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Old 06-19-2020, 02:48 PM   #1
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Off Grid Power Help for a Newbie

We're trying to make a decision about a power source for our 2017 Flying Cloud 30 FB for occasional off-grid camping. We were thinking of a 200W portable solar suitcase but are now wondering if a small generator might be a better option. Specifically, we're looking at a small invertor generator (WEN 56203i Super Quiet 2000-Watt Portable Inverter Generator).

Could some more experienced Airstreamers help me by weighing in on this particularly conundrum...?
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Old 06-19-2020, 03:38 PM   #2
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If you can't have both, a generator will give you more flexibility than the solar suitcase. The solar panels are nice for keeping the batteries charged but you can't run the microwave or certain small appliances off the batteries and 1000W inverter while you're boondocking. A generator like the one you are considering will be able to do that as well as top up the batteries, although obviously not as quietly as solar.
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Old 06-19-2020, 03:55 PM   #3
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I boondock with just a generator. Only a couple of weeks a year or less though.

You have to run it quite a bit to get a good charge but it works in bad weather. The Solar would reduce run times in good conditions. 30 degree rain for a week in Jasper and a few days in Chicken put me out of any serious interest in solar.

What would really help is lithium batteries and a comparable converter. If you can convince your self that the lithium will really last the10 years and you have the funds up front and boon dock a lot that would be a good change. The lithium batteries will get you more than twice the reserve and much shorter generator runs.

My decision on the lithium batteries is to boondock less and pay for electric sites.
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Old 06-19-2020, 04:47 PM   #4
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I have an onboard generator, the biggest problem with any extended dry camping or boondocking is by using it running down the limited propane supply which must also cool my refrigerator.

I just bought a 100 watt solar suitcase, it was very reasonably priced and is amazingly simple to use.

Iíll have the generator for backup if I need it, but I run toward minimalism when not hooked up to electricity...a battery operated light, keeping the frig on, electronics charged and any cooking done outside or on the stove.

I donít use the microwave nor the AC, so need a generator or solar just to keep my coach battery charged.

Maggie
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Old 06-20-2020, 09:23 AM   #5
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Hi

First, back up a bit.

How many days off grid? ( we can go weeks, but a weekend might be what you are after)

When and where off grid? (the northeast is rotten for solar compared to the southwest, for a variety of reasons).

Running what off grid? ( Just the fridge is pretty low power. Fire up the furnace and .... yikes .....).

What shape are your batteries in? (a 2017 could have pretty near dead batteries in it).

Some math:

All based on amp hours used out of your battery. A 1 A drain for 24 hours is 24 AH.

If your fridge pulls about an amp, that's 24AH a day.
Toss in water pump, a couple hours of lights, you add 10 to 20 AH
Turn on the fans all night and you have .... errr .... maybe 20 AH

So you have a range between 24 and 64 AH of usage a day. Most struggle getting below 50 AH a day.

A 200W solar gizmo likely provides you with 5 hours of "peak rating" power on a really good day in the northeast. In theory that gives you 80 AH at 100% efficiency. On a typical day in a typical location, figure half that.

Your trailer (when new) had about 80AH of usable battery capacity ( running from full charge to the 50% point). It takes a *long* time (5 hours maybe) to get lead acid batteries to full charge. You may or may not always get there.

So, if you can be *sure* of solar always delivering, you can stay ahead of a brand new set of batteries at most reasonable usage rates. Have a couple days of clouds, watch TV for an hour, leave the fan on ..... there's not much margin.

====

So what are the answers?

1) Bigger solar (up around 400W or more)

2) A generator ( even 1,000W is big enough)

3) Bigger batteries (lithium or lead acid)

The low cost winner is a quiet 1KW inverter generator. Quiet is the key point here. You very much do *not* want a noisy generator running for hours on end. Honda makes quiet generators ......

Bob
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Old 06-20-2020, 09:24 AM   #6
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We have 200w solar on the roof + 180w solar suitcase + 3400w dual fuel Champion which we run on LP - we donot have lithium batteries (can justify spending the $5000 Canadian dollar expense to upgrade the system) so at present use Trojan T105s which work well. All we do is boondock. The only time we are on power is when we are home getting ready to go.
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Old 06-20-2020, 10:03 AM   #7
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You can only count on the suitcase solar to keep your batteries from deep cycling. On sunny days, a few hours of direct sunlight will give you the added bonus of actually charging up you batteries and maybe running your TV and fans while receiving direct sunlight.

