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Old 05-29-2021, 02:00 PM   #1
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Solar panel selection

My trailer came with one 170-watt Zamp Solar panel, and provisions for adding two more of the same panel.

I would like to add a couple of panels, but have some questions that I hope someone on his forum can answer.

Zamp is pretty expensive. I don’t mind paying for good stuff, but I am having trouble seeing the advantage of Zamp over a comparable Renogy 175-watt panel.

In fact, the Renogy claims higher efficiency and has bypass diodes to improve resistance to shading.

The Zamp is $500 and the Renogy is $235 per panel. I would have to buy mounting brackets and a bit of wire and connectors for the Renogy, but that should not put much dent in the price difference.

Question 1 - is the Zamp panel actually better than the Renogy, to warrant paying twice the price?

Question 2 - are there any issues with mixing and matching panels? The two brands seem similar electrically, but I do not know enough about these panels to know for certain that they are compatible.

Thanks for any comments and suggestions!
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Old 05-29-2021, 03:07 PM   #2
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Sounds like you have a Keystone product.
My last trailer had the same Zamp set-up. I added two Bourg 180 watt panels for 195.00 each and after two and a half years, they are still going strong. You shouldn't have to pay more than about a dollar per watt for panels.
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Old 05-29-2021, 09:13 PM   #3
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It is actually an Outdoors RV product. The solar configuration is probably much like the Keystone.
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Old 05-29-2021, 09:52 PM   #4
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Pay attention to the wiring. I read somewhere ZAMP wires some of the there things opposite industry standards so they are not compatible with other brands. I believe you can fix that by rewiring the offending connectors.
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Old 05-29-2021, 10:13 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tomahawk View Post
Pay attention to the wiring. I read somewhere ZAMP wires some of the there things opposite industry standards so they are not compatible with other brands. I believe you can fix that by rewiring the offending connectors.
That is true. Their reasoning sounds good - something about not exposing the positive lead. it should be a simple matter to change the connectors. The Renogy comes with only 2-ft wires, so some new wire has to be provided anyway.

I notice that Zamp has a new line of solar panels with yet another connector.
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Old 05-29-2021, 10:23 PM   #6
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"previsions for 2 more panels"....assume with 3 panels total, you are talking panels wired in parallel....do you have adequate controller and wiring capacity for the increased amps? My 4x100 Renogy panels use MP4 connectors....Generally, panels should be closely matched but "perfect not need be the enemy of good enough."
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Old 05-29-2021, 10:48 PM   #7
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[QUOTE=Old Scout;5770959]"previsions for 2 more panels"....assume with 3 panels total, you are talking panels wired in parallel....do you have adequate controller and wiring capacity for the increased amps? My 4x100 Renogy panels use MP4 connectors....Generally, panels should be closely matched but "perfect not need be the enemy of good enough."[/

The manufacturer (ORV) says I can add two more matching Zamp panels for a total of 510 watts. Two more 175 watt (nominal) panels should be essentially the same as two more 170 watt (nominal) panels.

I would install them in parallel.

The controller is a Zamp 30 amp PWM unit. The trailer has a three-port rooftop combiner box.
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Old 05-29-2021, 10:57 PM   #8
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I bought Grape Solar panels because I can have them shipped to Home Depot for free pickup. I use three 300 watt and three 180 watt panels on the roof of my Artic Fox 22G.
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Old 05-29-2021, 11:17 PM   #9
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There are so many choices for solar panels beside Zamp and Renogy. I agree with Jeff in above post about Grape Solar. I'm planning on using Grape Solar 180 watt panels on our little MH. On our 32ft 5th wheeler I used three 350 watt panels from SciFab. These are commercial grade panels and IMO outperform any of the common "RV typical panels". If you have to have the same thing everyone else has, so be it. Solar power can be bought between $0.30 and $2.00 per watt. A big difference. Keep in mind not all solar panels are created equal by any means.

Many panels are very subject to shading, while others are much less so. This becomes clear from the number of bifacial (double sided) panels are on the market. Yes the bottom side also generates power and is not even close to being in full sun.

The largest capacity panel I'm aware of today is 500 watts per panel. This is a large framed panel. Point being that they come in many different capacities and sizes.

As to wiring. I'd be very suspect of any "factory" wire job. They want to hold costs down. I prefer larger sized down haul wires so I can use panels in parallel or series configurations and worry about the wires being overloaded.

I've know plenty of people who have replaced their entire solar system at least twice before they learned about better design.
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Old 05-30-2021, 07:32 AM   #10
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WOW--did "rarebear" nail it [IMHO]?--unless you get [and follow] the advice of experienced solar owners/sellers, it will likely take at least one system build to "learn" what you should have done. Dont know the max amp output of the 170 Zamp panels but maybe 10-12 amps so 30-36 max amps for three panels in parallel--probably wont ever achieve max amps if laying flat....and no option but parallel for three panels vs two or four???
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Old 05-30-2021, 09:01 AM   #11
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People like Old Scout and RareBear keep me coming back to this site! I really appreciate the willingness of the many knowledgeable folks on this site to share knowledge and experience.

It is hard to get good and comprehensive design information. It is also hard to completely understand the information one gets! That is why I spend time on this forum, searching and asking questions. I have learned a lot already.

It is probably worthwhile to describe the context of my system - what I want to achieve- as that will affect some design choices.

My wife and I are “weekend warriors”, except that being recently retired we can avoid the crowds on actual weekends. We have been camping in trailers for about 25 years, almost exclusively in the forests of Idaho and surrounding states.

