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Old 11-24-2019, 10:27 AM   #1
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Kirkland , Washington
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Troubleshooting solar panels

We have dealer installed Zamp solar panels on our (recently acquired) 2015 25' FC. Based on the work order from the dealer, installation was a Zamp ZS-200F-30A-DX kit (200W, 2 flex solar panels, Zamp ZS-30A controller).
Controller shows no indication of solar panels - no panel icon on the left of the display, no lights at all in the charging status (on, charging, battery full). Battery condition seems to track the level of power in house batteries so assuming that part is working. The panels plug into the black box unit on top of the AS so assuming this just got installed with the solar 'pre-wiring'.

What is my next step to figure out what's up? Check fuse(s) on the panels (or elsewhere in the system)? Seek professional help? Ask Santa for a new set of panels?

Thanks in advance for help/advice. Newbie AS owner and am not an expert at electrical stuff.
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Old 11-24-2019, 10:43 AM   #2
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Hi

Flex panels have a short life. Not making it home is unusually short

Assuming the sun is out, best guess would be a fuse / connector / wire not doing what it should. Start at the controller and check the input leads with your multimeter. You need to go between the two leads. You should get 16 to 21 volts. If not work back to the panels on the roof.

Once you have power into the controller, it should do its thing.

Bob
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Old 11-24-2019, 11:09 AM   #3
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Thank you Bob!

Yes, didn't make it home for us but we bought used and it isn't clear that our 'inspection' included the solar panels (but that is another story). Panels were installed in 2015 so maybe are both just dead?

Appreciate the suggestions and will chase them down today. Did forget to mention that we are in the Pacific NW and so days are typically cloudy and short this time of year. But even with clouds at mid-day I would expect something from the panels to register at the controller - is that right? At least that the panels exist. Other odd thing is that I have two panels and neither seem to register. So while I can believe that both panels have blown fuses, the odds of them both going out seem long. Will pull the controller panel and check with multi-meter as you suggest. Thanks again!
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Old 11-24-2019, 11:18 AM   #4
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Hi

Lifespan on flexible panels seems to be around 2 years. Most are warrantied for about a year. If yours are 4 or 5 years old, indeed both of them being dead is the most likely answer to the question.

If there is a fuse, it likely is in the junction box and it is in common with both panels. The same is true for the wiring from the panels down to the controller. It *is* possible there is a disconnect switch inline with the panels. Indeed my setup has a fuse “upstairs” and a breaker down by the controller. That is a bit unusual. I use the breaker as a disconnect switch.

Bob
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Old 11-24-2019, 06:58 PM   #5
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So I pulled the charge controller panel and tested with a multi-meter. I got 0.43 volts from the panel(s); registered 12.7 volts from/to the battery which aligned with what the 'batt' button on the standard AS wall controller (for batt, water, grey/black tanks) said as well. Registered 0.48 later in the day - both were while the sun was out but low in the sky (again - pacific northwest).

Assuming the panels are dead? Or still possibly a fuse? If fuse was blown would expect to register zero volts but maybe 0.43 is a 'rounds to zero' kind of measurement on these kinds of things?

Any/all thoughts appreciated!
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Old 11-25-2019, 08:26 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PCMcE View Post
So I pulled the charge controller panel and tested with a multi-meter. I got 0.43 volts from the panel(s); registered 12.7 volts from/to the battery which aligned with what the 'batt' button on the standard AS wall controller (for batt, water, grey/black tanks) said as well. Registered 0.48 later in the day - both were while the sun was out but low in the sky (again - pacific northwest).

Assuming the panels are dead? Or still possibly a fuse? If fuse was blown would expect to register zero volts but maybe 0.43 is a 'rounds to zero' kind of measurement on these kinds of things?

Any/all thoughts appreciated!
Hi

A fuse "should" open up fully. They don't always do that. Best guess is the panels are dead. The only way to be sure is to (carefully !!!) get up on the roof and check up there.

Assuming the wires are pulled off of the controller when you measure the 0.4V, that eliminates a couple of possibilities:

1) A complete dead short in the wiring
2) A connector that is hang loose / out of the socket

If the wires are still attached to the controller, the 0.4V may be from the controller. You only need to pull one wire to verify if this is the case.

Bob
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Old 11-26-2019, 07:00 PM   #7
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Hi Bob:

Thanks for your continued help. It is appreciated!

Here is some additional info. These readings were taken ~2:30pm on a sunny day but with the trailer under a covered storage spot – so “shady” conditions?

I popped the cover off the black box at the end of the two panels and used a multi-meter to test across the wires:

Panel #1 – 12.45V
Panel #2 – 10.19V

Both panels were under the roof of the storage space although Panel #1 was facing south toward the general direction of the sun light; Panel #2 was more north facing. I also then partially covered Panel #1 with a towel, re-tested and got any reading between 11V-3.5V depending on how much of the panel I covered up. So I'm assuming that means the panels are working (perhaps degraded due to age).

