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Old 05-11-2021, 07:03 PM   #1
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Go Power Kit - Some Questions

I am about to purchase a Go Power Overlander kit to install on my "pre-wired" RPod 196. It comes with a 190 watt panel and a PWM controller. After spending hours doing my research, I have several questions about what I need to buy and how to install.

- Do I also need to purchase a breaker to go between the panel and the controller, and a second one between the controller and the battery?

- Should I purchase a lithium battery, or can I make do for a while with the new Marine battery that I have?

- I have a small TT (22') and I have minimal electrical needs. Should I upgrade my PWM controller to a MPPT controller or will the included controller meet my needs?

- Should I affix the panels on the roof by using the little feet included, which means drilling holes into the roof, or better to attach the panels directly to the roof? I'm thinking I might like to expand to a second panel one day, and think raising the panels will allow me to do that more easily - but I would prefer not to create holes in my roof. I figure the less openings, the better!

- Last question - I understand the panel plugs into the receptacle that's already on the roof, but the controller hooks into wires that are behind a panel on my wall. My husband is a retired general contractor and knows his way around construction - but is not very proficient in electrical things. Is this a DIY job or should I hire someone to install it for me? I have the name of a good independent shop, but I've spent a ton of money recently getting going and would like to minimize expenses if possible.

Thanks for your help! Greatly appreciated as I navigate a whole new world.
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Old 05-11-2021, 08:40 PM   #2
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Just my opinion and I am no expert. My setup is similar to what you are trying to accomplish.

I don't have a breaker or fuse between my panel (270W) and my controller.

I used my group 24 battery for one trip before upgrading to a group 29 battery and then further upgrading to both the group 29 and 24 in parallel. I have been using that system for about two years. I think the group 24 will be okay as long as you don't have to run the heater to much at night. The fan uses a lot of power.

The MPPT controller is only of value if you run have a higher voltage panel (greater than a nominal 12V panel) or a put your panel in series. If you get a second panel, wiring it in series will keep the current down allowing you to keep the existing wires.

I did not attach my panel to the roof. I made a stand for it and have a 25ft cord I can use to relocate the panel to the best possible location. I have been happy with that decision so far.

If he was a general contractor it is definitely at DIY job. I did all my work myself.
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Old 05-11-2021, 09:37 PM   #3
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Thank you, Tom! Iím intrigued by your setup of placing the controller on the ground to maximize your ability to follow the sun. This question may be showing my ignorance, but with the panel plug-in being on the roof, how do you connect to your controller?

Jude
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Old 05-11-2021, 10:23 PM   #4
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I use a fused connection between my panels and my controller. I also have a disconnect switch between the fuse and the controller. I use a breaker/disconnect between my controller and battery bus bar.

I turn off the power from my panels before disconnecting the controller from the batteries.

I use the disconnects from the charge sources and then the battery disconnect when I want to fully remove power from the 12 volt part of my system.

The advantage of solar on the roof is that it is alway working when exposed to the sun. Portable panels don't help charge your batteries unless you set them out. Roof top solar works great when going done the road and they are probably less exposed to casual theft.

Portable panels can be moved into the the sun when you trailer is in the shade. They also can be easily tilted towards the sun if you want to move them several times through the day.

Roof top solar will require some cables coming from the roof top panels down to where the controller is mounted.
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Old 05-12-2021, 04:14 AM   #5
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Thank you Jeff! After thinking about it I realized the rooftop mount would give me more consistent power with less work or thought.

Do you suggest a flat mount or being able to raise and tilt the panel? Iím not so eager to climb onto the roof of my camper on a regular basis so I may need to sacrifice efficiency for practicality.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
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Old 05-12-2021, 06:10 AM   #6
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Tilting panels helps more in the winter than the summer. So knowing when this would be used and if that nominal difference would help much will drive the decision to bother with tilting or not. Consider that tilted or not the sun follows an arc in the sky horizon to horizon, which is way more angle most times of the day than the seasonal shift to the south. If you really want to make a difference your panels would track the sun during the day. There are some fixed installations that automatically do this, but practically speaking you're not doing that while camping unless you have nothing else to do all day.

