Chad Heiser

My Solar Installs - Now with Solar Output Data

76 posts in this topic

I spent the last couple of weekends installing solar on my new 5er and another forum member's (Tahoe Shark) 5er.  I have scattered the information around on the forum, but thought it would be better to have it all in one place, since I received several inquiries about it from other forum members.

I picked up my new DRV Mobile Suite 40KSSB4 from Rolling Retreats at the end of February.  While I was at Rolling Retreats, I installed a large battery bank and some other miscellaneous pieces.  Once I returned home with the trailer, I finished the rest of the install.  The following weekend, I did a similar install for Tahoe Shark (with his help).

My system with component links:

Batteries - Four Fullriver DC260 AGM 12 volt batteries for a total of 1040 amp hours of storage capacity

These are big (8D size) and heavy (170 lbs per) batteries.  I went with these because I wanted AGM's this time around and I came across a really good deal on them on e-bay.  They normally cost anywhere from $650 - $1000 per battery (depending on where you by them) plus shipping (if applicable) and I found them for $259 plus $10 shipping (per battery on e-bay).  The price was so good because they were new old stock.  They had been sitting in a warehouse for about two years and the company that had them finally decided to unload them.  So far I am very happy with them, but I have previous experience with Fullriver and like the brand as a whole.  The batteries are individually connected to positive and negative bus bars with equal length custom built 4/0 battery cables I made.  This allows for each battery to have equal resistance in the bank.  There is a very good explanation of battery wiring here.  I wired my batteries like method three at the link.  I used BEP Pro three stud 650 amp bus bars for the battery connections.  I also installed a high capacity battery switch to completely isolate the batteries if necessary.  I used a Blue Sea 3000 HD-Series switch for this.  All other coach 12 volt connections are run to BEP Pro four stud 500 amp bus bars.  The two positive bus bars are connected in line with a 4/0 cable.  The two negative bus bars are connected through a shunt to allow for proper battery monitoring of all 12 volt loads in the 5er.

Inverters - two of them

I ordered my 5er with a Magnum 3012 hybrid inverter from the factory.  It also came installed from the factory with a Magnum ME-ARC remote control, ME-BMK battery monitor and ME-AGS-N auto generator start module.  I do not like the way DRV wires the battery monitor when they install it at the factory, so I knew I would be changing this.  DRV only has the shunt for the battery monitor monitoring the power the inverter/charger uses, it does not monitor any of the general coach 12 volt usage.  This is because DRV splits their batteries into two connected, but separate battery banks when you option the large whole house inverter.  I corrected this issue with my battery install.  (By the way, I had DRV deliver my 5er with only one 12 volt battery installed rather than the four six volts that would have come with the inverter package because I knew I would be immediately installing my own batteries.)

I also added a Magnum CSW 1012 inverter.  This is a 1000 watt pure sine wave inverter and was installed solely to run the residential refrigerator when traveling or off grid.  This way I do not have to run the big inverter and power many other items in the coach when they are not needed.  I added a Magnum CSW-RS remote switch to turn this small inverter on and off when needed.  I installed a Magnum CSW-TS15 transfer switch in the refrigerator line to allow the automatic transfer of power to the applicable power source.  As a result the refrigerator can be run from shore power, generator power, large inverter or small inverter with no intervention from me.  Both inverters have Class T fuses on fuse blocks between the inverters and the battery bank.  The large inverter has a 400 amp fuse and the small inverter has a 150 amp fuse.

Generator - Dealer Installed

I had Rolling Retreats add an Onan 6500 watt commercial generator.  This generator is the same as the regular 6500 watt Onan, but the commercial version of it supplies 2 phase 240 volt power.  I did this because I opted for the Splendide 240 volt clothes dryer and I wanted to be able to run it when we didn't have 50 amp shore power.