I also tested again at the charge controller panel. I tested the green/black wire pair on the back of the controller.

Both wires attached to the controller: 0.48V
Both wires removed from the controller: 2.73V
Green wire attached; black wire *not* attached: 0.69V
Green wire *not* attached; black wire attached: 6.60V

So maybe the controller is bad? Or a problem with the wiring between the panels and the controller?

Thanks again!

Patric
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Old 11-26-2019, 07:31 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PCMcE View Post
Hi Bob:

Thanks for your continued help. It is appreciated!

Here is some additional info. These readings were taken ~2:30pm on a sunny day but with the trailer under a covered storage spot – so “shady” conditions?

I popped the cover off the black box at the end of the two panels and used a multi-meter to test across the wires:

Panel #1 – 12.45V
Panel #2 – 10.19V

Both panels were under the roof of the storage space although Panel #1 was facing south toward the general direction of the sun light; Panel #2 was more north facing. I also then partially covered Panel #1 with a towel, re-tested and got any reading between 11V-3.5V depending on how much of the panel I covered up. So I'm assuming that means the panels are working (perhaps degraded due to age).

I also tested again at the charge controller panel. I tested the green/black wire pair on the back of the controller.

Both wires attached to the controller: 0.48V
Both wires removed from the controller: 2.73V
Green wire attached; black wire *not* attached: 0.69V
Green wire *not* attached; black wire attached: 6.60V

So maybe the controller is bad? Or a problem with the wiring between the panels and the controller?

Thanks again!

Patric
I think your solar panels are weak. I think your surface mounted panels will get really hot in direct sunlight so that will reduce their output even more. I think if you wire the panels in series-parallel, you will get enough voltage out of the pair of weak panels to at least provide a charge "about" equal to a single 100W panel. I just posted a link to an article in the "Solar Show and Tell" thread that will explain why I feel that configuring your panels in series-parallel may work the best in your situation: http://www.airforums.com/forums/f448...ml#post2311178

But, I also think you have a wiring issue between your panels and the controller. You should get very close to the same voltage at the controller as at the panels - especially when the wires are disconnected from the controller. So I would first diagnose why the voltage is not getting to the controller. After you fix that issue, if you are dissatisfied with the solar charging of the panels, I would then wire the panels in series-parallel to see if the combined voltage of the two panels is enough to provide some charge to the batteries. If the voltage from the solar panels is close to the battery voltage, your solar controller will not charge the batteries. If you configure in series-parallel, you will double the voltage of the lowest performing panel. In your case, that may be double 10.19V, or 20.38V, which would be enough voltage to charge your batteries with either an MPPT or PWM controller. Again, see article referred to above.

These are my educated guesses based on the information you have provided.
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Old 11-27-2019, 06:40 AM   #9
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Hi

With the wires pulled off the controller, you should get the same voltage at the top end of the wires as at the bottom end. If you don't then there is something wrong with the wires ( = there is a switch or breaker or fuse or ..... open).

Checking panels in shaded conditions will always give questionable results. Full sun is the only way to really tell if they put out full voltage. They should be up above 20V in full sun. If not, replace them. It's Black Friday season and everybody is having a sale

When flexible panels "die" it's from cracks. Moving current through a cracked cell does not go well. You might get some voltage, but without current, you have no power. Even if they do get to 20V in the sun, you only know they are good when you see them producing full power.

Bob
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Old 11-27-2019, 07:55 AM   #10
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Uncle Bob is right. Renogy has 20% off site wide right now through black Friday. Buy a pair of their Compact panels for $93.60 each to replace those old flexible panels. https://www.renogy.com/100-watt-12-v...ompact-design/
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Old 11-27-2019, 09:46 AM   #11
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Thank you AM and UB! Appreciate the guidance and will go searching to find the issue between panels and controller. Will also keep an eye out for Black Friday sales.
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Old 11-27-2019, 11:03 AM   #12
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https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&sour...MYsoBcyqfnT6xO

To determine the condition of solar panels you need to test the current output by connecting them to an ammeter. Heres a handy article that gives you all the steps needed to check your system.
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Old 11-27-2019, 12:43 PM   #13
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Wow-I had no idea flexible panels were THAT bad....hard to believe they are selling!
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Old 11-28-2019, 07:02 AM   #14
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Wow-I had no idea flexible panels were THAT bad....hard to believe they are selling!
Hi

It's the combination of flex panels and hard mounting them that is the issue. They really are not made to be "glued down" to a metal surface. They also can have issues with moisture ( = don't leave them out in the rain) or sun ( = the plastic degrades). How much of an issue varies a lot from model to model.

If you look at the backpackers, roll up flexible panels are indeed a thing. They spend a *lot* of time sorting out makes and models. Finding one that lasts >5 years is sort of the "holly grail" for them.

