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Old 06-19-2013, 11:24 AM   #1
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Solar Panels

Has anyone got any experience placing solar panels on their 5th wheel? I'm not looking to go off road and live off solar panels completely. Just wanting to supplement the electricity we pay for in order to lower our cost for power. Is it practical? Easy to use and maintain?

Thanks
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Old 06-19-2013, 11:49 AM   #2
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About the only thing you're going to gain is the cost of your inverter or converter charging your 12 volt batteries. The solar panes do nothing more than supply energy to charge your batteries. You can supplement your electric bill by having a whole roof top of panels, an inverter and a bunch of 12 volt batteries. This will allow you to convert DC from the batteries to AC to run your TV, Microwave but not your Air Conditioning. (Unless you have so many panels batteries it makes your tires go flat)
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Old 06-19-2013, 01:13 PM   #3
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but not your Air Conditioning. (Unless you have so many panels and batteries it makes your tires go flat)
That's funny...
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Old 06-19-2013, 02:37 PM   #4
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The July issue of Trailer Life mag has a good write up on installing solar panels. Pics and 'how to'.
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Old 06-19-2013, 03:35 PM   #5
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Solar Panels

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The July issue of Trailer Life mag has a good write up on installing solar panels. Pics and 'how to'.
That's what generated the idea. It didn't seem to discuss cost or savings much. I also wanted others to weigh in who'd had first hand experience.

if I could spend a couple of thousand installing and save $100-200 a month in elctric costs it would be of interest. In other words, I'm not interested in flattening my tires! (ha)
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Old 06-19-2013, 03:42 PM   #6
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Just wanting to supplement the electricity we pay for in order to lower our cost for power. Is it practical? Easy to use and maintain?
I assume you're being billed per KwH for usage? If so, then adding solar panels to charge your house batteries won't do much to change your usage. They'll help run the converter a little less, but they're not going to do anything for running the fridge, AC, and other major 120V appliances.

To do what you're wanting, you need one of two things:
1) A solar power inverter that actually provides power to the grid (your campground). This is no different than residential solar.

2) Solar panels and a battery bank tied to an inverter so you can actually power the 120V devices on the RV. Not cheap and not practical.


If you give me more details on what you want, I can help... I do residential solar.
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Old 06-19-2013, 04:34 PM   #7
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You can install a nice solar setup for about $650 in parts. It will allow you to live without hooking to shoreside power for a day or two at a time if you don't bother conserving. In summertime you could go many days if you conserved.

The installation is not hard. My hubby did one of this size in a day and he'd never done it before. Only scary part is drilling holes in the roof!

For $1,000 in parts you could get a system that you could live on indefinitely during summer months without plugging in.

I'm not sure how quickly you will recoup your investment, and I think it would be a pain to keep switching back and forth between shore power and your solar/inverter setup.

We have lived exclusively on solar power for 6 years in two trailers and a sailboat. If you are interested in a bigger system ($3,500 or so), we have tons of info on our website.

An easy-to-read RV Solar Tutorial starts here:
Solar Tutorial Part I – Understanding the Basics of RV or Boat Solar Power
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Old 06-19-2013, 05:06 PM   #8
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You might check my website for additional details on modifying your RV electrical system -including installing solar.

Basically, it is a "lifestyle" decision. If you like to boondock it will make your boondocking more comfortable. It is generally not going to save you enough money to pay back the system costs unless you boondock a LOT.

My website is in my signature line.
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Old 06-19-2013, 09:49 PM   #9
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Groovy, do the $650 or $1000 systems have enough power to run AC or an electric heating element (water heater). Again, I just want to be clear it what they're after.. If they're after reduction in actual power draw from the grid tie and they tend to do more than just charge batteries, not sure that a $650 system will help.
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Old 06-20-2013, 12:30 AM   #10
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cb1000rider - No a/c and no water heater. I don't think a small system can supplement easily, but thought I'd post the costs so folks know.

A full-timer's solar system on our roof paid for itself in 6 months because we don't stay in RV parks. Even with a big setup like that ($3k) you still don't get a/c or hot water from your solar/battery setup. But we have a generator for our very rare a/c use and propane heats the water just fine.

But like Jack Mayer said, unless you boondock a lot it doesn't really make sense.
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Old 06-20-2013, 09:55 AM   #11
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Groovy, do the $650 or $1000 systems have enough power to run AC or an electric heating element (water heater). Again, I just want to be clear it what they're after.. If they're after reduction in actual power draw from the grid tie and they tend to do more than just charge batteries, not sure that a $650 system will help.
How about a dedicated solar panel for heating your water? If you have room on your roof for such a set up. i.e. a solar panel circulating liquid to a hot water storage tank below? They are not that expensive?

I know of an irish couple that have a hot water storage tank that is heated by the engine coolant as they drive along, free hot water... (clever)

Just a couple of ideas to get ya thinking... :-)
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Old 06-20-2013, 07:43 PM   #12
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How about a dedicated solar panel for heating your water? If you have room on your roof for such a set up. i.e. a solar panel circulating liquid to a hot water storage tank below? They are not that expensive?

I know of an irish couple that have a hot water storage tank that is heated by the engine coolant as they drive along, free hot water... (clever)

Just a couple of ideas to get ya thinking... :-)

I don't think I've ever seen an rv hot water heater. I can tell you that for residential use, they're $3-$5k + installation. Doing what you're suggesting either involves a heat transfer fluid and a heat-sensitive pump or pumping water itself. It also involves relief valves and a tank.. You'd be surprised how fast a solar system heats water.

Engine block heating sounds like a better idea.. I see it on boats too. Simpler and no real risk over overheat.

Again, we need to know what the goal is here. If it's just charge the batteries and live with the limitations of battery power, then you can do it from about $150-$1000 depending on how much power you need.. It's not going to change much about your draw from the grid if you use AC and other 120v appliances.
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Old 06-21-2013, 12:11 AM   #13
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Blag - I would LOVE to see a solar hot water heater... just some simple hosing coiled on the roof, though you gotta get the water up there and then back down. I'm no plumber, so have no idea if that would be easy or hard.

But running the propane heater for 10 minutes is usually enough for us to have plenty of hot water for showers and dishes (11 gallon h/w tank). Only problem is the DISTANCE between the tank and the shower. Brrrr... in winter that first bit is ICY!!!
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