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Old 06-17-2011, 12:27 PM   #1
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Seeking Feedback: solar solutions for full-time telecommers

Hi Everyone –

Wife and I have decided that we are ready to take the leap into full-timing. At this point we are anticipating launching in about a year timeframe. In the meantime, I’m trying to prepare a budget inclusive of anticipated/expected costs. While the timeline is a bit out on the horizon, my goal is to pay cash for as much of this purchase as I can. To that end, I’m hoping to create a realistic budget, including the basics: trailer, TV, hitch, full solar, and any other up front modifications which may make sense given my intended usage and needs. And then, start saving my pennies like crazy.

My current RV and overall experience is limited to a Class-C rig ... my 2006 Winnebago View. Other than walking through trailers at shows and dealerships, I have no experience with Airstreams or other travel trailers. I’ll also add that I’ve spent up to 5wks traveling and working remotely from my View … albeit regularly with shore power + onboard generator (I do not have any solar capability currently). I really like the View, but for a number of reasons, we have decided to pursue an AS/trailer solution as we full-time.

As a bit of background, I’m currently in the Seattle area and the plan will be that my wife and I both keep our jobs via a telecommuting arrangement. Suffice it to say, our daily energy needs will likely be intense (2 laptops, an additional dedicated iMac/server, onboard wireless router, antenna amplifier, in addition to other nasic needs for lights, water pump, fantastic fans, etc.). My guess is that we will land upon a 27’FB and our hope is to secure a sufficiently powerful solar solution allowing for self sustainably equal to our ability to sustain freshwater/waste tanks (typically 3-4 days).

I have no experience with solar and have been reading a lot about it, but to be honest I find the entire topic a bit overwhelming. The reality is, my only real-world hands-on reference point is limed to my set-up ... two deep cycle Interstate 12v (95ah) batteries. While both batteries are relatively new, I do not think they are all that effective given my typical energy demands, particularly when I need to regularly run the furnace. Much to my chagrin, I always need to power the generator less than 24hrs into the trip for recharging. The cruel reality is that my current set-up does not sustain my ability to work remotely while boondocking, but I will absolutely require such ability when I begin full-timing.

BTW – I’ve replaced most of the lights with LED alternatives and do practice extremely conservative consumption when not connected to shore power.

Early on, I would expect that we may full-time and stay fairly close to the Seattle area ~ 1-2 days drive distance until we’ve fully found our rhythm on the work front. then, the goal is go anyplace we chose. Until then. given the PNW weather patterns, I’ll want to ensure panels with sufficient ability to function given the often overcast skies.

I would greatly appreciate hearing any feedback from folks with similar size trailer and energy demands/usage … what solutions have you landed upon, any regrets, and ballpark costs I should plan to budget.

From what I can tell within the forum chatter, there seems to be varying opinion on AS pre-solar kits, so I would love to hear more about that given my purpose. Additionally, I assume the stock batteries absolutely will need to be replaced, and I’m very interested in knowing if I should anticipate dumping any of the the other stock electrical system/infrastructure. Lastly, I’m also curious if any of you are running 2+ batteries with your solar solution, and if so, where do you store extra batteries (beyond the two on the tongue).

Thanks in advance for the comments -- really appreciated.


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Old 06-17-2011, 01:14 PM   #2
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One thing that you don't mention specifically that might save you a worthwhile fraction of power... you should charge and/or power the MBPs with a DC power supply when you're running the system off batteries... if you're using any sort of inverter for that and using a regular Magsafe wall adapter you're wasting quite a bit. I'm not sure if that helps you with the iMac "server" or not, I don't recall whether its conversion to DC is via an external brick or not, but I suspect it is.


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Old 06-17-2011, 01:24 PM   #3
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My soon to be wife and I are in the same boat and plan to start full-timing next spring. Though I am not really worried about power usage, I would be interested in reading others replies.

At the moment I am thinking of getting "The Pathmaker" setup ( Solar Power Kits For RV And Bus Conversions ) That is 280 watts of solar. With 2 new 6v batteries and a new converter, that should around $2,000. Undecided if we will take a generator or not. No inverter. The 280 watts is 2 panels. You could probably fit 3 on the top of a 27', but 4 might not work.

