Three 280 watt solar panels on Casita 13 - Fiberglass RV


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Old 05-05-2019, 10:32 AM   #1
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Three 280 watt solar panels on Casita 13

I posted some of this build before and got really busy with life and put it on hold for awhile. I told everyone I wanted to out three 280 watt solar panels on the roof and most people said it couldn't be done. Well they may be right, but here is my attempt to prove them wrong.

All the weight is supported by the four main poles, the lateral forces are controlled by the four feet that bolt into the top of the fiberglass shell. I weigh 220+ lbs and I can stand on the rack and it doesn't move at all.

The solar panels are going inside the frame stacked on top of each other. The top solar panel is going to b exposed to the sun on top. The two panels below will be on 42" locking drawer slides that extend out to the side.

Why so much solar? Basically this is going to be used in FL where it's super hot and I want to be able to run the AC for as long as humanly possible without having to plug in or start a generator up if I'm off grid camping. I ride bikes a lot and want to be able to use this to get to new spots and have a base to come back to to cool off and re supply. It would also be great for some day trips to the beach, tailgating at concerts ect.

I'm still not done with mounting the panels and slides. I'm trying to figure out a way to make the panels tiltable to get to most sun possible, but may just mount them flat for simplicity sake. The sun in FL in the summer isn't at a huge angle so I'm not sure how important it will really be. Once everything is done, I'm going to clean up the frame and have it powder coated.


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Old 05-05-2019, 12:14 PM   #2
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What about the batteries, where and what size to power the a/c?
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Old 05-05-2019, 12:24 PM   #3
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What about the batteries, where and what size to power the a/c?
Batteries going right where that cross member is infront of the front support poles. Four Trojan 1275 batteries for the time being as I had two of them already sitting around. I still need to build the mount/cover for them as well.

I'm going to be using a climate right 5000 unit. It is an external unit that is not mounted to the camper. It uses 700 watts/6.2amps while cooling and like 11amps for heating. But I'm not too worried about the heating.
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Old 05-06-2019, 11:25 AM   #4
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That is a beautiful job! Paul loves it! (Me, too!)

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Old 05-06-2019, 11:36 AM   #5
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I love the set up, but the only problem I see is that 65 amps or so to run the inverter at 12 volts.
However, I say go for it!
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Old 05-06-2019, 11:49 AM   #6
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I didn't think it was feasible to run AC off any reasonable size battery bank, but I guess I'm wrong! Crazy. I like the motivation, and everyone has their own personal reasons and needs, but man...Seems like more work than it's worth. Be sure to check the total weight, since I'm guessing your axle isn't rated too high.

Pay close attention to the power the AC takes to actually kick on. There's a huge spike in power use to turn an appliance on, and that needs to be figured in when you plan battery, inverter, wire and fuse sizes, though I'm guessing you've already taken that into account.

Nice troubleshooting, and good luck!
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Old 05-06-2019, 12:02 PM   #7
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If we could have enough solar to run the microwave for a few minutes and the heater overnight, that'd be plenty. Air conditioning...well, a fan/swamp set-up does us OK in Oregon/Washington, known for more dry summers.

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Old 05-06-2019, 01:37 PM   #8
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Three 280 watt solar panels, WOW, that's a lot of power!
A Buddy of mine went down this road so he (and friends) could play electric guitars in the back country. Six 2 volt deep cycle batteries on the tongue of his unit. Killed the batteries every night, recharged then the next day with solar. Totally cooked his batteries in about a month. Hope you have better luck.
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Old 05-06-2019, 04:50 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by redbarron55 View Post
I love the set up, but the only problem I see is that 65 amps or so to run the inverter at 12 volts.
However, I say go for it!
I'm going to run the system off 24V to cut the amperage in half. 65 amps is too much. I am also running the panels in series with an MPPT charger to cut down on the amperage from the panels. Good catch!

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I didn't think it was feasible to run AC off any reasonable size battery bank, but I guess I'm wrong! Crazy. I like the motivation, and everyone has their own personal reasons and needs, but man...Seems like more work than it's worth. Be sure to check the total weight, since I'm guessing your axle isn't rated too high.

Pay close attention to the power the AC takes to actually kick on. There's a huge spike in power use to turn an appliance on, and that needs to be figured in when you plan battery, inverter, wire and fuse sizes, though I'm guessing you've already taken that into account.

Nice troubleshooting, and good luck!
Lots of good points here and I have accounted for them, I think lol. The inverter I'm using is capable of 2000+ watt spikes and I will also be using what they call a soft start on the A/C compressor. I found out about these during hurricane season. It allows you to run a wall banger type AC unit off one of the 1000w Honda generators, where normally the compressor motor coming on will kill the generator. The axle was going to be replaced anyway as it has seen better days and the trailer frame was braced in some key areas when I took the shell off.

As far as batteries not lasting, from what I read, that has more to do with charge controls and not draining too far between charges. Also poor battery maintenance wont help.

