Solar prices & quality - Fiberglass RV


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Old 12-07-2013, 12:04 PM   #1
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Solar prices & quality

THIS IS A LINK TO A SOLAR I AM LOOKING AT .SOLAR PRICES & QUALITY http://www.ebay.com/...984.m1423.l2649 ANY AND ALL OPINIONS WELCOME THANKS
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Old 12-07-2013, 01:25 PM   #2
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Quality??? vs prices

Quality is a subjective term like good, better, worse, etc., etc.
A couple of things I would look for before purchasing, one the life of the solar panel, usually listed as percentage of output at x years. Mine said at 20 year, at least 80% of rated output. That's just one item that is often overlooked.

For purposes of use with our trailers, there's size and weight vs output. HF 45 Watt is 3 15 Watt panels making it large and cumbersome to deal with.

Again what is important to you. I spent about 1.5 years studying specifications before purchasing as a result I'm very happy with my choice. For me I figured I needed something in 60 Watt to 80 Watt range. I wanted something that I could manage to haul around easily and could use it charge any one of three batteries. (the trailer battery, the ham radio battery, or the tow battery if needed). As with many things I don't think there's a real correlation between price and quality except in the really low price area, then I wouldn't trust it.

When think of price think of how long you expect to keep the system and use it, then how much per usage.

I hope you find what suits you.
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Old 12-07-2013, 01:40 PM   #3
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That seems like a nice kit, are you going to install on LilSnoozy or keep it free standing?
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Old 12-07-2013, 01:51 PM   #4
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leaning to install on LilSnoozy ?
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Old 12-07-2013, 04:22 PM   #5
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The system looks OK, but I think you might want to consider other options, too.

We've had solar on our Scamp 5er for years, and really appreciate being able to boondock up in most places without having to worry (much) about our battery levels. We've run into two problems over the years, one when we were in Yellowstone in September and had just one 50w solar panel, which is why we now have two, and when our battery was starting to fail and needed replacement. For us, 100w of solar seems to really fit the bill.

Now we're rebuilding a smaller trailer, and I've fit it with a polycrystalline panel that's very similar to the one you're looking at, and you might consider some of the things we did as we selected and installed (and are still installing) the system.

First, you need to know and understand the various types of economically available solar panels and what their pluses and minuses are. Briefly, they are:

* Monocrystalline Panels: These are the long-running champions in affordable solar. Per-watt produced they are smaller and lighter than polycrystalline (savings of about 10%) and amporphous (45%) technologies, but they do have drawbacks. First, they are slightly more expensive than the next-best technology (around $0.25 to $0.50 more per watt), have the narrowest optimum angle of sunlight band (+/- 20 to 25 degrees incident angle of sunlight maintains 80% or better of their peak output), and don't produce well in shady locations.

Nevertheless, our Scamp uses monocrystalline panels, and we are really very happy with them. They've been real champs.

* Polycrystalline panels: Poly panels were the cheaper, lower-performing twin to Mono panels. Until about ten years ago they had the same incident-angle performance as mono panels, but produced 20% less power per square foot and unit of weight. About ten years ago a new production technology (Q-Cells) came out, boosting that performance to within 10% of Mono panel technology and expanding the peak production incident angle by around 5 degrees. They also perform slightly better in high temperature conditions than mono, though you have to camp in the summer dessert to see that advantage. Their disadvantages are that they are still larger and weigh more per watt than Mono panels, and that can be a real killer for smaller roofs and lower weight limit trailers.

We selected a polycrystalline panel similar to the one you're looking at for our Surfside trailer project.

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(Solar Cell, Solar Panel, Solar PV, Solar Products, Charge Controllers, Solar Trackers).

* Amorphous Silicon: The cheapest to produce of the economically available solar technologies, these also have the highest weight and footprint per Watt, about double, of the other two panel types. They used to be 1/3 the cost of the other two technologies, but these days they're only slightly cheaper, and I don't think they're a very practical alternative. Nevertheless, they do have advantages over the other two. First, they'll produce power over a much wider range of incident angles of the sun, so they actually will produce at least some power in shady locations. Second, they have the widest operating temperature range. If you're going to set up camp in Death Valley during the summer, these are your boys. They're frequently available at Harbor Freight for about $100, with a coupon.