As to using a generator, you need to consider what you actually NEED to run on electricity and weigh that against the weight and noise it entails. Remember, you have other sources of energy, such as propane, and plan accordingly. Consider pressed coffee rather than drip, air drying your hair, manually brushing your teeth, taking short showers, etc..

We try to be good neighbors as much as possible and only run the generator to recharge the batteries when others are not around and we have not received enough direct sunlight on our suitcase solar panels to charge up the batteries. Either way, we treat ourselves to longer showers and some TV while they are charging.

You only need a 17 pound 700 watt generator to recharge your batteries in a couple of hours. With such a small generator, you will need to reduce the power draw to near zero to start. The higher the elevation, the more you should leave the small generator to run before applying a load in order to build up its output. You might want to add another 4 pounds and instead get a 1000 W generator to give you some extra security if you camp in the mountains a lot.

A small generator weighing less than 25 pounds will do the trick if you do not run an air conditioner or use any high wattage appliances. While you are charging, you can probably also run the fridge on electricity, run your inverter for TV and movies, recharge all your personal electronics, and all your fans and lights. You can get such a generator for around $250.

If you want to run an air conditioner (a modern unit up to 13500 BTUs), you will need to spend more like $1000-$1500 on at least a 2000 watt generator (2400 watt for added security esp. if you are going to shell out that much money) weighing in at 55-75 pounds. Even so, you will also need to spend another $300-$500 on a Soft Start with installation if you don't want to burn up your air conditioner at that wattage.

You could also lug around a 200 pound 3500+ watt unit to run your air conditioner without Soft Start with the other stuff I mentioned along with your drip coffee and hair blower as long as you don't run them all at once. Starting the air condioner without Soft Start generally maxes out the load.

Personally, I use a 160 watt solar suitcase as much as possible and carry along a 700 watt Dirty Hands generator as backup to charge the batteries. A Zamp 160 watt suitcase seemed to be the best output/pound. If I want to run the air conditioner, I bring a 2400 watt Yamaha generator and pay close attention to my body mechanics when I reposition it. The Soft Start seemed a bit of a splurge, but we found it well worth it for the 20 degree cooling with a 13500 BTU in a Flying Cloud 20 even in full sun. I wouldn't even consider lugging around anything bigger, given all the options I have to avoid that.

We LOVE to boondock and you probably will too!
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Old 06-20-2020, 04:03 PM   #8
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unclebob and paultower both made good points. You need to know what your energy needs are in watts. Remember 1 amp at 120v = 10 amps at 12V. The little WEN you are looking at is good but you will need a soft start for the air conditioner. Solar is location and weather dependent and you need enough to meet both your daytime needs and to charge for night time usage. Lead acid (flooded or AGM) need to be fully charged daily or they will eventually sulfate an early death. Lithium Batteries are the best option but are more expensive. YLithiums can be used 100% whereas lead acids should not be used more than 50% of rated amp hours. They also weigh less than 1/2 of LA, You pay additional gas for every pound you haul. The prices have dropped dramatically since the Canadian last priced them out. 200Ah in lithium = 400Ah in lead acid with higher constant voltage. Here are some choices:

AMPS Lithium
https://lithiummarinebattery.com/shop

Battleborn
https://battlebornbatteries.com

ReLion
https://relionbattery.com/products/lithium

Renogy
https://www.renogy.com

SmartBattery
https://www.lithiumion-batteries.com...-rv-deep-cycle
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Old 06-20-2020, 04:23 PM   #9
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Old 06-30-2020, 10:18 AM   #10
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Some good recommendations here for sure. If you are going to need/want AC, the 1000W units won't cut it. You really need to consider the Honda 2200 or Yamaha 2200 models along with an Easystart for your 15000AC unit. (new AS's I understand have a "soft start" (like Easystart) capacitor included in their AC units, I believe), but still need the larger 2000W geny. These Honda/Yamaha units are Light weight 45lbs, quite, and work pretty well. I like the propane option offered by Genconnex or others, so you don't have to carry gas. We have switched to 6V Trojan T105 batteries, and have an 80 portable suitcase solar from GoPower, we purchased several years ago that we use to top off our batteries when good sun. I look at the generator as "insurance" when solar isn't an option due to environment. Works for us...
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Old 07-05-2020, 10:01 AM   #11
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Off Grid