I think it comes down to doing the math to see how many amps you really will be using in a day and figuring what you can and can't live without while boondocking. (Will you really need a 400 watt+ server or will one of your laptops do?)

My macbook air is awesome and runs for hours. I will get a 12v adpater for it and an external battery. The cradlepoint router draws 1.5amps at 12v. Not sure on the external amplifier yet.
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Old 08-17-2011, 10:15 PM   #4
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I'm late to this thread, but we do almost exactly what you're asking. We live in Portland, and spend about 50% of the time in our Airstream - working from the road.

We have a 27FB with a solar system installed by AM Solar. It was expensive, and it's awesome. We have 400W of panels on the roof, a 1,000 W inverter/converter/charger, and 6 golf-cart sized AGM batteries under the bed. I'm an electrical engineer, and I decided to have them install the system. I'm happy with that decision.

The thing that will use the most power in the Pacific NW is your heater. You need a pretty big solar system and batteries to run the heater for many nights in this area with the amount of sun available and the ambient temperatures. The stuff you need to work is much smaller in terms of current draw.

For internet (we have an online business, so we have to stay connected all the time), we have settled on a wifi-in-motion setup with a Cradlepoint modem/wifi hub, three different datacards (Verizon, AT&T and Sprint), a cell-booster amplifier, and an external antenna. For us, this worked FAR better than satellite internet - Hughesnet. (See our blog for details). This setup takes a tiny amount of power - insignificant compared with heater.

I'd be happy to tell you more about our work-from-the-road setup, as it sounds like you have similar requirements and perhaps an identical trailer in the works. Or, you can browse our blog.
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Old 08-17-2011, 10:59 PM   #5
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It is too late and I'm tired, but you should be able to find several recent threads on this. One is by eheffa and describes how he installed a system.

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Old 08-18-2011, 09:19 AM   #6
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There are many threads on solar and Lewster is a forum member who performs solar installations commercially. Read through those threads with a particular eye towards his posts.

The Airstream "boondocking" package is widely believed to be undersized and costly for what it includes.

A typical solar installation in an Airstream is usually 300 watts of panels and 4 group 27 (or similar) batteries. Adding batteries to bring the total to 4 is a common mod among boondockers and is the practical maximum due to space and weight constraints, though a few people have a bank of 6 batteries.

If you're running the furnace and need power for computers and communication equipment you will need more than 300 watts of panels. You may also want to consider alternatives to the furnace that do not require electricity, such as the Newport propane heater and related devices. I started a thread in the furnace section covering the alternatives.

Since you live in an area with clouds you will want to have a generator and multistage converter so you can recharge batteries while boondocking if there is no sun.
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Old 08-18-2011, 10:07 AM   #7
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I would add my voice to tfmkevin's experience. I am developing a photography business and need constant Internet connection with the usual accessories of laptop, phones, and others. I wanted a solar system that could recharge my batteries quickly under a wide range of conditions without resorting to my generator. I got AM Solar (near Eugene, OR) to install 400W of panels on my 23' trailer and replaced the stock AS batteries with AGMs that provide 300Ahr of backup (assuming I draw no lower than 50% of capacity).

The system is great! It runs as advertised and has the side benefit of giving me the ability to measure how much energy I am using each day, the power the panels generate, isolate parasitic drains, etc. The only downside for me is that the AGMs are heavy - close to 400 lbs. When these begin to wear out I intend to replace them with lithiums that should cut this weight by 2/3. They are already being tested for trailers and RVs. PM me if you have any questions.
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Old 08-19-2011, 02:31 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by tfmkevin View Post
We have 400W of panels on the roof, a 1,000 W inverter/converter/charger, and 6 golf-cart sized AGM batteries
Kevin and/or Dave

Do you carry a generator as well?

Assuming limited funds and a 280W solar setup with 2 AGM group 27 batteries. Would it make more sense to buy 2 more batteries or a generator? Our usage would be along the lines of Kevin's.

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