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Old 05-28-2008, 07:25 AM   #1
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Is solar the answer?

Left home base with full charge on batteries (plugged into shore power for ~50hrs)

Drove eight hours….
boondocked one night... ran furnace overnight (~6hrs)...
status panel showed batteries at ¼ capacity in the morning

drove eight hours (umbilical plugged in, of course)..

boondocked again…
status panel showed FULL battery capacity…
after 2-3 hours of running furnace, batteries died

it appears my suburban doesn't charge the trailer batteries very well...

(I cant imagine that little umbilical wire is getting much amps back to the trailer)
seems, only time i get a good charge is on shore power for 24hrs at least...
(it was almost like the status panel was spoofed into thinking full charge?)

1. would a solar system solve my charging (while dry-docked) problem?

2. is it productive to cram panels onto the roof of my trailer... is the quantity of panels dependant on the amount of battery storage?

3. i'm pretty handy with tools, but i'm cautious about making any modifications while still under factory warranty... IME airstream is real eager to shirk any of their coverage responsibilities... that is, i could see them not honoring repairs in the event of electrical problems or leaks because of a non-factory solar installation...


4. these are the OEM ‘interstate’ deep cycle- could this be a warranty issue?

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Old 05-28-2008, 08:46 AM   #2
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I cann't speak to you solar question but I will speek to the question of your Sub charging the batteries. The truck alternater will charge until the regulater sees a fully charged battery. In the case of you using the heater all night and running the trailer battery down the truck battery will have a higher charge, in the am, and thus be the one that controls the charging rate. Once the alternater has charged a battery to the point the regulater is happy it shuts down until it sees a need to again charge.

While the trailer batteries may show a full charge at this point that is not much more than a surface charge and will decay quickly once a load is applied.

I have contacted an individual that has extensive experience with solar and hope he chimes in.
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Old 05-28-2008, 10:35 AM   #3
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Hi FCJ

Up until recently most of the information I received leaned towards "solar not fully replacing a generator" and return on investment being low.

I'm a full-timer, and on a long boondocking trip to Arizona, I hooked up with the solar community.

What I learned first hand and real-world changed the way I live.

Now don’t get me wrong, if you want to run your AC, a large 3500 watt generator is the only practical way to go.

But if you feel you can live with a few fans and utilize Airstreams natural ventilation advantage, read on.

Since installing my own system, I have been independent from shore power and generator for 45 days, keep in mind, I live full time in my AS.

Keep in mind, I run an additional electric deep freezer off my solar system.
(2) power hungry computer, (1)printer, and router.
19" TV and DVD
Sub woofer and 6 speaker sound system

2 fans, plus 2 Fantastic fans.
Bread machine.
Small Crock pot.
600 W microwave.
Toaster oven.
All rechargeable batteries, ie AAA. AA
Vacuum
Power tools.
Florescent light and incandescent.

1. With your skills, you can install a system yourself.

2. The reason many solar owners are not satisfied with their systems is that the systems installed are inadequate.

3. Besides AC I have not lacked for reserve power.

4. Power conscience management is required and rewarding.

My system consists of the following, and while not ideal for everyone, it works for my needs, tow vehicle, and rig.

(3) 135w solar panels
(5) 12v lead acid, group 29 batteries
Dual 25 amp controller with remote meter
1800 watt Xantrex inverter with remote meter
Transfer switch.
Catalytic heater
I am also helping another AS owner install a similar system, and expect the same results.
Now others will debate battery size and type, inverter size and type, solar size and requirements, brands, layouts and so on, but the bottom line is that with a large battery bank and adequate solar collection you can achieve solar independence.
There are many experts here on this forum that can offer you support.
Just go for it.


Michael
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Old 05-28-2008, 10:44 AM   #4
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Mike

Is everything in or on the trailer or have you put some in or on your truck?
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Old 05-28-2008, 10:56 AM   #5
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Managing a Solar System

Quote:
Originally Posted by HowieE
Mike

Is everything in or on the trailer or have you put some in or on your truck?
Hi Howie.

All PV are mounted on the truck, as is the controler and 3 of the batteries.


Michael
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Old 05-28-2008, 11:22 AM   #6
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I'm thinking of getting a Trimetric battery monitor myself. My OEM Interstates are nearing 3 years of use and I'm living on borrowed time I figure. I'll spring for AGMs when I need to. Knowing more about my power consumption will help immensely. A furnace blower running frequently sucks a lot of power. I camp in cool weather a lot. Balancing amp hours and family peace, I set the thermostat somewhere south of 55 degrees when boondocking. We always have sleeping bags and small down comforters to throw on top of bedding for extra warmth in those situations.

