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Old 11-16-2015, 07:59 PM   #1
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In Search of a New RV Paradigm

This thread is a transplant from another thread on solar modules and is an attempt to generate some discussion about the current state of the art (or lack thereof) relative to RVs and boondocking. Specifically, some of the technological and feature improvements that could be implemented to create more efficient RVs of all sorts. Reed Cundiff's 48V solar/battery system was the initial inspiration for my thoughts about this, hence the mention of him in the next paragraph.

Reed, I've read a few of your postings over the past year and have to say that so far it sounds like you've got the closest thing to what I think should be the new paradigm for RV solar design, i.e. 48V system with LiFe batteries, etc.. Fortunately, there are a few new technological developments that are encouraging for this type of system, specifically Sharp announcing that they will be marketing a DC mini-split AC unit in late 2015, and some of the new hydronic heating systems that use far less energy (especially electricity) than their traditional forced-air counterparts. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of design factors that work against an effective system, especially on smaller RV's and truck campers.

As it is, the old-fashioned RV air conditioners ("tree snaggers") eat up too much roof space, create shading issues for PV modules, and use too much energy. Roof vents and skylights scattered about also add to the same problem. The lack of viable module mounting points on some rigs makes it a headache to come up with racking systems that can support the modules and keep things attached to the roof under high wind loads. Also, the lack of an industry standard form factor(s) for solar modules makes every installation a one-off design to an extent. On the opposite end of the circuit, it can be challenging to find enough space for batteries in some ot the smaller rigs.

While a few manufacturers are starting to design some of their RVs with true boondocking capabilities in mind, most of them still rely on 50 year-old technology for just about everything e.g. inefficient forced air furnaces and propane refrigerators.

Giving this a bit of thought, here are some of the things I'd like to see in an RV relative to real four-season boondocking capabilities:

1) 48 VDC (or at least 24V) MPPT solar power system with advanced battery technology and full monitoring. 2) 48VDC mini-split air conditioning system with no roof mounted components. 3) Thermopane, awning type windows. 4) Maximized roof space with provisions for and documentation for the installation of solar modules. 5) Better yet, fairly priced, factory designed tiltable solar panels/mounts with remote control. 6) 1.5-2 inches of closed cell foam insulation throughout. 7) Hydronic heating system (48V). 8) Heated black, gray and fresh water tanks via the hydronic system. 9) Diesel fueled hydronic system and cooking appliances. 10) Auxilliary solar input port for portable solar panels. 11) Dimmable LED lighting. 12) 48-12VDC converters throughout with Anderson Powepole connectors for 12V appliances. 13) USB sockets throughout. 14) Outdoor propane connection for outdoor stove/grill. 15) Insulating window treatments.

Well that's the beginning of the list. I'd be interested to hear the thoughts of some other folks as to anything they'd add.
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Old 11-16-2015, 08:19 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by baphenatem View Post
1) 48 VDC (or at least 24V) MPPT solar power system with advanced battery technology and full monitoring.

2) 48VDC mini-split air conditioning system with no roof mounted components.

3) Thermopane, awning type windows.

4) Maximized roof space with provisions for and documentation for the installation of solar modules.

5) Better yet, fairly priced, factory designed tiltable solar panels/mounts with remote control.

6) 1.5-2 inches of closed cell foam insulation throughout.

7) Hydronic heating system (48V).

8) Heated black, gray and fresh water tanks via the hydronic system. 9) Diesel fueled hydronic system and cooking appliances.

10) Auxiliary solar input port for portable solar panels.

11) Dimmable LED lighting.

12) 48-12VDC converters throughout with Anderson Powerpole connectors for 12V appliances.

13) USB sockets throughout.

14) Outdoor propane connection for outdoor stove/grill.

15) Insulating window treatments.
I may seem snooty, but this is an easier to read list.

You do know that you are asking for the price of an RV outfitted as above to be very high?
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Old 11-16-2015, 08:40 PM   #3
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Maybe someday it will happen.
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Old 11-16-2015, 09:41 PM   #4
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Not without a lot of money. The RV industry is not known for it's acts of benevolence and charity.
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Old 11-16-2015, 10:14 PM   #5
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Wow!

Tom is it? The other's comments notwithstanding I think you've really thrown down the gauntlet on what a truly technologically advanced system configuration should involve. I've read quite a bit of info about RV solar from sources like Mayer and handyBob but the comprehensiveness of what you've proposed here has really raised the bar.

Like a lot of people I've converted most of my lighting to LED and plan to add PV to my old-ish rig, hopefully next summer. Still trying to figure out if lithium batteries are truly worth the breathtaking expense.

I haven't a clue about the 48vdc mini-split A/C, hydronic system or the windows but it seems like just about everything else you mentioned wouldn't really add that much expense at the build state.