Solar Controller and Solar Panels

I installed a Magnum PT-100 solar charge controller.  This is a beast of a controller and probably more than needed for an RV install, but it integrates with all the other Magnum products I had and runs from the same ME-ARC remote control, so I decided to go with it.  It is an MPPT charge controller and is programmable through the ME-ARC remote.  I installed six Canadian Solar CS6P 235 watt solar panels on the roof.  These are large (in physical size) panels, but I chose them because I got them at an excellent price by buying a pallet of 20 panels from a solar liquidator in my area.  I then split the pallet with several friends at a price we could not pass up.  They are very good panels, but take up a lot of roof space.  They are connected to the roof with RVsolarconnection.com smart feet (six per panel).  The adjustable smart feet allowed for me to compensate for the curvature of my roof.  The panels are run in three strings of two panels each in series/parallel.  I did this to allow for smaller wire runs to the solar controller (because the largest wire DRV would install from the roof to my battery compartment was 4 AWG at the factory and I did not want to fish larger wire later).  This configuration also was the best set up for the solar controller, based on input from Magnums tech support and the panels I had chosen.  I used an AM Solar combiner box on the roof to combine the panels.  I also used AM Solar strain reliefs in the combiner box and AM Solar 10 gauge wire to connect all the panels.  In my battery compartment, the solar positive wire goes through a Blue Sea 6006 mini switch before going to the PT-100.  This way I can isolate the solar panels from the controller if necessary.  Between the solar controller and the battery bank, I installed a Blue Sea 7144 187 - Series Thermal 100 amp DC breaker in the positive line.

This is an overview of my system.  The system I installed in Tahoe Shark's trailer is very similar, but he has a slightly smaller battery bank of 6 volt AGM batteries connected in a typical series/parallel configuration.

Here is a wiring diagram I drew of my system.

Here are pictures of my install of the various components.  I used the 5ers original battery compartment as my new electrical connection center.  All 12 volt connections are now in this compartment, along with the small inverter.  Due to the size of my new batteries, I installed them and the battery bus bars in the basement compartment of the 5er and built boxes to put around them.  My charge controller also went in the basement next to the large inverter.

I'm sorry for the long post, but I wanted to consolidate all of this information for those of you who have asked about it.  I will be giving detailed presentations on Inverter systems and Solar systems at the West Coast Rally and will use this system and others I have installed as examples.

I hope this information is useful to the group.  If you have any questions, let me know.

 

Edited by Chad Heiser

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Excellent post and information, Chad.

what would you say is a rough ballpark on cost of a system like that, minus the generator.

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You want retail or the price I paid?  I don't have my cost stuff with me right now, but I can look it up and give an idea when I get home.  I did a lot of bargain hunting and was able to get some very good prices on my stuff, so even the retail I paid was below normal retail.

 

An un-named forum member told me he had a similar system priced out for installation by AM solar (although I think it was slightly less solar wattage) and the price was $14K.  That included three days of labor at $120.00 per hour times 2 installers (or about $6K in labor).

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I can give you you an idea of the install Chad and I did on my DRV. My trailer had the Magnum 2812 installed. I ditched the Trojan batteries and replaced with 6 Full River AGM batteries. Chad got great deals on the batteries,a friend did not want them,  the additional Magnum 1000 watt inverter for the refrigerator, the solar panels and some other misc parts, wire, etc. We split the misc part between 3 rigs. I was able to reuse a lot of cables and fittings. I had the shunt and the ME - ARC. These deals saved me at least $1500-$2000 and probably more. My labor costs consisted of 3 dinners (and great company) and some wine shopping/ tasting for THE VERY PATIENT wives and some toys for Sammy the cat. We are suckers for animals. Cheryl is going through Sammy withdraws.

Overall my install was about $3350. Huge savings from a retail install. We all had a great time and worked very hard (my perspective). Anyway I hope this give everyone an idea of what our install entailed. I appreciate all the help and realistically could not have done everything without Chad.

Looking forward to dry camping without constant use of our generators.

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Great write up. Thanks. 

I like the idea of the smaller inverter for the fridge. I have the Magnum 3012 also and when I am running with solar I hate to see the lost Amp Hours. I will be looking more at your wiring set up for this.  Thx again. dave

 

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Great write up and detail on the solar install. Really look forward to seeing it at the WCR.

