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Old 12-01-2010, 03:03 PM   #1
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2010 30' Classic
Vintage Kin Owner
South of the river , Minnesota
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Solar panel owners: Would you do it again?

Some questions for those of you who have either factory or aftermarket solar panels permanently installed on your trailer.

What benefits of the solar system have actually come true for you (longer boondocking times, less noise, less conservation, can camp in colder weather, etc.)?

Which of those matter to you most?

Do you carry a generator anyway?

If you had it to do over, would you get solar panels again?
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Old 12-01-2010, 03:12 PM   #2
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1959 22' Flying Cloud
fairview , New Mexico
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I have aftermarket panels on three of my AS's. I will put on the fourth as well. I haven't carried my gen for over a year. I haven't missed it. I love not having the noise and not dealing with the fuel for it. As you can tell I will do it again.

Avion C11
1959 Flying Cloud
1969 Tradewind
1973 Safari
1983 34 ft Limited
2004 F250 superduty ext cab
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Old 12-01-2010, 04:46 PM   #3
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Albuquerque , New Mexico
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I have put after market solar panels on 2 Airstreams and an Avion. I enjoy all the benefits mentioned above plus one more. The Avion is parked where it never sees a shore power hookup. The solar panel is the only thing that keeps the batteries from eventually discharging and freezing.
KE5CKG on 2 meters
AIR #10274
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Old 12-01-2010, 05:35 PM   #4
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San Luis Obispo , California
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I added a 120 watt solar panel several years ago and I love it. Pretty much limitless boondocking.... to me it's the way to go. I have no quarrel with people whose electrical needs require a generator (as long as it's quiet!) but we keep things simple and find the solar panel, with two group 24 batteries, does the job.
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Old 12-01-2010, 05:54 PM   #5
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Ann Arbor , Michigan
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Storage benefit

I'll second Airstream 25. Our trailer is now stored for the winter. No shore power. We occasionally turn the lights (LEDs) and furnace on to show it to people. Even though the battery monitor has occasionally dropped to 75% after use, the single factory solar panel has done its job of pumping the batteries back up to 100% very quickly.
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Old 12-01-2010, 05:56 PM   #6
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1969 29' Ambassador
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Jamestown , Tennessee
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We have 250 watts worth of panels and they take care off all our power needs. During the winter we will occasionally supplement with a generator,(old 600 watt Honda) but even then only when parked in some shaded spots in the national forests of Florida
Rick Davis 1602 K8DOC
61 tradewind, plus a few others
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Old 12-01-2010, 06:19 PM   #7
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2005 30' Classic S/O
Phoenix , Arizona
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Have 1 130 watt panel. Love being able to go anywhere. Would do it again.
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Old 12-01-2010, 07:04 PM   #8
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2007 25' International CCD FB
1961 16' Bambi
1956 16' Bubble
Potrero , California
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yep, yes, and again yep.

We added two 100w panels ourselves.

All benefits of the solar system have actually come true are longer boondocking times, less noise, less conservation, can camp in colder weather pretty much hits it on the head.

Non Power options for sites matters most to us.

Still carry a generator anyway, a 1000w Yamaha, very quiet. JIK...

Will again get solar panels for the 1970 Safari we're working on...

Once the awning charging fabric is developed...we'll be well on our way!
Stream Safe,
Bob U-
San Diego, CA.
The " TinDen "
2007 25' International FB
1961 Bambi, 16' California
1956 Bubble 16' California Whale Tail
Charter Member 4 Corners Unit
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Old 12-01-2010, 07:11 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Jammer View Post
Some questions for those of you who have either factory or aftermarket solar panels permanently installed on your trailer.

What benefits of the solar system have actually come true for you (longer boondocking times, less noise, less conservation, can camp in colder weather, etc.)?

If you had it to do over, would you get solar panels again?
I would do it again. I have 4 panels for a total of 300W. I still carry a generator. You can have enough cloudy days to drain the batteries.
Michelle TAC MT-0
Sarah, Snowball

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Old 12-01-2010, 07:24 PM   #10
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1986 25' Sovereign
Plant City , Florida
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I have three solar panels (300w?) on the stream that were install by my grandfather by solarmetrics. Its great to be able to watch TV or listen to the radio during the day without draining the batteries. I dont do much boondocking and dont own a genni that i would carry with me but its nice to know that i could if needed.

