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Old 10-21-2015, 10:48 AM   #1
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Talk to me about solar...

It's been documented that the rv industry is in a manufacturing boon right now and with gas prices seemingly going to remain under $3.00 a gallon for at least the foreseeable future rv sales will certainly continue to grow.

With all these extra rv's on the road the number of campgrounds are finite are going to be playing catch up for years. Allready you have to make reservations a year in advance to get a spot in many places.

We did some boondocking last year and plan on doing more next year. We have friends who own lake homes that have room for our rig but don't have hook ups obviously. We also plan on hitting some of the more obscure county and city parks that are also without hook ups.

So that has me thinking about solar as a supplement to the generator.
Nexus offers a solar package that includes 3 100 watt solar panels, 2 agm batteries and a 2000 watt inverter.
I realize there are variables involved such as how much sun is available and your power useage but is a system comprised of these components capable of producing enough power to make a difference over a week or so of boondocking?

Also how troublesome can these systems be? Once installed are you good to go or is there a lot of maintenance and up keep involved.
I'm not necessarily looking for it to pay for itself by saving fuel by not having to run the generator as much but just want another supplement so as not to have the generator running as much. Lets face it no body likes to listen to a generator a couple of hours a day.
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Old 10-21-2015, 10:51 AM   #2
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Great question. We are researching solar right now and are overwhelmed by the options and the huge variance in opinions.
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Old 10-21-2015, 11:34 AM   #3
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Great question. We are researching solar right now and are overwhelmed by the options and the huge variance in opinions.
Lots of stuff to read out there but once they get into all the specs and technical stuff my eyes glaze over. I'm guessing the package offered in the Nexus system is adequate but I'm looking for non biased user input which is what this forum is great for. Stay tuned RVLola
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Old 10-21-2015, 11:55 AM   #4
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Hi Up_North,

I've had a DIY 650 watt solar system (details here) for the last 1.5 years and have had zero maintenance. I have washed the panels a couple of times but this was because I was up on the roof more than anything else. I am a full-timer and spend the majority of my time dry camping so my system gets worked nearly every day.

Here is a link to another article that may be helpful. A solar charging system on an RV does not need to be complicated or expensive. That said, there is a learning curve - it feels painful initially but doesn't last long.
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Old 10-21-2015, 11:59 AM   #5
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They aren't troublesome to use, though you may have some hassle making sure you park in enough sun to get benefit. Even a small branch can shade enough to cut output dramatically. The loss of power isn't proportional to the amount of shade on the panel. Getting any output at all can be problematic unless the site is wide open.

300 watts will yield about 20 amps of charging capacity, times how ever many hours of direct, full sun the panels receive. The two batteries are probably around 180-200 Amp-hours (AH), so 20A charging might re-charge them from the 50% level back to the 80% level in about 4-5 hours, Beyond that, getting to 100% takes time rather tan high amps, so figure another several hours to reach 100%. Basically you will be living between the 50% and 80% or 90% charge levels.

Whether that's enough depends on the power you use. Most 12v things don't use all that much (the furnace fan is an exception), but if you use that inverter for much of anything it will really suck the amps. A modest 200 watt draw @ 120v requires that the inverter draw about 20 amps from the batteries, so the charge drops fast. Watching tv all evening or leaving a coffee pot on "warm" will be a major load. You will still have to practice conservation.

Fridge in LP mode, water pump, water heater in LP mode, etc. are insignificant anyway. 12v lighting is a modest draw, so don't leave lights on where not needed.
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Old 10-21-2015, 12:01 PM   #6
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I'm guessing the package offered in the Nexus system is adequate but I'm looking for non biased user input which is what this forum is great for.
Ahh! I didn't understand the question.

