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Old 09-22-2015, 12:18 PM   #1
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2015 28' International
Columbus , Ohio
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How is factory solar wired?

Hi All,

I have had my 2015 28' AS International since June. This is my first RV. I have the factory installed solar option. My dealer says that the solar system only works to charge the batteries when the main switch is in the USE position, and is disconnected when the main switch is in the STORE position. Is my dealer correct regarding the solar panels and the STORE/USE switch?

I am getting ready for my first attempt at winterizing the AS, and would like the solar to keep the batteries charged during the winter. I am told that maintaining fully charged batteries should avoid damage due to freezing temperatures during the winter months. I live in Ohio where the coldest temperatures can reach -10F.

Is it possible to have the solar panels maintain the batteries in their charged condition during the winter while turning off all other power the trailer?

Will the solar system cut back on the charging rate after the batteries are fully charged?

I know that removing the batteries is the best solution, but I really don't have a good place the store them.

Thank you for any advice that you may have.
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Old 09-22-2015, 01:22 PM   #2
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See my post on winter storage of batteries:

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f449...ml#post1602338


There is no need to even charge them, if you totally disconnect them when in storage and they were fully charged to start.

There is certainly no problem with solar charging either, but I have no idea if the dealer is right, that the solar system is shut off from the batteries when in Store position. I don't have a factory solar system on mine.

There are so many possible little power leakages over long term storage that in my opinion the best way to deal with the situation is to simply disconnect the batteries totally and leave them alone and in place.
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Old 09-22-2015, 01:52 PM   #3
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In my 2012 the factory solar is connected to the batteries independent of the switch position, so always charging in sunlight. The supplied solar controller is cheap, no surprise, that is either on or off. I replaced mine with a good 3 stage so that the batteries charge properly.
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Old 09-22-2015, 03:50 PM   #4
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The solar prewire is connected to the bus bars which are on the other side of the disconnect relay to the battery.

If you have the switch in store mode then the bus bars and hence your solar are disconnected from the batteries.

This is why it is recommended to wire straight to the batteries..

Hope that helps.
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Old 09-22-2015, 04:37 PM   #5
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The factory solar in my 2015 and prior 2011 models charged the batteries when in the Store position if in sunlight. Regards, Joe
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Old 09-23-2015, 12:51 PM   #6
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We also purchased the factory solar when ordering our 2010 28" International. It is really a very poor system, and we upgraded it after a maiden voyage on which we ran the batteries dry overnight by using the furnace occasionally in just below freezing temps.

The biggest problem with the system for your purposes is the supplied controller. It is a one stage device, which means that it grabs whatever is hitting the panels and floods that into the batteries. This is somewhat offset by the fact that they installed two meager 56 watt panels for a total of 112 watts. In winter months, with the sun at low angles and the possibility of many dark days, that is really not adequate for anything other than topping off the batteries from ambient drains--maybe!

With everything turned off inside your coach during storage, there are still some devices using battery, including especially the hardwired propane detector. I think that this is about a 1/2 amp draw. This means that every 24 hours, this one device will draw 12 amps. To hazard a guess, I would bet that your 112 watts of panels generate a maximum of 3-4 amps per hour on a sunny day with the sun directly overhead in summer. In the winter, it's probably half that or less. And on either side of the sun's zenith, the panels generate even less. As a guess, if the panels are sending to the batteries even 2 amps for two hours, 1 amp for 2 hours, and 1/2 amp for another 3 hours on a typical winter day, that's 8 1/2 amps--not enough to cover the battery draw from your propane detector alone.

Because we boondock, we upgraded from two to four AGM's, taking the battery bank up to 440 amps. Because they are AGM's, you are not supposed to drain them below 50% (or they will deteriorate much faster), so we effectively have 220 amps of storage. In 2010, it was difficult to find panels narrow enough to look good on our roof that exceeded 80 watts, so we added two 80 watt panels to the two 56 watt panels (couldn't bring ourselves to throw those away and replace them with 80's) for a total of 272 watts on the roof. We have had absolutely no problem with our battery bank whatsoever with winter storage now (especially with the 3-stage MMTP controller that regulates between flood charge when the batteries are low, moderate charge as they approach full, and trickle charge to keep them gently topped off when full. It also draws more out of the panels than the AS supplied controller did.) Our AS is stored in partial shade, and even though we're in Southern California, the temp at the 2500 ft storage location does occasionally dip below freezing--but not like an Ohio winter.

