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no_decaf

Solar Setups for Boondocking

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Since I've settled on the 2016 Arctic Fox 27-5L and a Chevy Silverado 3500HD to tow it, my next step is figuring out how to add the right solar setup for boondocking and off-grid living.

 

This gentleman seems to have a very solid setup. I'd like to copy it, although I hope to avoid putting any new holes in my rig.

 

My daytime usage is going to be one or two laptops, a 4G hot spot, and perhaps the television. At night I'll be using the aforementioned items plus the lights. I'd like to cook with propane instead of convection/microwave and keep the fridge on propane as well.

 

I know that I'd like to put 400 watts of solar on the rig, with the remaining equipment copied from the above setup: charge controller, 2000W pure sine wave inverter, automatic transfer relay switch, etc, etc. I'm still going to get a generator to fall back on, if I need to run A/C for example.

 

Questions:

 

1) Do you have other recommendations for solar setups aside from the above-linked one? I'm open to hearing more ideas.

2) Do you recommend solar panels that can tilt, or are flat panels sufficient?

3) Is there a way to put 400 watts of solar panels on my roof without any permanent modifications to the exterior or interior? I'd like to keep the rig unmodified to the greatest extent possible.

4) Do you recommend any installers who can perform the work? I'm willing to drive quite a ways to see the right person.

 

Thanks for any advice.

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My best suggestion is that you start here http://jackdanmayer.com/rv_electrical_and_solar.htm. Jack is very experienced in solar systems and design and has generously written an excellent guide on how to set up and configure a system.

 

With that in hand and a bit more research, you'll be well positioned to figure out a design that best fits *your* specific needs.

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Howdy,

 

+1 on Jack Meyer's site.

 

You might also want to read Emily Fagan's encyclopedic blog posts on the subject; here's the first of a four-part tutorial, be sure to read related articles she links at the end of each one: http://roadslesstraveled.us/rv-solar-power-basic-concepts-components-and-installation-tutorial/

 

Cheers,

--

Vall.

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Good suggestions given above.

 

Some questions for you:

-- how many batteries and what size are in your trailer?

-- Will you add more batteries?

-- Do you have room for more batteries?

 

Thoughts & Suggestions:

-- You don't need a 2000 watt inverter/charger if you are not going to run the microwave. 1000 watt or even a 600 watt will work just fine.

-- If you do think you will use the microwave/toaster/coffee pot having about 400+ AmpHours of battery is much better.

-- The TV's which came with the trailer don't use much power, maybe 2-3 amps of 12V at the most(probably 1 amp each). So unless you add a satellite receiver which pulls 5 to 8 amps of 12V your TV power usage will be minimal.

-- Switch out your incandescent light bulbs with LEDs and your power usage will drop dramatically. Every incandescent bulb you turn on pulls about 1.5 amps.

-- From your estimation of daily power usage, a pair of 6V golf cart batteries and 300 watts of solar (you could do just fine with 200 watts) will serve you well.

 

As you read through Jack Mayer's info keep the above thoughts and suggestions in mind.

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I noticed in the specs for your trailer that it has 50amp shore power service. Keep that in mind as you read Jack's website. 50 amp service pretty much guarantees you will need a sub panel to only power the AC circuits you need.

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....

 

My daytime usage is going to be one or two laptops, a 4G hot spot, and perhaps the television. At night I'll be using the aforementioned items plus the lights. I'd like to cook with propane instead of convection/microwave and keep the fridge on propane as well.

....

 

2) Do you recommend solar panels that can tilt, or are flat panels sufficient?

3) Is there a way to put 400 watts of solar panels on my roof without any permanent modifications to the exterior or interior? I'd like to keep the rig unmodified to the greatest extent possible.

...

Don't forget to add your refrigerator to your daily usage as it will use 12v power even on propane. What about any fans or DVD players, radio, water pumps, etc...? Think of everything you will use. Camp out and jot down every time you use something and get a meter that measure show much usage you have.

 

You should have the ability to tilt the panels to maximize the sun exposure but a lot will depend on how and where you park.