This is our first foray into solar power, and lithium ion batteries. Learning, designing, and building this into our latest trailer is as much fun as actually using it. What we have is adequate (two Battlebornes, hybrid inverter, and a 2000-watt generator), but I would like to be able to extend a trip to 5 days in the mountains in October without using a generator. I probably need 80 amp-hours per day, and 100 would be better. No reason other than because I think I can do it and therefore I want to do it!

The comments in this thread about shade sensitivity are interesting. I am really disappointed in the sensitivity of my Zamp panel to shade. Clouds affect output somewhat, but the shadow from a tiny branch will shut it down. What panels work better? How does a user evaluate shade sensitivity prior to purchase? I could replace the Zamp panel, but would rather not.

I certainly agree with the observation that factory wiring leaves something to be desired. What a haphazard tangle! Fishing new wires from the roof to the batteries seems like a challenge, though. Maybe I just need to try it out!

Again, thanks for all of the comments!
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Old 05-30-2021, 12:18 PM   #12
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I'm not inclined to make many recommendations for some else's solar design. Just too many unknowns about your setup. What I can say is what I did and how I went about it.

The solar was going on a 32ft 5th wheeler, not lots but good amount of roof space. Routing down haul cables was a easy route, back of frig chimney, (side opposite of the burner tube). I wanted to span the panels over the roof vents to get better surface area for the panels. Thus I was going to making my own mounting brackets for the height also to deal with a lengthwise pitch on the roof.

We spend more days driving than staying put. Grass grows too slow to be fun watching it. Thus the system would have to recharge while on the road, eg flat mounted panels. Yes you may loose about 30% off the rated capacity with flat panels. But at the price of watts per dollar I could afford adding 30% more panel area to offset the flat mounting. At the time I bought these panels from Scifab they were about $0.94/watt and I bought three 350 watts panels, 1050 watts total. I used a Morningstar controller.

My battery box would only hold two batteries, a no go detail. But the space around the box in the basement would allow for a bigger battery box. So I pulled the old box and expanded to hold four batteries and reinstalled. Kind of a pain getting them in and out. So I added a watering system for the lead acid batteries. Just could not afford Lithium at the time. Design wise it would have been best, but not possible budget wise. All things RV are comprises.

I did not really like how the 12 volt was done, so I also redesigned a whole new 12 volt system panel with three home made buss bars. One negative and two positive. My basement space for all this stuff was tight.

In our lifestyle we decided not to bother with an inverter at all. I had already installed a second converter in parallel to the factory unit giving me 115 amp output. Turns out that I threw the breakers for both converters when I powered up the panels some years ago and have turned them back on. Solar provides 100% of our 12 volt.

I knew we'd be traveling to Alaska and the far north areas of Canada, north of the Aritic Circle. So the sun angle would be low even in the summer. Also nights would be cool to cold meaning the furnace would run every night. Turns out over a five months the furnace ran all but the first and last nights of the trip. This means thee would be a heavy draw on the battery that would need to be recharged every day while on the road.

I had installed a Bogart Trimetric battery monitor months ahead of the solar project and had very good watt draw for every 12 volt item and every light fixture in the unit. I learned that seemly matching light fixtures may draw different amounts of power. Worked this data into a spread sheet with number of hours per day we used each item and got a total energy audit.

It was from that total requirement, sun angles in the far north and light hours per day that I calculated the required solar panel output. Then I added a fudge factor to be safe. I had no intentions of ever replacing this system.

Then I studied air flow issues over the roof. What a mess that is. This helped me a bit in placing the panels. Turns out the lift effect over the top of panels was far greater than air pressure under the panels.

The mounting brackets I built were from 4 x 5" x 1/4 thick aluminum angle. I cut those into six inch lengths and bolted together to form a "Z" bracket and placed six per panel. All hardware was stainless steel. My roof was at least 3/8 plywood so it was easy getting a solid grip. I used lots and lots of self leveling sealant to insure a good seal.

I have one panel mounted way forward, one way rear and the third midship. All are wired in parallel. I have a combiner box on the roof with fuses for each panel and used a 4 gauge downhaul wire to the solar controller.

OK, so how does it work? GREAT. We'd typically see the SoC drop to about 92-94% most nights. Our record lowest SoC is 84%. Thus the 1050 watts nearly always had the batteries back to 100% by 9-10:00 am every day. As a consequence I have never seen what this system do at noon on a clear sunny day and have zero data for that. We'd camp anywhere we wanted, under trees etc and the solar still did it's job. It was fun with the midnight sun, sunset was sometimes about 2:30 am, sunrise maybe 4:00 am and how well the solar did with the setting sun. It continued to produce a power gain over our usage even at sunset on these days. Only time recharge was not 100% before noon was in a deep canyon, under trees with a dusting of snow on the roof. Not exactly a great solar day. On that occasion the batteries reached 100% about 1:30pm.

I did all of the research, analysis, design and install work myself. A little help one day getting those 50 pound panels on the roof and mounted. Total cost for the 12 volt upgrade and solar project was just over $2,000.

So anyhow that was my process to a proven working solar system. Not everyone can repeat what I did. But maybe give a better understanding of one way to get a working system. I'm in the design phase to install solar on our little motor home. It is a bigger challenge in some ways. Yes I still have the 5th wheeler.

The redesigned 12 volt main panel

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Top view of the solar panels, note the heavy brackets.
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Old 05-30-2021, 12:28 PM   #13
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Adding more solar, as much as possible would make a world of difference even in poor condition. We've been in shady/ heavy overcast / rainy conditions and still able to carry loads and give some charge to the LFP batteries. Our daily load consumption is 150-250ah depending on season.
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Old 05-30-2021, 01:01 PM   #14
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RareBear, are you referring to Silfab panels (Canadian manufactured) or Scifab? Silfab gets good reviews for residential panels. I cannot find any reference to Scifab.

Thanks for your detailed response!
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