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1 hour ago, RickS said:

Great write up and detail on the solar install. Really look forward to seeing it at the WCR.

Everyone who wants it will get the full tour.  I'm looking forward to seeing your new smart and your RZR.  We missed the RZR last year thanks to your axle problems.

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Full tour? We will have to break in the new rig properly. Do you have an ice maker in there? :)  ;)  

Edited by RickS

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Nice job Chad.  If we manage to get to the WCR I'll be expecting some "solar talk".  

A "less than" $4K price for all that is spectacular. Others should not realistically expect to duplicate that. But you CAN save a bunch by installing it yourself, building your own cables, and buying in bulk and sharing. Which was the entire premise of the winter "solar rally" we did two years ago in Mayo, FL. 

Anyone that is a DIY oriented person can install this stuff. Just follow best practices. There is a LOT of info on my website. And I'm happy to answer questions.

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9 hours ago, RickS said:

Full tour? We will have to break in the new rig properly. Do you have an ice maker in there? :)  ;)  

The new residential fridge has a built in ice maker, so we are good to go for drinks.

1 hour ago, Jack Mayer said:

Nice job Chad.  If we manage to get to the WCR I'll be expecting some "solar talk".  

A "less than" $4K price for all that is spectacular. Others should not realistically expect to duplicate that. But you CAN save a bunch by installing it yourself, building your own cables, and buying in bulk and sharing. Which was the entire premise of the winter "solar rally" we did two years ago in Mayo, FL. 

Anyone that is a DIY oriented person can install this stuff. Just follow best practices. There is a LOT of info on my website. And I'm happy to answer questions.

I hope you can make it.  I'm definitely up for some solar talk.  I should have some decent data by then for my system.

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15 hours ago, VegasFlyer said:

Excellent post and information, Chad.

what would you say is a rough ballpark on cost of a system like that, minus the generator.

Not including the stuff that was factory (or dealer) installed (this does not include the Magnum 3012, ME-ARC, ME-BMK, ME-AGS-N, or Generator), I am around $3500.00 into my system.  As Jack said, this is a spectacular price.  I know I couldn't do it again for that price if I had to because of the deal I got on panels and batteries.  Everything else I could probably get close to matching price on, but I found a couple of one off deals on my panels and batteries that I would not be able to do again.

I started hunting for parts back in August and was able to score some really great deals on things because I had time and some luck on my side.  I also was able to split costs with three other people on things like the solar panels, wire and connectors, etc (which we bought in bulk) because I am doing/did all three installs at my place.  This also greatly reduced some of my costs.

If I were to go retail (this is hunting for low retail prices, but not spending six months bargain hunting like I was able to do), my system from scratch including all the Magnum components (but no generator) is about $9000.00 in parts.  Add to this approximately $5700.00 in installation costs (from an AM Solar quote for 3 days of install time for two people at $120.00 per hour per person - which from my experience is a reasonable install time frame) and the total retail cost is just under $15000.00 for my system. :angry:  Add another $6600.00 or so for the generator and it is up over $20000.00 total.  :o

Obviously it pays to have time, luck, cost sharing and no labor charges. :D  Realistically, I could redo my system again today (not including the dealer installed items) for about $6000.00 or so (again with no labor charges).

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Interesting, thanks!

we are seriously contemplating installing a solar system when we upgrade Toyhaulers next year.

 

John

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1 hour ago, VegasFlyer said:

Interesting, thanks!

we are seriously contemplating installing a solar system when we upgrade Toyhaulers next year.

 

John

I'm happy to answer any questions you have.  I will be giving an inverter and a solar presentation at the West Coast Rally if you can make it.  My system is definitely on the large side.  Not a lot of people have or need 1000+ amp hours of battery storage and 1400+ watts of solar.  Most people can use much smaller systems with great success.  Obviously the size of the system has a direct affect on the price.

