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Old 12-04-2010, 05:36 PM   #15
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Definitely!

We actually dry camp for 10 days about three or four times a year, and we prefer the courtesy to the people around us of never running a generator. We have enough for all the lights, stereo, TV, computers, and running the heater when it's cold, but not enough for the AC. Dry camping in Corpus Christi in March (sun angle is still pretty low for effective solar at the end of winter), we had mixed sun, clouds and rain, and rarely had more than a half a day of sun, but our system was perfectly adequate for 10 days of power.

We originally bought the very expensive factory solar (two 53 watt panels) and were very disappointed--so we added our own. The factory option is very pricey, and the newer coaches come prewired, so if you're buying new, would advise finding an experienced dealer service department if you're not a do-it-yourself person. The factory option is only OK if you're staying for a weekend and/or are very stingy with lights usage or are using a generator, too. The factory upgraded to AGM batteries, but used two 100 amp 12 volts (which only gives you 100 amps of storage), instead of 2 100 amp six volts wired correctly to yield 12 volts and 200 amps of storage. We purchased four new six volts for a 400 amp storage bank, modified the battery box (they were about 1/2 inch too tall), and put two inside the coach next to the subwoofer under the front bench.We did vent that area for safety, but these batteries are the same used inside small aircraft so I doubt that we needed to.

We kept the two 53 watt factory panels just to save money. We added to more 80 watt panels farther forward (boy roof real estate is tight!) because we couldn't find any 100's that were narrow enough (you need 22" max width). Curious if anyone has recently found higher wattage panels at 2" wide? So our total wattage is about 260+, which is ample for the service described above.

We also added an MMT device. It's pricey, but effectively added the input of another panel through its efficiency without adding weight or windage on the roof.

Finally, we replaced all the halogen lights with led's. On average, this saved about 89% of the power draw since a standard 9 led draws about one tenth of an amp as it replaces the 1 amp halogen hog. If you were to turn on all the lights in your coach (let's say 20), in five hours you would run your factory battery completely dry! With the led's instead of halogens, the same factory battery 100 amps of storage would last for 50 hours without recharging. But the led lights are a different "color" than the halogens. Offered in bright white and warm white, most people from the warm white nicer, but they don't give off as much light. We did a mix and added some stage lighting filters for the best possible combination.

Another factory installed overpriced weakness is the inverter, at only 700. For the factory price done independently, you could go to four batteries, four panels, a 2000 inverter, and maybe still have enough left to convert to led's!

If I were doing it from scratch, I would recommend the same battery and MMT setup, and four of the highest output 22" wide panels you can find. The switch to led's is pretty easy (just replace all the bulbs), and at around $450 for the replacement bulbs in our coach, we effectively increased our battery storage (for lighting) ten-fold. But if you're running the heater motor, too, you'll definitely need more battery storage.
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Old 12-04-2010, 05:53 PM   #16
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Love our Solar!

We have 2-100 Watt panels and 4 6-volt 220 amp hour sealed AGM batteries.
We are fulltimers and the Solar has been flawless. We use it to power everything (all LED lighting) including our computer. Payback in terms of dollars will take awhile, but payback in terms of quiet performance and environmental karma is priceless!

For more info and very competitive pricing on solar systems check out AM Solar at: Welcome to AM Solar - Your RV Solar Specialists since 1987
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Old 12-04-2010, 05:56 PM   #17
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I second what others have said.
There is one additional benefit with the solar charger of keeping the batteries fully charged during long storage.
Leaving the factory converter plugged in long term will shorten the life of the batteries as there is no trickle charge. I leave our trailer unplugged and get longer battery life.
We use an auxillary generator because we camp in cold weather. The solar panel is all that is necessary in warm sunny weather but not so when it is cold and cloudy and the furnace is used a lot.
I purchased my trailer with the panel and regulator installed but I would definetely put one in a new trailer or motorhome.
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Old 03-30-2011, 10:06 PM   #18
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Two 100 watt and one 65 watt AM Solar panels running one Trojan 115 amp hr. battery. Yes, I'd do it again and I haven't needed a second Trojan as some told me I might need. I also run Led interior lights.
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Old 03-31-2011, 09:16 AM   #19
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Solar for sure

We would definitely do solar again, but not with the factory package. A well thought through solar system will take care of your electrical needs with no generator, unless you need to run AC, power tools, etc.