I will be the first to tell you that I went in wayyyyyy too deep with this camper. The camper was given to us by a family member that had passed and used it for years to come visit us. When I got it, the floor was completely rotted out, and what started out as fixer upper, turned into something else. I'll be honest, this camper isn't something I would have gone out and bought for myself. The driving factor is the sentimental value, the spirt of the person who gave it to me (a true craftsman/explorer) and wanting to create something I know he would be proud of. Not going to lie, I'm starting to get pretty excited about getting to use it soon!

But in all reality, this isn't really economical, or practical... I know that...I have all the tools and skills to do the majority of this project myself and have accounts at places to buy all the materials at wholesale prices.

I am by no means an expert on these solar systems, as this will be the first one that I have ever done. If anyone sees something they see as a problem, please don't be afraid to voice your concern. I'm very open to criticism. I think two of these guys above had some really good points.
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Old 05-06-2019, 05:11 PM   #10
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X 280 watt

[QUOTE=CasitaInFL;741017]I posted some of this build before and got really busy with life and put it on hold for awhile. I told everyone I wanted to out three 280 watt solar panels on the roof and most people said it couldn't be done. Well they may be right, but here is my attempt to prove them wrong.

All the weight is supported by the four main poles, the lateral forces are controlled by the four feet that bolt into the top of the fiberglass shell. I weigh 220+ lbs and I can stand on the rack and it doesn't move at all.

The solar panels are going inside the frame stacked on top of each other. The top solar panel is going to b exposed to the sun on top. The two panels below will be on 42" locking drawer slides that extend out to the side.

Why so much solar? Basically this is going to be used in FL where it's super hot and I want to be able to run the AC for as long as humanly possible without having to plug in or start a generator up if I'm off grid camping. I ride bikes a lot and want to be able to use this to get to new spots and have a base to come back to to cool off and re supply. It would also be great for some day trips to the beach, tailgating at concerts ect.

I'm still not done with mounting the panels and slides. I'm trying to figure out a way to make the panels tiltable to get to most sun possible, but may just mount them flat for simplicity sake. The sun in FL in the summer isn't at a huge angle so I'm not sure how important it will really be. Once everything is done, I'm going to clean up the frame and have it powder coated.

Hey, nice exo-sleleton, just what I need to do same on my class A. I mean, who needs anymore holes or weight on/in an RV roof?? for tilt think about drawer slides only oriented differently! Anchored at one end and angled to prop up the high end of the panel. Self storing and use minimal space.
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Old 05-06-2019, 05:12 PM   #11
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I have a mini-split and most of them have inverter power and therefore do not have that starting surge and my 9000 BTU unit maxes out at 900 watts, but usually runs a good bit less than that.
I don't know if the Climate Right has an inverter or if it is an across the line starter.
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Old 05-08-2019, 09:17 PM   #12
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Why 280W? If you're going all-out, it might be worth seeing if you can fit 3 of the high-efficiency LG NEON2 340W panels up there for only a tiny bit more space.
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Old 05-08-2019, 11:19 PM   #13
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now, you just need the 100KWH battery pack out of a Tesla, rewired for lower voltage (or using DC-DC converters to knock the 370 volts DC or whatever the tesla pack is wired for down to something sane).

problem with higher DC voltages is, they are extra deadly... if you get shocked with 200VDC, you can't/won't let go, unlike AC that has an intense BUZZ that kicks you back from it, DC welds you do it.
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Old 05-09-2019, 05:17 PM   #14
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John in Santa Cruz: Paul once saved a guy who was grabbed by DC by slamming him away from the current with a 2 x 4 at the shipyards. it was an exciting time. Poor guy~!

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Old 05-11-2019, 11:13 AM   #15
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Will Prowse 24v system. LiFePo4 battery

Because of wind resistance, I’d mount the three panels on rails across the top flat, and prop them up when parked. You can park facing them south. They will shade each other in that configuration, in winter with acceptable losses. I will post a photo of my beamreach or you can look up the Beamreach videos to get an idea of spacing/shade.

If you build a big sail on your casita, you will need a massive amount of ballast to prevent it tipping over in the wind. During hurricane season, I’d remove all panels. The config I mention uses the tow vehicle as ballast, when hitched.

24v is a smart way to go. Very safe and batteries prefer to be in series. I built a system similar to Prowse’s like his suggested Giandel pure sine wave inverter so far. I oversized the solar (5kw) and charge controller (100a) to charge a future electric car. I have also been experimenting with ferrophosphate storage and would recommend them. It’s a noncombustable battery technology with potential to last a human lifespan, eg 14k cycles if treated right.



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Old 05-11-2019, 11:36 AM   #16
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My Beamreach

These three fully detached Beamreach panels survived significant wind gusting without moving. I neglected to use ballast or adhesive and have been pleasantly surprised that their wind profile is as good as it is. They are just sitting there without attachment. Each panel is 290w/p Or more . My friend and colleague designed Beamreach and I ask him wind questions.

