Harbor Freight Solar Panel - Fiberglass RV


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Old 06-27-2016, 07:43 PM   #1
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Harbor Freight Solar Panel

I've read the solar tutorial by Jim Dunmyer and it was great - but maybe a bit over my head. (I am, after all, one of the members who attempted to purchase the kit on eBay for $32.00.)

Harbor Freight has a kit now on sale for $129.99. Its the 45 watt solar panel 10 piece kit by Thunderbolt Solar. This is what I want: something that will attach directly to the battery to be set up on the ground when I'm parked. I called and the fellow I talked to at Harbor Freight said it had everything I would need.

Jim's article did talk about a diode he added - I think to prevent back drain on the battery at night and several other nifty (but more expensive) add ons for testing etc.

I need to power 2 interior reading lights, the refrigerator uses battery to recognize the power source (propane or electric - it doesn't use battery beyond that to run). I have a battery charge outlet for charging the phone and computer. I have a fan that will run on that outlet too, but I'm thinking that would be asking too much. That's it.

Here is my question. As a solar-beginner, can I attach the basic Harbor Freight kit to my existing battery without other expensive add-ons or will that create problems? I'm doing okay without the panel, but it has limited my off shore power experiences.
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Old 06-27-2016, 09:38 PM   #2
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It might be all you'd need. Not positive though. I only know what I could read on the HF website about that unit (including some of the reviews...
Solar Panel Kit - Save on this 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit
...but I will say that I tend to shy away from anything electrical that HF sells. I think there's better quality and more up-to-date stuff out there.

I got my 75W panel and Morningstar SG-4 controller from this place... Solar Cells, Solar Panels, Renewable Energy, Wind Energy, Charge Controllers, Solar Trackers - Solarblvd ...and have been very happy with it. To connect the panel to the controller, I cut a short extension cord in two and wired it with the plug in between so I can disassemble for storage. On the other end of the controller, to its wires I attached a 7-pin receptacle just like what's on the back of my vehicle; the trailer's pigtail plugs into that and the battery gets charged. All very easy to plug together or to take apart for storage. And it cost me the same as the system you're looking at.
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Old 06-27-2016, 10:04 PM   #3
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I started with a 40 watt panel from Canadian Tire for $99 CAD on sale. Added another when it next went on sale, so I have 80 watts. Each panel came with a 7.5 watt controller and multiple options to connect to the battery. I had to buy a port to connect the two panels to the battery.
Depending on usage, I would not expect a single 45 watt panel to be sufficient unless you are in Arizona.
All that said, I'm negotiating with myself whether to take my Honda 1000 generator on my next trip, or take the two panels. The weight is about the same.
The generator is much more efficient at charging, in less time, and does it under all conditions, unless you are out of gas. The panels don't require gas.
I really haven't decided.
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Old 06-27-2016, 11:18 PM   #4
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Thank you Mike and Glenn. I appreciate the help. Now I've got more to think about.


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Old 06-28-2016, 02:04 PM   #5
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Just google Hazard Fraught Tools if you want a good laugh! Someone created sale pages with coupons that spoof the real thing.
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Old 06-28-2016, 04:59 PM   #6
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Oh dear. Why can't life be simple? Guess that would be boring �� Thanks for the Hazard Fraught Tools connection.
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Old 06-28-2016, 08:16 PM   #7
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It's 3 15 watt panels, not a 45 watt panel. I have some at home, but they are too heavy to want to take on the road for just 45 watts. I would buy a larger, higher watt panel (75-100 watt) and a charge controller. Check out Renogy.
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Old 06-29-2016, 11:14 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Huck View Post
It's 3 15 watt panels, not a 45 watt panel. I have some at home, but they are too heavy to want to take on the road for just 45 watts. I would buy a larger, higher watt panel (75-100 watt) and a charge controller. Check out Renogy.
I didn't think of weight. The panels never appear heavy. Nice to know. I will check out Renogy - and the weight because that would be an issue for me.
Thank you!
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Old 06-29-2016, 01:01 PM   #9
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I have seen the Renology twin 50 watts panels that fold up. 2X 50 Watt. They come in a nice zipper case to protect it while traveling, and the stand..... you do not have to assemble it like the Harbor Freight. Unfold and go. Has a nicer charge controller too. My buddy bought the harbor freight and the controller went right out.
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Old 06-29-2016, 02:44 PM   #10
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You will definitely save weight by going to a single panel (or even a folding 2 panel system). The Renogy 50 watt portable with controller is the same price with free shipping from Amazon. The Renogy weighs 18 lbs, the Harbor Freight 52.3 lbs(although this is shipping weight - unpacked it is probably a bit less). Dealing with three individual panels is more of a pain than a suitcase pair.

The controller for the Renogy portable system includes a diode to prevent nighttime back flow; I don't know for sure, but I suspect that the Harbor Freight controller does as well. I camped with a guy at Quartzsite last winter that never added a diode or disconnected his Harbor Freight system & didn't have a battery drain problem (although it didn't keep up with his usage - he had to run a generator every 5-6 days).

Whether either will be enough to let you dry camp for an extended period depends on your usage. If you haven't switched to LED lighting, that would be the first step since LEDs draw about 1/10th the current for the same amount of light as incandescent lamps. With LED lighting & your description of use, I suspect you would be fine with 50 watts, particularly in portable panels that can be aimed perpendicular to the sun.

I am a fairly heavy user of electricity - an average of 35 - 40 amp hours per day that includes using an inverter to make coffee, toast, etc, a cell phone amplifier & hotspot, many battery chargers, a very hungry laptop, and over the winter, lot of furnace run time.

I started with a single roof mounted 95 watt panel which didn't keep up. I currently have an additional 100 watt panel on the roof which, with the original does fine in the summer with long days & high angle sun. During the winter I have an additional 160 watt portable panel that can be aimed at the sun. I needed all three at Quartzsite this winter.
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Old 06-29-2016, 07:56 PM   #11
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Yep, that furnace will really draw the amps. Just to provide another data point for the OP, I am a low user of DC while camping. Some roof fan, a brief furnace run in the morning, a phone charger, not much else other than the usual parasitic loads. My 75W panel was plenty to keep my group 24 battery topped up.
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