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Old 12-01-2010, 08:14 PM   #11
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Naples , Florida
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I have 400 watts on my service van coupled to a 2000 watt
Magnum sine wave inverter. The inverter draws from 4
Lifeline 300 amp/hr golf cart batteries. This arrangement
Was used as a mobile 'power post' for my 19CCD by simply
plugging the trailer into the inverter 120VAC plug below the
bumper. Worked very well and I never ran out of power.

I am putting 900 watts of solar on the roof of the new motor
home with 900 amp/hours of Lifelines and a new 2800 watt
Magnum sine wave inverter.

Keep in mind that the MoHo also has an 8000 watt diesel
generator. I much prefer the solar!!!
Solar Tech Energy Systems, Inc.
Victron Solar Components and Inverters, Zamp Solar Panels, LiFeBlue and Battle Born Lithium Batteries, Lifeline AGM Batteries
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Old 12-01-2010, 09:12 PM   #12
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2008 27' Safari FB SE
Columbia , Missouri
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Approximately what does a panel and installation cost?
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Old 12-01-2010, 10:11 PM   #13
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Tucson , Arizona
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We have factory solar and like it a lot...If we were doing it ourselves we'd put a higher-output panel in...but this works well for us. We also carry a generator and between the two we can go forever...or as long as we need to, anyway. It's great to be able to take a non-electric site when you need or want to ... or when they are nicer than the electric sites...yes, we have opted for a non-electric site in parks that offer electricity... nice to have the choice.
TB & Greg and Abbey Schnauzer
AirForums #21900 . Membership Chair & PastPrez, 4CU/WBCCI
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Old 12-01-2010, 10:26 PM   #14
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1968 24' Tradewind
Rural , Delaware
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53 watts, factory solar panel. Doesn't seem like much, but gets the Lifeline AGM batteries back up to 100% in a few hours on a sunny day. Glad we have it. We also pack a Honda EU2000i generator for extended stays. Very quiet and dependable.
2005 Bambi
1968 Trade Wind
2007 Ford F250 4x4 Crew
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Old 12-04-2010, 04:36 PM   #15
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2009 28' International
Pacific Palisades , California
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We actually dry camp for 10 days about three or four times a year, and we prefer the courtesy to the people around us of never running a generator. We have enough for all the lights, stereo, TV, computers, and running the heater when it's cold, but not enough for the AC. Dry camping in Corpus Christi in March (sun angle is still pretty low for effective solar at the end of winter), we had mixed sun, clouds and rain, and rarely had more than a half a day of sun, but our system was perfectly adequate for 10 days of power.

We originally bought the very expensive factory solar (two 53 watt panels) and were very disappointed--so we added our own. The factory option is very pricey, and the newer coaches come prewired, so if you're buying new, would advise finding an experienced dealer service department if you're not a do-it-yourself person. The factory option is only OK if you're staying for a weekend and/or are very stingy with lights usage or are using a generator, too. The factory upgraded to AGM batteries, but used two 100 amp 12 volts (which only gives you 100 amps of storage), instead of 2 100 amp six volts wired correctly to yield 12 volts and 200 amps of storage. We purchased four new six volts for a 400 amp storage bank, modified the battery box (they were about 1/2 inch too tall), and put two inside the coach next to the subwoofer under the front bench.We did vent that area for safety, but these batteries are the same used inside small aircraft so I doubt that we needed to.

We kept the two 53 watt factory panels just to save money. We added to more 80 watt panels farther forward (boy roof real estate is tight!) because we couldn't find any 100's that were narrow enough (you need 22" max width). Curious if anyone has recently found higher wattage panels at 2" wide? So our total wattage is about 260+, which is ample for the service described above.

We also added an MMT device. It's pricey, but effectively added the input of another panel through its efficiency without adding weight or windage on the roof.

