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Old 08-01-2022, 01:03 PM   #1
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Best portable solar panel choices? And is portable sufficient?

Hello all - I'm on the cusp of purchasing a 2019 FC bunk with no built-in solar. While I'm considering the built-in option (either DIY or hired out) I'm also curious about how folks are getting along with portable solar. What are the best options that are out there? And are they sufficient on their own to alleviate the need for built-in? Or is there a compelling reason to go one way or the other? Thanks so much!
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Old 08-01-2022, 02:19 PM   #2
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I'm considering a solar suitcase by Renogy. The 200 w. unit is nice but maybe too big to store easily (40 pounds and about 3' square)
The 100 w. setup is much more manageable, but half the output.

FOS just discussed their "four steps to solar" and they didn't like the suitcase, mainly because of theft. They felt you had to watch it too closely. I see some advantages like when your perfect spot is in the shade, but you can set the portable in the sun.

If I was starting over, I'd seriously consider a cap for the truck and mount the solar panels on the roof of the cap rather than the RV.

I'm not going down the very expensive rabbit hole of Lithium batteries and all that goes with them.
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Old 08-01-2022, 02:32 PM   #3
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Best portable solar panel choices? And is portable sufficient?

We have 200w of the Zamp Obsidian panels in 2 suitcases with the “tactical” carrying cases. It’s a 100w unit with a solar controller and another 100w unit without a controller. They are lighter and thinner than the Zamp Legacy suitcases, but are fairly light and produce outstanding results. We keep them wedged next to the bed when not in use.

Checked out other options but decided to go with Zamp. Expensive, but apparently worth it in the long run based upon what I have read and the thinness of the panels. Zamp has been extremely helpful with questions and customer service on all issues.
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Old 08-01-2022, 02:49 PM   #4
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We opted for the Renogy 200w suitcase. As stated above it is a bit awkward but generally leave it deployed on the truck cap with cabling to the Zamp connector on the trailer A frame. The frame is two 1" x 1" x 8' aluminum tubes (Home Depot) cut in half and the small fence rail brackets to capture the panel.


Steve
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Old 08-01-2022, 03:14 PM   #5
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As an intermediate step, I picked up one of the inexpensive suitcase solar panels off of Amazon (Dokio): they don't have the rigid frame, these are the ones in the red and black nylon case, folds up small enough to stash it under the bed; these aren't heavy at all. I've used it on several camping trips to keep the batteries up. I do put them away if we're leaving the site so they don't walk off. I don't have a solar plug to plug them into, I pop open the battery box and use the 'alligator clips' to connect to the battery (they came w/ their own small charge controller).

I will eventually install panels on the roof, and use a Victron controller for them, but I've not gotten there yet.
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Old 08-01-2022, 03:42 PM   #6
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My experience is the best answer is tied to how and where the trailer is used. Permanent panels on the trailer are great out West (or treeless places in-between) but less so in the heavily forested East where generators excel.

If you disconnect your TV and use the TV extensively to explore the surrounds or visit nearby sights/stores when not actively traveling between destinations then the suitcase panel approach left in a sunny area near the rig can work well. However, mobile panels do require frequent attention to maintain use in a sunny spot around heavier foliage but are easier to reposition than the TV. Note, solar units tethered to the RV and left behind while you enjoy activities elsewhere may have a tendency to develop new relationships and wander off with others.

I've found TV mounted panels don't transfer much power when regularly taken away from the campsite so it really is a question of RV campsite lifestyle.
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Old 08-01-2022, 04:03 PM   #7
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I have had the GoPower 80W suitecase for 7 years now and use when I need solar and have good sun. Easy set up, stores at foot of my twin bed. Take it with me to new Airstream and also have let others borrow. There are bigger Wattage units- bit more money. These are pricy but the Go Power works great....it's only money, right?
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Old 08-01-2022, 04:10 PM   #8
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We had three Zamp suitcase portables for our coach. The setup worked well, but in the end we never used it as much as we should have due to the hassle of setting up and the concern about theft if left out overnight.

Now we have 400 watts on the roof of our trailer. The difference is night and day. They are always in place and ready to provide power, removing the need for daily setup. Also, we are able to use them sitting in our driveway to provide power to the trailer without plugging in (we don't run the a/c while parked in our driveway), and we're able to use them while driving down the road to keep the batteries topped off on the way to our next destination.

The portables are more than capable of recharging, but the convenience of the rooftop is a game changer.
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Old 08-01-2022, 04:27 PM   #9
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We too have the 200 watt Zamp portable Obsidian array. Very high build quality and super easy to use. As another noted, one of the panels has a solar controller and the other just daisy chains to this one. To get them set up and going is literally a 30-second job. One wire plugs into the Airstream solar port on the tongue and the other end plugs into the array with the controller. It's impossible to screw it up.

There is the fear of theft, of course. But we don't leave them out when we're not there. We just unplug and toss 'em inside - only takes less than a minute to do. I guess it's possible somebody could snatch them from under our noses, but most places we go that's never been an issue. Sucks we even have to think about that though
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Old 08-01-2022, 05:09 PM   #10
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We have 400W of Zamp Obsidian panels on the roof plus a 180W Zamp portable suitcase. IMO, the advantage of having both types of panels is flexibility. Fixed rooftop panels are great if you have a sunny camping spot and for charging the batteries while on the road. The portable panel, especially when equipped with an extension cable, allows for seeking out a sunny spot even if the trailer is parked in the shade. A couple of padlocks and a length of chain secured to the trailer or a tree help discourage someone from just walking away with the panel. If we leave the campsite for any length of time I usually bring it in the trailer.