More important I think than PWM vs MPPT is knowing your energy budget. You mentioned "minimal" electrical needs but it helps to put a number on that. I would absolutely run the battery you already own, I see little point in spending upwards of a kilobuck for a battery you may not even need. Use what you have for a while and assess any modifications from there.

With that in mind, add to your shopping list a battery monitor. Even an inexpensive one (reports Ah in and out) tells you a lot about how your system is performing. Without one, it's like driving without a gas gauge.

Mark B.
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Old 05-12-2021, 08:09 AM   #7
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Thank you, Mark, for that practical advice. As a new TT owner, long time tent camper, money is flying out left and right as I'm reading blogs and watching videos that insist I MUST have various items.

I think I've been pretty prudent about my purchases. The solar setup is my last big purchase. Thanks to the advice I've been given, I think I'm on the right track. At least I'm at a point where I can comfortably go camping off grid and then see where I need to adjust from there.

Thanks again!

Last question - what is the difference in output between a PWM controller and a MPPT? With a 190 watt panel, possibly increasing to 380, and my electric needs basically being lights and water pump, do I need the better controller or is that overkill? I'm camping with a 22' TT.
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Old 05-12-2021, 09:49 AM   #8
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Sounds like your biggest power draw would be your furnace if you need to run it much overnight. If you don't have an inverter most of your other loads are pretty manageable.

Since you are getting a kit with the PWM anyway you might as well just start with that.

If you really want to monitor your battery consider a shunt based battery monitor for $131.

https://www.amazon.com/VICTRON-SMART...0856PHNLX?th=1

It connects to a bluetooth app on your phone. You can track the battery state of charge and see what the amperage is flowing into and out of your battery.
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Old 05-12-2021, 11:18 AM   #9
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Continuing thanks, Jeff. I know I need a battery monitor and was planning on purchasing one in the next few days.

"If you really want to monitor your battery consider a shunt based battery monitor for $131.

https://www.amazon.com/VICTRON-SMART...0856PHNLX?th=1"


The link above is for a 500 amp monitor. My battery is rated 690 cranking amps. Does that mean I need to purchase the larger 1000 amp monitor?

This is an expensive piece of equipment. I'm assuming it's waterproof? What's to prevent someone from walking away with it? (Hey! I'm from NY - we suspect everyone! ;-) )

This next question may expose my ignorance, but isn't there a circuit breaker that gets attached to the battery, between the battery and the controller? Does that placement interfere with the placement of the battery monitor?

Finally - Are there less pricey models available?

Jude
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Old 05-12-2021, 01:39 PM   #10
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No. Your RPOD isn't a motorized vehicle so it will not be cranking the starter and putting high demand on your battery. Since your battery lists cold cranking amps it is at best a marine battery, at worst just a typical automotive starter battery.

I use the 500 amp rate shunt on my trailer and I have a 3000VA inverter/charger.

You could mount the shunt in a water tight enclosure near the battery or in your front pass through storage area. You will need a black battery cable to go between your battery and the smart-shunt.

There may be cheaper but I only recommend devices from companies that I have experience with.
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Old 05-12-2021, 08:38 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Souljourner View Post
Thank you, Tom! Iím intrigued by your setup of placing the controller on the ground to maximize your ability to follow the sun. This question may be showing my ignorance, but with the panel plug-in being on the roof, how do you connect to your controller?

Jude
I don't use the connector on the roof and my charge controller is mounted in my pass through. I added a plug on the side of the TT straight into the pass through.

I don't really track the sun, it is more about locating and tilting panel for the exposure available. For example, in one of my trips to Sequoia, my TT was parked up against a stand of trees. The TT didn't get into the sun until about noon. I moved the panel away from the TT so it got in the sun an hour earlier and angled it to take advantage time it was exposed. So not flat and tilted to the west. I do worry about theft. My panels weighs about 40 lbs and is not the easiest thing to move, plus it is like 50 by 36 and awkward to carry and transport (I know not selling points, but honest).