 

This is just a thought, but it looks like your unit has a luggage rack, maybe you could use that to mount the solar panels (make sure it is adequately fastened to the trailer) and have a hinged area that extends out the back when parked to get enough area for 4 panels. Otherwise go with free standing panels that you carry either in the trailer or in the truck. Free standing panels may allow you to park the trailer in the shade and keep the panels in the sun.

 

Have fun!

Edited by Star Dreamer

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No Decaf If you are buying in Oregon I would just go to Amsolar.

 

Arctic Fox does sell all there fifth wheels as solar ready (prewired) and will add panels as an option. However, as with every manufactuer I know of, except Horizon?, the solar wiring is undersized. I did go through the roof for new wiring on my 2015 Arctic Fox 35-5z and it was not that big of a deal, although it terrified me in concept. However, I lived in Michigan. If I was in Oregon, I would go to AmSolar. It will cost more but you can have absolute confidence. Regardless of whether you want to do a self install, read Jack Mayer's site as others recomended

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If you use 3M's VHB tape to mount your panels and can run wiring through a duct (refrigerator?) You can do an install without piercing the roof.

 

We put our panels parallel to the roof. The odds of us climbing up to tilt and untilt were not high. And the idea of needing to untilt due to wind was very scary.

 

In addition to the sites recommended above you can learn more about solar at http://www.cheaprvliving.com/blog/.

 

Linda Sand

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About the gas/electric fridge using 12V even when operated on gas. As measured by my Trimetric battery monitor, the refrigerators I have had, use between 0.1amp and 0.2 amp. Just having the fridge turned on it takes about 0.1amp and when the relay picks to allow the gas to flow to the burner it takes another 0.1amp. Really not enough to worry about.

 

If your fridge is in a slide out, it should have one or two small fans over the condenser coils which will pull about 0.2amps each, but only when running. The fans are needed because the fridge is vented through the side of the RV, not the roof.

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About the gas/electric fridge using 12V even when operated on gas. As measured by my Trimetric battery monitor, the refrigerators I have had, use between 0.1amp and 0.2 amp. Just having the fridge turned on it takes about 0.1amp and when the relay picks to allow the gas to flow to the burner it takes another 0.1amp. Really not enough to worry about.

 

I think what StarDreamer was trying to point out is that every rig has overhead/parasitic loads (power usage with nothing actually "on" or "active") that needs to be accounted for in their daily energy requirements. .1 or .2 amps may not be significant, but combined with the other various control boards and such can amount to a significant amount of energy usage in a 24hr period with nothing actually "on" or actively in use.

 

Ie., a 1 amp overhead will consume 24ah's a day.. or roughly 10% of usable amp hours (220ah's) in a 440ah (4 - 6v deep cycle cells) battery bank.

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I noticed in the specs for your trailer that it has 50amp shore power service. Keep that in mind as you read Jack's website. 50 amp service pretty much guarantees you will need a sub panel to only power the AC circuits you need.

 

Just by way of clarification... this would be true for a 30amp service rig as well, but only when doing a "whole house" inverter installation, and even then.. it is not necessarily a requirement, but VERY highly recommended.

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AM Solar, Springfield, OR -- http://www.amsolar.com

Starlight Solar, Yuma, AZ -- http://www.starlightsolar.com

 

Agreed. They would be the only two.. in the same order of preference.. I would recommend without reservation.

 

X3 (4?) on Jack's write-ups as critical reading for anyone considering RV solar, as well as part's 1 & 2 of "The 12v Side of Life" as a "primer".

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Linda, those are good suggestions but not on the trailer he is considering. Rubber roof and no roof top fridge vent.

why would there not be a refrigerator vent? The floor plan linked to doesn't seem to show thr frig. in the slide out or a residental frig.

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Just as a point of clarification.

 

For a 30 amp service RV......I have no issue with doing a "whole house" inverter installation (inline) to the shore power. AS LONG AS the owner understands the ramifications of doing so.

 

You can argue that having larger loads like the air conditioning constantly going through the transfer relays is bad for the inverter and will shorten its life. And that is true. But it is a trade off with the expense and complexity of the subpanel.

