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Old 01-01-2020, 02:01 PM   #1
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Massively confused about solar

Newby question: I hope to be boondocking all the time. I've read conflicting information - does solar only top off your existing batteries or is it a primary source of power for appliances, lighting, etc.? How realistic is it to boondock only on solar?
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Old 01-01-2020, 02:44 PM   #2
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We boondocked successfully on public lands only with 300w of solar. The key for us is that we're not power hogs. We used it for basics, only. We had a propane catalytic heater so no furnace power use. We didn't use electric appliances such as coffee pot or toaster. We used the propane stove for these. We also didn't watch t.v. We also used it in the West where the sun shines a lot.

So your answer is ..... depends.
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Old 01-01-2020, 03:14 PM   #3
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Yup it depends on your power usage and how much solar you have installed, we have 400W which is in the process of installation. That being said we boondocked w/o solar last summer but not for long periods with 2X6V batteries. We are doubling that to two banks of 6V and the 400W of solar. Yes your battery bank size matters too.


We hauled a generator around last summer but only used it once when it was a hot afternoon and we wanted to run the a/c for a few hours.


We will have 1500W inverter. You need to read up on solar since there are a number of factors that go into buying gear and installing it.



I have seen some people claim to have massive solar banks, 1400W in one case.
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Old 01-01-2020, 03:43 PM   #4
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Your solar array will provide power to charge the batteries or run appliances when there is daylight. If your appliances draw more power than the solar puts out then your batteries will run down but it will happen slower than if you had no solar. If the appliances draw less than the panel put out then they will run and the batteries will charge but slower than if the appliances were off.
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Old 01-01-2020, 06:47 PM   #5
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The short version is ... EVERYTHING runs off of the batteries. The solar panels replace the power you have used, sometimes faster than you are using it, sometimes slower.

It is possible during cloudy days to run out of battery power which is why if you are boondocking, you should have a generator.
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Old 01-01-2020, 10:03 PM   #6
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The answer depends in part on where you intend to camp and for how long. If you are in the Southwest all the time, a good solar array can handle almost all of your needs, almost all the time.

If you will be in the northern tier of the US, especially in the east, you will have much less success in relying on solar.

We do a lot of boondocking and dry camping, and we get by with a 120 watt portable panel. We are minimalists, though. And our trailer is tiny -- no room for roof panels. And we camp in the sunny West, most of the time.

My advice would be to get as much solar as you can afford. And make sure you have a decent generator for cloudy spells.
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Old 01-02-2020, 03:09 AM   #7
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Solar is primarily just another battery charger. Your lights, appliances, inverter, etc. still operate from the batteries.

More solar and more battery capacity can reduce or largely replace generator run time. But unlikely to completely negate the need for a generator - because of cloudy days, shading, usage in excess of what solar replaces, etc.
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Old 01-02-2020, 04:37 AM   #8
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Solar is just another way to charge batteries. Our coach has three different charging methods:

1) Charge from engine while driving,
2) Charge from 120v battery charger while plugged in or on generator, and
3) Solar charge converter.

They all do the same thing - put juice back into our battery bank, which we use to power things inside the coach (including the inverter). Pull out more than your charging system can replace and your batteries go dead.

Our solar is 540 watts of ground-deployed portable panels. Since we use them in the north mainly, they allow us to position them more precisely through the day. We can usually charge at rates up to 30 amps for a good chunk of the day, even up here, if we reposition a few times during the day.
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Old 01-02-2020, 06:21 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wisdmhilites View Post
I've read conflicting information - does solar only top off your existing batteries or is it a primary source of power for appliances, lighting, etc.? How realistic is it to boondock only on solar?
The reason you see conflicting information is that it depends on how much solar (and battery) you have and what it is being used for. If you use propane for heating, cooling, and cooking then there is a lot less left over for solar to cover. If everything is running on electricity then you'll need a lot more solar (and a bigger battery).

What you should really do is figure out how much electricity you will use per day and then plan your solar (and/or other power) systems to cover that need. It could be anywhere from 2 kWh to 30 kWh per day depending on your RV and how you use it... and that's the difference between just needing a single solar panel and requiring a custom setup with nearly the entire rig covered in high efficiency panels.
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Old 01-02-2020, 08:39 AM   #10
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Load calculator

What you should really do is figure out how much electricity you will use per day and then plan your solar (and/or other power) systems to cover that need. It could be anywhere from 2 kWh to 30 kWh per day depending on your RV and how you use it... and that's the difference between just needing a single solar panel and requiring a custom setup with nearly the entire rig covered in high efficiency panels.