=====

Next, you need a mounting system. The important things to think about are, first, you need a solution that can handle freeway speeds without tearing lose from the fiberglass roof of your trailer. Second, it's best to allow air to circulate under your panels so they can cool . . . which makes that tearing lose thing a whole lot more likely.

The little angles that come with the kit you linked to are probably sufficient; just be sure to use big fender washers to secure the bolt inside your trailer to spread the stress. I used a different, home-made mount and reinforced the fiberglass inside the trailer with an extra layer of mat. If I hadn't done the reinforcing, I'd probably use a 2" diameter fender washer for my front two mounting points where wind shear stress is highest.

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You need a water-tight way to get the wires from your panel from the outside of your trailer to the inside. I fiberglassed a home-made "junction" box that matches the solar panel mounts I made and raises the through-way holes for the wires above the trailer roof, and packed them with butyl tape before tightening the matching cap down.

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=====

Your solar charge controller is an important part of your system. The one in the kit you linked to is a $20 (on eBay) "pulse wave modulation" (PWM) controller and not a bad choice, but it'll rob you of 20-30 watts of your panel's output. In days past, I would have said that's a a good tradeoff and that it's cheaper to get a second solar panel than it is to get an upgraded Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) controller, which used to cost a boatload. More recently less expensive (and sometimes fraudulent) MPPT controllers have made an appearance, bringing their cost more in-line with their benefit, but you have to be careful. There have been lots of reports of vendors (most of the eBay offerings fit this description) are putting "MPPT" labels on their PWM controllers and hoping you don't know the difference, then requiring you to pay return shipping to China (which costs more than the product) to get your money back if you do, so buyer beware!

I bought mine from a US vendor and disassembled it to make sure it has the component rerquired (a large-ish iron-core coiled transformer) to perform the MPPT function.

MPPT Tracer1210RN Solar Charge Controller Regulator 12/24V INPUT 10A - Amazon.com

=====

Lastly, let's talk other components of your power system, namely your battery and lights. You want a good battery; I prefer Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) batteries because they perform well in just about any environment, last longer, have the lowest charging loss of all the economically viable battery alternatives, and are maintainance-free. (Better, but more expensive, are nickel metal hydride and lithium batteries . . . at 5-15 times as much coin.) To keep your battery -- AGM or traditional "flooded" type -- in good shape and get it to last longer I'd suggest getting a BatteryMinder charger, a trickle-charger that prevents battery-killing sulfation from occurring.

And no discussion of solar is complete without pointing out that getting a solar panel system is really only half of the successful boondocking/off-the-grid strategy. The other half is cutting your energy consumption down to the amount of power your panels produce. You may already have done this, but the fastest and most economical way to cut your power consumption is to install LED lights. Our Scamp is LED lit, and when all its lights are turned on (something that only rarely happens), all the LEDs combined use less energy than just two traditional incandescent bulbs, and we do not suffer for it.

Another thing you can do is change to cut your electric consumption is how you stay warm. You can turn the thermostat down by using more sweaters and a thicker sleeping bag or or you can change to a heat source that doesn't have an electric fan, like a Wave 3 catalytic heater or Portable Buddy that don't use electricity at all.

Our Scamp has both the Scamp-original Suburban furnace and a Wave-3 heater. The Surfside has an Atwood Everest heater that uses a third less electricity compared to the Suburban and has room for a Wave-3 if we decide we still want that option.

(My wife, Lynne -- Hi Sweetie! -- probably just learned about that "has room for a Wave-3" thing just now. She's not a fan because the Wave-3 can deplete the oxygen in your trailer and kill you if you don't have enough ventilation. The Portable Buddy system does not have that problem, but those are topics for a whole different thread.)

