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Old 11-16-2020, 07:47 PM   #1
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2021 28' Flying Cloud
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Airstream Solar for Newbies

Ordered a new FC28 for spring delivery. Solar is a foreign skill to me. is there any advice on where and how to understand Airstream factory solar installs? Like maybe a manual on line or a site to go to?

Thanks
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Old 11-16-2020, 08:12 PM   #2
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you need a solar controller as a minimum and some means to monitor it

this is my setup
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Old 11-16-2020, 08:19 PM   #3
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I would start reading here:

https://amsolar.com/airstream-trailers

and here:

https://amsolar.com/diy-rv-solar-instructions/edfaq

The factory installs an extremely basic system to keep the batteries charged while the unit is in storage, basically. They mount 2 90w panels to the roof, add a controller and place 2 upgraded lead acid batteries in the battery box. Thats it.

Dealers in general are most definitely not solar experts either.

I'd recommend you seek out a qualified Solar expert if you are going to do an install and have it done right at a fare price with good materials.
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Old 11-17-2020, 09:47 PM   #4
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Thanks for your thoughts. I am a bit overwhelmed by the engineering explanation of how this all works. Go Power also has a good explanation. AM was much more detailed. I just discovered today the Airstream explanation of their solar system - really simple. I ordered my AS with the factory system. I suspect I need two years of use to get comfortable and determine if I need an upgrade. Lithium is interesting but crazy expensive. AM Solar shows installs ranging from $5K to $25K. That was a jolt....Maybe lithium will come down in price.
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Old 11-17-2020, 10:39 PM   #5
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I think that is a sound plan. Get to know your gear and usage habits / needs. What works and what doesn’t.
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Old 11-18-2020, 04:13 AM   #6
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Get to know your usage by installing a battery monitor. Then live with the current configuration until you know how much power you actually need. If you have a good charge controller installed it will keep your batteries charged properly. Otherwise your batteries will die very quickly. That includes the converter that AS puts into the units.

You don't need to spend a ton of money on a good system. If you go with some systems they will suck you into buying every other product they have as evidenced by some of the systems posted here. You may not need to go that complicated, but it depends on what you want to do. Get to your usage first.
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Old 11-18-2020, 05:48 AM   #7
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For most people, solar is a completely discretionary expense. It is a convenience, not a necessity, and the low bar for that convenience is that, as wulfraat mentioned, it can keep the batteries charged when the trailer is not being used.

For others solar becomes the means not just to keep the standard 2 batteries charged, but to renew an much larger power source (a battery bank). It becomes a passion project (maybe even a religion) and provides benefits that shape their RV experience—longer time off-grid, the ability to use certain appliances when not plugged in, etc. For a lot of these folks a $10k+ system is the starting point for a system that provides the features they are looking for and they’ll tell you you are nuts to consider anything less than that.

Like you, I did not quite know what our camping style was when I ordered our trailer but I was hesitant to go “all in” on a solar install. So I ordered factory solar, added two panels, and swapped out the charge controller and eventually the converter. This provides me a bit more than keeping the batteries charged in storage and was relatively inexpensive (under $1000). Turns out this was the right way to go for us—our preferred RV experience does not involve a lot of time in the trailer, so being able to watch TV and run a hair dryer in the middle of nowhere are irrelevant. We are basically looking for a comfortable tent, not a portable living room. Others require more than that to be comfortable (or to keep up with the neighbors) and that’s fine. I will admit I am intrigued by the idea of a large battery bank and being able to go for days without needing to interact with civilization but it’s more of an intellectual curiosity than a practical one for us. I may pursue further upgrades later.

Gator.Bigfoot and others are spot-on. Get to know your travel style. If you spend a lot of time in your trailer, explore a system that makes sense for you.
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Old 11-24-2020, 07:44 AM   #8
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thanks for your response. So a question - is it better to order the 50 amp service as preparation for the eventual install of lithium batteries and possibly more solar power in the future?
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Old 11-24-2020, 08:22 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Danishgod View Post
thanks for your response. So a question - is it better to order the 50 amp service as preparation for the eventual install of lithium batteries and possibly more solar power in the future?
A 30A or 50A service does not have any effect on adding solar or Lithium Batteries. Solar charges you battery bank. That’s all it does. And lithium batteries runs your DC system meaning, Lights, fans, water pump, ect... The 30A-50A side of the trailer is AC power coming from shore power. It runs things like Air-conditioning, Microwave, TV, electric side of Waterheater.
You can and do charge your batteries and run DC stuff via shore power through the onboard charger/converter.
So think of it this way. You have 2 types of power in your trailer AC and DC.
Shore power is AC and battery power is DC.
Shore power can be converted to DC power through the On-Board Charger/converter
DC power can be inverted to AC power via and onboard inverter.

30A trailers are easier to “tie in” and install larger inverters to the AC electrical panel due to bing single phase.
50A trailers are not as easy to “tie in” and inverter to the entire electrical panel due to the 2 legs of power. You either select a leg to power or use some additional parts ( smart transfer switch) to power both legs o power or install 2 inverters.

