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Travel trailer solar panel install

Discussion in 'Tow Rigs, Trailers and other things with Wheels' started by KXCam22, Apr 30, 2017.

  1. KXCam22

    KXCam22 Jet Boat Junkie

    Messages:
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    Kamloops BC
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    +654 / 15
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    I am about to install 540w of solar on my 23ft travel trailer. My install will be one that anyone can do for lowest cost. Most professional installed systems are poor. I can post the details if anyone is interested. I built a 10kw system in nepal a few years ago, biggest in the country (at the time) . Cam.
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2017
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  2. swatski

    swatski Jetboaters Captain

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  3. Jgorm

    Jgorm Active Member

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    I'm guessing you mean 580w, not kW!
    I have a 20w, 100w, and a 165w on my 24' rv. I can run indefinitely even with 2-3hr of heater use and be at 100% by sundown (usually by 2pm). I run 2 12v Trojan batteries with combined 235ah.
     
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  4. swatski

    swatski Jetboaters Captain

    Messages:
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    I feel like we are so behind here, fly over Germany - EVERY house has solar roof...

    --
     
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  5. zipper

    zipper Jet Boat Addict

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    I agree, 580kw is a really big system. I have a small 24v 900w PV array and a 1kw wind generator I installed 20 years ago. A 4kw true sine wave inverter to power AC loads. And lived for 9 years off the grid. Ran power to the house 11 years ago and sell any extra back to the grid.


    edit: OP originally said 580kw and was changed. A 580w array is a great system for an RV.
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2017
  6. KXCam22

    KXCam22 Jet Boat Junkie

    Messages:
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    Location:
    Kamloops BC
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    +654 / 15
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    Yamaha
    Year:
    2008
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    I was in Japan 6 months ago. About 25% of the houses have solar. It all depends on govt incentives. In Japan, after Fukashima, they shut down all but 1 nuke plants and then the country ran out of power. Hence the incentives to quickly solar as much as possible. When were there they had restarted a couple of plant so there were no brownouts. Its nice that the price of solar panels had come down to about $1 a watt. Cam.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  7. KXCam22

    KXCam22 Jet Boat Junkie

    Messages:
    935
    Location:
    Kamloops BC
    Ratings:
    +654 / 15
    Boat Make:
    Yamaha
    Year:
    2008
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    AR
    Boat Length:
    23
    Solar Install. My goal is put this in as a very cost effective system. Right now the large solar panel are about $1/watt but the smaller one can be double that. I opted to use the largest panels I could get that still fit on my trailer roof. The difficulty with the large panels, is that they are large and can be very hard to fit between the various vents and A/C that populate an RV roof.
    Background:
    Solar isn't magic. Its a simple rule of, "closer to the sun you are" the more power you get. Up here in North Cannuckville the solar inclination value is .6, roughly 60% output is all I will get. Closest to the equator is the best. Shade is evil and a small bit of shade kills the panel output completely.

    System:
    An RV solar system consists of solar panels, an charge controller (read battery charger), a battery to store the energy, and the cabling to connect them with a couple of circuit breakers. You can get fancier and add a cool battery monitor. Of course I am. If you want to get extra from your system you can install a large inverter which turns the 12VDC into 120Vac for using common houshold items that plug in. The caveat here is that the AC power used at 120V uses 10X the electrical current from the 12V system. That power has to come from somewhere. For example a 1200W kitchen toaster uses about 10A at 120VAC. This turns into 100A at 12VDC. It takes some large wire to carry the 100A and a hefty set of batteries. I plan to use small 400w plug in type inverters for my tv etc.

    The goals were:
    1. Maximize solar panel wattage to accommodate less-than-optimum solar conditions. By over panelling I will not have to tilt them and will get as much energy as possible. I expect 50% output most times.
    2. Low coast. I am cheap and should end up under $1k installed.
    3. Optimum battery charging. My OEM onboard battery charger is 20' from my batteries and uses tiny #10 wire. I get a measured 2.5V voltage drop from charger to batteries, so when the charger puts out 14.5 V the batteries are only seeing 12V. That is not enough to reasonably charge the batteries. Uncharged batteries do not live a long life. This is a very common issue in all RVs as they use a cheap charger and small wire, to save cost. Check yours.
    4. Zero maintenance.

