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Old 10-04-2014, 08:16 AM   #1
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Join Date: Mar 2014
Location: Randolph, VT
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Solar, how much to start

Just started full timing. Interested in boondocking out West (I'm originally from WY) during VT winters and where we can get some peace and quiet to finish up a book. Like neighbors but just need the solitude, no offense intended.
Have installed the composting toilet recommended by the Wynns and love it!!
Now, we need to have some power for the techie stuff and general living. Have lived off grid before for 10 yrs but in stable location...and, frankly forgot most of what we knew and relied upon a small wind turbine and one 60 watt panel quite happily.
Not a lot of money floating around and need some advice as to where to start, if anyone has the time it will be MOST appreciated!!
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Old 10-04-2014, 09:24 AM   #2
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It all depends on YOUR power needs. Know those that get by on two 120 watt panels and those that need more power than the 1200 watts they now have. Panels are down rounder $1 per watt. Average starters are going 400 to 600 watts and a bigger than needed controller so additional panels is EZ. Do it yourself cost under $1000. You will need minimum 400 amp batteries but 800 much better for no sun days.

2004 Clss C 31' Winnebgo
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Old 10-04-2014, 10:19 AM   #3
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As mentioned 400 watts is a good starting point. I started with 130 watts of solar, a 1500 watt MSW inverter and a Honda EU2000i. Running the generator 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening during breakfast and dinner along with the solar all day kept my batteries charged.

We now have 605 watts of solar and 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter and Morningstar PWM 45 amp controller. We have about $2,500 invested, but our first three panels were Kyocera 135 watt at $300 each. Our last two are Windy Nation 100 watt panels at $125 each.

We run our computers and TVs all day and up to about midnight with no problems. We still run the Honda 1 to 2 hours a day. We only have 330 amps of 12 volt batteries. We have all LED lighting.

If I were to start now I would probably go with 290 watt panels and a MPPT controller.

You can get decent systems from Windy Nation or Renogy.

Windy Nation

2003 Winnebago Adventurer 38G F53/ V10 605 watts of Solar
1999 Winnebago Brave 35C F53V10 Handicap Equipped
1999 Jeep Cherokee, 1991 Jeep Wrangler Renegade and 2018 Chevrolet Equinox Diesel
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Old 10-08-2014, 02:11 PM   #4
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if you are going to boondock a lot, i would start with 4 x 250w panels with either tristar 60a mppt or midnite classic 150 mppt controller. then you would need to come up with appropriate number of deep cycle batts. it's not too expensive like a few years ago but worth the investment.
Steven & Polly
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Old 10-08-2014, 03:14 PM   #5
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Here is a write up on my system, hope its of some help.
Attached Files
File Type: pdf VSheetz - Solar Setup for my RV v1.1.pdf (473.7 KB, 221 views)
Vince and Susan
2011 Tiffin Phaeton 40QTH (Cummins ISC/Freightliner)
Flat towing a modified 2005 Jeep (Rubicon Wrangler)
Previously a 2002 Fleetwood Pace Arrow 37A and a 1995 Safari Trek 2830.
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Old 10-10-2014, 09:07 AM   #6
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Location: Western
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Impossible to properly answer your ? until we get some additional info

The list I start with when discussing a possible solar install with customers

A few things to consider before Solar PV equipment purchase / Installation

How is the vehicle being used
o Full time
o Weekend camping
o Boondocking
Winter / Summer
Sun or shade

What is expected from your electrical power system
o Usage and duration

How much interface with the system is expected
o Anything
o Monitoring of system status
o Configuration changes
Switch settings
Computer interface

Is there a backup generator or other power source
o Wattage
o Does it have an auto start feature

What is your daily power requirement
o Amp/hours/day
o Power consumption overview
12Vdc – Battery supplied loads
Parasitic loads
o Refrigerator
o CO2 / Propane detectors
o Stereo / TV / DVD player
o Amount
o Duration of use
o Type
Water pump
o Is there an accumulator tank
o Blower motor
o What is the thermostat offset / differential
o Type – duration of use
Air compressor
o Type
o Wattage
o Type
DVD / Blue Ray
Air compressor
Small Battery chargers
o Cell phone
o Computer

What’s your budget
o Reality check

Where will the equipment be located
o User Interfaces
Control panels
Status displays & alarms
o Batteries
o Solar Panels
o Charge Controller
o Inverter