Anyway. Sorry for the long rambling.
Hope this helps some.
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Old 11-25-2020, 11:18 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by GMFL View Post
A 30A or 50A service does not have any effect on adding solar or Lithium Batteries. Solar charges you battery bank. That’s all it does. And lithium batteries runs your DC system meaning, Lights, fans, water pump, ect... The 30A-50A side of the trailer is AC power coming from shore power. It runs things like Air-conditioning, Microwave, TV, electric side of Waterheater.
You can and do charge your batteries and run DC stuff via shore power through the onboard charger/converter.
So think of it this way. You have 2 types of power in your trailer AC and DC.
Shore power is AC and battery power is DC.
Shore power can be converted to DC power through the On-Board Charger/converter
DC power can be inverted to AC power via and onboard inverter.

30A trailers are easier to “tie in” and install larger inverters to the AC electrical panel due to bing single phase.
50A trailers are not as easy to “tie in” and inverter to the entire electrical panel due to the 2 legs of power. You either select a leg to power or use some additional parts ( smart transfer switch) to power both legs o power or install 2 inverters.

Anyway. Sorry for the long rambling.
Hope this helps some.
Thanks for your advice. So what would you do if you were me? Winter in the USA, DEcember to April and summers in northern states and Canada. One air conditioner seems right. But there are pros and cons to having another. Redundancy, resale value etc. Not knowing a lot about solar i was thinking there was some benefits to having the 50 amp set up, but it appears there is no benefit electrical benefit so to speak.
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Old 11-26-2020, 07:28 AM   #11
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Unless you have 2 airconditioners then 50 amps isn't that important. Although if you turn on the airconditioner and have the electric water heat on and then turn on the toaster you may find that upper limit of 30 amps. I don't usually ever plug in. Not even all winter. I run exclusively on solar year round. Some rare occasions I'll have a plugin site. 300 Amps of solar runs most things for me.

Like I said get to know your usage. Then decide what you want. Then decide on what you're willing to spend on solar. Then go from there. For as little as $1000 you can get some solar. Or you can spend 10, 20 or 30k on solar. It all depends.
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Old 12-29-2020, 08:00 PM   #12
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Just started our 2nd/new solar install... 2015 Flying Cloud 25RB. Renogy 400w kit, MPPT charge controller.

Previous experience - installed 200w of panels onto 2004 Classic, had to 'create' my own external to internal wiring path (above fridge)... we've been able to boondock 2-3 days with 200w solar and some generator augmentation just because.

+/- "determine your power consumption"/battery use/management assessment... if you have LED lighting, the furnace fan is the most significant power hog - 4 amps draw cycling intermittently. Next may be the water pump.

Can't yet justify $1000-2000 of lithium batteries. ~$200 every three years is not un-manageable budget-wise.

If your model is pre-wired for solar, great... our 2004 Classic 'sort-of' was - 'solar' tagged wires behind the fridge. 12ga wire hard to find where it went... just enough to handle the 200w panels. A 'telephone tech' set of sender and probe helps a lot. More recent 10 ga wiring should be more than enough to support 200-400w of panels... 15A current flow to the charge controller.

MPPT charge controller - more efficient and 'smarter' about handling different battery types - flooded/water maintenance, sealed, AGM...

The most tentative challenge is location of panels, how to fasten, drilling and sealing the holes. For the prior and current new installation I opted for well-nuts. 1/2" holes, 1/4-20 bolts, ample application of Parbond sealant.

Current install I "opted for"/had to space/position two panels aft, two panels forward to retain decent access to the A/C hump, not have panels protruding forward of the aerodynamic front face/curve, etc.

Little or not risk of punching through to the interior ceiling given the 2-4" gaps between roof and interior. You'll either drill cleanly into skin-only or might encounter an underlying aluminum frame strut.

A step drill bit is a very practical, appropriate tool for the holes... little/no 'grab', paint marked the diameter a step above 1/2" to limit depth.

Ample application of parbond sealant to set the well-nuts, add seal atop them and around the bolts/washers.

May need more "solar wire" than came with the Renogy kit to connect everything. Ordered some addition connectors in anticipation of connecting various panel separations, etc. to all 4 panels in parallel before the junction of panels to pre-wire.

Not done yet... but panels mechanically sound, just need to establish the external wiring harness configuration.

The biggest challenge is that Airstreams design/optimal manufacturing processes totally buries/obstructs access to the battery + and - bus connections under the seating platform. Insane. Going to have to remove several to be determined screws and lift the seating frame/cabinet out of the way to gain proper access (unless I can hire some magical elves to crawl in there...) It's wholly unacceptable to 'intentionally' block access to this critical power system and the 7-wire junction by building furniture over/around them.

More to follow... but bottom-line... 100-200w of solar is more than enough to maintain batteries for storage, and some light boon-docking. For serious boon-docking you'll probably want 400w. And, understand that panels are really ~95% efficient under the best solar conditions. Charge controllers are ~95% efficient. +/- that, Honda generator backup and/or bring along 1-2 spare batteries and fit a 75-150 Amp Anderson PowerPole jumper to connect them in.

Pics of the in-process install:

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Old 12-30-2020, 07:12 PM   #13
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URL to first step of install pics... http://aspinwall.me/gallery/index.php?/category/30

Next will be the debacle of getting to the ground bus, etc. to install the charge controller... what a pain this is...
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