In my opinion, most packages are over priced and often include things you do not need (like the inverter, do you not already have one?). However; they are "easy" for someone that doesn't want to spend a bunch of time in the learning curve. The only way to properly "size" a system is to do an energy audit. Otherwise, it's just a guess. That's ok if that's the way you want to go. 300 watts is not an insignificant amount of power but is not "lots" either. If you just want an easy option, that kit is probably fine.
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Old 10-21-2015, 12:02 PM   #7
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I would expect a solar system to be zero maintenance. It is good to plan for expansion though. I went with Renogy's 200w (two 100w panels) kit and it came with a controller good for four panels. So far, the 200w seems to be feeding my dual 6V Trojans just fine.
You can always add an inverter later. 2000w is pretty big for me as I would only want to run the TV and DVD player where a 300w would be plenty.

http://www.amazon.com/Renogy-Starter.../dp/B00BCRG22A
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Old 10-21-2015, 03:02 PM   #8
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It would be helpful to do your energy audit and see just how much energy you really use per day. We don't watch much if any TV and everything else is LED. We use an indoor propane heater so we don't suck the life out of the batteries running the furnace. I as of now only have a single 160 watt panel using a Bogart PWM controller along with a Trimetric monitor. The installation is not hard, just take your time and read. I learned a lot on the web as well as this man. https://handybobsolar.wordpress.com/ Seems some ready to go systems lack proper equipment and properly sized wires so make sure these items are correct. My coach came with the 1,000 watt inverter and that is all we need, your coach should have around the same thing I would think.
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Old 10-21-2015, 03:29 PM   #9
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Before buying anything, I recommend Jack Mayer's site -- www.jackdanmayer.com.
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Old 10-21-2015, 04:13 PM   #10
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Good advice above. I would suggest you think about space on the roof. You can buy one panel with 275 watts or more and add more panels as/if needed. Make sure the controller you buy will handle additional panels. I love our solar setup but bad weather or lots of trees can hurt the power collection. Having LED lights and using something like the Big Buddy for heat makes a big difference.


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Old 10-21-2015, 04:23 PM   #11
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Thanks for all the great and informative responses folks! I should clarify that the system I referred to is not to be retrofitted on my existing coach but rather a option offered by Nexus to be installed by them on a new coach.

The option as described with the equipment listed in my op is a $4000 option installed by them. It's a spendy option that most likely will never pay for itself over the life of the coach in generator fuel savings. Unless perhaps you wear the generator out and have to replace it entirely.

For my purposes I consider solar to be a more useful and more trouble free option than say automatic levelers which is a $3000 option. I worry much less about leveling my coach than I do about power sustainability when boondocking. I usually spend less than ten minutes leveling my coach with wood blocks at a camp site but dead batteries can be a all day fix.
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Old 10-21-2015, 04:23 PM   #12
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I just put 80 watts of solar charging on my roof today, here is a link to the post:
Solar Panel Addition to Vista 27N

The panel is covered in tempered glass that would break in large hail but other than that when properly installed there is no maintenance, except for cleaning the glass to remove dirt and exhaust soot to maximize efficiency.

The panels will put out charge even when shaded but maximum output is in full sun of course. I went with 80 watts to maintain batteries when long term parked without AC shore power. It certainly would be possible to use more DC than what the 80 watt panel can replenish when boondocking I designed my system so it would be easy to add a 2nd 80 watt panel if I discover I need it. I also find that I use my generator when boondocking to run microwave for cooking so this will also provide some battery charging too.
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Old 10-21-2015, 04:36 PM   #13
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The option as described with the equipment listed in my op is a $4000 option installed by them. It's a spendy option that most likely will never pay for itself over the life of the coach in generator fuel savings. Unless perhaps you wear the generator out and have to replace it entirely.
In my opinion, the value of solar has nothing to do with generator fuel cost and everything to do with QUIET and worry/effort free power. I am an odd duck and really hate the sound of a generator droning on for hours and hours - particularly in the places I spend most of my time. For people that use their rig only in hot/humid weather and need air conditioning, solar may be a complete waste.

For comparison sake, residential (higher voltage) solar panels are available for less than $1/watt. Add a $450 MPPT charge controller and you can have a 500 watt system for less than $1000 (plus some cables, brackets, etc.). Obviously, I have no idea what you already have or need for batteries or inverter but neither of those are very expensive (until you get into the big inverters). My 650 watt system cost me about $1,200 18 months ago - all DIY (panels, charge controller, cables, fuses, brackets, connectors, etc.).
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Old 10-21-2015, 04:57 PM   #14
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I agree JFNM about the value of solar being in not having to listen to a generator for hours. I read somewhere a recommendation that you run your generator 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the evening to maintain battery charge while not plugged into shore power. 6 hours of listening to a generator run is a long time of of drone, drone, and drone some more.
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