I have roof mounted solar....500watts (overkill - 300 watts is probably good) and lithium batteries. I dont have a generator. I have been fine. I accept I can't use the AC or Microwave...but also can pick when and where I go to a place - so I dont 'need' ac and one never "needs" a microwave. Truck can charge batteries in a pinch.
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Old 07-05-2020, 11:36 AM   #12
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I have both. If you are in areas of good sun, solar panels are great. They are quiet and charging all daylight hours. No fuel. Check airforums classifieds. I just listed an zamp 200w portable system that is awesome. It was only used once and is perfect condition. You can also call me with any questions. Rich (530) 448.9130
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Old 07-05-2020, 11:54 AM   #13
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A lot of good advice here, let me share my experience. When I first bought our AS I swapped out the Group 24 batteries for 2 6V AGM golf cart batteries. This gave us ~50% more storage that the OEM Batteries (210 vs 160 ah). For Solar I added 3 Zamp 90 was panel's on the roof and the 160 suit case panel. I hooked this all up into the stock 1000W inverter. This system cost about $2000

This set up work great, we were able to watch TV, charge our phones and iPads and run the fans at night and on a sunny day we were fully re-charged buy noon. The down side of this set up is when the weather was not sunny we would run out of power after 3 days.

Recently I decide to add 2 Battle Born Lithium batteries and replace the inverter with a Victron 2000w pass through inverter. I can now run all the AC outlets including the microwave. As a test I ran the batteries down to 255 And was recharged in less than 3 hours with just the roof solar panels

Here are links I have created videos of our system on our YouTube channel:
https://youtu.be/BD7w3H4gImk
https://youtu.be/nRxlkH_YO7Q

My advice to you is plan a system that you can grow with. The easiest point to start is with the Batteries and a suit case solar panels. Then if you want more you can always add more panels to the roof and upgrade the batteries to lithium if needed.

Have fun.

Zephyr
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Old 07-05-2020, 12:46 PM   #14
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200-300 watts of solar and a 2200W Honda will take care of your needs.

Enough said
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Old 07-05-2020, 02:18 PM   #15
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A lot of helpful information has been posted above. Permit me to share with you what our set-up is and how we use it. We have a 2020 19cb Bambi. We already had a 160W Zamp suitcase solar panel, so we didn't purchase the factory installed solar package. Since the Bambi is pre-wired for solar, we'll add that eventually and supplement it with our suitcase panel. Our batteries are the 2 80amp/hour led acid batteries that came with the trailer. When those wear out we'll replace them with AGM's.

As one needs to manage water when they are boondocking, so we also manage, and work with, the charge on our batteries. It has always worked out for us.
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Old 07-05-2020, 06:03 PM   #16
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Generator for me

We have an FC 27 and carry a Honda 2kw generator. We do like to spend time at ďunimprovedĒ campsites. Our trailer was, I think, the first year to be equipped with LED lights. So, our power needs are minimal. We never intended to try and run the A/C from a generator. For some reason, our satellite TV receiver doesnít like inverter power, so we have to run the generator to watch TV. Our big electricity draw is the fan for the propane furnace. A cold night will just about fully discharge the batteries, even with the temp set to 50 degrees. A generator will bring the batteries back up fairly quickly, but only to about a 75% charge. Inherent in the nature of lead/acid batteries is their charge acceptance current gets really low for the last bit of charge. It doesnít matter how powerful the generator, topping off that last 20% takes a lot of time. Having solar to be able to do that last bit would be ideal. Running a generatoróany generatoróto do that is slow and inefficient. If you donít plan to camp in cold weather and can do without A/C, Iíd skip the generator, but get more solar than youíve planned. Our trailer has a full propane stove, so we donít use the microwave much and can do without it. If youíre thinking about using a generator to run your A/C all night, Iíd think again. A lot of unimproved campsites, such as National Parks, donít allow it. Even with a quiet generator like my Honda, I think running it all night would be extremely discourteous to anyone within a 100 yard radius. Itís not a constant noise. As the compressor cycles on and off, the generator throttles up and down to meet the load. The engine speed my be more or less constant, but at WOT, itís making more noise. Iím not sure I could sleep through that noise, even with the generator placed as far away from the trailer as the length of my power cord.
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Old 07-05-2020, 07:28 PM   #17
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Having camped forever (45 years) and used everything from tents to a tent trailer to a hybrid trailer to an Airstream we have tried everything. The regular Interstate batteries on most trailer are nonsensical -our hybrid had to have them replaced EVERY single long trip -luckily, Costco carries them and honors any dates on those suckers so it wasn't too expensive.

