About Solar panels on a 1976 Trillium - Fiberglass RV


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Old 07-15-2018, 12:02 AM   #1
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Name: Thierry
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About Solar panels on a 1976 Trillium

Hi everyone. I'm a new member who just purchased a 1976 Trillium Trailer that we call Olive. We are about to clean it up and do some upgrades.

See the trailer here: https://www.instagram.com/cutie76trillium/

We're about to embark on a 2 months road trip focused on taking lots of photos and editing them on the go so we're looking for enough power to keep 1 or 2 laptops charged every evening.

My thinking was:
a. get 2 batteries. They're cheap and can store more power.
b. get solar panels. It's free and can recharge our batteries while we're hiking.

I think a 100W panel should be enough.

My QUESTION is about the curved roof of the Trillium.
I could install classic rigid panels on brackets but that involves a lot of drilling in our precious fiberglass and it won't be pretty.
What about Flexible panels ??? Are those as efficient? I could just tape them on an drill less holes.

I hear that having an airflow to prevent the panels from getting really hot is recommended, as the head reduces their efficiency.

Any thoughts about rigid VS flexible panels?
Thanks!
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Old 07-15-2018, 07:18 AM   #2
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Thin flexible panels have not proven to be very durable. May only last a few years. But if you install aluminum frame panels on your roof, need to figure out brackets, drill several holes, etc to fit them to your curvy roof.

Better choices I see are:

1. If you are going to be driving every day or two, just charge the laptops in the car.
2. If you are going to be parked in one location for several days at a time, just buy a single aluminum frame 100 watt panel (cheap) and a single 100 amp hour battery. That will provide more than enough power. Put the solar panel on a frame on the ground.

By considering my better choices, this gives you more time to decide on your more permanent solution.

EDIT: And by the way I chose Better Choice #2 two years ago, and that's still way that I do it. (And generally I just leave the solar panel at home.)
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Old 07-15-2018, 11:11 AM   #3
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Thank you for your insight John,

Not mounting the panel on the roof has its advantages and I might do that.
- No holes to drill in my precious fiberglass.
- I can keep the trailer in the shade and bring the panel in the sun with a cord.

The one think I'd have to figure out is how to keep it safe from theft if I go on a hike for the day. I could put it on the roof, or lock it on a chain perhaps.

That's food for thought.
Ideally, having a flex panel on top would be nice regardless. It would only require one hole and would provide some free juice
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Old 07-15-2018, 12:03 PM   #4
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I bought a cable lock for our solar panel but never actually used it. Just left the solar panel on the aluminum angle bracket stand on the ground. Left it that way for several hours at a time while we hiked and explored.

I fed the solar panel power cable through the "cable hatch".
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Old 07-15-2018, 12:18 PM   #5
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I forget who did it but I really liked the pic of the solar panel awning hung on the front window clips. It kept the panel up off the ground, easy-up & easy-down, no drilling into fiberglass, window shade, etc
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Old 07-15-2018, 02:11 PM   #6
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no easy answers....

there's three parts to the solar riddle...your power use, the amount of storage you have (batteries) and the size of your panels.....add to one and substract from one or both of the two others at infinitum....the goal being minimum weight (you do have to haul the stuff around) and lowest cost while providing the power you NEED


Ah, the NEED thing....that should be first on your agenda: figuring out how much power you will be using/needing. That is somewhat of a complicated task. If you are not up to it, you could just buy a 50W solar pane, store it in the trailer and put it out during the day....go camping for a few weekends and it will give you a pretty good idea of what you need. I would recommend a four digit panel meter as a very cheap and easy way of keeping track of your use and how much power you have left. Or you could spend a few hundred dollars on a very good meter/battery monitor that will give you TONS of very detail information in real time...you pick.



BTW laptops are energy hogs....a quick check of the fine print on your charger will tell you that. At 12V mine uses 5.5A...(18V charger, 3.5A...run through a small inverter)


Another thing to remember is that, unless you live at the equator, a panel aimed perfectly to the sun will produce as much power for you as twice that panel size flat on the roof will produce...roughly speaking.



In your situation, wanting TWO laptops and everything else...you might be better to take your pictures at night and do your "laptopping" (editing) during the day !!! If you had a 50W portable (100W gets pretty big surface wize) you could deploy it in the morning, batteries get topped up by early afternoon, edit after that....still a 50 perfectly angled to the sun would probably just get you 4A I'm guessing....while that is still a losing proposition you would be using juice that your charge controller would have rejected because you battery was already topped up.


There is only ONE sure thing here: the first solar set-up you build for your trailer/adventures will NOT be the one you have in a couple of years from now...you will have modified it to find the right combination for you use. It's a journey, enjoy it.


Good luck and have fun...from a guy who started with a 40W portable and now has 70W on the roof and that same 40W "deployable", no charging from tow vehicle, 115Ah of usable battery capacity (2 six volt, 230Ah)...and an electric bike that I sometimes recharge in the afternoons in perfect conditions


picture below shows my batteries are topped up, the controller has cut off the 70W of panels on the roof, VOC from these is 16.6....if the batteries were not fully charged this VOC or "raw voltage" would have equalized to just above the battery voltage (and slowly climb, along with the battery voltage, over a few hours)
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Old 07-15-2018, 08:40 PM   #7
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On my Trillium I have awnings on both the front and back windows.

