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Old 01-20-2013, 10:46 AM   #99
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Hmmm. Horny AK - from New Jersey... Seems like there is a story somewhere...

To figure out how many and what size panels you need, you need to figure out how much power you will be using per day. You'll want to match your inflows - the number of watt hours created by the panels, at the part of the country you expect the trailer to be located in, with how you expect to use electricity in the trailer. The length of your trip doesn't matter so much - the answer would be about the same for one week as it would be for a month - because you are unlikely to carry enough batteries to last for more than a couple of days without some way to charge them.

There is a lot of variability in how much electricity gets used - when I am in the trailer alone, it's the minimum - basically lighting, water pump and furnace. My kids want to watch TV and charge up their gizmos. My wife wants the inverter turned on, so she can blow dry her hair and use the microwave. At each step, more power is used - and to stay in balance you need more inflows during daylight - and hence more panels, and likely more batteries to store more energy as well.

At the extreme end, there are folks on the forum who want to run their AC when boondocking. This requires lots of panels and lots of batteries to store the output of those panels.

Last consideration is location - if you plan to be boondocking in the winter in Idaho, the same panels will be creating a lot less power than they would in the summer in Florida. So you need more capacity the farther north you intend to be.

The easiest thing to do is probably just copy someone else here who seems to have electrical habits similar to yours, and purchase a similarly sized system. We've got about 300 watts which keeps the trailer (which has two Costco RV Batteries installed) constantly fully charged, as long as we park in decent sun, to the point I don't carry a generator anymore unless my wife is coming with us. (and even then we probably don't need it, it's just insurance to keep me out of the doghouse)
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Old 01-20-2013, 11:24 AM   #100
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Solar is only worth it if you're going "off grid" a lot. For occasional stops off the grid a generator is a better idea. If you are going off grid for more that two weeks every year than a small solar system is good. Push that to 30 days or more and then a full power solar system is called for.
I only rarely camp off the grid so I have no need of a solar system. Todays prices put solar at about 2.5 times the cost of a generator. However, add in the cost of driving to get fuel can offset this cost if you're way out in the boonies.
Don't forget that you also have to add in the cost of batteries. These only last a few years and will need to be replaced every few years.
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Old 01-20-2013, 11:58 AM   #101
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Solar is definitely a convenience luxury that will never even out price wise. Spending $3 a day on generator gas will take years of boondocking ever come close to what you will spend for solar. That said, it is an awesome luxury.

I wrote a blog post on our solar setup: Going Solar | WatsonsWander - Exploring and working fulltime from our Airstream

As mentioned by Dan, it really depends on how/what you are using. This page on AM Solar can help you understand what goes into usage. RV Solar System Sizing by Actual Use

We have 300 watts and it was enough to run the furnace enough to keep us warm. On the other hand, we had some fellow Airstream friends with us that have 400 watts and borrowed our generator one afternoon to top off their batteries. The reason?.. We spent the last few winters in Vermont, so are fine with the heat set to 50 or so and we have a catalytic heater that we ran before bed. They had their furnace set in the 60's and mentioned it ran almost non stop. They have an inverter and two power hungry laptops, while we power more efficient laptops via a 12v plug. They want more solar, we want more batteries. All depends on your usage.
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Old 01-22-2013, 06:42 AM   #102
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Solar is definitely a convenience luxury that will never even out price wise. Spending $3 a day on generator gas will take years of boondocking ever come close to what you will spend for solar. That said, it is an awesome luxury

Not to put too fine a point on it, neither is an Airstream (or any RV) without commensurate income derived from its use. Or, for that matter, neither is a car for the time/miles not spent in income production (which is only in commuting, for most folks).

I think it more a matter of understanding money spent versus value derived. And in this instance the ability to extend days of use without further inputs of fossil fuel makes the case for solar. The initial expense is what seems high.

I've just purchased a TT built in 1989. The optional solar system installed by Silver Streak is still operational. An optional 3.8k ONAN propane generator would likely still be operational, but maintenance/repairs would have boosted the cost a good bit. The cost for either -- factory -- was high even in todays money.

I think it more likely comes down -- as said above -- to the metrics by which we measure an RV, and not just our own use of it. Not all are vacationers (30-nights/5k annual miles).

I would, and do, rate more highly an RV that can go extended periods without further inputs. And on a TT (specifically) that also is "high performance" while en route to a destination. Subsumed in a design -- and of construction -- that is pretty well indefinite in lifespan. More or less permanent.

The initial cost -- in all respects -- is higher. Yet it is (or can be) a one-time cost.

Solar may not take the place of a generator, but it more clearly defines the when/where/what of such a purchase. Keeps it in bounds, so to speak. An internal combustion engine which I already have in the TV needs far more careful definition than something as simple as solar. I can modify the way batteries are charged from the TV, after all. A generator purchase may come down to running the A/C.