Astrocamper eluded to an important point, for most charge controllers you are supposed to connect to the battery before connecting to the SA Panels and when you disconnect you do the panels first and then the battery.
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Old 05-13-2021, 07:22 AM   #12
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The difference between PWM and MPPT is how power is moderated from the panels to the battery. The output of the panels varies in both voltage and current depending on how much sunlight hits it. Batteries require different voltages and currents to charge them depending on how full they are, so the controller mediates the power from the panels to line up for what the batteries need. In the days of yore, before microcontrollers came around panels were regulated by essentially turning excess power into heat with shunt regulators. The output profile wasn't ideal so it wasn't great for batteries or good for panel efficiency. PWM, short for pulse width modulation, is one means to "throttle" the power from the panels by turning them on and off in measured intervals. A microcontroller monitors the status of the battery and applies the panel power as needed to charge it correctly. MPPT stands for maximum power point tracking, and it's a method to instantaneously measure the voltage and current from the panel and dynamically adjust the current flow using switch mode techniques to so that the most power from the panel is always being delivered relative to how much light is hitting the panels. Depending on the season and a few other variables you can net a nominal 20% increase in panel output with MPPT vs PWM, so it's usually worth the extra controller expense and different panel setup if maximum power is your goal.

At the end of the day you're going to find the key variable in running solar isn't the nuances of controller type or panel tilting, it will be whether you get any sun at all. In my experience doing portable solar for a few decades now, it's a rare occasion I'm camped somewhere the panels aren't shaded for at least some or all of the day. Consider whether you'd rather be parked in a nice shady grove, or baking in full sun all day just to keep the rooftop panels illuminated. Having portable panels mitigates that a little bit, it's easier to move those around vs moving the camper but it is literally a moving target. Unless you're camped next to a wide open field and can just leave the panels out there, you'll be dorking with panels all day keeping them in a sunny spot. Then there's the secondary hassle of hauling them out and putting everything away on every trip or anytime you leave the site so they don't grow legs. That translates to the only time you'll be charging is when you're at the campsite and managing the panels. Then there's the overarching event, clouds. So no matter how ideal of a solar setup you have you need a Plan B for those days you're taking a 90+ percent hit on your solar input. Bigger batteries only take you so far, so cloudy days are something to think about when assessing your energy budget and overall power requirements. That can be anything from hauling a generator around, using the tow vehicle as an interim power source, to wrapping yourself in blankets and eating cold beans by flashlight.

The battery monitor I use is one of the $20 ones off amazon. The trimetric and victron monitors (as well as charge controllers) are excellent and for "serious" installations a great choice. In my experience I don't need to know all the stuff they're telling me nor do I care. It comes down to what you're trying to achieve, playing with nerdy gadgets and caring about trends and statistical minutia, or just knowing if you have enough juice left to run the heater all night. I get enough tech with my day job, when I go camping the last thing I want to do is dork with a phone app and see what my panels did all day. Just to start out, a basic monitor will tell you "enough" and you can always graduate into more advanced equipment if you really get into it.

Mark B.
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Old 05-14-2021, 05:29 PM   #13
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Tons of thanks, Mark, for your excellent response. I've got the beans, blankets, and flashlights packed!
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Old 05-19-2021, 10:51 AM   #14
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I received my trailer with this Go-Power kit already installed (panel on the roof). While it did the job I found the Go-Pro PWM controller seems to work only when there is a certain battery voltage. Last March we had over a week of thick snow covering everything and apparently the battery ran out just with the various parasitic loads and panel not charging. After the snow melted, that battery was too low to let the Controller operate and recharge. Nothing worked including the leveler (so we could not leave the storage place) and I had to use the generator to recharge the battery and with it start the solar system. Oh, and I needed a kickstart cable from the truck to get the generator going in the first place.
I replaced the PWM controller with a Renogy Rover PPMT and that controller works with power only from the solar panel even if the battery is empty. I also added a second panel for 380W total.

The parasitic drain is one reason for me to have the panels on the roof or I would have to disconnect the battery every time when storing the trailer. Not a big deal but sometimes I would just forget. Other reasons are just the hassle to haul the equipment out every time when needed, the storage space and risk of theft. We try to avoid parking under dense trees already to get satellite reception and have less debris on the slides.
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