Solar panels
o Location
Roof - Remote - Portable
o Wattage
Affects array voltage and physical size
o Voltage
Higher than 17Vdc requires a MPPT controller
o Wiring
Series or Parallel
Shade is an issue
Requires a MPPT controller
Requires larger wire
o Physical Size
Shipment costs
o Mounting
Flat mounted - fixed in place on the roof
Flat mount with Tilt capability
Portable / remote located
Enables parking in the shade

Charge controller
o Power rating
Allow 50% additional capability for growth / changes in the future
o Type
Typically less cost
In general not as efficient
Good for small and “simple” installations
Allows much higher input voltage
Easier to install smaller wire from the panel combiner box
Double digit more efficient
Typically offers a sophisticated computer interface
o Connections
From panels
To battery
Voltage sense line
Temperature probe
Remote Control
Computer interface

o The single most critical piece of the system
o Type
Flooded Lead Acid
Needs ventilation
Access to the cells
o Specific gravity
o Water addition
2x or more expensive
No gassing
Mount anywhere
Requires special charger capabilities
o Amp hour rating
o Greater availability of true deep cycle batteries
o Series parallel connections
o All parallel connections

o Charging sources
Engine alternator
Deep cycle batteries require a different charge characteristics from starting batteries
o Single stage / Multi stage
Hard wired charger
Voltage sense line
Winter storage
Trickle charger

o Chassis / Engine battery
How does it get charged
Do you want it charged from the solar system
o Manual / automatic

o Coach / House battery
Is it charged from the alternator
Manual / automatic

o Battery Monitoring system
Simple volt meter
High end unit
Multiple battery bank monitoring
House and chassis battery monitoring capability

o Wattage
o Transfer switch interface
o Remote start capability

o What is it’s intended use
o Wattage – surge capacity
Low – Portable
High – Permanente mount
o Type
Modified sine wave
True sine wave
o High Power Permanente mounted
Integrated multi stage battery charger
Temperature probe
Voltage sense line
Transfer switch
AC wiring
Idle current
Remote control and status

o Wire
o Switches
o Breakers
o Fuses
o Connectors
o Panel hardware
Combiner boxes
Connector type
o Power lugs / terminals
o Hardware
Nuts bolts washers

Warning and alarm systems
o Proactive
Generator start
Low voltage disconnect
High voltage disconnect
o Indicators, displays, alarms
o Location
o Battery metering and monitoring
Both battery banks

Is there an on-board computer system
o Willing to update firmware
o Willing to change configuration files
o Do you want to monitor and log system data

RFI / EMI concerns
o Wifi Interference
o Radio interference
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Old 10-11-2014, 09:32 AM   #7
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Location: Randolph, VT
Posts: 38
Oh, now that I know I am way out of my league and looks like pocketbook...

I do know everything you are asking is necessary but not sure my head is there at this stage.

We are going to have to get by with the barest of minimums as a tick illness pushed finances way off course. Still need to forge ahead but...

Thanks for all the info!!
Nova, Les and Kit n'Kaboodle
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Old 10-13-2014, 12:03 PM   #8
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Start by reading these two books:

$13.49 Solar Electricity Handbook - 2012 Edition: A Simple Practical Guide to Solar Energy - Designing and Installing Photovoltaic Solar Electric Systems

by Michael Boxwell

$11.32 The Complete Book of Boondock RVing: Camping Off the Beaten Path

by Bill Moeller

As you are going to be traveling west there is the option of using one of the companies that do professional RV solar installations that are in Colorado and Arizona. They will also have the type of controllers and panels and other items that are peculiar to an RV installation. Most solar panel equipment sellers have equipment designed for use on buildings and not RV's. Panel sizes will be much larger and controller terminal junctions will be for much small gauge wiring.

The first step in knowing your current usage is to install a Trimetric digital charge metering device so you know exactly how much is going out and can determine accurately which aspects of the RV to upgrade or change to make it more efficient. This is also the time to decide what you really can do without to provide more time off the grid. We use a percolator for coffee instead of a 110v AC powered coffeemaker as we have plenty of propane and it is more efficient than using solar to charge a battery and use the battery to power an inverter to in turn use electricity to heat water.

Type of RV is also important. For maximum boondocking time I would pick a trailer. Trailers have more space for batteries, more roof space for solar, larger holding tanks, more wall insulation to keep the interior cooler during hot weather and require less propane to keep warm in the winter. Add on awnings to minimize solar loading of the walls and you have good boondocking habitation.