As windsurfers, we often dry-camp in close quarters, and have found the running of someone else's generator 5-10 feet from our coach to be quite annoying! Combine that with a dedication to be as environmentally responsible as possible, and there was no question for us as to solar.

Unfortunately, we were persuaded that the factory solar package would be enough for 10 day-two week boondoggles, and that's a joke. Of course, you must first determine your actual usage to determine what storage and charging capacities you require.

The two AGM batteries provided with the factory solar package seem to be adequate for many, but because they are two twelve volts, the battery manufacturer told me that that does not double the amp/hour storage from 110 to 220--you still only have 110. Instead, you should pair six volt batteries into as large a bank as you need. Two six volts connected properly yield 220 instead of the 110 of the two twelve volts, as you might expect.

The supplied inverter at 700 watts is adequate only for light use. Charging cell phones and computers, running the sound system and cabin lights, etc. We cannot run the AC or the Heat Pump, but it will handle the load of the furnace fan. If you want to briefly run a vacuum cleaner or hair dryer, you need something much more substantial. On our old coach, we had a 2500 watt inverter which covered anything that our storage/charging would allow. We were even able to run our microwave in a short burst--the challenge was storage capacity of the batteries.

Finally, according to the battery manufacturer, the charge controller supplied with the factory solar is inadequate in that it only serves in an on/off capacity. It should minimally be able to detect battery bank levels, and offer three levels of charging: full open when batteries are low, even charge as they are closer to full, and then a trickle charge to keep them topped off as the hover around completely full. The battery manufacturer recommended that we also get a controller with MMPT capabilities. We bought and had our dealer install a Blue Sky controller, and we've been very happy with it. It actually "boosts" the panel voltage--you'll see the charge that comes from your solar panels, and then the output from the controller at higher amps as it send charge to the batteries. The readouts are simple to understand, but yield terrific information, including the battery voltage and net incoming amps (what's coming from your controller less what your coach is using at that moment--this would be a negative number if your coach is using more than your panels and the controller are generating), the hours from full battery bank and percentage of full battery bank.

The controller's boost function is almost like adding an additional small panel to your roof. This is especially important because of the curved surface of an Airstream--the curve greatly reduces the available area for the flat solar panels to be installed without overhang.

For solar panels, we were "stuck" with the factory panels, which are elegantly mounted on the aft (rear) roof area (stuck because we'd paid for them!) Again because of the curved roof, a limitation on our 28' Ocean Breeze was that narrow panels work best, and we couldn't find aftermarket panel with a yield greater than 80 watts at the narrow width when we were looking. So we kept the two 56 watt factory panels, and added one 80 watt panel forward on the right side, and the other one forward of the air conditioner on the left side. This gives us 272 watts, which seems like a lot. But in the winter months, the sun is at a lower angle and charging is less efficient even when the sun is at the zenith. If there's fog in the morning or it's a cloudy day, of course, the light sensitive panels will operate as low as 20% of potential, so you must consider the most panel area that you can install/afford.

For battery bank storage, we use four six cells wired properly to give us 440 amps of storage. The battery manufacturer recommends never going below 50% capacity to preserve battery life, so we effectively have 220 amps of storage. If you stay with 110 amps, you really only have 55 amps of usable storage. Because the six volt batteries are a bit larger than the 12 volts, the dealer's service department built us a modified battery box (1/2' taller) for the two exterior batteries. The other two batteries are on the left side forward under the couch by the subwoofer (and the controller). This also has the benefit of keeping the controller close to the battery bank. Because there is always potential danger of gassing, we bought four new six volt glass matt batteries that are designed to be used in the interior of light aircraft, especially important for the two inside the coach.