 

For sure, a subpanel is better, but a whole house install is not that bad assuming the owner understands that large loads cannot be run on the inverter. It is up to the owner to manage that situation...for some it is definitely "unwise" to do it that way.

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Another source of info google HandyBob Solar, opinionated but he lives off grid. You are going to have to be your own power(battery) manager, you cannot leave thing plugged in if not using, inverter on, printers, microwave, chargers, TVs etc. You need a Trimetric Battery Monitor to help manage the system.

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At this point in time you should not be spending more than one dollar per watt for a solar panel.

There are two different (OK maybe more) basic approach. I through ignorance bought a used high voltage (no load 73V) panel intended for a grid tie system, this required an MPPT controller to utilize the current. I chose a Morningstar MPPT controller. What I have found is that I get usable current from sun up to sun down and when partially shaded. The added advantage is that voltage drop is not a concern, one of the common problems in many/most factory installs is wire that is not of sufficient gauge. Morningstar has a white paper that was helpful. http://support.morningstarcorp.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Morningstar-Corporation-Traditional-PWM-vs-TrakStar-MPPT-Whitepaper-March-2015.pdf

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why would there not be a refrigerator vent? The floor plan linked to doesn't seem to show thr frig. in the slide out or a residental frig.

You are probably right bigjim. I was just going off my Arctic Fox model and did not think it through. So yea that would be a great option. Dave

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At this point in time you should not be spending more than one dollar per watt for a solar panel.

 

I would just add that solar panels "can" be had for under $1/watt, however, not all panels are created equal and wouldn't necessarily say you "shouldn't" spend more than that. With an RV.. roof top real estate is finite. Like anything.. do your due diligence so you know exactly what it is you are buying and how that works into your needs vs. real estate vs. budget plan.

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I think what StarDreamer was trying to point out is that every rig has overhead/parasitic loads (power usage with nothing actually "on" or "active") that needs to be accounted for in their daily energy requirements. .1 or .2 amps may not be significant, but combined with the other various control boards and such can amount to a significant amount of energy usage in a 24hr period with nothing actually "on" or actively in use.

 

Ie., a 1 amp overhead will consume 24ah's a day.. or roughly 10% of usable amp hours (220ah's) in a 440ah (4 - 6v deep cycle cells) battery bank.

The overhead/parasitic load and unintentionally leaving a minor load on when you go to bed is where a monitor like the Trimetrc really comes in handy. One of the last thinks I do when we go to bed, or leave for several hours is to check the Trimetric to be sure everything is turned off. My parasitic load w/ fridge off is ~0.5A, with the fridge is on it is about 0.7A. If when leaving or going to bed it is around 2.5A or higher, oops, I forgot to turn the inverter off.

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I would just add that solar panels "can" be had for under $1/watt, however, not all panels are created equal and wouldn't necessarily say you "shouldn't" spend more than that. With an RV.. roof top real estate is finite. Like anything.. do your due diligence so you know exactly what it is you are buying and how that works into your needs vs. real estate vs. budget plan.

True enough. People are confused about pricing. There are plenty of panels around that are good panels for under $1/watt. Until you ship them. Typically if you ship less than a pallet then shipping will add quite a bit to the "less than $1" panel. Also, some panels are very efficient and thus smaller. And they cost more per watt, but may allow additional total watts on an RV roof. So it is not "black and white" that you pay less than $1/watt. There are good and valid reasons to pay more. Most people pay in the $1.25-$2/watt area, delivered, including tax. They you can write that off your taxes for the year you COMPLETE the install.

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no_decaf I have a 2013 Arctic Fox 27 – 5L that I installed solar panels and a battery bank in myself and it's not as difficult as it looks. I have six 140 W panels, that I don't tilt, and I didn't put a single hole in my roof. I have a four Trojan T145 6 V battery bank that I have been living with Full Time for the last four months mostly Boondocking and the system has been working great.
I write about it in my blog, among other things and if you would like to check it out I'm at, http://www.theboondork.com/
I haven't written much about the actual install because I did all that before I started my blog. But if you would like detailed information about how I did it just asked me questions and I will be glad to give you pictures and details.

 

theboondork

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