Now, generators make a lot of noise and while that isn't a problem midday when folks are out hiking and sight seeing, it can be a drag in the early morning or evening. We tried our generator once, way too noisy and even our kids hated it. The constant drone can even bother those with the generator! I've delivered thermoses of fresh pressed coffee in the morning and offered to dance and sing so neighbors wouldn't run their generator at night so they can watch a movie. Funny, they love the coffee, pass on the stage show but we do make friends. Heck, one lady traded fresh morning coffee for hot blackberry cobbler (she had an oven, we didn't) good trade.

Solar is quiet and enought power for lights and refrigerator. That's what we opted for and it's been great. We started with a solar suitcase and have graduated to built in. It is wonderful to have lights, pumps and refrigerator and we don't miss anything else.

You have to be happy with whatever you select. We originally thought "generator" but were keenly aware of the noise and not willing to use it when we actually needed it because our campground was very peaceful and quiet...and we've discovered since we are really solar folks. The suitcases work great, but we've upgraded to built in and it's is worth it, every penny.
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Old 07-06-2020, 12:26 PM   #18
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Building (again) on what you all have written: As for us, going from a dirt bag life, sleeping on the ground and bivouacking on mountain sides, living in an Airstream is the height of luxury, especially with all of the solar capabilities and options out there. I would also like to add that generators, in addition to contributing to noise pollution, also considerable polluters of the air.

Atwebs, I'm going to emulate your approach to peacemaking, adopting it for many situations that arise: sharing, with a neighbor, a thermos of freshly brewed morning coffee.
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Old 07-06-2020, 01:55 PM   #19
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If you are all LED lighting and low energy needs, you can probably get by with a 12v 100 AH LiFe battery. If you are looking for a generator, consider the Champion Duel Fuel generator.
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Old 07-07-2020, 08:21 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DC Bruce View Post
We have an FC 27 and carry a Honda 2kw generator. We do like to spend time at ďunimprovedĒ campsites. Our trailer was, I think, the first year to be equipped with LED lights. So, our power needs are minimal. We never intended to try and run the A/C from a generator. For some reason, our satellite TV receiver doesnít like inverter power, so we have to run the generator to watch TV. Our big electricity draw is the fan for the propane furnace. A cold night will just about fully discharge the batteries, even with the temp set to 50 degrees. A generator will bring the batteries back up fairly quickly, but only to about a 75% charge. Inherent in the nature of lead/acid batteries is their charge acceptance current gets really low for the last bit of charge. It doesnít matter how powerful the generator, topping off that last 20% takes a lot of time. Having solar to be able to do that last bit would be ideal. Running a generatoróany generatoróto do that is slow and inefficient. If you donít plan to camp in cold weather and can do without A/C, Iíd skip the generator, but get more solar than youíve planned. Our trailer has a full propane stove, so we donít use the microwave much and can do without it. If youíre thinking about using a generator to run your A/C all night, Iíd think again. A lot of unimproved campsites, such as National Parks, donít allow it. Even with a quiet generator like my Honda, I think running it all night would be extremely discourteous to anyone within a 100 yard radius. Itís not a constant noise. As the compressor cycles on and off, the generator throttles up and down to meet the load. The engine speed my be more or less constant, but at WOT, itís making more noise. Iím not sure I could sleep through that noise, even with the generator placed as far away from the trailer as the length of my power cord.
Couple comments; we think of/use our Dual Fuel generator as insurance; back up for really hot days, when we need to cool down the AS. Also, when we are camped in bad weather or under canopy of trees...(think Glacier Park), which happens often here in MT area....you don't need a generator, till you need a generator, right?? And then, it's nice to have one. We also have a 5 year old GoPower 80W folding suitecase that works pretty well for topping off our batteries. The 320w would be nice, but I already own this one!

Batteries- we have gone thru 3 sets of "new" Interstate 12V's over the last 3 AS's we have owned in 8 years, in short order. Once they get down to 40% or so, they never will charge back above 80%. (And, running your heater can take them down pretty quick!) We switched to Trojan 6V T105's couple years ago, and are very happy with the service/constant power they provide for our use. If money were no object, Lithium would be the first choice replacement, with the built in solar. Second choice we are leaning toward is Li portable, like the GoPower Yeti 1000W. Still costly, but seems the competition out there will drive down the price...couple new brands, however, have not read up on the latest here in a while. Any updates appreciated.
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