Very true. To the O.P: you should do a load assesment of your needs. Here's one site that will walk you through it=
https://gpelectric.com/calculator/

Be as honest and as accurate as you can to get a system designed for your needs. In addition, you will need a generator on some occasions...how big will also depend on needs. There's a guy mentioned here named Eddie who installs rv solar for a living- he's a real craftsman and could probably help you along:

[Mod Edit]
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Old 01-02-2020, 10:09 AM   #11
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Solar is my main source of power. Boondock mostly. I never tilt my panels and don't worry about which way I park. I get completely charged on a cloudy day. Overnight I'm about 140 amps down. I started with 2 - 75watt panels. When I traded rv, I kept the panels, left the wiring, panel brackets, and the solar controller and advertised Solar ready, all you need is panels. Did that twice.


Here are some solar links:
http://www.jackdanmayer.com/rv_electrical_and_solar.htm
https://handybobsolar.wordpress.com/
http://www.marxrv.com/12volt/12volt.htm
http://solarpanelsvenue.com/mixing-solar-panels/
http://www.solarseller.com/
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Old 01-02-2020, 10:15 AM   #12
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The cost of solar has really come down. When I did our solar about 10 years ago I got a really good deal by picking up my panels at a warehouse. 135 watt panels for $330 ea. They are 12 volt panels and a good Morningstar PW M controller. I added two 100 watt 12 volt panels for 605 watts. This is sufficient for us in Arizona in the winter. We run TVs many hours every day and our computers are on all the time. We runn a generator 1 hr in the morning and evening to prepare meals.

High voltage panels and MPPT controllers are quite inexpensive now. Several palaces in Arizona are selling large panels for around $100 ea.

327 Sun Power Panel $100

New ones can be bought for about $190. Good MPPT controllers can be bought for $149.

You would need about another $100 for cables and mounting hardware.
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Old 01-02-2020, 11:00 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wisdmhilites View Post
Newby question: I hope to be boondocking all the time. I've read conflicting information - does solar only top off your existing batteries or is it a primary source of power for appliances, lighting, etc.? How realistic is it to boondock only on solar?
You've already heard: it all depends. And it does.

While the calculators do help, the best way do determine if it's feasible(almost always, yes) and how much you need is to get a battery monitor and ascertain exactly what your needs/wants are.

While not absolutely mandatory in a solar system They are extremely helpful. They measure the amount of current that leaves or enters the battery(ies) on a cumulative and exact moment in time basis.

With the info derived from the monitor you can exactly see what you are using and how different ways of doing things affect the amount of electric used.

Out west, I can boondock perpetually on solar, water tanks being the limiting factor, about two weeks. My Amp Hour usage averages only 20-25 per day normally, quite low. 150 watts of portable panels handles everything. My battery(100 AH) is good for 2-3 nights without any solar, depending on fan and furnace usage. If it drops to around freezing and the furnace runs a lot, only one overnight with no solar.

We use LP for fridge. We have changed to pour over coffee, heating the water on the cook top. The LP water heater is shut off except for showers. When it's time to shower we heat the water to shower temp, about 100. Washing dishes, etc, the water gets heate in a pot on the cook top. Aside from the electric draw savings(it all adds up) this also helps to conserve water as the water doesn't have to be adjusted to get the right temp, just turn on the hot faucet and let it fly. We carry 35 gallons of water, every gallon saved is quite helpful.

I like the portable panels. I can park in shade and still get sun and move and re-angle as required, if needed. That said roof top panels with an air space under them do put your RV "in the shade", somewhat.

It's been mentioned before, think of the solar system as simply another battery charger, you just have to figure out how much charging you will need to fill the batteries. This is where that battery monitor is essential and makes this whole process a lot easier, both in design and usage.

Have fun.

BTW, I'm all in for less than $500 including a temperature compensating controller(nice feature to help the batteries last longer).

BTW, This system is based on using lead acid batteries.
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Old 01-02-2020, 01:30 PM   #14
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Quote:
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Y

Out west, I can boondock perpetually on solar, water tanks being the limiting factor, about two weeks. My Amp Hour usage averages only 20-25 per day normally, quite low. 150 watts of portable panels handles everything. My battery(100 AH) is good for 2-3 nights without any solar, depending on fan and furnace usage. If it drops to around freezing and the furnace runs a lot, only one overnight with no solar.

We use LP for fridge. We have changed to pour over coffee, heating the water on the cook top. The LP water heater is shut off except for showers. When it's time to shower we heat the water to shower temp, about 100. Washing dishes, etc, the water gets heate in a pot on the cook top. Aside from the electric draw savings(it all adds up) this also helps to conserve water as the water doesn't have to be adjusted to get the right temp, just turn on the hot faucet and let it fly. We carry 35 gallons of water, every gallon saved is quite helpful.
This is how we used our 300w of solar without needing a generator - even on cloudy days. Ours were on the roof and we didn't tilt them although we made them to do so. We found in the West we got plenty of sun.

We even spent a week in Glacier Nat'l Park's Apgar campground in the shade of trees and rained all week. We got enough solar just by the minimal light we had to make it through the week.

With minimum panels you need to conserve your use. It comes natural to us and we don't feel deprived by what we have to do. We've learned to live comfortably with minimal electric.
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