One key is low tilt and full shrouds on the short long side between rows. This cargo trailer also has a continuous surface underneath them that prevents uplift in those areas.
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Old 05-11-2019, 12:07 PM   #17
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Wind profile

The beauty of an egg shaped camper is the wind profile, to increase fuel economy and towing ease. So Id not mess with that benefit when installing solar. Lightweight solar panels are monocrystalline sunpower cells in a thin, plastic, teflon-coated encapsulant. Glass panels get heavy and are not flexible. Lightweight flexible panels could be adhered direct to the shell, all over, with optimizers for each panel to account for mismatched sun exposure

Beamreach panels use thinner glass and a plastic frame, for example. There is a structural bar across the back and carry handle.

For a large, deployable array facing the sun, and maximum solar yield, I would still use lightweight panels. But the wind profile gets tricky, and the strength of the structure against wind an issue, as is tracking the sun. There seems to be a good solution to this, but it is probably outside the scope of this build.
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Old 05-11-2019, 09:13 PM   #18
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Two things come to mind:1) Those three PV panels will provide lots of shade, which will nicely reduce your need for AC, and 2) Lithium ion batteries from a wrecked hybrid or electric car could save you a lot of weight and size, with the extra benefit being that you can discharge them way further down than lead acid, without shortening their lifespan.
Back to point one - it has been calculated that it is 3-5 times less more expensive to generate electricity than to conserve it i.e. it may be money well spent to find a way to very well insulate the camper, to prevent the heat getting in.
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Old 05-13-2019, 03:38 PM   #19
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Why 280W? If you're going all-out, it might be worth seeing if you can fit 3 of the high-efficiency LG NEON2 340W panels up there for only a tiny bit more space.
The main reason being that I got these three mono panels for under $300. They were set to go on someone's roof and I guess they couldn't fit them into the grid or something along those lines ( this was 3+ years ago). They are nice panels made in Canada, and from when I tested them, they are putting out more power then what is stated on the label.

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Because of wind resistance, I’d mount the three panels on rails across the top flat, and prop them up when parked...

If you build a big sail on your casita, you will need a massive amount of ballast to prevent it tipping over in the wind...

...I have also been experimenting with ferrophosphate storage and would recommend them. It’s a noncombustable battery technology with potential to last a human lifespan, eg 14k cycles if treated right.
I think you may misunderstand how I am mounting these to the roof. All of the panels will stack on top of each other like a stack on pancakes. They will be on 42" drawer slides that slide the two bottom panels out to the sides, almost like two mini awnings on the long sides of the camper. The total height of the rack is about 6 inches. It will also be wrapped with an aluminum skin paneling that will make it more areo-dynamic, and make it more "like one" with the camper from a towing point of view.


I didn't go for the slim or "glue on" panels because I think they look absolutely horrible, I hear they have poor performance over time and also because the large panels will provide shade to cool the camper.

I saw the video on the ferrophosphate batteries and my only problem would be the temperature boundaries for the batteries. They seem to be pretty sensitive to temps. In the summer, I could see the batteries getting way to hot sitting in the sun or being enclosed in a box in the sun. which would drastically affect the performance of the batteries over time. I know this is with almost all batteries, but lead acid are relatively cheap to replace.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Grandfatherjim View Post
Two things come to mind:1) Those three PV panels will provide lots of shade, which will nicely reduce your need for AC, and 2) Lithium ion batteries from a wrecked hybrid or electric car could save you a lot of weight and size, with the extra benefit being that you can discharge them way further down than lead acid, without shortening their lifespan.
Back to point one - it has been calculated that it is 3-5 times less more expensive to generate electricity than to conserve it i.e. it may be money well spent to find a way to very well insulate the camper, to prevent the heat getting in.
I looked at the 24v LiOn tesla batteries, but after a little research, I am too worried about keeping them safe. I just don't have the knowledge or experience to do it safely. Also, a used 250WH Tesla battery is about $1500, which is more than I feel like spending at the moment.

One of the main benefits of using these large panels is the shade they create for the camper. Because of the large air gap between the camper and the panels, it should essentially be like parking in the shade wherever you go. If you look closely in the pic, you can see that I also used 3/4" polyethelyen foam that has a pretty good r-value. Its also an amazing sound insulator that is closed cell and highly water and chemical resistant.


I just go the drawer slides in so I will start mocking up the panels and figuring out how I am going to do the wiring so that the panels can move in and out without pinching wires or hanging up. I will post more pics as I go. Just had a busy week and weekend due to going out of town for a wedding.
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Old 05-13-2019, 05:20 PM   #20
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We are arranging to have solar, wind, and hydroelectricity generated wherever we go before we get there, and wired in ready for us to use. We find 110/120V acceptable and will accept no substitutes except for our 12V car battery running our 12V/110V car ice chest and our trailer lights...


Hence, yes, shore power.


I know, I know.


I know.


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