Your TV alternator doesn't produce much power beyond tow vehicle needs. And the run back to your trailer battery is mighty long. I've always thought 200 miles of towing was necessary to recharge the battery -- evidently 2air has worked this through better -- he says it's closer to 8 hours of towing time. And a genset in camp should have a few hours minimum to rebuild a depleted battery. For best battery life you'd like to prevent frequent drawing down below 50% storage in a lead acid battery. I'll assume you're not using an inverter to run a resistance or high power appliance (hairdryer, toaster, microwave).

A genset will produce a lot more power to recharge than solar. It says something to me that a genset alone can take hours to recharge. Depending on trees in the area, solar may be a tough call unless you can really budget your power consumption. Roof area for solar is limited and broken up by vents, etc. But I still pay attention to what Michael and others have done.

Here are some relevant threads:
http://www.airforums.com/forums/f449...ems-39033.html
http://www.airforums.com/forums/f449...ell-38903.html
http://www.airforums.com/forums/f37/...0-a-29634.html
http://www.airforums.com/forums/f448...all-32749.html
http://www.airforums.com/forums/f448...box-32748.html
http://www.airforums.com/forums/f448...res-31550.html
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Old 05-28-2008, 11:43 AM   #7
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OK -- gots more.

I'm doing this to put sources all in one place for myself!

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f287...tml#post542167
http://www.airforums.com/forums/f449...tml#post556017
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Old 05-28-2008, 12:07 PM   #8
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I'm not obsessing.... I'm not obsessing... I'm not obsessing...

You'd think a mod could combine these posts so my post count wouldn't go up by 3.

There is a great amount of valuable posting by RoadKingMoe in our archives. Do an Advanced Search, keyword solar (only that one word!), search entire posts, Search by User Name RoadKingMoe, Show Results as Threads. He gets right down to the possible numbers. Basically, solar will have a hard time keeping up with amp hour draws of active campers.

Or:
http://www.airforums.com/forums/f448...ing-11634.html
http://www.airforums.com/forums/f448...ion-21480.html
http://www.airforums.com/forums/f448...nel-19357.html
http://www.airforums.com/forums/f37/...ter-15625.html
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Old 05-28-2008, 12:56 PM   #9
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How timely!

I don't believe that solar is THE answer, but it surely is AN answer!!!...And a very good answer at that!

I just finished installing my 200 watt (2 panel) system from AM Solar on the roof of my van (similar to Artstream). I am using 2 Lifeline GPL-6CT 300 amp hour golf cart batteries and a Magnum 2000 watt sine wave inverter. I have 120VAC outlets inside the van for work and one weatherproof one at the bumper where I can plug in the trailer.

I also just got an Engel 43 quart refrigerator/freezer that runs on 12VDC or 120VAC for the trip. I just plugged it in yesterday and it ran all night on the battery power and the battery capacity hardly even budged. The Lifelines are recharging nicely now in the sunshine.

One great benefit is that the AM Solar 30DR controller will also keep the starting battery charged, as the system was initially designed for motorhome use where the coach batteries do not get charged at all unless the engine is running.

I'm rushing around like crazy at the moment trying to get packed and out of FL.......so I can get to TX for...............an AM Solar UPGRADE to an antique solar charging system on another Airstream. I'll try to document that procedure for another thread.

This system gives me the flexibility to run 120VAC appliances and tools from my van while working, can grab a VERY cold beverege from the fridge at any time while working, and gives me the ability to plug in the Airstream to the back of the van while boondocking, just like it was a power post in an RV park.

Photos and blurb coming when I get a minute after hitting TX!

PS: I'll probably be increasing the capacity of the system by adding another 2 panels and a couple more 300 amp hour batteries once I get to the West Coast, giving me 400 watts of panels and 600 amp/hours of battery capacity.

PPS: the nice thing about the inverter is that it is also a charger and will properly charge the batteries if I'm plugged in somewhere.
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Old 05-28-2008, 02:12 PM   #10
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Solar vs. generator myths

Michael's reply in post #3 was excellent and dead-on. Our experience and conclusions match his entirely.

