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Old 06-01-2016, 12:27 AM   #1
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Is solar really worth it?

I am in the planning stages of getting my own Airstream. I've seen some stuff about using solar panels to generate energy for the batteries. Is this worth the time and money? How much energy is actually generated?
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Old 06-01-2016, 07:10 AM   #2
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Old 06-01-2016, 07:12 AM   #3
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The answer is: it depends.

As to whether solar is "worth it," it depends on how you camp. If you go from one full hookup campground to the next then NO it does not pay to get solar. If on the other hand you regularly go to campgrounds that do not have electrical hookups (many state and federal campgrounds fall into this category) or like to camp in the middle of nowhere (i.e., boondocking) then yes, solar AND a good set of healthy batteries can be indispensable and way more pleasant that using a generator.

As to how much power you really get out of solar, it depends on how much you want to spend. You can get a perfectly functional solar system with panels that sit on the ground that you can aim towards the sun for $400 to $600 and that will keep your batteries charged assuming modest use. Or you can spend upwards of $15,000 for a full blown system and Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries and be able to run your air conditioner for several hours off the batteries alone. A good basic, typical solar system will cost between $2,000 and $4,000 (installed) plus the cost of new/upgraded batteries.

I would suggest that you get some camping under your belt before you make any significant investment. Also, while it's fine to ask a broad questions such as you have on this forum, I would encourage you to do some research on your own. Here are two excellent sites to start:

http://www.amsolarrv.com/rveducation/

http://www.technomadia.com/solar/
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Old 06-01-2016, 07:15 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Jjarman View Post
I am in the planning stages of getting my own Airstream. I've seen some stuff about using solar panels to generate energy for the batteries. Is this worth the time and money? How much energy is actually generated?
It may be worth it to you depending on how you intend to use it. And how much energy is actually generated depends on what system you install. This is a very open ended question.

You can install a very small system that will essentially trickle charge your batteries. Or you can install a large battery bank and install enough panels to run an AC. I've seen them both. I would say they are the both extremes. And there are all sorts of options in between.

In essence, you want solar because you want to camp where an electrical hookup is not available. So you will use your batteries instead of 120V from the electrical hookup. This usually means you can't use your 120V appliances, like microwave and AC, unless you have an inverter that converts 12V to 120V. A big enough inverter can even run an AC. A big inverter. But it will suck the two batteries dry in minutes. So you would also need additional batteries to create a large enough bank.

So how much do you want to spend? And what do you want to be able to run while you are disconnected? Decide that, and you can narrow down your options.
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Old 06-01-2016, 07:23 AM   #5
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The short answer is heck yes its worth it! After a small initial investment of not much...... you're free as a bird. Everything works for free for a very long time! Buy the best equipment you can and reap the reward. I haven't plugged in for a long long time. Live like a king!
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Old 06-01-2016, 07:28 AM   #6
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I have been spending about 7 months a year in our 2 Airstreams for the last 8 years. We do not have solar and I have no plans to add it. One trailer is plugged in all the time. I carry a generator for when we camp without electricity for a week or so at the time. My suggestion is to get the Airstream and go camping and then figure out what you need. I would go without the generator at first also to see if I thought it was needed. And you can buy one almost anywhere if you find yourself wet, cold, and out of electricity and want one. So for me I have not thought solar would be "worth it" A good solar rig is pretty expensive by my standards.
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Old 06-01-2016, 07:48 AM   #7
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If you camp in locations where you can remove AC from the equation you are fully equipped to handle several days " off the grid". Try it out. We went 4 days in Glacier NP. Yes, we were stingy with the battery usage and showers but we did this easily on our batteries. Could have gone longer too but we were only there 4 days. So try it out and see if you enjoy that style of camping before you take a plunge into a solar setup. Don't forget though, your refrigerator will take a small amount of battery even when on propane.