    Design rules of Thumb:
    1. Voltage drop is the enemy. The problem with working at lower voltages is that the inherent resistance of the wire has more effect. Unfortunately the only cure is larger wire and shorter runs. The maximum voltage drop you should design for is about 1%. I am designing for 0.5% since I an an electrical weenie. I am using #2 welding cable to connect my solar panels to the solar controller. The smallest i could use is #6.
    2. Solar charger must be close to the batteries. It can be further away, but then you have to spend $$ on larger cables. Mine will be about 6ft using #2/0 welding cable from the controller to the batteries.
    3. Batteries. You need some decent battery capacity and the 6V golf cart battery is the best cost choice for most RVers. A pair of 6V batteries in series gives about 225 amp hours of capacity. Of course you can't use it all since going below 50% will damage the batteries. The beauty of a solar system is that it will recharge my battery bank in a few hours. I am using 2ea 6v batteries. 4 would be better but i will try 2 for a season.


    Solar Panels:
    I went with the Canadian Solar 270W units. These have a 31V output and 8.75A. They are big measure 39" x 65". Cheap and stocked in my home town. The downside of using the larger panels is that they are frame supported around the perimeter. The large expanse of glass flexes a fair bit in the center, and to survive the bumps of the road and the piles of snow accumulating in the winter, they needed some additional support. I built an aluminum frame to support the perimeter and came up with a custom torsion bar arrangement in the center to support the center of the solar panel glass. I haven't seen this done before but I always like to break new ground. This will be two panels, wired in parallel, so that if one panel is shaded the other may give some output. If wired in series, shading one panel kills the whole string.

    Controllers:
    There are 2 kinds of controllers, PWM and MPPT. I chose the MPPT for a particular reason, although they are more expensive. MPPT work on the basis of power. On a good day, 30V and 9A output yields 270W. The controller converts this to 15V and 18A, same 270W. The PWM controller works on current. The 30V and 9A (same 270W) gets converted to 15V and 9A, it can't produce more amps than it gets. So we are at 135W and have lost 50% of our potential battery charging. This is a simplistic example but you get the idea. Also, the higher the panel voltage, the smaller the wire needs to be. For example, a 10KW system I built for Nepal used 900V solar panel arrays.

    Batteries need about 15V to be able to charge properly, so the controller needs more than 15V at the supply. Typical RV panels are 12V rated but actually have an OC voltage of about 17V. This gives a 2V headroom for battery charging under bad sun conditions. The panels I am using are about 31V, so I have 16V headroom to accommodate for bad sun conditions. I like my chances better. If I lived in Florida the choice of controller may not be as important. Cam. SOlar Panel Frames w center.jpg Solar Panel Center Support 2.jpg Solar roof Brackets side view.jpg
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2017
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  8. KXCam22

    KXCam22 Jet Boat Junkie

    Messages:
    935
    Location:
    Kamloops BC
    Ratings:
    +654 / 15
    Boat Make:
    Yamaha
    Year:
    2008
    Boat Model:
    AR
    Boat Length:
    23
    I installed the panels last weekend. Was easy and didn't take long. This weekend I plan to connect them to the controller and possibly get the battery wiring done, depending on rain. They fit better than expected. I plan to build a small wind foil for the leading edge to streamline them and keep road wind from underneath. They have a decent slope so rain will drain off. My roof wiring will all be inside PVC conduit (painted white) to make it pretty. So far everything has gone exactly according to plan. Cam.


    panels on RV.jpg panels prepped for mounting.jpg
     
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  9. Speedling

    Speedling Jetboaters Captain

    Messages:
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    Cedar Lake, IN
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    Nice! And here i thought i was fancy maintaining my battery through the winter with a 15 watt solar charger!

    Seriously though, ad i don't know much about these systems, would you recommend any paticular system for average guys?
    I need a new battery actually right now and thought about installing a small setup. Like i said i have a little trickle charger type of setup but something a little more substantial with maybe double the battery would be nice. My fridge can run off battery as well as the water and since we stop at rest stops etc and kids can use the bathroom and then we make lunch etc. The truck charges the camper when it's running but as soon as we are stopped for an hour or two those batteries are taxed pretty hard.
    I dunno, we don't usually go off grid so it wouldn't need to be very big. But i guess we never had the option either.
     
