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Old 04-15-2015, 06:16 AM   #1
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Solar Panel Question/s

We will soon be relocating to a place where I am likely going to have to store my coach outside and without access to power (self storage facility). I am thinking of adding a solar panel/system that would provide enough power to keep my batteries maintained. I am looking for comments from those who have done the same and some recommendations for what I need to consider, vendors, etc.
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Old 04-15-2015, 08:24 AM   #2
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SMI...many of us have added panels to our coaches to maintain and "Condition" the batteries. I use a system that was designed by VSHEETZ....it in all its glory is designed to give you running power while using the coach off grid. If you want a downgraded version of what I am using for just charging the house and coach battery...a 100w single panel system (panel from RENOGY) with a MorningstarSunsaver PWC 6amp controller will do you fine. Most of us do the overkill install and set up the solar infrastructure to handle high amp input so we can build into a full use solar system in the future.
I have 500w of panels and a 45amp Morningstar controller. This gives me a great weekender boondocking experience...with 4 golf cart batteries and a 1500w inverter....I can run small appliances, infrequently....TV and electronics....NO AC
(from solar), full lighting... and charge my accessories. All this with no shore power.
If you are just charging and maintaining batteries....have NO desire to ever grow a system... One panel...wiring....charge controller...install.
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Old 04-15-2015, 09:30 AM   #3
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My Monaco came with an 85 watt solar battery for maintaining the battery. The previous owner installed 2 125 watt Kyocera panels which gives me +330 watt. The wiring goes down the refrigerator vent to a controller that is mounted up front near my inverter controller.

If you want to add a panel for battery maintenance for a little more $$ you could get a larger panel that would provide some additional charging capacity.

You may want to post this question on the Country Coach forum, there would be more comments there. Specifically I would ask if your RV came prewired for the solar charging since your RV is a high end coach I am thinking it would be.
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Old 04-15-2015, 01:35 PM   #4
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Unless you're leaving stuff running, you won't need as much power as these guys have if all you want is to keep the batteries 'topped off'.

15 Watt, 12 Volt Solar Panel
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Old 04-15-2015, 03:05 PM   #5
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SML... I would almost agree with Todd...but what we as solar install kit users receive that you will not get from the EL Harbor Kit...is "battery conditioning". The solar controllers that we use are programmable awesome devices that allow us to set the three stages... Float, Bulk, Equalization.... this process really is necessary on our RV batteries. It keeps them healthy. Equalization....periodically raises the voltages and cooks the sulfur coatings off the battery plates. You get way better life and service from the batteries when a 3 stage charging system is employed.
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Old 04-15-2015, 06:56 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gocoffeer View Post
SML... I would almost agree with Todd...but what we as solar install kit users receive that you will not get from the EL Harbor Kit...is "battery conditioning". The solar controllers that we use are programmable awesome devices that allow us to set the three stages... Float, Bulk, Equalization.... this process really is necessary on our RV batteries. It keeps them healthy. Equalization....periodically raises the voltages and cooks the sulfur coatings off the battery plates. You get way better life and service from the batteries when a 3 stage charging system is employed.
Yes, I need a set up that is multistage. I have too much invested in the AGM batteries.
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Old 04-15-2015, 07:13 PM   #7
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200 watts PV and an adequate controller.
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Old 04-16-2015, 02:09 PM   #8
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I added 300 watts of solar two years ago. I also store my coach outside without power. I have a three stage MPPT controller. It does a great job of keeping the batteries in top shape. We have also increased the time we boondock and did 10 days last year with minimal generator use. I added a residential fridge later last year and am adding a fourth panel this year. Solar is much like beer - seems you can't have too much on hand! Good luck,
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Old 04-17-2015, 08:33 AM   #9
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SML...AGM batteries....are not great at the conditioning stage .... the SEALED state of the battery does not lend well to raising the charge rate for extended periods of time to de sulfur the plates... though I can state that there is a special setting in all our 3 stage solar charge devices for AGM....I know it will not raise the voltage as high as the settings for WET CELL. I have a 40 battery AGM storage grid in my brick and mortar home. It is charged currently by 2 ea 100 w solar panels...hehehehhehehe... and a 60 amp PWM Morningstar controller. At some point as I grow that system...it will offer power to the house. But at present it is a play ground for testing. Here I am learning a ton about storage and how these charge controllers work. I know the voltage during conditioning is lower than on my RV solar system.
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Old 04-17-2015, 10:27 AM   #10
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Yes. For AGM batteries you would either turn off the equalization stage or set the voltage the same as the bulk stage.
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Old 04-17-2015, 10:53 AM   #11
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To maintain a battery a 50-100 watt panel with a small PWM controller such as the sun saver would be more then adequate.

I have 600 watts of solar on my coach and do alot of boondocking. Hardly ever use the gennie. Have thought about taking that 3000lb anchor out and putting in a few more batteries in its place. Be nice to ditch the gen as the front axle is over Monaco's Axle rating.
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Old 04-21-2015, 10:38 AM   #12
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Go MPPT!