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Although not as large a system, I installed a 420 watt system with all the bells and whistles and paid full retail , although shopped the internet for best prices and free shipping. Wrote a whole article with cost breakdown and real time performance use on my web site. Hope it helps

www.rvbprecision.com

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2 hours ago, rbertalotto said:

Although not as large a system, I installed a 420 watt system with all the bells and whistles and paid full retail , although shopped the internet for best prices and free shipping. Wrote a whole article with cost breakdown and real time performance use on my web site. Hope it helps

www.rvbprecision.com

Nice write up.  I really need to get better at taking pictures along the way when I document my stuff.  We head out April Fools weekend for our first shake down trip with the new solar.  We will be at an RV park, but I'm going to play with no hook ups to try to get some ideas on performance of the system.  Problem is, I know there are lots of trees around the site I will be in, so it won't be the best measure of the system.  Later in the month we will go out again to a place where trees won't be an issue.

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Super informative, and top quality gear all around!! I too will be checking your diagrams for our 'Phase II' update of our Solar:)!

Enjoy for awhile. Oh, and I might suggest that since you have the ice maker - the 'tour guests' should bring the mixes:)!

Best to you, and all,

Smitty

 

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Very good information. Thank you. Do you see a trend developing for more RV solar installs? We have three 200 watt 24 v panels installed for a total of 600 watts of solar, but I have a problem with locating more RV roof estate. I would like to see more RVs sold with really good solar systems installed as part of the RV, perhaps part of the roof. 

 

Safe Travels!

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I see a select group of RV'ers who are passionate about solar and go the extra mile on their solar systems.  I don't really see it as a trend in the industry yet.  I really do not see it coming from manufacturers.  The best you are going to get from a manufacturer in most cases is pre run solar wires from the roof to a compartment (unless you go custom).  Even then, those wires are often too small to use on a large system.  It really comes down to cost and segment price point for the manufacturers.  They want to sell units and to the vast majority of RV buyers, that means keep the price as low as possible.

I think the Escapees community is a skewed sample of the RV community as a whole.  Generally, Escapees get that glitz and low price are not how an RV should be marketed.  Really, substance or infrastructure in the RV is what matters.  Unfortunately most RV buyers are weekender types and don't really know what they don't know.

Solar is nice to have, but it is not really a must have for a lot of RV'ers.  If you spend most of your time with hookups, solar isn't a necessity.  When you start spending time without hookups, then it becomes more necessary if you don't want to be dependent on a generator.  As you start adding more and more residential comforts to your RV life while off grid, then the size of your solar system becomes more important.  Many people can get by with smaller systems and be perfectly happy.  My system is probably over kill for my needs, but the price was right so I went for it.  Roof real estate is also a typical limiting factor of systems.  The larger the RV, usually the more real estate you can scrounge.  But also, it usually means more stuff is getting put on the roof like AC's and vents and skylights and etc that are eating up that real estate.

A custom built RV with a nice flat, empty roof would be the ideal platform for a large solar system, but this is an anomaly in the industry.  It means going to basement AC systems or mini split residential types AC's and giving up vents and other typical RV accoutrements.  I have heard Jack Mayer is leaning toward a design like this for his next RV, but again this is not the norm and I don't think it will be any time soon.

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5 hours ago, Smitty77_7 said:

Super informative, and top quality gear all around!! I too will be checking your diagrams for our 'Phase II' update of our Solar:)!

Enjoy for awhile. Oh, and I might suggest that since you have the ice maker - the 'tour guests' should bring the mixes:)!

Best to you, and all,

Smitty

 

I'm happy to supply the ice in exchange for "refreshments". ;)

If you have any questions about the diagrams or the system let me know.  I'm happy to help in any way I can.

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We have a built-in U-line ice maker......I don't think we'll run out of ice or refreshments. :D   ;)

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Chad - You commented that perhaps it is 'overkill' as far as what you have done. And I agree with you that I see a very small, but probably high profit/cost, of manufacturer installed higher end Solar systems. Also agree that the majority of RV'er's are not in need of higher end/capacity solar capability. 

