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Old 11-22-2015, 12:11 PM   #1
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Solar Power - portable or rooftop or both

We are upgrading to a Dutch Star this spring and hope to become full time RV'ers in the next 2 years. We definitely want solar power as we like to go off grid whenever we can. We have been in contact with AM Solar to do a rooftop install, but they will not be back east (we are in New York) until late summer 2016. We did not know if it would still be worthwhile to get a portable solar system to use until then. Does anyone have any comments on brand, size, etc. of a portable system? We will be using it on a DS 4312, all electric. (and yes, we are aware of the current front axle issue but are still planning on going forward with the order as we will be requesting the proportional valve install).

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Old 11-23-2015, 09:59 AM   #2
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What is your energy budget is the first step, what do you actually need and use. If you have an electrical cook top (VERY power hungry) then solar may not be practical.
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Old 11-23-2015, 10:37 AM   #3
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The size of most portable solar systems won't generate enough power to work for an all electric rig. The devil is in the details of your power consumption with each appliance but you won't know that yet. I would suggest running a generator until you get the rooftop solar installed. As mentioned earlier an electric stove top is really power hungry which creates lots of challenges for boondocking.


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Old 11-23-2015, 11:49 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chiefly1 View Post
The size of most portable solar systems won't generate enough power to work for an all electric rig. The devil is in the details of your power consumption with each appliance but you won't know that yet. I would suggest running a generator until you get the rooftop solar installed. As mentioned earlier an electric stove top is really power hungry which creates lots of challenges for boondocking.


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I'm not sure about the DS. The Ventana all-electric option has a 2800 watt inverter, and eight coach batteries. The inverter buss only powers the receptacles, residential fridge, microwave, etc... It does not power the induction cooktop, electric water heater elements, air conditioners, heat pads, washer, dryer, block heater. So, generator use will definetely be needed for some items.

I think if you're planning to use solar...then you're probably in a climate that's acceptable, and it would be easy to grill outdoors, or use a Coleman stove...and not worry about huge power consumption on the cooktop.

I hope to get a battery monitor installed first. Monitor my draws...and then decide how many panels, as a result of studying the coach. That is unless someone with an identical coach has already studied the usage for me

I can't say one way or another what gains are to be had by the proportioning valve...but if you"re going solar...I'm sure you've already considered:

*Water needs while boondocking...assuming you are adding solar for this purpose and not just charging the batteries in storage.

* Addition weight on roof for say 4 solar panels, mounts, wiring, monitoring panel, controller, extra batteries, etc....(and front axle)

* roof access to keep panels clean and possibly tilt the panels, as the season dictates, for better output. I'm thinking ladder on the back of the coach.

It's looking like Ventana to me... Don't get me wrong, the Dutch Star is a gorgeous coach...I wouldn't mind having side radiator, IFS, new FWS design, 150 gal. Fuel tank. But not if it forces me to give up things,,, fresh water, passenger and cargo capacity, ...I'll admit I don't need a 15k hitch, and can obviously live with 100 gal of fuel.

It is obviously a very personal choice...if that's the floor plan you want, and the amenities you want, then hopefully to fix or the compromises will be worth pursuing.

I'm hoping that 4 - 24v 250watt panels will suffice...If I can't fit them in a suitable location on the roof. I'm not really too interested in portable panels myself.
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Old 11-23-2015, 01:35 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Airedale View Post
We are upgrading to a Dutch Star this spring and hope to become full time RV'ers in the next 2 years. We definitely want solar power as we like to go off grid whenever we can. We have been in contact with AM Solar to do a rooftop install, but they will not be back east (we are in New York) until late summer 2016. We did not know if it would still be worthwhile to get a portable solar system to use until then.