  10. KXCam22

    KXCam22 Jet Boat Junkie

    Messages:
    935
    Location:
    Kamloops BC
    Ratings:
    +654 / 15
    Boat Make:
    Yamaha
    Year:
    2008
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    AR
    Boat Length:
    23
    I finished it last weekend, just havent got around to posting pics. The 300w costco systems arent bad but a touch pricey. Simpler to get a pair of 150w kyocera or sharp panels and a cheap controller. Where i live there is almost no where to go that has power. I get 16a charging but more importantly my batteries get the voltage they need 14.8v to charge fully. My on board charger wont get past 13.7v due to losses. A better charger is the same price of the 2 solar panel, and still only works in my driveway. Cam.

    How is the recup going?
     
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  11. Speedling

    Speedling Jetboaters Captain

    Messages:
    3,193
    Location:
    Cedar Lake, IN
    Ratings:
    +2,472 / 15
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    Yamaha
    Year:
    2008
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    SS
    Boat Length:
    21
    I should update on my hospital thread eh? Doing good. They won't let me go to work yet but i am really getting antsy! I will update more on my main thread later feeding an army of little people.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  12. KXCam22

    KXCam22 Jet Boat Junkie

    Messages:
    935
    Location:
    Kamloops BC
    Ratings:
    +654 / 15
    Boat Make:
    Yamaha
    Year:
    2008
    Boat Model:
    AR
    Boat Length:
    23
    I know the antsy feeling. I have had 3 hip replacements so lots of sitting around an lots of rehab. They last me a year then come loose. #3 is half loose and I am a walking semi-cripple. Not the glossy brochure results but I hope you get them. Cam
     
  13. Speedling

    Speedling Jetboaters Captain

    Messages:
    3,193
    Location:
    Cedar Lake, IN
    Ratings:
    +2,472 / 15
    Boat Make:
    Yamaha
    Year:
    2008
    Boat Model:
    SS
    Boat Length:
    21
    Hmmm, how big of battery and charger would i need is the question now i would love to stop in the evening somewhere and crash. That would mean possibly running the microwave and it means the fridge still needs to kick on occasionally. The fridge can also run on propane.
    I don't expect 12v system to run the a/c on my camper setup but at night who cares.
    I don't know much about the batteries i would need for this either.
    Got a few pictures of that setup?
    Would it need an isolator from the truck battery? I am pretty sure when the truck is running it charges the battery.
    Shoot, i wonder if my microwave even runs on 12 volt?
    If i stop somewhere i can disconnect the truck.manually but i wonder about something automatic?

    Also, does your controller basically shut off automatically? I know the little coleman one i use for boat battery and lawnmower battery tending in winter has some circuit for overcharging and/or reverse polarity.
     
  14. Speedling

    Speedling Jetboaters Captain

    Messages:
    3,193
    Location:
    Cedar Lake, IN
    Ratings:
    +2,472 / 15
    Boat Make:
    Yamaha
    Year:
    2008
    Boat Model:
    SS
    Boat Length:
    21
  15. KXCam22

    KXCam22 Jet Boat Junkie

    Messages:
    935
    Location:
    Kamloops BC
    Ratings:
    +654 / 15
    Boat Make:
    Yamaha
    Year:
    2008
    Boat Model:
    AR
    Boat Length:
    23
    The truck does not supply as much charging as you would expect. At 12v, voltage drop is the enemy. Your truck battery is right beside the alternator but the trailer batteries are 25ft away at the end of a not big enough wire. 14.5v is the magic charging number. My tundra runs at 13.5v max - almost useless, so it could only get trailer batteries to about 60%. The discharge of a battery is not linear and you can only really use down to 60% and the batteries start to get damaged. I would suggest 200w as a happy medium. Also look at the renogy systems on amazon. Better deal and equipment than the Coleman. Check the specs on the controller to make sure it is programmable for battery types. Sitting in my driveway is the first time my batteries have been fully charged ever. If you have roof room 2 100w panels in parallel is a good setup. Any shade kills the whole panel output. I spent $975 total on my system but had the weld cable already. Cam.
     
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