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Old 06-20-2012, 09:46 AM   #1
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Question CEA Solar - Opinions/experiences?

I am looking at solar battery chargers to keep the single battery in my AS charged. I don't plan on running the Air Conditioner or Refridgerator on AC but would like to be able to keep the lights on, the water pump going, and to charge the cell phone/iPad/laptop etc. for 1-2 weeks of off the grid camping.

A 90 watt charger would seem to be plenty under these conditions. I have been looking at the CEA Economy 90 W charger and was wondering if anyone has any experience with them or opinions on them? Would also like to hear about other brands of portable solar charges, good & bad.

Thanks,
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Old 06-20-2012, 09:55 AM   #2
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There is no mention of what kind of panels are used. Are they amorphous , polycrystaline ? This could make a differance how long they will last. amorphous panels dont live as long and are usually cheaper.
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Old 06-20-2012, 10:07 AM   #3
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I assume your refrigerator is an all propane unit, that does not require any 12 volt power to operate? Most new ones, unfortunately, require 12 volts for the ignition cycle and for the gas valve, and take a surprising amount of power over 24 hours. The charger you list may not be enough if you have one of that type of frig. If your '68 has the original refrig, this is not an issue. Many replacements are.

Otherwise, the specs and so on look ok to me for your intended use. My real issue with all of the portable ones is that they are portable, and if you are not there watching them can develop legs and walk away. Sad, but true. So, you leave it set up and go for a ride or a hike, and when you return, it is missing. The other issue is that you always have to set it up which is a PITA in my experience. A fixed one, on the AS may not produce as much power due to shade, angles etc, but it is always doing it, from first light to last. No set up, no hassles, it is just doing it's thing.

I originally had my system set up as a portable unit, and soon found that I did not want to unpack it, set it up, take it down, re pack it. I fixed my system to the roof and now it is there, always, just working. By removing the portability, I removed the ability for it to walk away.

So, just some rambling thoughts to consider.
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Old 06-20-2012, 12:09 PM   #4
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I bought the 120 watt version when it went on sale this winter. From what I've read about solar, it's absolutely the worst setup imaginable. The wiring is too small and far too long. The charge controller is too far from the batteries, etc. etc. So I wasn't expecting much. Boy was I surprised.

I installed the TriMetric battery monitor so I could monitor my solar gain because that's most of the fun... seeing the results.

I think the 120 watt model was rated for 6.9 charging amps so that's what I was expecting in a best-case scenario of high sun during the summer months. Imagine my surprise when I was pulling 7.4 charging amps during my test run from low January sun. Since then I've seen as high as 8.0.

I've used the panels quite a bit and have typically been down about 24 amp hours overnight with lights, water pump, some TV, conservative furnace blower, and laptop charging. The panel easily makes that up. Even under cloudy skies it will recapture most of that. I'm very pleased.

That said, I've seen the models from Zamp Solar and feel they are a higher quality build and a higher quality panel, but I have no experience in their use.
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Old 06-21-2012, 09:20 AM   #5
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Thanks for the replies all.

All the appliances are original. The refer runs on AC or Propane and has a manual pilot so drain on the DC is very minimal. Heat is from a radiant heater with no fan. The only real current draws are from the water pump and lights and whatever I might plug into the inverter which would only be a charger for phone/pad/laptop.

I thought about making a fixed mounted unit but it would require twice the panel capacity to make up for the loss of effeciency. And I don't really want to drill holes in the nice polished metal that might end up leaking either. I'm planning on making a 20-25 ft umbilical cord with power cables and a cable lock in a sheath to keep the honest people honest.

I hadn't seen the Zamp Solar kit, that does look like a nice unit, I'll have to look into it a little more. Glad to hear a positive review on the CEA though, thanks!

Any other suggestions, other things I need to consider?

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Old 06-21-2012, 09:33 AM   #6
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I have often thought about putting a solar panel on the top of a truck camper shell, rather than on the trailer. However my TV is an SUV so that is out, but most do seem to tow with a truck. Has anyone put Solar on the TV?

The efficiency issue is not as bad as you might assume, when using an almost flat panel in the summertime. The sun is very high in the sky and will probably give you 75 to 80% of what you would get at the optimum tilt angle. Now, in early spring or late fall that is a different issue. And a fixed panel cannot be moved into the sun, in case of shading.
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Old 06-21-2012, 09:41 AM   #7
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Here is a photo of the solar panels on my 20' Argosy. They were all surplus things given to me. The curved ones fit the contour of the trailer, the longish flat one fit on the other side. I have not seen the curved ones available in years in case you wonder where I got them.
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Old 06-21-2012, 10:20 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by idroba View Post
I have often thought about putting a solar panel on the top of a truck camper shell, rather than on the trailer.
That is an interesting idea and my TV is a truck that I am planning on putting a topper on. I think mounting on a topper would also allow some flexibility to put tilting mounts on the panels for a better angle when parked.

However, one of the reasons (besides more room and the cool factor) that I traded in my pickup bed camper for the AS was because I don't spend that much time in camp during the day. With the PU camper I always had to pack up and put the top down to go anywhere. If the solar charger went with the pickup then the battery in the camper wouldn't get charged very often. If your TV spends most of it's time in camp this would work pretty well I think.
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Old 06-21-2012, 10:37 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jinkers View Post
That is an interesting idea and my TV is a truck that I am planning on putting a topper on. I think mounting on a topper would also allow some flexibility to put tilting mounts on the panels for a better angle when parked.

However, one of the reasons (besides more room and the cool factor) that I traded in my pickup bed camper for the AS was because I don't spend that much time in camp during the day. With the PU camper I always had to pack up and put the top down to go anywhere. If the solar charger went with the pickup then the battery in the camper wouldn't get charged very often. If your TV spends most of it's time in camp this would work pretty well I think.
Possibly straying into the realm of silly, but: you could add a deep cycle battery or two to your truck that would be charged by the solar system wherever you are (unless it's in a parking deck), then connect those to the camper when you get back. I'm thinking a switch that would allow you to switch between the on-board batteries and the truck's deep cycle batteries.

I do like the solar atop the truck cap idea.
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Old 06-21-2012, 10:48 AM   #10
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Possibly straying into the realm of silly, but: you could add a deep cycle battery or two to your truck that would be charged by the solar system wherever you are (unless it's in a parking deck), then connect those to the camper when you get back. I'm thinking a switch that would allow you to switch between the on-board batteries and the truck's deep cycle batteries.

I do like the solar atop the truck cap idea.
That thought crossed my mind and it could be a good solution.... But who needs the solar panels then, just charge the deep cycle batteries from the truck engine while driving. This is why I never bothered with a solar charger for my pickup camper battery.
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