Let me play "mythbuster" for a minute and add some other info that may help. This is all based on our research, articles published in Airstream Life magazine, and actual experience.

Myth #1. Towing recharges the batteries. True, but so slowly that it's not very useful. Depending on your alternator's output, the wiring from your alternator to the trailer's battery, and the state of charge of the batteries, recharging can take anywhere from several hours to several days. It is not an efficient way to recharge.

Myth #2. The factory-provided battery meter is useful in determining the state of your batteries. False. It measures voltage, which is highly inaccurate under most circumstances. It will show a green light, or on the factory solar system, perhaps 90-100% rating, but it's just a wild guess. A quick charge will bring the voltage up but as another poster pointed out earlier, that's just a "surface charge" and will quickly dissipate under load.

This is why anyone who really wants to know the state of their batteries installs an ampere-hour meter, such as the Tri-Metric 2020. There are other models as well.

This also explains why you can tow for two hours and see your voltage-based battery meter show "full" charge. The batteries aren't really charged, it's just that the cheap voltage meter is being fooled.

Myth #3. A generator is a good way to re-charge your batteries. Half true, half false. The reason is that your Airstream's battery charger is probably a two-stage charger. When your batteries are very depleted, a generator can get 20 amps or more into them for a short time. That's great

But when the charger switches from bulk mode, which will typically happen in less than an hour, the charge rate will drop enormously. A partially-charged battery can only accept a certain rate of charge, which declines as it gets fuller. Even plugged into shore power or a generator, it might take a few days to fully recharge. We had this experience and it was painful to watch.

It doesn’t matter how big your generator is. If the battery is more than half full, it probably won’t take even 1/10th of the power the generator is putting out, which means you’re making noise and smoke for not much return. Battery charging happens slowly.


So if you use a generator, your best strategy is to run it when you are using lots of power, such as in the evening when you have lights, fan, and water pump going. It's much more efficient to use the generator to supply power when needed than to try to recharge battery power that has been used.

This also suggests that if you are going to buy a generator solely for battery re-charging, you may as well get the smallest generator you can, since even a Yamaha or Honda 1000 will put out more amps than your batteries can accept.


Myth #4: Replacing the factory-supplied converter/charger with a new one will improve your charge rate. True, in most cases. Any three-stage charger will help your batteries get up to full power much more quickly than a two-stage charger. However, if you install solar, battery charging can be taken over by the solar charge controller when you are not plugged in. We use a Blue Sky 2000e MPPT solar charge controller which has three stages. Thus, we are able to recharge more quickly on solar than we can plugged into 30-amp shore power!

Myth #5: Solar doesn't have enough return on investment. This one depends on you. Solar is about being able to go places where there is no power hookup, without the noise, gas, weight, and inconvenience of a generator. If you value solitude, quiet, and simplicity, the added cost of solar can be well worth the investment. It's a personal choice and based on your style of camping. But if you want to power hair dryers, air conditioners, microwaves, and laser printers, or if you camp where there is not much sun, a generator makes more sense.


Myth #6: Solar doesn't produce enough power. False. With the new flexible solar panels, you can put a lot of power-generating capacity on any Airstream's roof. And you can reduce your power requirements by being smart about the appliances you use. For example, get a universal power converter like the iGo Everywhere 130 that I use, and you'll use your 12v power much more efficiently than if you used an inverter to power things like computers, phone chargers, PDAs, etc.


Another key power hog to eliminate is the furnace. A catalytic heater can be a huge help here. With a decreased power budget, you can reduce the size of your solar panels and batteries and save a lot of money.

A good first step for anyone is to understand the true state of their battery charge and the power they are consuming. For this reason, I recommend to anyone interested that they upgrade their battery monitor as mentioned in Myth #2, above. (Go for it, Canoestream!)

Hope that helps!
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Old 05-28-2008, 02:41 PM   #11
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The "I'm thinking of getting a Trimetric battery monitor myself. My OEM Interstates are nearing 3 years of use and I'm living on borrowed time I figure." gets into that 'myth 2' thing above - there is a tendency to confuse state of charge with battery health and to understand the proper means for measuring either. Voltage is indeed a direct measure of battery state of charge but, like any measure, you have to interpret your results in context and take proper precautions. (The Trimetric requires you to enter an estimate of battery capacity so any errors in that, such as due to age, make its readings off. Watching how voltage changes with load will quickly tell you battery state of health directly)

On the solar - keep in mind that you install a system that includes solar panels, controller, batteries, and perhaps some other components. The first thing you need to do is to make sure your energy storage capacity is sufficient. A good rule of thumb there is to have enough battery to last a weekend (three days plus two nights) in moderate conditions. That means you should have enough battery so that the voltage stays above 12.0v measured with no load or charging for a half hour or more.