On the rear window I have a 100W panel mounted onto the actual awning.
While travelling it is vertical, more or less.

In the 'travel' position the panel still delivers a bit of a charge.

When the awning is raised, the panel is more horizontal and gets plenty of sunlight. It is permanently wired into my 'control panel'.

I have two 'Group 27' batteries, in a box on the tongue of the trailer.
My panel allows me to switch between batteries.

I use this to power 6 LED cabin lights and an exterior LED porch light.

I also use this to charge my cameras, my phone, my tablet, my laptop, various flashlights, drone batteries and controller, and anything else that can plug in.

I have one 500W inverter and a much larger one. I use which ever I need.

Over the last year, I have done several one week outings with no worry about power.
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Old 07-16-2018, 03:01 PM   #8
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Franswa, thanks you for all that information. I'll charge batteries during the day and work in the evening, with the hope that my batteries will have all they need to run a couple of devices.
Laptop(s), camera batteries, charging phones

I think I'll start with 1 battery and one solar panel (50 or 100w) and go from there. As you said, I'll probably have to adjust later anyway!
I got myself a 50W and a 100W solar panel. Ill return the one I'm not using.
Putting the Solal panel on the awning is a genius idea.

I was thinking I could also potentially put the 100W panel on my car roof rack, and have a system that allows me to take it off my rack easily (slide out maybe) and put it on the ground with an extension.
That way I don't put hole in the Trilluim and I have a flexible setup when it comes the using the panel.
I'll post an update once I have it all setup.

--

Assuming a Deep Cycle battery is around 100ah.
Assuming the laptop needs 85W to charge, that's about 7Amps at 12V.
Assuming I shouldn't deplete my battery by more than 70%

So 7 Amps on 70ah > A full battery would give me 10 hours of charge time.
Laptop battery life is 3-4h and charge time is 1h. So I can charge once a day.

So I could go 10 days on one full 12V battery if one laptop was my only electric consumption.
Take away energy wasted in the system and the use of LED lights. It feels safe to say that I could be on the road for 5 days with light and laptop charges if I fill up the battery at the start.
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Old 07-16-2018, 03:41 PM   #9
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Common rule is to not discharge your battery below 50 per cent.
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Old 07-16-2018, 05:35 PM   #10
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laptop charging efficiency

For your largest power draw, charging laptops, carefully consider the charging equipment setup to minimize power draw. Specifically, using a 12vdc (automotive) laptop charger may draw considerably less power compared to using a 110vac laptop charger in combination with an inverter. Inverters can be as low as 75% efficient. Also consider the efficiency of the laptop charger you choose.
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Old 07-16-2018, 07:43 PM   #11
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Charging lap top computers using the house battery my not be the best idea. We charge from vehicle electrical system while sight seeing. A car charger in my opinion is well worth the expense.
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Old 07-16-2018, 09:30 PM   #12
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I have charged my MacBook Air and iPhones from the house battery via a small inverter plugged into a 12V outlet. I have since purchased an Apple 12v charger for the MacBook Air.

I didn't find either method a significant draw, but if you don't have WiFi, and aren't streaming, you don't use a lot of power.
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Old 07-17-2018, 12:58 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by thimith View Post
Hi everyone. I'm a new member who just purchased a 1976 Trillium Trailer that we call Olive. We are about to clean it up and do some upgrades.

See the trailer here: https://www.instagram.com/cutie76trillium/

We're about to embark on a 2 months road trip focused on taking lots of photos and editing them on the go so we're looking for enough power to keep 1 or 2 laptops charged every evening.

My thinking was:
a. get 2 batteries. They're cheap and can store more power.
b. get solar panels. It's free and can recharge our batteries while we're hiking.

I think a 100W panel should be enough.

My QUESTION is about the curved roof of the Trillium.
I could install classic rigid panels on brackets but that involves a lot of drilling in our precious fiberglass and it won't be pretty.
What about Flexible panels ??? Are those as efficient? I could just tape them on an drill less holes.

I hear that having an airflow to prevent the panels from getting really hot is recommended, as the head reduces their efficiency.

Any thoughts about rigid VS flexible panels?
Thanks!
The rigid panels will ouput more energy and outlast the flexible panels. For mounting them on a curved surface, which is common on FGRVs, the solar power company Renogy has designed a special bracket mounting which they call a "curved Z bracket". The bracket has a curve to adjust the angles so you end up with a flat plane where the bolts are at the correct angles. You can purchase them on Amazon along with the solar panels. Good customer support, their website has lots of installation information on it. Here is a link to the curved brackets
https://www.amazon.com/Renogy-Solar-...70_&dpSrc=srch


As to it being pretty you can epoxy in some blocking on the ceiling and on the interior use that place to mount shallow LED ceiling lights. That will disguise the bolts. When you make something look normal such as seeing a ceiling light then it won't look ugly. A lot of times with some planning most of bolts will end up inside of cabinets.
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