Finally, we replaced all the halogen lights with led's. On average, this saved about 89% of the power draw since a standard 9 led draws about one tenth of an amp as it replaces the 1 amp halogen hog. If you were to turn on all the lights in your coach (let's say 20), in five hours you would run your factory battery completely dry! With the led's instead of halogens, the same factory battery 100 amps of storage would last for 50 hours without recharging. But the led lights are a different "color" than the halogens. Offered in bright white and warm white, most people from the warm white nicer, but they don't give off as much light. We did a mix and added some stage lighting filters for the best possible combination.

Another factory installed overpriced weakness is the inverter, at only 700. For the factory price done independently, you could go to four batteries, four panels, a 2000 inverter, and maybe still have enough left to convert to led's!

If I were doing it from scratch, I would recommend the same battery and MMT setup, and four of the highest output 22" wide panels you can find. The switch to led's is pretty easy (just replace all the bulbs), and at around $450 for the replacement bulbs in our coach, we effectively increased our battery storage (for lighting) ten-fold. But if you're running the heater motor, too, you'll definitely need more battery storage.
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Old 12-04-2010, 04:53 PM   #16
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1962 22' Flying Cloud
Bend , Oregon
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Love our Solar!

We have 2-100 Watt panels and 4 6-volt 220 amp hour sealed AGM batteries.
We are fulltimers and the Solar has been flawless. We use it to power everything (all LED lighting) including our computer. Payback in terms of dollars will take awhile, but payback in terms of quiet performance and environmental karma is priceless!

For more info and very competitive pricing on solar systems check out AM Solar at: Welcome to AM Solar - Your RV Solar Specialists since 1987
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Old 12-04-2010, 04:56 PM   #17
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I second what others have said.
There is one additional benefit with the solar charger of keeping the batteries fully charged during long storage.
Leaving the factory converter plugged in long term will shorten the life of the batteries as there is no trickle charge. I leave our trailer unplugged and get longer battery life.
We use an auxillary generator because we camp in cold weather. The solar panel is all that is necessary in warm sunny weather but not so when it is cold and cloudy and the furnace is used a lot.
I purchased my trailer with the panel and regulator installed but I would definetely put one in a new trailer or motorhome.
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Old 03-30-2011, 09:06 PM   #18
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Southern Middle , Tennessee
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Two 100 watt and one 65 watt AM Solar panels running one Trojan 115 amp hr. battery. Yes, I'd do it again and I haven't needed a second Trojan as some told me I might need. I also run Led interior lights.

AIR #0078
'01 2500hd ext. cab, 8.1 litre gas, 5 sp. Allison auto
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Amsoil synthetics all around
265 watt AM Solar, Inc. system
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Old 03-31-2011, 08:16 AM   #19
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2009 28' International
Pacific Palisades , California
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Solar for sure

We would definitely do solar again, but not with the factory package. A well thought through solar system will take care of your electrical needs with no generator, unless you need to run AC, power tools, etc.

As windsurfers, we often dry-camp in close quarters, and have found the running of someone else's generator 5-10 feet from our coach to be quite annoying! Combine that with a dedication to be as environmentally responsible as possible, and there was no question for us as to solar.

Unfortunately, we were persuaded that the factory solar package would be enough for 10 day-two week boondoggles, and that's a joke. Of course, you must first determine your actual usage to determine what storage and charging capacities you require.

The two AGM batteries provided with the factory solar package seem to be adequate for many, but because they are two twelve volts, the battery manufacturer told me that that does not double the amp/hour storage from 110 to 220--you still only have 110. Instead, you should pair six volt batteries into as large a bank as you need. Two six volts connected properly yield 220 instead of the 110 of the two twelve volts, as you might expect.

The supplied inverter at 700 watts is adequate only for light use. Charging cell phones and computers, running the sound system and cabin lights, etc. We cannot run the AC or the Heat Pump, but it will handle the load of the furnace fan. If you want to briefly run a vacuum cleaner or hair dryer, you need something much more substantial. On our old coach, we had a 2500 watt inverter which covered anything that our storage/charging would allow. We were even able to run our microwave in a short burst--the challenge was storage capacity of the batteries.