That being said. When my wife and I talked about this upgrade, we came to the conclusion that we'd want to accomplish two things with our Solar install:

1) Be able to boon dock without watching too closely the power consumption. While having adequate Solar to replenish the batteries without needing to run a generator for hours a day.

2) Also have lots of extra contingency power, and again more then adequate Solar to replenish - for in case of a longer term need of being 'off grid'. (When not traveling, we quite often are in the San Diego area visiting our vacation home, friends and remaining family too. Fires, rolling brownouts, blackouts - have all occurred in the last 4-5 years. And the area is earthquake country, as well as with all of the military installations - prime for 9/11 type activity.) So when we budgeted for our coaches battery bank, inverter and solar upgrades - we oversized many areas as 'contingency planning'. (When not traveling, we keep our coach fully fueled, water full, food and supplies stocked. We consider it our land 'lifeboat' in case of emergency.)

I share this, as a 'robust' system like yours (And our's too, though now four years later not quite as robust as yours. MS2812 and related modules. 800AH of X's 4 Lifeline L16's. 1200W of 48V Solar panels feeding down thru MidNite Classic 150.), I feel have other applications then just going out and having fun RV'ing. Having our RV's also ready for 'just in case' situations are also a part of many of the RV'ing community:)!

Best again to you, and all,

Smitty 

 

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I agree with Chad's assessment of the RV industry and buyers. MOST manufacturers will not install proper solar because there is little demand. And most manufacturers do not have the expertise to do a proper job. Even the custom manufacturers are challenged with getting it right.....I've worked with them to educate them on proper wiring and component selection. But they simply do not do enough of them to build an expertise in-house. I'm talking about large systems like Chad, Smitty  and I have.  

It is hard for most users to justify spending $15K on an advanced, large system installed by a manufacturer. And that is what it is going to run if you include everything. Of course, you can write off about 30% if you fall within the laws. 

Chad is correct that I'm working on a design with an entire roof of solar....the airconditioning will be capable of running off the solar/battery bank, and there will be nothing else on the roof except solar. Which will help cool the rig :)  The battery bank will be a large LFP bank. There will be about 4kw of solar, perhaps a little more. But this is not a coach most weekenders would buy. It will be a coach/truck "system" that will compete at the level of a Newmar King Aire, but will cost far less. Same amenities and a little less "flash" in the style. 

Edited by Jack Mayer

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43 minutes ago, Jack Mayer said:

 I'm working on a design with an entire roof of solar....the airconditioning will be capable of running off the solar/battery bank, and there will be nothing else on the roof except solar. Which will help cool the rig :)  The battery bank will be a large LFP bank. There will be about 4kw of solar, perhaps a little more. But this is not a coach most weekenders would buy. It will be a coach/truck "system" that will compete at the level of a Newmar King Aire, but will cost far less. 

Is New Horizons going to buile it when available?

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I looked to see if I could find it, but did not:)!

What is the Magnum Hybrid 3012 'at idle' draw? 

I had planned to add a dedicated fridge inverter during our install, but after checking the MS2812 vs the unit for the fridge, I was not really saving enough AH draw warrant doing so. (Plus, the DW has shows she records late at night and early in the AM, so I would have had to have another unit for at least the DirecTV Genie too.:)!)

Your battery bank is sized 20+% higher then ours - and we have plenty of capacity to cover the higher idle draw (not really idle, but using that term) for overnight times. (Day time, the majority of the time the Solar kicks out plenty to cover all coach power needs, except for AC.)

Or, did you and others that have the dedicated Fridge inverter, do so to cover contingency? The way you have your's set up, any source can feed the fridge. So if something did happen and knock out one of your inverters, at least you can keep the vital ice make functioning (We can be civilized as we travel!). Was if more for 'just in case' that you added the second inverter? 

The reason I ask, is as I mentioned when we do Phase II of our system, I've been kicking around adding a second unit. The Hybrid 3012 came out a few months after I went with the MS2812. I could see an option where I'd add the Hybrid 3012, and retain the MS2812 as a redundant unit. (The Hybrid can save you money when on a meter in a park.)

TIA,

Smitty

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