There are those who purchase a pickup truck as TV just to be able to carry highly flammable fuel & generator. I'd say that this makes a generator a highly expensive purchase compared to a better spec'd TV (initial cost, operational cost, depreciation, etc) where understanding ones TT use might have made for better long-term economy.

The largest picture (energy inputs) is conducive to sorting costs. As electrical is at the bottom of the list for what matters in an RV (in order: mobility, water, propane -- and last -- electricity) it is in understanding that electricity itself is a convenience, not a necessity, that the "luxury cost" is revealed. (The water pump and furnace fan being the exceptions).

Solar really is more like having a propane system aboard versus using wood or coal for purposes of heating air & water + cooking. Self-containment. Sort the cost of all propane-powered appliances plus installation as comparison.

Batteries are the weak link, after all.

What is luxury versus what may be necessity (income from Internet-based work, for example) can differ greatly. I'd say that not one of us is willing to be without electricity . . so capacity is a useful metric for any TT user.

Etc.


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Old 01-22-2013, 07:17 AM   #103
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I like our thermal solar option the best.
It has worked very well for us.
Low initial cost, no maintenance and reliable...

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Old 01-25-2013, 11:07 PM   #104
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Thumbs up It's Done!

Well... We just got an email from Uwe at Area 63 Productions and our Airstream is ready for us to pick up tomorrow. We had him install a 400 watt system and are anticipating it to generate a good 20 amps of available current to charge the batteries and use as needed during the day. We already have 2 Lifeline 6 volt deep cycle batteries and I am starting to think about adding another battery bank somewhere in the trailer. Any ideas on what type of and where would be appreciated. We also have a 600 watt inverter already installed so we should be okay on that front, no microwave popcorn but we can charge all our iPhones, iPads, and laptops. Plus Becky will be able yo blow dry her hair! Now all we need to do is plan our next boondocking trip.... Maybe Joshua Tree NP would be a good shakedown trip! Yay, we have solar!
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Old 01-25-2013, 11:45 PM   #105
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You may not have enough real estate available on the top to go without a gen ... I know that we do not... perhaps with "full coverage" and two AGM batts inside in addition to the deep cycles outside so you could store a bit more during optimal conditions. We are thinking perhaps that solar panels on the rear top of our TV with appropriate connecting cables ...
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Old 01-26-2013, 12:13 AM   #106
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Gee, I would think with 400 watts generating 20+ amps (baring heavy shade or clouds) we should be able to recharge our batteries each day. I have already replaced all our interior lights with LEDs, so that should help. We will eventually add a second battery bank to increase our available power storage. Time, and use will tell us how long solar will allow us stay org the grid, but I plan on taking the generator for our first few trips.... Just in case.
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Old 01-26-2013, 06:49 AM   #107
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Very thoughtful post slowmover. Reminds me of reality. Scot, it will be interesting to see how the capacity works out. You most likely have enough input , I am not sure on the output. I have a 1500 w inverter and it is ok for my stuff most of the time. However, we get spoiled quickly and pretty soon we are trying to run the vacuum while both tvs are running and my wife has the hair dryer going and then I start the microwave to reheat my coffee, if you get the picture. It can all be done, just not at once. We learn how to do the inverter dance. But what a great luxury solar has turned out to be. Great choice.
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Old 01-26-2013, 12:18 PM   #108
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I realize that only having a 600 watt inverter will be a limiting factor. Having said that, we don't watch much TV and don't have a vacuum cleaner (vinyl floors). Hopefully this will work out fur us. If not, we can always upgrade the inverter and add an additional bank of batteries in the future.
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Old 01-26-2013, 02:30 PM   #109
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solar

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott J-24 View Post
Gee, I would think with 400 watts generating 20+ amps (baring heavy shade or clouds) we should be able to recharge our batteries each day. I have already replaced all our interior lights with LEDs, so that should help. We will eventually add a second battery bank to increase our available power storage. Time, and use will tell us how long solar will allow us stay org the grid, but I plan on taking the generator for our first few trips.... Just in case.
I have a 200 watt system seems I can go indefinitely for TV & lighting playing stereo with I pod, charge laptop . I go for five days batteries are the same voltage when I come back .
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Old 01-26-2013, 02:38 PM   #110
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Boondocking for Geodes

Scott J 24 This rally might be good for you to check out your solar system.Airstream Forums - Boondocking for Geodes
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Old 01-26-2013, 03:27 PM   #111
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Hey Scott,

We had 200 watts and found with our relatively heavy usage at night (TV, furnace, etc) that we couldn't get the batteries back to 100% during winter days when it was real cloudy days or when we were parked in a very shady spot. Normally, they would go back to 80-85% under those conditions. (Batts were down to 60-65% in the morning.)
We just added another panel to bring it up to 300 watts and think that should do the trick. You should be Ok with 400.

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Old 01-26-2013, 11:25 PM   #112
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Scott J 24 This rally might be good for you to check out your solar system.Airstream Forums - Boondocking for Geodes
We are thinking about going, but work is really crazy now and will be just insane during the rally. I don't have very much hope at the moment, but things could change.
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