Do yourself a favor and DO NOT buy a PWM charge controller - you will waste your money and ultimately end up with dead batteries(it happened to me). I have an off grid cabin in Eastern Washington and learned the hard way about how my (top of the line)Xantrex PWM charge controller functioned, and how the PWM controllers in general work and it's the same across the board. A PWM controller follows the battery voltage and can only output at this voltage. Say there are a number of rainy days when the panel isn't putting out a lot of the power(A 100 watt panel on a cloudy day can be as low as 1amp or even less). During these cloudy days the battery voltage will decline slightly - now compound this over a month or more, and you might have a PWM charge controller only able to put in amps at say 12.2(or whatever) volts. Over time it basically creates a scenario in that the battery will never charge back up and will float at that low voltage if not going lower. After one winter with a PWM controller I came back in spring to see that my 6 golf cart batteries were toast at only 10.8volts.

An MPPT controller on the other hand, similar to my Outback FM-80 will always find the best possible charging scenario and will put out a proper/greater voltage to counteract these low voltages(but your batteries will never get there if connected to a MPPT from day one). An MPPT controller will also use the 5 or so extra volts that the panel puts out, turning that voltage into additional amperage for your batteries. A quality MPPT controller will also maintain your batteries depending on their type, and you can set all the parameters you want via the interface.

Since buying all new batteries and the Outback FM-80 my batteries have never been low in the past 3 years. I just went to the cabin after 6 months of neglect to find them in perfect condition through winter. You've spent a ton on AGM batteries, don't leave a $50 PWM charge controller taking care of them.

Lastly, let it be known that the cheap $130/100watt Chinese panels on ebay will do the same as the ones advertised for $300, $400, $500 or more, who cares if they are only at 85% output in 15 years. Do not spend your hard earned money on panels that are $300-400 for 100watts. Get your panels on ebay or similar, and expect to pay around $150 for 100watts these days.

I have 800watts of (poorly angled) Chinese panels on my cabin roof (spent around $1000 for them all 3 years ago)and have seen 54.6amps coming into my batteries at peak sun, with 45amps typical, show me a PWM that can do that.
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Old 04-21-2015, 03:56 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by BeAtCoAsTeR View Post
Do yourself a favor and DO NOT buy a PWM charge controller - you will waste your money and ultimately end up with dead batteries(it happened to me). I have an off grid cabin in Eastern Washington and learned the hard way about how my (top of the line)Xantrex PWM charge controller functioned, and how the PWM controllers in general work and it's the same across the board. A PWM controller follows the battery voltage and can only output at this voltage. Say there are a number of rainy days when the panel isn't putting out a lot of the power(A 100 watt panel on a cloudy day can be as low as 1amp or even less). During these cloudy days the battery voltage will decline slightly - now compound this over a month or more, and you might have a PWM charge controller only able to put in amps at say 12.2(or whatever) volts. Over time it basically creates a scenario in that the battery will never charge back up and will float at that low voltage if not going lower. After one winter with a PWM controller I came back in spring to see that my 6 golf cart batteries were toast at only 10.8volts.

An MPPT controller on the other hand, similar to my Outback FM-80 will always find the best possible charging scenario and will put out a proper/greater voltage to counteract these low voltages(but your batteries will never get there if connected to a MPPT from day one). An MPPT controller will also use the 5 or so extra volts that the panel puts out, turning that voltage into additional amperage for your batteries. A quality MPPT controller will also maintain your batteries depending on their type, and you can set all the parameters you want via the interface.

Since buying all new batteries and the Outback FM-80 my batteries have never been low in the past 3 years. I just went to the cabin after 6 months of neglect to find them in perfect condition through winter. You've spent a ton on AGM batteries, don't leave a $50 PWM charge controller taking care of them.

Lastly, let it be known that the cheap $130/100watt Chinese panels on ebay will do the same as the ones advertised for $300, $400, $500 or more, who cares if they are only at 85% output in 15 years. Do not spend your hard earned money on panels that are $300-400 for 100watts. Get your panels on ebay or similar, and expect to pay around $150 for 100watts these days.

I have 800watts of (poorly angled) Chinese panels on my cabin roof (spent around $1000 for them all 3 years ago)and have seen 54.6amps coming into my batteries at peak sun, with 45amps typical, show me a PWM that can do that.
What is your system voltage?

It sounds like there were some other issues in your system. As it did fail to charge the batteries. But I have never seen a PWM controller not put out the set point voltage regardless of wattage when it had the correct solar input.

With the price spread on PWM and MPPT controllers you would have to have a large system to get anywhere near a decent cost benefit. I have been running various PWM controllers for the better part of 15 years, and built a few large systems with MPPT's. Some times they fail, some times panels fail, some times the system just isnt designed or installed properly, and some times batteries just check out to lunch. Hard to say what happened to you but I would not curse all PWM due to your single failure.

PWM requires the use of PV array voltage matched to your system. With MPPT you can use higher voltage panels and use the power, where with a PWM that high voltage panel would be cut to about 20% output if that depending on sun.

The most important part about all of this is to
1. Know what your goals are for the system
2. Understand if they are practice
3. Properly match all the system components (i.e. don't use a 72 cell panel with a PWM controller to a 12v battery)
4. Install the system properly, keeping in mind voltage drop.
5. Dont expect your system to work twice as good as you designed once installed. This is the hardest part, once you see it working you overestimate its usefulness and capabilities.

And don't expect your system to work on auto pilot with out taking due care of normal battery maintenance.
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Old 04-22-2015, 06:45 AM   #14
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I agree with IMURPHY... a healthy decent three stage PWM charge controllers offer reliable and well tuned maintenance for the battery groups to which they were designed. My Morningstar 45 amp controller... is a great valued partner to the maintenance of the RV.
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