Get out and enjoy it then you can make these $$$$ decisions later.
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Old 06-01-2016, 08:59 AM   #8
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We get along with the factory solar except when traveling east, more clouds and more shade trees. Think of getting a Zamp portable suitcase solar (up to 200 watts, 47 lbs) to take along to supplement our factory system (106 watts). We can move it into or aim it to the sun as needed for best results.

However, I don't know if these are compatible, portable to supplement factory installed system?
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Old 06-01-2016, 09:28 AM   #9
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I just camped/boondocked for three days with a 100 watt solar panel system and got along fine. I use a solar lantern for the evenings and save even more power by not using the lights. I was able to run the furnace to take the chill off in the morning and kept everything charged up just fine. It all depends on how much you want to use in electricity and your style of camping. I did cheat one morning and used the generator because I had to use the electric feature on the hot water heater. I was having challenges with the gas burner.
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Old 06-01-2016, 09:37 AM   #10
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It is definitely worth it to us, but as others have pointed out your answer relates to how you plan to use your trailer. If you will be plugged in, you don't need anything.

Ninety percent of our use (about 50 nights per year) is unplugged in state and national parks so the stock batteries-only system will not do the job. Also, we dislike generators for both the noise and the problems associated with transporting them.

Our solution was two 100 watt rooftop solar panels and conversion to two 6-volt golf kart batteries. So far, batteries fully recharged every day.
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Old 06-01-2016, 11:36 AM   #11
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I can tell y'all are a wealth of knowledge. I am probably not getting the camper for at least 4-5 years from now so will investigate and think on it more. I am supposing there are different size and capacities of batteries to have on the camper, even if not solar. I need to look into that. If not able to plug in I want to be able to use the fridge, tv at night, water heater, ac if we are in a hot area.
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Old 06-01-2016, 11:47 AM   #12
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I use my solar primarily to keep my battery charged when my AS seats idle.
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Old 06-01-2016, 12:09 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Happy Days View Post
I use my solar primarily to keep my battery charged when my AS seats idle.
I have a single panel for the purpose of keeping my Maintenance Free AGM charged while parked. A single panel is not enough for a full time use. I have a generator when I need to charge the batteries or for anything else. My friend uses a wall timer once a week for 24 hrs to charge his battery. But also has to maintain his battery. I kept my OEM battery for a year before changing it to Maintenance free, only because I am too lazy to have to remind myself to put water in the battery. I did the solar for the same lazy reason, I don't want to have to disconnect a power to charge it when I have to leave. Is it expensive? That is a relative term. I pay for convenience, depending how lazy I am, I will pay the price.
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Old 06-01-2016, 12:19 PM   #14
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after seeing people use their generators because their solar panels did not charge their batteries I say - 30 amp shore power for electric, limited battery in between, good old gas powered generator for dry camping, and always have sunscreen on hand for solar ...
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Old 06-01-2016, 12:26 PM   #15
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No. Period.

The most solar can do is keep youtr batteries batteries up - typically 2. They will never generate enough power to operate a coffee maker, TV, AC, furnace and the other amenities that we love.

I had 4 75 watt panels on a sailboat charging 4 deep discharge 6 V batteries - it looked exotic, was a great addition to the instrument panel but other than keeping some lights on? A waste of money. It was a constant effort to juggle the boats electrical demands with the solar output. I juggled that for 5 years at sea and finally gave up and bought a generator. Should have done it years earluier!

A generator is a farr bigger bang for the buck. A small 2000w generator - Honda/Yamaha etc. Carries easily, is quiet, reliable - sun/rain/snow/cloudy and operates all the appliances we have in our AS without a problem all for less than half the cost of solar.

This set up has worked perfectly for us over 6 years and 60,000KM on our AS including Mexico and a lot of boon docking.

Thats my humble opinion based on my experience, with all respect to those who differ.
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Old 06-01-2016, 12:53 PM   #16
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Our 2006 Safari had a factory installed solar panel. At today's standards, anything today would be better. This one could have been 80 watts. It was small.