Finally, according to the battery manufacturer, the charge controller supplied with the factory solar is inadequate in that it only serves in an on/off capacity. It should minimally be able to detect battery bank levels, and offer three levels of charging: full open when batteries are low, even charge as they are closer to full, and then a trickle charge to keep them topped off as the hover around completely full. The battery manufacturer recommended that we also get a controller with MMPT capabilities. We bought and had our dealer install a Blue Sky controller, and we've been very happy with it. It actually "boosts" the panel voltage--you'll see the charge that comes from your solar panels, and then the output from the controller at higher amps as it send charge to the batteries. The readouts are simple to understand, but yield terrific information, including the battery voltage and net incoming amps (what's coming from your controller less what your coach is using at that moment--this would be a negative number if your coach is using more than your panels and the controller are generating), the hours from full battery bank and percentage of full battery bank.

The controller's boost function is almost like adding an additional small panel to your roof. This is especially important because of the curved surface of an Airstream--the curve greatly reduces the available area for the flat solar panels to be installed without overhang.

For solar panels, we were "stuck" with the factory panels, which are elegantly mounted on the aft (rear) roof area (stuck because we'd paid for them!) Again because of the curved roof, a limitation on our 28' Ocean Breeze was that narrow panels work best, and we couldn't find aftermarket panel with a yield greater than 80 watts at the narrow width when we were looking. So we kept the two 56 watt factory panels, and added one 80 watt panel forward on the right side, and the other one forward of the air conditioner on the left side. This gives us 272 watts, which seems like a lot. But in the winter months, the sun is at a lower angle and charging is less efficient even when the sun is at the zenith. If there's fog in the morning or it's a cloudy day, of course, the light sensitive panels will operate as low as 20% of potential, so you must consider the most panel area that you can install/afford.

For battery bank storage, we use four six cells wired properly to give us 440 amps of storage. The battery manufacturer recommends never going below 50% capacity to preserve battery life, so we effectively have 220 amps of storage. If you stay with 110 amps, you really only have 55 amps of usable storage. Because the six volt batteries are a bit larger than the 12 volts, the dealer's service department built us a modified battery box (1/2' taller) for the two exterior batteries. The other two batteries are on the left side forward under the couch by the subwoofer (and the controller). This also has the benefit of keeping the controller close to the battery bank. Because there is always potential danger of gassing, we bought four new six volt glass matt batteries that are designed to be used in the interior of light aircraft, especially important for the two inside the coach.

To put the icing on the cake, we changed out all of the interior halogens to LED's. A quick read on our controller remote meter showed that this reduced the draw of 1 amp per halogen lamp to about .1 amp! So the 14 cabin lights controlled by the main cabin light switch used to draw 14 amps from the battery bank every hour, but now they draw 1.4 amps, instead. We have no problem keeping all our lights blazing, and running the heater all night if we need to, with our current setup. We are very conscious of our electrical use, and check our meter frequently to learn appliance loads and to see if we forgot to turn off a non-essential appliance, but as long as it's not cloudy or foggy, we can go indefinitely without generator or outside electrical connection. If the weather is uncooperative, we're still OK with about 4 clear hours average per day.

To summarize, a well thought through solar system eliminates the need for a generator unless you want to use your AC or microwave. With the running of all wires internally at the factory for solar (and I believe LED lights coming standard on new coaches), there is no need to pay a premium for factory solar. Battery banks should be composed of pairs of six volt batteries to create larger 12 volt batteries. An MMPT controller (pricey) is a major plus for increasing panel output with your limited roof area, and will also prolong battery life. A remote panel for the MMPT controller is useful, and can be mounted where the factory controller would normally be. On our coach, the inverter button and controller remote panel are mounted in a vertical line directly below our water tank/pump meter.

Hope this was helpful and not too much information.
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Old 03-31-2011, 10:42 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by Jammer View Post

If you had it to do over, would you get solar panels again?
In an heartbeat.
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