Rough rule of thumb is 100 Watts of solar panel for every 100 amp hours of battery capacity. I say rough in that the output of the panel depends on length of the day, height of the sun at that time of the year, your latitude, and whether there is open sky. You also need to have adequate battery capacity that they will not be drawn down by more than 50% which will prolong their life. If you have four 100 amp hour 12 volt batteries that means you have 200 amp hours available for the night.

Best batteries for boondocking are heavy duty deep cycle flooded lead type batteries. AGM are better only in subfreezing weather and do not tolerate partial recharge cycles as well and cost twice as much so are not a good choice. AGM's don't need to be vented and can be laid on their sides but this is usually not a requirement with an RV.

In doing my research I went with Blue Sky for the charge controller and used their IPN remote instead of the Trimetric. The Blue Sky 3024 provided enough capacity for my installation and allowed me to directly connect large gauge wires to the terminals. The majority of charge controllers will require jumpers as their terminals are designed for 12ga wires which are what is used for installations on buildings where the voltages for panel runs are greater than 200 volts DC.

A few people tilt their panels but it is usually not worth the expense and effort. Panels are very efficient in collecting light from an angle and you have to be sure that panels that are closer to the sun do not block adjacent panels when tilted. If you tilt a panel 30 degrees then it will cast a long shadow and restrict the available space for adding panels. With an RV more is gained by using all available space and leaving the panels flat as space is usually at a premium.

You can determine which size panels will be best after you measure all the space on the roof that is available and not going to be shaded by anything up there like an antenna or dish or AC cowl. The only caveat in mixing panels is that they have the same Voc or you can cause problems for the charge controller.

There is a potential advantage to using 34 Voc output panels over the more common 17 Voc ones as the higher voltage means less current lost for a given gauge of wire. You want the charge controller to be located as close as possible to the battery bank as possible (as it is going to be sending 14.5 volts to the batteries) and that means most of the wire run is from the rooftop panels to the controller. You can also wire panels in series to increase the voltage but doing so can also impact output a great deal more if there is any shading of the panels, especially one that is closer to the controller.

If you elect to do the installation yourself be sure to put in disconnects (as in a switched circuit breaker) between the combiner box for the panels and the charge controller as well as between the controller and the battery bank. The panels are "live" even after the sun goes down and some controller is the inputs are switched can be destroyed in a second and this is not covered by the warranty.

A good source for cabling and connectors and the like is For RV solar kits is a good source and they have a lot of experience. Their kits may seem expensive but are actually a good deal when you can order exactly the amount of wire and connectors that are needed instead of having to buy a 100' or longer spool of wire and a package of 50 connectors when you only need 4 and so forth.
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Old 10-22-2014, 08:52 AM   #9
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Here is some reading for free.

RV Electrical
06 Hurricane 34FT WH W20 Chassis 8.1L 132K, Steersafe, Koni Shocks, DIY Trac Bar, Tri-Metric 2025RV Battery Monitor, 4-6V Batteries, Scan Gauge 2, Crossfires, 735W Solar Morningstar MPPT-60, WG T4 In-Motion Sat, XM Radio, 07 Chevy Malibu Maxx Toad, Falcon 2, Brake Buddy, Escapee
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Old 10-22-2014, 09:44 AM   #10
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Vsheetz's advice is excellent but his layout may be more extensive than you want at this time.

You noted that you did well with a small wind turbine and a 60 W panel. Panels are way down in price these days at a cost of around $1.00 a watt. If you want to go with the bare essentials in solar living, you should check Handybob's blog. He wants things done as inexpensively and simply as possible. I would start there.

Reed and Elaine
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Old 10-22-2014, 01:12 PM   #11
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just so you know, the prices of decent new panels can be around 70 cents/w. if you search around, you will get it. recommend buying new units only; output 12/24/36/48v. mono or poly does not matter much. you might use wider units if your space is sufficient. the thing costly is mppt controller (60a or higher).
Steven & Polly
2000 Country Coach Intrigue 40' ISC 350
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Old 10-22-2014, 05:31 PM   #12
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Another thing to consider is not using the "old school" panels but rather flexible panels.

We used to have a single 150W panel that could tilt and one day we found that we must have lost the panel driving on some horrible road in high winds. We replaced the panel with 2 100W panels (flexible) that are glued (not drilled) to the roof.

Before we got up to 7.5A when the panel was perfectly adjusted for sun - otherwise tops of 5A. Now we get about 11A without adjusting the panel.

However the panels are about $2/watt - for me well worth it.

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