For weight reasons (too much tongue weight), we intend to replace the AGM's with a 300 watt lithium battery bank, to get the weight from about 280 lbs down to 84lbs, and give us effective usage of 255 amps, because the lithiums are OK to draw down to 15% of capacity instead of the 50% for the AGM's.

Why did you purchase the solar? If you think that you're actually going to boondock, you really need to upgrade your system unless you're going to go only for two days at a time or are going to supplement it with a (shudder) generator. Our system has been adequate for two weeks of camping without shore power when we stay on the Texas coast in March, even though it is often overcast until 2pm. When we have a few overcast days in a row, we do become more conservative with our energy use. And of course, we're not running either the microwave or the AC, although it's fine to use the furnace for several hours during the night.

If you're not going to boondock, then the least expensive solution is to disconnect your batteries when in long term storage. If you are, you might consider 400 watts on the roof and doubling the size of your battery bank (and of course, adding an MMPT 3-stage controller such as BlueSky.) Lithiums are great, but have two drawbacks--they are very pricey right now, and they cannot take any charging if the ambient temperature is below freezing. There's a rumor about some new ones that might be safe taking a charge at temperatures down to 20 F, but that still won't help you (although it solves it for us.) And I know that Roadmaster has developed a proprietary lithium pack with sensors/heater built in to take care of this problem, but as of now, they are not offering them for sale outside of a NEW custom Roadmaster. So you should probably stay with AGM's and deal with the added weight--then you could simply walk away from your coach for winter storage with no problem, as we do.

But since you also have a 28' International, you most likely are tongue heavy already, too, and adding two more AGM's will add 140 lbs forward. So you'd need to weigh your tongue weight, see if it's within the specs for your tow vehicle's hitch/tow rating and payload rating with an additional 140 lbs added forward. Our second half of the battery bank is in the short leg of the L of our forward "gaucho," so it's both off center and really only a couple of feet behind the other batteries. Very efficient as part of the battery bank (short leads between the batteries), but a lot more weight forward than desirable--we've exceed our vehicles recommend hitch weight by more than makes me comfortable. AND both of our tire tread separations have been on the left front tire, which I suspect is not a coincidence. So even though we just changed up to 16" Sendels and Michelin XPS', I'm going to complete the safety upgrade with the lithiums to get 200 lbs or so off the tongue weight. (We've already shifted all "moveable ballast" inside that we can.)

If you need more info or have more questions, please don't hesitate to ask.
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Old 09-23-2015, 06:33 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gecko View Post
With everything turned off inside your coach during storage, there are still some devices using battery, including especially the hardwired propane detector. I think that this is about a 1/2 amp draw. This means that every 24 hours, this one device will draw 12 amps. To hazard a guess, I would bet that your 112 watts of panels generate a maximum of 3-4 amps per hour on a sunny day with the sun directly overhead in summer. In the winter, it's probably half that or less. And on either side of the sun's zenith, the panels generate even less. As a guess, if the panels are sending to the batteries even 2 amps for two hours, 1 amp for 2 hours, and 1/2 amp for another 3 hours on a typical winter day, that's 8 1/2 amps--not enough to cover the battery draw from your propane detector alone.
I have done accurate measurements of the propane detector in my 2014 FC 20, and although excessive (in my opinion) they don't come close to half an amp.

Mine draws about 75 mA, which is under one tenth of an amp. Still, over long time storage, it will kill batteries and cause slow discharge. It is one more reason I recommend disconnection of the batteries when the unit is put into storage.

But Gecko, you are very correct that the factory solar system is very marginal at best and even the charge controllers they supply (from reading posts only, no direct experience) are quite marginal and may have a standby load of their own.
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Old 09-23-2015, 08:19 PM   #8
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The solar system is always charging the batteries, unless they are fully charged. The battery switch does not disconnect it.