Thanks for the vision.
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Old 11-17-2015, 06:31 AM   #6
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We have a large teardrop trailer and some of what I did/have came out of ignorance. I bought a 185 W solar panel intended for a grid tie system that with no load produces 73V. This required an MPPT controller and I chose a Morningstar SunSaver. To mount the panel to the roof of the tear I found ABS plastic mounts that I attached with 3M VHB tape. I did not want holes in the roof and talked at some length with a 3M engineer who I think was having fun with a different challenge. He stressed surface prep and how much surface area I would need. It has withstood wind loads in excess of 120 MPH. This feeds a Lifeline 150AH AGM battery monitored by a Victron battery monitor. We are powering a WAECO 12VDC refrigerator LED lights TV/DVD sat radio... What this means with the high voltage panel we get usable current from sun up to sun down and in shady camp sites, not a lot, but for example. We spent 8 days on the north shore of Lake Superior in a camp site with maybe one hour of full sun and at the end of the time were at 64% SOC.
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Old 11-17-2015, 06:42 AM   #7
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Tom, while I agree that the RV industry needs to start moving toward the future, please explain the diesel vs propane hydronic system and cooking appliances thing. Propane is already here and is clean burning. Diesel is only in DP motorhomes, is nasty, doesn't evaporate and is not particularly clean burning.
I believe thermopane (or at least dual pane) windows are available now as an option, but window awnings would be a big plus on the sunny side for lowering heat gain.
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Old 11-17-2015, 06:59 AM   #8
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Hi Tom,

All interesting stuff! Going the other direction (cave man simple), I've often thought a "shade system" would be useful for those hot sunny days. Some sort of awning that covered the entire roof and a good bit of one side. I would think (hope) that this would significantly decrease the inside temperature. Obviously wind and appearance really mess with this concept.
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Old 11-17-2015, 08:00 AM   #9
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Hi Tom,

All interesting stuff! Going the other direction (cave man simple), I've often thought a "shade system" would be useful for those hot sunny days. Some sort of awning that covered the entire roof and a good bit of one side. I would think (hope) that this would significantly decrease the inside temperature. Obviously wind and appearance really mess with this concept.
Yes! While staying in the Southwest, I wondered why someone didn't come up will an effective shade system for the sunny side. With solar, I don't want to shade the roof, but the living room slide screams for shade. I could get a topper for the roof of it, but something for the side would be great as well.
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Old 11-17-2015, 09:34 AM   #10
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SkiSmuggs

As you note, diesel is fine for motorhomes and pickup trucks (we have a diesel pickup) but is another fuel system to install in a trailer/5th wheel. As noted in an earlier post, the Aussies seem to use diesel heating and cooking.

If you cover the roof with solar panels that have a 1.5" air gap, then you have provided the roof with shade.

Have to read up on hydronic heating. We got to love Ondol floor heating when we lived in Korea. Older son (the solar contractor who is off grid) has floor heating with heat exchangers on roof. It works extremely well. He lives at around 7600' in mountains of northern NM and this is sufficient to keep their house warm. The house is 18" to 24" rammed earth designed for passive solar. They built it themselves.
Reed and Elaine
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Old 11-17-2015, 10:18 AM   #11
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SkiSmuggs

Have to read up on hydronic heating. We got to love Ondol floor heating when we lived in Korea. Older son (the solar contractor who is off grid) has floor heating with heat exchangers on roof. It works extremely well. He lives at around 7600' in mountains of northern NM and this is sufficient to keep their house warm. The house is 18" to 24" rammed earth designed for passive solar. They built it themselves.
Reed and Elaine
Interesting. My brother was the illustrator for "The Passive Solar Energy Book."
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Old 11-17-2015, 08:37 PM   #12
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I may seem snooty, but this is an easier to read list.

You do know that you are asking for the price of an RV outfitted as above to be very high?
No argument on the readability factor.

As for price, it's like with a lot of other things in that the cost for early entry is high, but as things become standard "commoditized" items the price goes down. Solar modules are a good example of this. Not ten years ago the going rate was about $8 per watt, today they're less than $1 per watt.
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Old 11-17-2015, 08:53 PM   #13
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Easier Solar

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sneelock View Post
I've read quite a bit of info about RV solar from sources like Mayer and handyBob but the comprehensiveness of what you've proposed here has really raised the bar.

Like a lot of people I've converted most of my lighting to LED and plan to add PV to my old-ish rig, hopefully next summer. Still trying to figure out if lithium batteries are truly worth the breathtaking expense.

I haven't a clue about the 48vdc mini-split A/C, hydronic system or the windows but it seems like just about everything else you mentioned wouldn't really add that much expense at the build state.

Thanks for the vision.
Wouldn't it be nice if when shopping for solar modules for an RV there were only a couple of different physical sizes that the industry would agree upon and design around? We've done the same thing for years with building items such as doors and windows, which come in standard sizes. Want to replace your door? Go to the local big box store and pick up another of the same size. With any luck the hinges will even be in the same places and you can do an easy swap. Not so with solar as no two manufacturers seem to build modules of the same dimensions.

Mini-splits are just a way of having an air conditioning system that doesn't depend on ducted forced air for distribution. A central outside condenser can connect to a number of remote inside evaporators and will modulate the flow rates in the system based on demand at the most efficient rate. This allows separate zones in the system which can be modulated based on the zone setpoint and occupancy.

The same thing goes for hydronic heating, one source can provide a number of zones. The system is more efficient because the water takes less energy to circulate than a forced air system. However, the trade-off is a slower response time.
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Old 11-17-2015, 08:59 PM   #14
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We have a large teardrop trailer and some of what I did/have came out of ignorance. I bought a 185 W solar panel intended for a grid tie system that with no load produces 73V.

We spent 8 days on the north shore of Lake Superior in a camp site with maybe one hour of full sun and at the end of the time were at 64% SOC.
It sounds like you really lucked out as most modules don't produce anywhere near that voltage. My point in saying that I'd like an auxiliary input jack for a portable solar panel is in response to just what you have described, i.e. that folks want to camp in the shade, which is not a great way to harvest solar energy. If your rig had an aux PV input and a smaller portable PV module with a fold-out stand you probably could have gone home with nearly a 100% charge.
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