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Old 06-07-2020, 08:08 AM   #1
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Solar setup for boondocking for total newbs (crosspost)

My wife and I are thinking of buying a globetrotter 27 front bedroom and we have never had an airstream before or any RV. We think that we are interested in national park campgrounds, national forests and other dry camping/boondocking destinations primarily. We will not be full timers. So we definitely want the ability to go off the grid easily.

There are so many other issues to master that I donít have the mental energy to try to sort through all of the complexities of the discussions in the solar thread. My only question for now is whether just for getting started we can start with the factory solar, which I think is something like 180 watts, Or whether we really need to do something more sophisticated from the very beginning.

One of the dealers we have been talking to recommended a 400 W Zamp system (I donít know the details of this except for the name).

Money is not really an issue luckily.

So my question is whether to start just with the 180 W solar to begin with, or to do the 400 watt zamp system, or to try to do some other more sophisticated custom thing right from the beginning.

Any other recommendations you have for us in terms of a boondocking set up right from the beginning, as opposed to something we can add later, would be helpful.

Thanks in advance.
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Old 06-07-2020, 08:14 AM   #2
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Others can give you technical advice, but first it is important to define what you consider boondocking.

Used to be this was off grid camping, either in no hookups public campgrounds or on public lands without defined campsites.

Along with that was minimal use of anything drawing power, keeping battery usage to an absolute minimum.

For some of us, this is still our idea of boondocking, but for others they want to be able to run their television, air conditioner, small appliances, etc.

First decide how you want to do this, and that will help you determine how much solar you have to have.

Good luck,

Maggie
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Old 06-07-2020, 09:41 AM   #3
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More advise then you want to hear, likely. I would recommend looking at a "used" model in size you "think" you want before plunking down big $$ on a new one... many of us have been down this road here on the Forum. Also, you should consider your batteries; best is Li, but expensive. We use 6V Trojan T105's which are way better then the 12V Interstates that most AS's come with. Thats another consideration for sure.

Anyway, to your question, solar is great on the road to charge, but many times camping in parks, trees can block sun on your roof. You can never have to much solar...it's what you want to use it for. We get by with an 80W Go Power folding suite case set up. Works great to top off our batteries. We also have a generator for back up when sun is an issue.
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Old 06-07-2020, 10:33 AM   #4
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You really need to provide more infomaiton to get helpful advice. How many days do you want to be able to be off grid? Will you be using your furnace? Do you want to be able to use your air conditioner? Will you have a generator?The factory provided solar is only good for extending the use of you batteries to a few days assuming you have no heavy electrical use. Heavier electrical use will likely also require upgraded batteies and inverter. So first step is to think a little more about how you will use the trailer. It might be worthwhile to get a trailer first without investing in solar and determine how you are going to use it. We did DIY solar and added 6 100w panels, a lithium battery, and Victron inverter/charger, battery monitor, and VENUS GX control and love it!--Frank
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Old 06-07-2020, 11:44 AM   #5
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I posted this in another thread somewhere along the line and it may or may not be helpful:

I was initially a fan of the factory solar install but now feel it is more of a marketing thing. It will help charge your batteries but I don't think it has enough capacity to fully charge them in a day if you've discharged them below 50% (max discharge for AGM). I guess if you keep your power usage low and your trailer is in direct sunlight, it can maintain your batteries enough to provide the basics for the 12V systems. But I wouldn't use the inverter. Don't run your furnace or fantastic fan all night. And constantly check your battery voltage. Know that your refer requires 12V for the circuit board, even when running off propane. So if you completely discharge your batteries your refrigerator quits working.

The whole stock electrical system, panels, controller, batteries, inverter, are too limiting to count on for off grid boondocking IMO. Half of the AC outlets in the trailer are not on the inverter, so you can't use the inverter to power devices in the galley, lavatory, and dinette. The inverter is only 1000W so there are many things you might want to power that you cannot, such as a microwave, coffee maker, or Instant pot. The two stock batteries are only 80 AH each, so based on 50% max discharge for AGM you really only have 80 AH total available to use after sundown, assuming they are completely charged in the first place.