I believe the factory solar controller is better than described here. It is a multi-stage charger with temperature compensation (although the temp sensor is on the controller, not in the battery box).

The system has worked well for us in four years; in sunny weather the solar panels are adequate, we're more likely to run short of battery capacity from the two factory group 24 AGMs.

The battery disconnect in STORE does isolate the batteries from the Airstream's converter/charger, which is a single stage charger. The single stage controller/charger can ruin your batteries by constantly applying too much voltage. So whenever hooked to external power we put the battery switch in STORE and let the solar system charge the batteries by itself.

Then when unhooking external power, return the switch to USE so the batteries can supply power to the Airstream (for example, your fridge will not run on propane with the battery switch in STORE, nor will you have lighting).
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Old 09-23-2015, 10:47 PM   #9
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GEcko,

Thank you for the detailed reply. Not to hijack the thread... please clarify something for me as I am tired and ready to go to bed... Do you recommend getting the factory solar setup and then upgrade the controller? I am still doing research and learning all about Airstreams. When I do place my order for one, I want to have the solar option. I do not mind upgrading the controller or whatever else I need to make it ready for when I decide to boondock. What controller did you get in yours? Got pics of your set up? Thanks!
Rob
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Old 09-23-2015, 10:48 PM   #10
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Old 09-24-2015, 01:24 AM   #11
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If I may?

I install battery-based solar charging systems for a living. Your question is a bit open ended in that you did not state what you would like to attain with a solar charging system.

It is a given that you want your batteries to recharge from the sun, but the flip side of that desire is determining what devices you would like to operate from your batteries and for what duration.

I would start here: AM Solar's Educational Pages for RV Solar Systems

Once you select the types of appliance that you wish to operate while off-grid, you can then begin to design an appropriate system for your needs.

For some folks, the factory system is adequate. Some simply want adequate solar power to maintain their batteries when the rig is in storage. For many others, it is a factory afterthought best to be avoided. Some folks simply need enhanced batter charging for a larger battery bank while others have many thousands of dollars invested in comprehensive solar/battery/inverter systems that have sufficient capacity to even operate a roof A/C unit solely from a lithium battery bank.

It all comes down to determining your actual needs and usage patterns and getting a system that fulfills those needs.

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Originally Posted by Xicaque View Post
GEcko,

Thank you for the detailed reply. Not to hijack the thread... please clarify something for me as I am tired and ready to go to bed... Do you recommend getting the factory solar setup and then upgrade the controller? I am still doing research and learning all about Airstreams. When I do place my order for one, I want to have the solar option. I do not mind upgrading the controller or whatever else I need to make it ready for when I decide to boondock. What controller did you get in yours? Got pics of your set up? Thanks!
Rob
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Old 09-25-2015, 12:03 AM   #12
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Rob--

No--the factory solar is worthless. The money you save by not ordering it will take you a long way towards a proper solar system, preferably installed by Lewster. Otherwise, you're buying stuff that is of inferior quality and paying a premium for it.

As both Lew and I suggested, first step is to figure out what you're looking for the solar to a achieve for you. Do you plan to camp in areas with no hookups? For what period of time? How often? Then we can share with you thoughts as to what you need to get the job done right.
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Old 09-25-2015, 06:29 AM   #13
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Our 2015 30' FC has the factory solar system. It did last winter exactly what I wanted it to do, with the disconnect switch in the OFF position it kept the batteries (AGMs) at 100% all winter. I did go out several times to the storage area where she is to clean off the snow from them, but that was it.

In retrospect I would not order it, however. In our past AS I would remove the batteries and take them to the garage on trickle or nothing. I wanted to install a Sat antenna on our new AS and because of the two A/C units and two Solar panels there is no room. So, we use a portable antenna which takes up valuable storage in the truck etc.
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Old 09-28-2015, 09:27 PM   #14
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Lewster, gecko and paiceman,

Thanks for the info. That is exactly what I needed to learn. Off to AM solar's site.

Rob
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