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Old 08-27-2016, 11:14 AM   #1
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Generator versus Solar Power- update

I became tired looking for a Thread when I was going the Honda Generator route, versus installing Solar on our new 2014 International.

I wanted to see how effective having the generator and how well it worked to keep our AGM batteries alive and well into the usable range.

Final Answer:

After two weeks in Wyoming- SOLAR

The passive charging of the batteries during the daytime surpasses the generator in convenience and keeping the batteries topped off.

Even the moving from one campsite to another did not keep the batteries topped off, even as frugal we are using them when detached at an Off the Grid campsite.

This was an experiment on my part costing $900 for the generator. I can use it if my wife needs the hair dryer or there is television reception in the Red Desert of Wyoming. Except for those uses... it is a boat anchor with a two gallon container of additional fuel in the back of the tow vehicle.

For those who actually camp Off the Grid... I found NO advantage with the generator. I could have my tow vehicle idle to provide 12 volts when the water pump was used or some mild charging of the batteries. The cost in additional fuel of the tow vehicle's alternator was CHEAP, compared to the Honda purring quietly on the tailgate.

I will be seeking out having one or two 100 watt panels to be installed on our 2014 International at Tucson this February... if we can be fitted into their schedule at the Airstream Dealership, now there.

Our 80 watt solar panel on our 2006 Safari provided us with a reliable charge for a week before declining. This was a lesson learned by myself and will not be forgotten. Passive Solar is far superior to Purring Generator...

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Old 08-27-2016, 11:24 AM   #2
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I went solar first (installed maybe 5 or 6 years ago). Have 470 watts up top.

Recently bought a generator (honda 2000i) as a backup but have only used it once this summer.

Solar is a big investment but has worked out very well for me....

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Old 08-27-2016, 07:08 PM   #3
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Interesting thread for me, thank you.

I rented a generator on a recent boondocking trip and like you, didn't use it. I think I would prefer the generator as it provides 115v AC rather easily, and would run the AC if we got overheated for some reason.

But it is certainly true Airstream builds their trailers as "self contained" with ample 12v power. Who needs an ac, or microwave, or hair dryer, or TV when enjoying the great outdoors? Take a hike with your puppy instead.

Solar panels are coming down in cost. Airstream Life sells these portable units with a 30' cord so you can move them into the sun. They would keep the standard 12v batteries charged up pretty good.

But to rig up a solar system to provide 2000 watts of AC power is a whole nother ball game. But many do exactly that. I think the cost is much more than a 2000 watt generator. That's my issue.

So generator or solar is a decision based on how you use your Airstream. How is that for stating the obvious!

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Old 08-27-2016, 08:14 PM   #4
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We already have 150 watts of solar, installed by our dealer, with one panel on the roof. We're not satisfied, recommend you get more wattage than that if you can. We also have a propane-fired Honda EU2000i generator which we recently purchased and are using as backup in case of camping in deep woods or other shady spots, or as in our case, an under-powered solar panel.

We'll eventually do a major upgrade of solar and move to lithium with Victron gear behind the scenes, but that's probably not for a couple of years. Until then this config, along with our new pair of Group 27 batteries, will have to do. (only bought the new batteries because the original group 24 batteries up and died last week)
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Old 08-27-2016, 08:41 PM   #5
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This is my first trip with a 100 watt Renogy suitcase panel. It's working great for us. The batteries get topped off every day.

We are frugal electric users and are using lights, MaxxAir fans all day, the water pump, and heat every morning.

The portable panel lets me aim it for max gain, I'm seeing 5-6 amps typically.

Roof top panels would be more convenient but the 300 watts or so may not give me more amps because of positioning.

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Old 08-27-2016, 08:54 PM   #6
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Hey, thanks, this gives us hope that maybe our solar experience will improve with better batteries on the tongue. Sure hope so!
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Old 08-27-2016, 09:21 PM   #7
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Got back from Glacier National Park last week. Many Glacier and Fish Creek Campgrounds are solar challenged. You may get a couple of hours on sunlight through the trees but if you have roof solar you may not get any sun unless you also use a portable panel. Add some clouds and solar is marginal. My portable 200w Zamp was used, wish I had a longer extension as even 25ft wasn't long enough to get the most sun at my campsites. t'm glad I purchased a Honda 2000 prior to the trip (propane converted). I ran it for a couple of hours when needed during generator hours. Our campsite at St Mary had clear view of the southern sky so the portable panel was successful. I'm amazed that my two Interstate grp 27 batteries can't maintain 12.6 or higher for a couple of days before dropping off and this is just with running a few lights, fridge electronics and charging phones. I did run the 28" TV off 12v a couple of nights along with a 120w inverter to run an Apple TV. A few mornings I ran the furnace for the wife to take the chill off while she go up out of bed.