You might think you can augment the two 80W panels on the roof with a portable panel or two, but know that the Zamp connector on the A Frame is connected directly to the batteries (at least it was on my trailer). That means that any portable panel needs it's own controller and when a portable panel is hooked up, the controller on the portable panel will be competing with the controller in the factory installed system. I think that will mean either the roof top panels are charging your batteries, or the portable panel, but not both.

However if you have the factory system, what you can do if you want to beef it up is add a third panel on the roof (the roof top combiner box has three inputs and only two are used). You can replace your inverter with a higher power one (although proceed with caution on that, you'll need to replace the cable from the battery and fuse as well), and you can replace your batteries with ones that have more capacity.

We chose to completely replace the factory system in our Globetrotter with a robust solar system installed by Lew Farber (lewster on this forum). We have 700 watts on the roof, two 300AH Lithium batteries, and a 3000W Victron inverter. All of our outlets are connected to the inverter as well as one of our AC units. We don't really use the battery to run our AC but could if we wanted to for a few hours. I like being able to not constantly worry about whether or not my batteries are charged enough.

As someone pointed out, it all depends on what you want to do and where you want to go.

Steve
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Old 06-08-2020, 09:47 AM   #6
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What are the specs of the 400 Zamp System? How many amp hours of lithium?
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Old 06-08-2020, 12:06 PM   #7
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Old 06-08-2020, 12:21 PM   #8
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14 Years Off the Grid Solar works for us

Boondocking Off the Grid on our own for 14 years.

The 2006 23 foot had a 60 to 80 watt Solar Panel from the factory, pair of Interstate AGM batteries, Solar mounted on the roof... worked just fine. For EIGHT years. Same Batteries.

The 2014 25 foot had bad Interstate Batteries... THREE TIMES. Dead from the dealer's lot and Dead from an Interstate Dealer installing old AGM's. Interstate refunded our money on the AGM's and I purchased Interstates from Costco, with a NO Whiner Refund if they go bad in three years.

Bought a Costco 100 watt portable Solar Panel for $120 delivered to our door. Maybe $125. Move it around in the Sun as it moves across the sky and leans against a Milk Crate and a 5 gallon plastic bucket and rocks if it is windy.

Get TWO Solar Panels with two controllers, wire them up and you will GLOW when your 12volt interior lights are used at night and Fantastic Fan if needed.

Worked perfectly. Never had battery problems. Sold the trailer and Batteries and Solar tossed into the deal were working fine.

The 2019 Interstate has two Airstream Dealer 80 watt Solar Panels as part of the deal, two AGM batteries and I added the Costco 100watt portable when Dry Camping Off the Grid. Batteries are fully charge each day and not one complaint. The portable Solar Panel rides on top of the bed and just fold the covers over it to keep from every moving.

Someone on the forum said if you use the external Solar connection on the battery box and your panel has the Controller (Costco's comes with a Controller) the panel will not charge if you have Factory Solar on the roof and running through the system. Does not sound right to me... but I am from the Stoneage.

I have to say that is news to me. If I put the panel in the Sun, with the trailer in our RV Garage... it works perfectly.

This is all for 12 volt operation in your trailer. No need for a generator unless you are a Glamper with TV, hair dryer and AC... Then you need to make some serious decisions.

For us... Solar with two AGM batteries and conservative 12 volt use at night and watch your voltage... Fine.

There are plenty of Threads and Posts. Some with expensive Lithium Systems which are beyond my needs, but these guys can supply YOU with Power! Lithium some day for me... when everything else fails and batteries need to replaced. We will see.

This is Cheap compared to what some advise you to do. Depends on YOUR needs. Ours... just everything we need and just doing great.

Enjoy your Airstream. This begins your hunt for... options and upgrades to come!
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Old 06-08-2020, 12:24 PM   #9
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300Ah of lithium is equal to 600Ah of lead acid/AGM batteries. Having (2) 300Ah is a fantastic amount of energy and they only weigh 70lbs each - about the same as a Group 31 lead acid battery.