You'll find you need about a pound of battery for every 10 watt hours of energy use.

For solar panels, figure you need 100 watts of panel for each kilowatt hour of battery capacity. That's 100 watts per each group 27 battery.

After that, you can get into toys like the electron counters (tri-metric) and other stuff. I see a lot of folks spending a lot of money that really doesn't provide any cost benefit - but they think it does so I guess that is worth something!
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Old 05-28-2008, 03:34 PM   #12
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Michael, Lew, Rich & Bryan -- Great reasoning! Nice little forum we have here.
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Old 05-29-2008, 09:00 AM   #13
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Actually, I have found that my '01 2500hd appears to be discharging my one Trojan battery when driving. I'll be checking the vehicle to trailer wiring this weekend to trace the problem.

Solar was the answer for me. April '07 I ordered and installed two 100 watt and one 65 watt solar panels from AM Solar and have never run low on battery power. When the trailer sat at the hunting camp in March/April, the fans were running all day on medium and into the night for 6 weeks solely on the charging from the panels. This is why I bought the system in the first place because I do not have access to electricity where I hunt.
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Old 05-29-2008, 08:12 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by confused....
so what exactly is the question?
hi fc'

there are lots of threads on solar vs genset and no doubt u read them before posting, right?

the debate is a little like mac/pc, paper/plastic, creditcard/debit-checks, belts/suspenders and so on...

-your question appears to be....

'why doesn't driving fully charge the rv batteries?'

'why aren't my batteries holding a charge longer?'

'will solar make my charging woes vanish?'

the REALLY short answer, tailored just for you is...

get a small genset.

1. IF your tv and 7 pin are operating correctly it may take up to 150 hours of driving to fully charge an rv battery...

basically your tv provides the amount of energy used to lower the jacks and extend the slide...once.

2. the 7 pin may NOT be operating correctly, have it checked and get voltage readings accross the entire circuit.

just camped with a couple who almost always use full hookups, arriving with 'down' coach batteries...

and it turns out the POWER wire inside their 7 pin (suburban) wasn't connected.

3. gen vs solar...

this is a VERY person specific issue and THE BEST answer depends on YOU...

--how many days camping yearly and especially boondocking?

......less than 50/30 get a small genset, which CAN BE USED FOR OTHER THINGS TOO!

--where do you live and camp?
......divide the usa into 3 segments (north/central/south)
......north will have short (2-3m) season for good solar, south a long (9-12m) and central (5-6m)
......don't plan to camp under/near trees either.

......and IF stored under cover the solar is WORTHLESS....

--plan to use a microwave/convection oven, a/c or other 110 appliances?
......with a large bank of batteries and a big inverter, using 110 appliances is EASY with a genset.

--do you like to keep a tally and count all of your energy usages?
......solar is fine IF you have a good accounting OR are willing to monitor usage closely, look for exposed sites...
......while a genset is the quick/easy way

--how long will u keep the trailer?

......a genset is easy to move to the next new trailer, solar can be moved but generally isn't, so it's that much MORE expensive when trading units...

--experience with alt energy?

......over time solar folks get very savy and committed to their approach but there is a learning curve,
......and it's more expensive and there are issues...

the genset approach is quick/easy/less costly and can be resold IF you don't like it...

a 1000 or 2000 honda can be run for 2 hours daily and keep the batteries healthy...

run it for 5-6 hours every 3 days and get a FULL charge of most deep cycle rv batteries (2)...

so to GUESS at your answers....

-living WAY NORTH,
camping 30-50 days/yearly,
seldom going south,
not keeping a good energy audit and
wanting a quick/simple solution
on a trailer that may not be the last one...

get a small genset and learn how to use it.

btw, i've got both, use both, plan to enlarge the solar side, but ALWAYS carry and use the genset too!

lastly the charge meter reading INSIDE the rv is misleading, it is sort of a surface reading not the full battery state...

after juicing when it reads "100" turn on a light or small gadget for a few minutes, this will quickly drop it 5-10% to the true charge level...

cheers
2air'
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