Well if you get the DS in the spring.....late summer is only 3 months after that. I would definitely wait to get the roof top install. Getting a portable system to "play with" for 7 months is not worth it in terms of money or time IMHO. It wouldn't be powerful enough, and if it was, it would be a huge pain to setup and take down. Have you seen the new movie out "the Martian" ? There are scenes where he has to take solar panels with him, and lay them out all over the ground to recharge his vehicle......probably took him quite some time to do that every day !
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Old 11-24-2015, 03:17 PM   #6
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Our DS will have the 2800 watt invertor that comes with the all-electric option. Lots of good information shared that we were not aware of. Not too worried about the cooktop as most of the time we do grill outside. We were thinking of the portable just to keep batteries charged enough so that the frig could run without us having to use the generator all of the time. If we do need to run the AC, micro, W/D etc. we would then use the gen at that time. We were looking at the Zamp Brand 200 watt portable, but they run approx. 1K and hate to invest if it is not really going to be to useful. We also never thought about the added weight of the rooftop units - especially in light (no pun intended ) of the recent front axle issue.
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Old 11-24-2015, 04:36 PM   #7
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We are upgrading to a Dutch Star this spring and hope to become full time RV'ers in the next 2 years. We definitely want solar power as we like to go off grid whenever we can.
I don't have much to contribute other than to say that there are some really great options available to you. The current crop of "higher voltage" PV panels approach 500 watts per panel (at less than $1/watt). 3-4 of these would produce some mighty impressive power for you. I'd suggest NOT getting stuck with 24 volt panels and certainly not 12 volt panels (because they are not as efficient and you need to maximize the amount of roof mounting space).

I live on two 327 watt PV panels (650 watts total) on a DS 4023 which is NOT all electric. For boondocking, the all-electric coach looks less than ideal to me (my opinion, obviously) but I suspect it can be made to work.
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Old 11-25-2015, 03:57 PM   #8
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We have a 100w portable solar unit. We went portable because weren't sure how we would camp, what our needs were, etc and didn't want to spend thousands on a roof-top install (that money can buy a LOT of gas to run your genny!). The other thing that drew us to the portable unit was no additional holes in the roof, we could store it almost anywhere and if we were parked in shade we might be able to move the portable unit into the sun.

Now that we've been full timing for about 3 months, we've found that, out west, we mostly boondock (I think 11 days out of the three months were actually at RV parks). We try to set up the solar every time we park but its not always feasible and, depending on which direction we have to park - the solar unit may be in shade for a good portion of the day (you can only move it so far). When we have had good sun, we've been able to use the panel to charge our two 6v batteries without having to run the genny. This is with us being VERY conservative with how much electricity we use. All other times we run the genny and use the panel to help supplement.

My suggestion would be to start with the portable unit and if/when you get a roof system you can use both at the same time. We actually did a full review of the panel we have on our website if you're interested in more info.
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Old 11-25-2015, 04:09 PM   #9
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We were looking at the Zamp Brand 200 watt portable, but they run approx. 1K and hate to invest if it is not really going to be to useful.
WOW!! That equates to $5/watt - that is VERY EXPENSIVE!!!

Regarding holes, the solar install on my Dutch Star required zero new holes in the roof - none.

Every install is different, every person is different, and every "use pattern" is different. So, there are rarely "right" and "wrong" answers. Of course, that doesn't prevent disagreements but ultimately it comes down to whether you found the investment (time and money) to be worthwhile.
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Old 11-28-2015, 10:59 AM   #10
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We have a 100w portable solar unit. We went portable because weren't sure how we would camp, what our needs were, etc and didn't want to spend thousands on a roof-top install (that money can buy a LOT of gas to run your genny!). The other thing that drew us to the portable unit was no additional holes in the roof, we could store it almost anywhere and if we were parked in shade we might be able to move the portable unit into the sun.

Now that we've been full timing for about 3 months, we've found that, out west, we mostly boondock (I think 11 days out of the three months were actually at RV parks). We try to set up the solar every time we park but its not always feasible and, depending on which direction we have to park - the solar unit may be in shade for a good portion of the day (you can only move it so far). When we have had good sun, we've been able to use the panel to charge our two 6v batteries without having to run the genny. This is with us being VERY conservative with how much electricity we use. All other times we run the genny and use the panel to help supplement.