Here are companies that sell 300Ah lithium batteries"

https://www.lithiumion-batteries.com...-rv-deep-cycle

https://lithiummarinebattery.com/shop

https://relionbattery.com/products/lithium
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Old 06-08-2020, 01:59 PM   #10
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Main factor is heating

What determined the capacity of our DIY solar system was the ability to heat the trailer in the shoulder seasons when there is less sunshine and nights are cool/cold (we mainly camp off grid). Storage capacity and maximizing the conversion of whatever sun we get was the determining factor. For AC, when needed, we have our Honda generator. 500W (parallel) and 470ah battery bank does it for us. Good luck!
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Old 06-08-2020, 02:50 PM   #11
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DB5400,

Welcome the Forums! There is much to think about when considering a solar charging system for your Airstream. Things like types of batteries, total amount of wattage for your solar panels, whether you will include a new, larger inverter/charger into your system and whether you will be doing the installation yourself.

Once you have some inkling of these subjects, you should either find the materials that you want to use or find a highly qualified installer to do the actual placing of your system.
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Old 06-08-2020, 03:46 PM   #12
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We have factory solar ... BUT the AS is not always optimally situated to get full sun. So, we also have a portable panel the add in to the system as needed.
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Old 06-08-2020, 03:54 PM   #13
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DB5400,

lewster1 knows what he's talking about. There are several members on Air Forums who have had lewster1 install charging/inverter/solar/etc. and I'm not aware of anyone who is unhappy.

Do some searching on Air Forums and you'll find a few more members who do a good job installing solar and related electrical systems. Pick one of them and you can't go wrong. As lewster1 mentioned, he can refer you to a good installer in your area.

Good luck with the search for a trailer. Look forward to seeing you down the road.
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Old 06-08-2020, 05:06 PM   #14
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Hi DB5400.
If you can get your camper to Alabama, reach out to Ronnie Dennis, GMFL here on the forums. He recently installed a solar/lithium system on my 27í Eddie Bauer, and I couldnít be happier. He took time to educate me by phone, and we came up with a custom system that meets our needs.
Best of luck,
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Old 06-08-2020, 05:17 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jayseejay View Post
Hi DB5400.
If you can get your camper to Alabama, reach out to Ronnie Dennis, GMFL here on the forums. He recently installed a solar/lithium system on my 27í Eddie Bauer, and I couldnít be happier. He took time to educate me by phone, and we came up with a custom system that meets our needs.
Best of luck,
Joe
BTW, Ronnie is the guy who did the installation in the video that dbrick mentioned in post#7 :-)
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Old 06-08-2020, 10:13 PM   #16
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My wife and I spend most of the time in the AS dry camping (without connections), often at USFS campgrounds, but also boondocking or dispersed camping. We are out April - October and often need the heat spring and fall. We require only reliable 12V power; no AC, microwave, television, hairdryer, coffee maker, etc.

I went with self-install of a 360W, 3-panel system on the roof, sourced from AM Solar, charging two 12V deep-cycle wet cell batteries. AM Solar provided everything I needed, and they were very helpful answering questions during the install. I've had the system for two years now and it's worked great, for our needs. In cold weather, with moderately heavy use of the heater in the evening and the morning, I can run the batteries down to 12.1V (50%) by 9 AM. However, with the large capacity of the panels, I'm back at 12.6 (100%) by 10 or 11 AM, even in a ponderosa pine forest or a cloudy day. The only place where I have camped where my daily usage exceeded my ability to recharge the batteries was in old growth forest of the PNW.

Love the AM Solar system. Meets my needs for light, heat, vent fans, water pump, music, charging phones, etc. You will need to determine your own needs. I may switch to two 6V golf cart wet cell batteries for an increase in amp hour capacity when the current 4-year old batteries give up the ghost (no sign of that yet). You will enjoy the silence of solar!
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Old 06-17-2020, 10:17 AM   #17
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We have the Zamp 160 suitcase and use it with our FC27. Works like a charm. We also use the 15' extension so we can find solar when camped near trees. We move it during the day to track the sun.