I chose the Zamp portable because their products are excellent quality (made in the USA) and my Airstream is already set up with a Zamp compatible port. The 180W panel is a nice compromise between output and weight. I purchased one without a built-in controller as my solar port is wired through the Victron solar controller in the trailer which manages both the rooftop and portable panels.
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Old 08-01-2022, 05:17 PM   #11
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I have a Bluetti 200 watt portable panel and love it. https://www.bluettipower.com/collections/solar-panels
I plug right into the umbilical and works well.

Mine came as a package with a generator and I've used both (great boondocking). https://www.bluettipower.com/product...or-for-camping
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Old 08-01-2022, 07:19 PM   #12
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Adding to what others said, I had the Renogy 200 and found it heavy and awkward to handle.

An important point-portable panels are worth approximately twice the wattage of panels on the roof, because you can easily point then at the sun. My rooftop panels need the sun higher in the sky to generate good output than my Renogy did.

In retrospect, one or two 100 watt panels would have been easier than a single 200.
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Old 08-01-2022, 07:24 PM   #13
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I forgot to add that we already have 270W of Zamp panels on the roof from the factory. When used in conjunction with the 200W of Zamp Obsidian suitcase panels we have plenty of power most of the time from the solar perspective.

That said, I will likely upgrade the panels on the roof as well to get more bang for the buck.
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Old 08-01-2022, 07:40 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Janet H View Post
I have a Bluetti 200 watt portable panel and love it. https://www.bluettipower.com/collections/solar-panels
I plug right into the umbilical and works well.

Mine came as a package with a generator and I've used both (great boondocking). https://www.bluettipower.com/product...or-for-camping

Janet-

Are the portable panels flexible? They look like it in one of the pictures.

Do you have to charge the Bluetti "generator" separately with the solar panels or does the package have the ability to "split" and charge your AS batteries at the same time?
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Old 08-02-2022, 10:55 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WellSaid11 View Post
Janet-

Are the portable panels flexible? They look like it in one of the pictures.

Do you have to charge the Bluetti "generator" separately with the solar panels or does the package have the ability to "split" and charge your AS batteries at the same time?
The panels are flexible and yes, pass through charging is possible (generator).


You can read the tech specs here: https://www.bluettipower.com/product...0w-solar-panel

I appreciate the form factor - light, packable and the use of standard connectors rather than proprietary. The 200 watt version weighs 16 lbs. The smaller 100 watt panels can be used in parallel.
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Old 08-02-2022, 11:32 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Woiwode View Post
Hello all - I'm on the cusp of purchasing a 2019 FC bunk with no built-in solar. While I'm considering the built-in option (either DIY or hired out) I'm also curious about how folks are getting along with portable solar. What are the best options that are out there? And are they sufficient on their own to alleviate the need for built-in? Or is there a compelling reason to go one way or the other? Thanks so much!

Hi There,

Congrats on your purchase! We have 200 watts factory installed on the roof of our 27 FB. We are really glad that we have solar power to charge the batteries on transit, in the driveway at home, through the winter, not to mention at campsites.

We typically camp in the Northeast, where (as noted by previous posters) there is usually a good amount of foliage over the campsites. This year, I purchased 180 watts of Zamp portable solar (the legacy, heavier units) and have left the generator at home to see how we got on.

Over the course of 4 'dry' camping trips so far (each one at least 3-4 days), I have not run out of battery power. We usually are only running the fan, led lights, refrigerator (which runs on propane, but does draw some battery power), and the water pump. The portable panels are deployed in the afternoon / evenings when we get back from day trips.

During our last campout, The batteries began to run down to 12.2 / 12.1 on the morning of the last day, which gave me pause. However, the battery readings are not always accurate. The meter can read 12.1 on moment, and then 12.4 after something is shut off.

We did not experience much rain during this year; its been pretty dry here in the Northeast. I think all bets are off if we were to receive a few days of continuous rain / cloudy skies.

Given this, I am thinking about bringing the generator along for longer trips, as a backup power source.
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Old 08-02-2022, 11:56 AM   #17
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2023 model Airstreams are moving to Merlin Solar for their factory fitted solar.

Merlin also make a flexible, lightweight portable unit (Panther Series) that is 80% lighter than glass and produces 20% more energy, according to their blurb. The 100W unit weighs in at under 8lb and the 200W unit is a little over 11lb.

These weights certainly define portable.
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Old 08-02-2022, 12:07 PM   #18
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We have roof top and portable panels. Since we try to park the rig in the shade if there is any - the roof top is not very helpful. We have an old 100w panel from costco and a newer 200 w suitcase. While all 3 work well in full sun, the newer is hands down better in cloud or partial shade. We have been lucky I guess in that over 12 years of camping nothing of any particular value has wondered off on its own and got lost. I guess National Park camping folks are overall good people. The best part about portables is "following the sun" By day 2 at any given campsite we know where to position our panels to catch the early rays. We do cary a generator but do our best to avoid using it - we don't like to hear it and neither do our campsite neighbours (yes it is a quiet Honda, but quiet is a relative term).There is no one size fits all for camping, think how you will use it. We have a 12 v adaptor on the battery box and 12v plug ins on the panels. Makes for a quick and easy set up. The suitcase is holding up better than our home made "box" for the old costco panel - something to consider too.
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Old 08-02-2022, 12:41 PM   #19
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Thank you all! Such a wealth of info. Will update as we decide what approach to take.
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Old 08-02-2022, 12:50 PM   #20
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Interestingly, Airstream's site describes the new Merlin Solar panels as being rigid; all of the panels on Merlin's site are described as being flexible; I emailed Merlin, and they replied that they are flexible, and passed my contact info to the president of the company that is their "key partner", I will report back anything useful I learn.
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