To put the icing on the cake, we changed out all of the interior halogens to LED's. A quick read on our controller remote meter showed that this reduced the draw of 1 amp per halogen lamp to about .1 amp! So the 14 cabin lights controlled by the main cabin light switch used to draw 14 amps from the battery bank every hour, but now they draw 1.4 amps, instead. We have no problem keeping all our lights blazing, and running the heater all night if we need to, with our current setup. We are very conscious of our electrical use, and check our meter frequently to learn appliance loads and to see if we forgot to turn off a non-essential appliance, but as long as it's not cloudy or foggy, we can go indefinitely without generator or outside electrical connection. If the weather is uncooperative, we're still OK with about 4 clear hours average per day.

To summarize, a well thought through solar system eliminates the need for a generator unless you want to use your AC or microwave. With the running of all wires internally at the factory for solar (and I believe LED lights coming standard on new coaches), there is no need to pay a premium for factory solar. Battery banks should be composed of pairs of six volt batteries to create larger 12 volt batteries. An MMPT controller (pricey) is a major plus for increasing panel output with your limited roof area, and will also prolong battery life. A remote panel for the MMPT controller is useful, and can be mounted where the factory controller would normally be. On our coach, the inverter button and controller remote panel are mounted in a vertical line directly below our water tank/pump meter.

Hope this was helpful and not too much information.
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Old 03-31-2011, 11:42 AM   #20
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If you had it to do over, would you get solar panels again?
In an heartbeat.
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Old 03-31-2011, 01:22 PM   #21
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I know we have a slightly different situation because of the weather where we live, and I have considered a solar system, but I've decided it just isn't practical for us because we need airconditioning most of the time, and it just can't be done with solar.

We bought a generator.
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Old 03-31-2011, 01:30 PM   #22
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It appears that a lot of you with solar panels live in areas where there is a lot of sunshine and open spaces. Anybody with solar who lives in areas where there is more rain, clouds and trees? What type of experience have you had and is it worth it in those types of locales?
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Old 03-31-2011, 02:42 PM   #23
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I'm in NH and love my solar panel. I have a Unisolar 68 watt flexible panel along the street side roof of the Argosy. It will provide power even in partial shade and it does an awesome job. The bonus for us was getting to camp in some great locations where generators were not allowed because of the fuel. I don't carry a generator. We boondock often and have gone from NH to MT and back without plugging in anywhere. I love it.
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Old 03-31-2011, 02:43 PM   #24
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I know we have a slightly different situation because of the weather where we live, and I have considered a solar system, but I've decided it just isn't practical for us because we need airconditioning most of the time, and it just can't be done with solar.

We bought a generator.
We also carry a Honda 2000 which we use for "momentary" stuff like coffee maker or microwave when boondocking. Those items can use lots of juice in a short period of time. We sometimes use the Honda to charge if the solar isn't enough for one reason or another.

We have found it nice to have both.
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Old 03-31-2011, 09:01 PM   #25
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...........snip...........

The two AGM batteries provided with the factory solar package seem to be adequate for many, but because they are two twelve volts, the battery manufacturer told me that that does not double the amp/hour storage from 110 to 220--you still only have 110. Instead, you should pair six volt batteries into as large a bank as you need. Two six volts connected properly yield 220 instead of the 110 of the two twelve volts, as you might expect..............snip.........
gecko,

You have it backwards...............

When 2-12VDC batteries are connected in parallel, the voltage remains at 12VDC but the amperage is additive...... 110 A/H + 110 A/H giving you 220 amp/hours of capacity for the batteries in your example.

2-6VDC golf cart batteries must be connected in series (and MUST be identical) to yield the 12VDC required for the electrics in the trailer. A series connection keeps the amperage the same (220 amp/hours which is the rating for each battery) but the voltage is then additive.as in 6 + 6 = 12VDC.

If you connected the 2- 12VDC batteries to yield 110 amp hours, they would be in a series connection that would yield 24VDC instead of the 220 amp/hours at 12VDC from a parallel connection.
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Old 03-31-2011, 10:54 PM   #26
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It appears that a lot of you with solar panels live in areas where there is a lot of sunshine and open spaces. Anybody with solar who lives in areas where there is more rain, clouds and trees? What type of experience have you had and is it worth it in those types of locales?
Tagging along on this post because of all the usefull info. I can use & to see if this question itself can be answered. Also, looking for overall cost estimate to install such features on an older Airstream.
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