I am using a Honda generator as a test with our 2014 International. We do not use it much, as we are very aware that we use only what we need in lighting in the evenings. But... it comes in handy if needed. You can also sell it without the trailer being attached to it.

What I do miss with solar is the battery use was extended while Boondocking Off the Grid. We depended on some lights, water pump for fresh water in sink, and the radio in the evening. Over a week the batteries would slowly drop in voltage. Current Solar options can improve your battery situation with day to day uses. Showers and Furnace needs... generator or hook up to tow vehicle while it idles to assist these 12 volt monsters sucking the life out of batteries.

With the Honda generator when the furnace or water pump for a shower was needed, it is a fine alternative. Even a 'hair dryer' can be used by my wife. There no doubt some amount of battery recharging going on and from reading Threads with those who know... it is beyond my knowledge of understanding wire gauges and battery capacity, etc..

It all depends on YOUR kind of traveling. RV Parks... use their power. Solar nor a Generator is of much use for this option. IF you camp without a connected power supply, read the Forums. Some solar options are far too exotic for my understanding. A generator I can understand. Add gasoline, start and do what you need to do and then give the batteries a little charging time of your choice and shut it down.

We are usually Off the Grid. With Solar or a Generator, you can also hook up the tow vehicle and run the water pump to shower with ample voltage. Same with the furnace blower when needed. Not efficient, but gasoline is cheaper than the other options.

If you shower every day... generator. If you want to watch HDTV... generator.

If you live in your Airstream as if it is a tent... solar is way more than you need.
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Old 06-01-2016, 01:14 PM   #17
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I'm.sitting in the sun in hot steamy Savannah.Georgia for weeks. I'm running my AC about 18 hours a day. I'm not plugged in. My batteries are charged fully the next day by noon.
I have 1.2 kw on the roof. I use 2 volt Rolls batteries. I use gas appliances for heating water. My point os that it is completely realistic.to live entirely on solar.
jink panels.controllers.batteries any wiring will make you plug in.
I have not plugged in for months!
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Old 06-01-2016, 01:25 PM   #18
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I'm.sitting in the sun in hot steamy Savannah.Georgia for weeks. I'm running my AC about 18 hours a day. I'm not plugged in. My batteries are charged fully the next day by noon.
I have 1.2 kw on the roof. I use 2 volt Rolls batteries. I use gas appliances for heating water. My point os that it is completely realistic.to live entirely on solar.
jink panels.controllers.batteries any wiring will make you plug in.
I have not plugged in for months!
******

Not fair.

NASA's International Space Station is also on Solar. They have been unplugged for years and have a good view all of the time. Outside, the humidity is... very low.

I have seen your trailer in the Mohave Desert. You exceed the limits of NASA's Solar science technology. You look like Boulder City, Nevada's Solar Array in the Mohave Desert... but on top of an Airstream and on the move.

Boulder Dam sells one KW of electricity for $0.0025. Not one drop of Solar.
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Old 06-01-2016, 01:46 PM   #19
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Great.... I have a solar stalker
I'm not that freakish just electrified!
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Old 06-01-2016, 01:46 PM   #20
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Solar

I had solar installed at the dealership when I bought my new AS. It was roughly 4k for 200 watts. I would NOT recommend an install, but do recommend solar panels that are portable. I like to park in shade and this rendered my rooftop panels virtually useless...portables with a long lead are superb. A friend who works in the solar biz said to wait on buying anything right now...they are about to come out with smaller, and more efficient panels any day now. She wasn't sure of cost but said should be same or cheaper.

BTW I dry camped for a month in Why AZ this winter (no shade so had direct sun all day) and used my propane for showers and cooking and solar for all other things, excluding AC and microwave. The batteries were always topped off and I never ran out of power. I would say 200 watts was more than sufficient.

Good luck!
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