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Old 08-28-2016, 09:36 AM   #8
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I could not find an original Thread as it was under Boondocking:

Boondocking- Solar or Generator?

Living in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains... Air Conditioning is similar to selling Ice Cubes to Eskimos, not necessary.

The last two weeks in Western Wyoming we had frost on our trailers in mid August. Standing in the shade of a tree or bush the temperature drops immediately from what you will experience in the sunlight.

Missouri... whew. Living in the Kansas City, Missouri metro area for a decade or more does add to one's understanding of stepping outdoors and the sweat begins to pour. Without any effort.

Colorado... you step out and in the morning have a long sleeved shirt, and later have no need for it, tie it around your waist and by late afternoon the shirt goes back to prevent the chills.

Each region has its unique needs when inside your trailer. I actually have particular ways to orientate the length of the Airstream at a right angle to sunrise on cooler days or end to end towards sunrise on hotter days. The humidity in the 15% to 3% is a bonus. We rarely use the trailer's furnace as it is a battery drainer and several blankets and a sleeping bag for really cold mornings... in August, do the trick as bed covers.

I received an email from 47WeeWind about how he did his Solar System and will have to study it. The not knowing does prevent people like myself from 'self installing' solar onto their trailer or as a foldout next to their trailer.

Much like your first attempt to real Boondocking Off the Grid. It is outside the comfort zone of most... until you just do it. That is me and Solar. My idea of testing voltage is wetting my index finger and touching a wire... so far, so good.
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Old 08-28-2016, 11:01 AM   #9
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Get more and skip the dealer

Take a look at Solar threads on the forum. There are solar professionals out there that will do a much better job than the dealer. Also, you may want to put more wattage up there. The fact that the dealer didn't tell you that shows why you should go to a professional (which the dealers really aren't).

Is there room for larger batteries. I have a trailer and that's one of the big things that help us boon dock generator free. I bought a generator in 2005 and used it once before putting a real solar system in an haven't used the generator since. We watch TV and run the heater all night. We are able to camp in the snow and heat our tanks. I recommend that you rethink the 200 watts and try to improve battery capacity.
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Old 08-28-2016, 11:50 AM   #10
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If you confine your adventures to severe clear, high sun angle, unforrested outings, solar alone can do it. There are many enjoyable trips that include none or only some of the listed conditions. A generator makes up for them. When the odds of encountering them are low, we leave the generator at home. Come fall, though, the odds change… and so our packing list.
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Old 08-28-2016, 12:20 PM   #11
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Again, to each his own.
If I had to pick between solar or generator. I would select generator.
There is an advantage with solar for sure but the investment $$$ to power is still expensive and in my opinion, supplemental. I have 350 watts solar. In nearly every camping area I have stayed I have been in a wooded area. The solar power is minimal. The LP generator is great. It really depends on the climate and the conditions. Right now in my area, I would not want to camp without AC yet someone perhaps in Jackson Hole might be just fine climate-wise and perhaps on a treeless plateau or something.

I believe both are a good call if it is affordable. I bought solar to cover my daily regular usage needs (a solar guru calculated it for me as I provided the draw needed and hours used of each item). I over shot the needed wattage a bit by about 70 watts more solar than needed. The generator is for AC/microwave use and backup.
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Old 08-28-2016, 01:00 PM   #12
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I WANT to be able to run my AC and / or microwave whenever I choose to. Generator is a must if I'm not plugged into shore power.
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Old 08-28-2016, 01:21 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by NY24 View Post
I WANT to be able to run my AC and / or microwave whenever I choose to. Generator is a must if I'm not plugged into shore power.
Me too.
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Old 08-28-2016, 03:14 PM   #14
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We've been on the road for two months now in the WA, ID, MT, ND AND SD and we have only been on solar.. Check the solar section of the forums. There is some great information and you'll be able to find a great installer. We used Lewester with AM Solar..

We have 600 watts on the roof and a 400+ Amp/hour battery system. We can use our induction cooktop, wife can use her hairdryer and we can even use the AC for a couple of hours on a good sunny day. This was an investment but we could not be happier. AM solar also has a great web page with lots of information.

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