Hope this helps.
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Old 12-07-2013, 04:59 PM   #6
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Thanks, Peterh; should be a stickie for solar.
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Old 12-07-2013, 09:01 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BAMA & Pachyderm Posse View Post
leaning to install on LilSnoozy ?
Bama, I am looking to these peel and stick on flexible solar panels for my future Lil Snoozy. Check it out here
Amazon.com: Unisolar 128 Watt Flexible Solar Panel PV Laminate - Simple & Easy Installation - Peel & Stick: Patio, Lawn & Garden

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Old 12-07-2013, 10:02 PM   #8
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That flexible solar panel is 18 feet long . . .
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Old 12-07-2013, 10:19 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by peterh View Post
That flexible solar panel is 18 feet long . . .
True and at 15.5" wide, but that link was only for a look-see at possible alternatives. One can purchase this type of panel at shorter lengths (9.3') and have several of them mounted on that smooth Lil Snoozy roof. This would add to the overall price, but still cheeper than a generator.
Here is another example
Amazon.com: Uni-Solar PVL-68 PowerBond PVL 68 Watt 12 Volt 112-Inch x 15.5-Inch Flexible Solar Panel: Patio, Lawn & Garden
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Old 12-07-2013, 11:29 PM   #10
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I was inclined to mount a Unisolar on my trailer roof, but there were too many protrusions nearby to cast shadows. A Snoozy roof is an ideal platform for those stick-on types, though.

I agree with PeterH that a MPPT controller will give you an edge over PWM. If I were camping as much as you, Bama, I'd spring the extra money for a good one (maybe with a nice digital info readout). As it is, for 3 weeks per year of use, I'm ok with my simple Morningstar SG4 (pwm) and W Solar 75W panel, both from Solarblvd, for about $125. I left it portable so I can move it around to catch the sun.

The thought of drilling holes in a trailer roof gives me the shivers. Silly of me, perhaps, but...
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Old 12-08-2013, 05:02 AM   #11
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Peter,
Great write-up. I will only add a word about wiring. IMO, the 12 awg wire in this kit is probably ok with a MPPT controller, but too small for use with a PWM controller. I'd use a minimum of 10 AWG from the panels to the controller and probably 8 - 6 AWG from the controller to the battery, and make the controller to battery run as short as possible.
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Old 12-08-2013, 09:07 AM   #12
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This is one of the best and informative threads I have ever read . I agree this should be in part a sticky . Thanks all and keep it coming .
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Old 12-11-2013, 02:47 PM   #13
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Great post Peter, very informative.
I only have two things to add. For our solar install, which is permanently mounted on the roof of our Trillium, I used 4 aluminum L brackets about 6 inches long that are screwed into the solar panel frame on one side, and secured to the roof of the trailer with 3M VHB double sided tape on the other. This allows for fitting to the contours of the trailer roof. It has been on the trailer for 3 summers now and is very secure. No holes through the roof were needed. Our solar panels are surplus marine buoy panels and have a fairly heavy aluminum frame all the way around. I expect they are heavier than many more modern panels.

As for the solar controller, I mounted ours into the battery box along with the battery. The controller is sealed and suitable for outdoors. The wiring is attached with “No More Nails” construction adhesive tape along the roof and front of the trailer to the battery box. That way we didn’t have to make any holes in the trailer, since the sole function of our solar panel is to charge the battery. We can still monitor the battery state from inside the trailer with a wall-mounted voltmeter connected to the main battery wiring. Simple and has worked very well.

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Old 12-11-2013, 04:02 PM   #14
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Ron: I'm curious why you think 12g is sufficient for an MPPT controller, but not PWM. PWM controllers don't reduce the voltage coming from the panel, just momentarily interrupt it to create an average output of 14.5 to 13.6 volts that's sent on to the battery. The instantaneous maximum current from a 17v, 100w panel at full load is still 5.9A. 12g wire is more than ample for that kind of amperage and produces a negligible (3%) voltage drop over 10 feet whether you're using a PWM or MMPT controller.

Rick: I've just never been able bring myself to trust VHB double-stick tape that much. I know people swear by it. I've read the specs. It just feels . . . wrong to me.

For my current project I've fiberglassed teardrop-shaped standoffs that were sculpted from wood using a belt sander so they'd match the contour of our Surfside's roof and base of the solar panel, covered in fiberflass, then fiberglassed to the roof. From there I passed a carriage bolt through the mounting holes in the solar panel, then a rubber washer, through the standoff and the trailer shell, then a fender washer and nut. I figure this will be quite water-tight because water really doesn't like running up-hill, let alone past a tightly clamped rubber washer, and the teardrop-shape should re-direct water around the mount when we're towing.

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