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Old 03-31-2014, 09:26 PM   #1
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Solar Panels are they Worth it?

I am starting to do some research on installing solar panels on my 2003 National Tradewinds and was wondering did you do a kit or piece it together yourself? What wattage did you go with and is it enough for your usage? Did you install it yourself? Overall thoughts? I have looked at Go Power 480 wattage kit on Amazon $3600 plus install and of course don't want to spend that much if I don't have to.
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Old 03-31-2014, 09:57 PM   #2
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Rolled my own, IMO a much better way to go. Attached is a write up of my installation that may be of help to you.
Attached Files
File Type: pdf VSheetz - Solar Setup for my RV v1.1.pdf (473.7 KB, 163 views)
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Old 03-31-2014, 10:01 PM   #3
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Getting ready to do the same thing. Have LED bulbs and conversions coming for interior lighting, and will switch out the old tube TV's for LED/LCD flat panels.

I've been doing a ton of research on the subject and feel pretty confident that you could put a system together in that wattage range for a fraction of that cost. There are a lot of people making a LOT of money on solar panels and controllers. Pretty much stuff is plug and play these days so no need to pay a lot of $$ for them.

Here are a couple of recent threads on the subject with some excellent advice and how-to's:
Solar Power
New Solar Panels

Also search out Handy-Bob's blog on setting up a system - he's a bit looney but has some good and valuable information on battery keeping and simple solar.

Vince, 'VSheetz' published a good PDF on his DIY install, also some good pointers there - great place to start.

My quandary is MPPT vs PWM controllers and whether to go domestic high budget or chinese cheapie. The panels all seem to be pretty good - it's how you hook them up and design the system that takes some study, and whether to go large voltage grid-tie panels or low voltage ones that are more coventional for RV's.

As far as ROI I don't think you'll ever really make that pencil, but the benefit of quiet power to recharge batteries when off-grid is priceless. Done right the gennie is then really only needed for AC when off the grid.

I'm sure some of the regulars will be along for some specific answers to specific questions as you dig into it. I find it all quite fascinating. Have done some study on setting up a grid-tie system for the house as well - S&B as they call it here.

EDIT: Well there's Vince already, posted while I was typing...LOL
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Old 03-31-2014, 10:03 PM   #4
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Hi there, we put 2 x 250 watt panels on our coach with a 45 amp charge controller and so far works great! Just had it out a couple times before bringing the coach back to Canada and every day the batteries were fully charged up by the end of the day. Used the micro wave and watched movies every night and had no problem. Bought the system from Solar Penny in Apache Junction in Arizona for about $1,000.00 and installed myself. Very pleased with the results but time will tell, camping this summer will be the true test.
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Old 04-01-2014, 12:58 AM   #5
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You might check out am solar.com they have a lot of good info on planning, sizing, installing and differences in controllers.
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Old 04-01-2014, 03:21 AM   #6
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You would think a "kit" would save you money but that isn't the case. If you don't get in a hurry you can purchase the components on sale.

I don't have a MH yet but do have a storm shelter that the solar system has been going for three years. It is a mix of 80 & 90 watt panels for a total of 520watts. 30 amp controller. Three Walmart marine batteries of 125AH each. 2,000watt inverter. Total cost was slightly less then $2,000. Panels are adjustable for elevation. Normally the system operates a 7cuft chest freezer & a 12VDC light.
Panels came from from solarblvd. Controller from amazon. And inverter used from ebay.
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Old 04-01-2014, 04:43 AM   #7
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The one thing you can do with a do it yourself vs a kit, is go with high voltage panels. We have a single 66 cell 185W panel feeding a Morningstar MPPT controller (necessary because of the high voltage). The advantage is that it produces usable current even when shaded, sudden death for a 17V panel.
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Old 04-01-2014, 04:56 AM   #8
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Solar panels are heavy so you want to check for the roof rating before adding a bunch of panels up there. Also, adding that weight to the roof will raise the center of gravity.
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Old 04-01-2014, 09:10 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HuntingHawk View Post
Solar panels are heavy so you want to check for the roof rating before adding a bunch of panels up there. Also, adding that weight to the roof will raise the center of gravity.

Uh, no. The heaviest panels are like 40lbs and we are talking motorcoaches in excess of 20,000 pounds. The roofs are made for walking on, so it's just a none issue.

The primary consideration for high-volt to 12v is size. Get some dimensions and climb up on top of your coach and scope where they might fit. You don't want them next to your AC unit or vent covers as they will shade the panels. Early or late shading isn't a deal breaker, but 12v panels drop too much if shaded at all.

Grid-tie panels tend to run 40x65 to 72" whereas 12v's are in the 21x45 range.

BTW, solarblvd seems to be a good source - good products at good prices and they're local to me for pickup. Been shopping their site.
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Old 04-01-2014, 09:42 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CJBROWN View Post
Also search out Handy-Bob's blog on setting up a system - he's a bit looney but has some good and valuable information on battery keeping and simple solar.
+1. I used his site to develop a single panel for my pop up for dry camping and it worked great for a 3 day trip through Colorado. I still have the setup and plan on integrating it to the motor home soon and go from a single 200W panel to at least 2 panels.
Here's his link: The RV Battery Charging Puzzle « HandyBob's Blog

I am an electronic engineer and my senior design was installing a solar powered setup on a Navaho reservation. I suggest you do your research, know your limitations, take your time to on your design and double check all your measurements twice before touching anything. Plan to spend money on quality equipment as well.

There's more to a well designed system than hooking up solar panels to your batteries but if you take your time and do the research (check out the link above and just ignore his rants) you will find that it is straight forward and before you know it you will be able to boon dock as you please with a system that won't leave you in the dark (pardon the pun).

And CJBROWN is also correct on the panel mounting to the roof is not going to significantly affect the motorhome's road worthiness IF you install the panels correctly. The easily travel flat and have less wind impact than any of the other fixtures already mounted up there (A/C, ducts, antennas, etc). It would take you trying to cover square inch in panels before weight became a factor and that is both impractical and just foolish. If you run a battery bank you will be doing that down low anyway easily off setting the weight of a couple of panels and then some effectively lowering your center of gravity after all is said and done. The big impact will be your GVWR so you will lose some weight capacity but if you do a well designed setup you could eliminate your generator all together and gain some of that capacity back.
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Old 04-01-2014, 10:25 AM   #11
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We got two Kyocera panels and a Go-Power controller from RV Solar Electric in Scottsdale. They are helpful on phone and UPS to the house. Not a problem to install. They will provide enough info to do job and you can get on the phone tech support. Will be a lot less expensive than $3600. This is the second motorhome I have used their equipment. Keeps batteries up to full and when dry camping need minimal generator usage, depending on what I use in the coach.
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Old 04-01-2014, 11:37 AM   #12
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Roof weight wouldn't be as critical on a MH as it would on a TT.
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Old 04-01-2014, 10:11 PM   #13
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Anybody ever considered not mounting the panels flat down to the roof but use some type of kick stand to allow them to be angled?
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Old 04-02-2014, 08:07 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by awolsmith View Post
Anybody ever considered not mounting the panels flat down to the roof but use some type of kick stand to allow them to be angled?
Adjustable panel mounts are available, but I chose NOT to use them simply due to the way we normally use our RV. I figured the amount of times that I would actually climb up and angle the panels combined with the idea that your RV still needed to be oriented correctly, meant that I would basically never go up and angle them anyway.
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