Bob
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Old 11-28-2019, 12:46 PM   #15
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Both panels when connected in parallel should read the identical voltage. If your panels are in series then you could get different voltages across them. First you need to measure the voltage on them out in the open and not under a roof. This could reduce the voltage already. Second it would be best not to have them connected to anything. This would give you the VOC. If the VOC is less than 20 volts then throw them away. Once you've determined that you still have another problem. The fact that you're not seeing this voltage at the controller is a problem. Disconnect the wires at both ends so that they aren't connected to anything. Then connect the wires together at one end and then use your meter on the ohm setting and check what the resistance is. If you're getting less than 0.5 ohms you are good. If not then you either have a high resistance connection somewhere or a broken connection. The broken connection could be a fuse or disconnect. Remember if you are working on the panels cover them first so they cannot generate any power. Then uncover them to take your readings, don't just start removing wires and leave then lying on the AS body.
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Old 11-29-2019, 08:31 PM   #16
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Again - thanks all. UB, Shermy and Gater - super helpful information both to get me this far and for the steps I still have to do.

tl;dr the wires running from the panels to the roof cap are toast. I got up on top of the trailer today to check them out and the wires literally broke off in my hand when I moved them even a little bit. Wires look to be original and did not weather well on the top of the trailer - dry, brittle, and nothing reading on the multi-meter. Next step is to rewire to see if the rest of the run (inside the trailer) is operable.

The good(?) news is that in direct sunlight the panels show some sign of life. I measured ~21V and ~2.5A off the panel that was "facing" the sun. So about 50W from a 100W flex panel. Note: while it was a bright sunny day today the sun is very low in the sky - ~20deg above the horizon around noon this time of year according to NOAA. Not sure if the angle of the sunlight relative to the panel would make that much of a difference but am wondering if this is an indication that the panels will be degraded but serviceable in summer when the sun is higher in the sky.

As noted above the main (first?) issue is with the wires running outside on the roof. While I got ~21V and ~2.5A at the panel - I got nothing at the end of the wire plugging into the roof cap. Moreover, the wires seem to have failed pretty horribly for the whole run although they were primarily in a length of plastic tubing as well as being insulated. I'm guessing it is just relatively cheap wiring and succumbed to 5yrs of alternate hot/cold on the metal roof while being parked outside year round. I've never seen a wire fail like that before -- but then I don't have a lot of experience.

Went to my local hardware store and got a 15' run of 14AWG insulated wire and have re-wired the plug ends that go into the roof cap. Tomorrow I'll connect the other end to the panel itself (will cover the panel -- thanks Gator!) and then at least see if the panel(s) show up on the charge controller. Then I'll at least know if I have an operable system or not.

The two panels plug independently into the roof cap - so I'm assuming they are wired "in parallel"? Is that a fair assumption? I also spent a few hours digging around inside the trailer and am pretty sure the current panels are wired using the the airstream's solar 'pre-wire' -- the yellow and green wires that (in my 2015 25' RB FC) are located in the rear roof vent. There is only one pair of these wires (running to the battery bus bar, according to the owner's manual) -- would that mean the panels are wired together at some point and are thus in parallel?

Thanks again for all the advice and pointers - very, very helpful.
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Old 11-30-2019, 07:04 AM   #17
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Hi

Wire that simply goes to pieces in a couple years is unusual. Most modern isolation material have a reasonable life, even outdoors. If you want to go nuts, silicone insulation is pretty much "king" in this regard ( = it lasts a long time). You are unlikely to find it at the big box store. Amazon will happily get you some later today

The wires used in the pre-wire should be fine. This assumes there has not been some sort of insane short circuit that fried everything. The panels will not put out enough power to do this. Wires would have to get across the battery for this to happen.

One really weird possibility - someone may have washed the trailer with a very unusual cleaning agent. There are solvents that will degrade insulation. They also might impact the caulking on the roof penetrating stuff. If you are back up on the roof. Take a look at the caulk ....

Bob
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Old 11-30-2019, 11:06 AM   #18
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Good suggestion. The caulking seemed to be fine on cursory view. I’ve even tried to be careful and simply reuse the existing brackets that secure the wire to the roof without disturbing the sealant for the screws. Wanted to avoid needing to reseal them if I could. Will give it a more thorough going over as I work through the rewiring.

Thanks!
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Old 12-02-2019, 12:29 PM   #19
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If all the positives and negatives are connected together then parallel. If you have the positive going to a negative then series.

Also be careful with 'hardware' store wire. Not all wire is created equal. You want stranded wire with a high quality insulation. Most of the hardware variety is junk. I would purchase wire intended for that purpose if it's going from the panel to the combiner. And don't use wire nuts. They're also junk. Crimp on a quality connector and use a terminal strip.

Most solar panels come with specialty connections called MC4. It is best to purchase these rather then basterdizing them. I prefer to just buy the finished ones since then it's plug and play and waterproof.
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Old 12-03-2019, 06:48 AM   #20
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Hi

When you buy your MC4 connectors, get the little wrench like tools that make it easier to work with them....they are dirt cheap.

Bob
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