It’s facing the rear of the trailer. With about 3 inches of clearance before that bulkhead. Note the conduit pipe to the left that is bringing up all the cables from the interior.

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Next I connected the fan with 10” of 3” flexible hose. The fan was loud and overpowered at 12V, so I wired for 6 volts. As I look at this shot, I realize that since I connected the fan directly to the battery, I am not “capturing” it’s current through the battery monitor shunt!

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Next I drilled a 3 inch hole in the front, right side of the compartment for the air intake. This hole goes into the dead space below the floor, but above the aluminum bottom skin. I will then put an air intake on the aluminum bottom, so that air will be sucked up into the dead space and into the compartment.

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Here’s a shot of the intake horn below the left side.

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Finally, I mounted the temperature sensor high on the opposite wall.

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Perhaps supporting AM-Solar’s contention, the fan has not run once yet!, But, it’s not summer yet……

Now that I've installed all this, can I even tow it? - Next up - Weighing
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2012 International Serenity 27FB
2012 Ford F350
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