A few caveats: be mindful of leaving it out unattended at some locations, it may go home with someone else; you can lock it to something, but that's not very sturdy security; we have never had ours stolen. If you use your inverter to get 120V in the RV, you'll blow through your battery charge pretty quickly, plan on using a generator for those things you need 120V for: toaster, A/C, television, hair dryer, etc. And, charging when you've been away all day and your Zamp has been locked up inside.

The real beauty of the Zamp for us: quiet. No noise, enjoy the surroundings. And we are seeing more and more people using solar now.

We will eventually put solar on the roof as well, but the suitcase can't be beat for easy setup and locating away from trees blocking sunlight.


Quote:
Originally Posted by DB5400 View Post
My wife and I are thinking of buying a globetrotter 27 front bedroom and we have never had an airstream before or any RV. We think that we are interested in national park campgrounds, national forests and other dry camping/boondocking destinations primarily. We will not be full timers. So we definitely want the ability to go off the grid easily.

There are so many other issues to master that I donít have the mental energy to try to sort through all of the complexities of the discussions in the solar thread. My only question for now is whether just for getting started we can start with the factory solar, which I think is something like 180 watts, Or whether we really need to do something more sophisticated from the very beginning.

One of the dealers we have been talking to recommended a 400 W Zamp system (I donít know the details of this except for the name).

Money is not really an issue luckily.

So my question is whether to start just with the 180 W solar to begin with, or to do the 400 watt zamp system, or to try to do some other more sophisticated custom thing right from the beginning.

Any other recommendations you have for us in terms of a boondocking set up right from the beginning, as opposed to something we can add later, would be helpful.

Thanks in advance.
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Old 06-17-2020, 10:27 AM   #18
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Good choice

Hi. 27 globetrotter FB is a perfect choice. I have a 25 international signature FB and wish I had gotten the 27 for the bed configuration. I installed 400 W of solar on my own and it is excellent. I would stop thinking about it and just buy it. A 400 W example set up will do you well, and, if you swapped out the batteries for 2◊200 white lithium batteries you will be all set. .27 globetrotter FB is a perfect choice. I have a 25 international signature FB and wish I had gotten the 27 for the bed configuration. I installed 400 W of solar on my own and it is excellent. I would stop thinking about it and just buy it. A 400 white zip set up will do you well, and, if you swapped out the batteries for 2◊200 W lithium batteries you will be all set. Remember however, that you canít run air-conditioning on battery unless you have a much more robust set up such as 600+ watts of solar and 600 A of lithium. That is what my friend has in his 30 foot signature and he can run his air conditioning for a few hours. But not much more. So. In summary. By the globetrotter, Get the 400 W solar and 200a lithium and donít look back. You obviously will need a truck as your tongue weight is probably around 800+ pounds. Good luck.
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Old 06-17-2020, 10:40 AM   #19
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I have 1 300AH AGM with 2x 100 watt panels mounted on top and I the only reason I ever run the generator is for the microwave.

I am FREEEEEEEE!
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Old 06-17-2020, 12:17 PM   #20
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Q About battery cables

I’m new to airstream solar set ups but from the research I e done so far the 400w set up sounds like good advice.

In the interest of sharing, my 2004 Airstream Interstate motor coach didn’t come with a factory package, nor was there a built-in port for connecting after market solar panels, so I started from scratch. I just upgraded my 2004 AI converter to a Progressive Dynamic 4500 series converter specifically for lithium batteries. The swap was uneventful save for releasing more wire from the surplus located behind the unit (pics attached). I also picked up a 230w Zamp Solar portable suitcase; and two 100w Battle Born Li batteries. I bought the port that needs to be installed on the driver’s side to plug the panels into the new converter. The Zamp suitcase comes with its own controller.

My challenge now is rerouting the battery cables to my fold out couch because the original house battery lived under the passenger seat and although one BB battery can lay on its side under there, two most certainly cannot. How do I begin rerouting my battery cables under the flooring? Do I need special tools? Will the flooring need to be replaced?
Thanks!
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