My suggestion would be to start with the portable unit and if/when you get a roof system you can use both at the same time. We actually did a full review of the panel we have on our website if you're interested in more info.
I assume your 2903 came with the 2 12v Interstate batteries? Did you have the solar prep package as well? What changes and what brand of 6v did you go with? And what are you able to use effectively while off grid with your solar set up? Just curious as I'm leaning going with the Renogy 200w portable setup and what to see how another Baystar owner did it...successfully!!!
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Old 12-04-2015, 05:00 PM   #11
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I assume your 2903 came with the 2 12v Interstate batteries? Did you have the solar prep package as well? What changes and what brand of 6v did you go with? And what are you able to use effectively while off grid with your solar set up? Just curious as I'm leaning going with the Renogy 200w portable setup and what to see how another Baystar owner did it...successfully!!!
Steve - I'll shoot you a PM with some other details.

Yes, the 2903 came with the two 12v's and we swapped those for the interstate 6v deep cycle batteries that Costco sells (comes with 1yr full replacement warranty).

We have the solar prep and have been told by numerous people who do solar installs that we would only be good for about 100-200w on the roof since the prep only has 10g wiring (although 10g can safely handle more than 200w, you can't do so at the distance from the roof to the batteries without experiencing significant losses - as the wattage goes up, the effective distance for the wiring goes down).

When we get good sun all day, we have been able to run everything, including the TV's and still get a charge into our battery (of course this is limited - we didn't run the TV's all day, dont run both fans on high and don't leave lights on, etc). When we were in Tucson we went 8 days without ever running the genny.

Hope this helps and let me know if you have any other questions!
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Old 12-04-2015, 05:20 PM   #12
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We have the solar prep and have been told by numerous people who do solar installs that we would only be good for about 100-200w on the roof since the prep only has 10g wiring (although 10g can safely handle more than 200w, you can't do so at the distance from the roof to the batteries without experiencing significant losses - as the wattage goes up, the effective distance for the wiring goes down).
Well... that's not altogether accurate - confusing some terminology. Many of us are running higher voltage from the panels on the roof down to the solar charge controller via small-ish cable. I'm running 650 watts of power from the panels to the basement on 10 GA cable that way (at around 60 volts). Since many of the installers seems to be stuck on 12V panels, what they seem to be telling you is true in the context of what they have to offer but other (and better, IMO) options exist.
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Old 12-05-2015, 07:56 AM   #13
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Well... that's not altogether accurate - confusing some terminology. Many of us are running higher voltage from the panels on the roof down to the solar charge controller via small-ish cable. I'm running 650 watts of power from the panels to the basement on 10 GA cable that way (at around 60 volts). Since many of the installers seems to be stuck on 12V panels, what they seem to be telling you is true in the context of what they have to offer but other (and better, IMO) options exist.
This post bugged me half the night. I apologize, it sounds very "in your face" and I did not intend that.

What I was attempting to say that wire size depends on length, voltage, and amperage. 10 GA wire is appropriate for 200 watts (14 amps at 14 volts) for 25'. However; it can also carry 3000 watts (60 amps at 50 volts) for 25'.

So, if you have a 200 watt, 12 volt panel and a 25' cable; you probably need 10 GA cable. However; if you have higher voltage panels (55 volts), you can carry a lot more total power on that same cable.

Of course, the higher voltage panels require an MPPT charge controller.
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Old 12-05-2015, 08:28 AM   #14
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The physical space available and whether you are going to lay flat or tilt dictates to a large degree what panels you use. A larger number of physically smaller and therefor lower wattage panels offer more flexible positioning. Positioning away from other equipment on the roof so as to not have shading from them, and reduces shading impact from trees and such. Couple placement with good design selection of the string configurations. As an alternative you can elevate the panels on racks above the roof equipments, however this is not the norm.

On our Pace Arrow I currently have six 100w panels spread out on the roof, with two additional 100w panels that are set out portable when needed (mitigation for shading, weather, low angle summer sun, etc). The portable panels are wired to the one controller and have foldable stands made from pvc pipe. There is not a need to buy 'portable' panels.

We recently acquired a Tiffin Phaeton, with lots of contention for roof space. Three air conditioners, satellite dish, three vent covers, large OTA TV antenna, etc. I have not yet done the solar design and panel layout for this coach, but I sure it will require several smaller panels to provide best solar production.
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