Does a generator beat solar? - Fiberglass RV


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Old 10-05-2014, 02:42 PM   #1
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Does a generator beat solar?

Wherever we go we near always dry camp. A key reason is price. Our recent trip to Wahweap campground at Lake Powel is a case in point. Full hookup sites, or, dry camping (tent) sites there were the only thing available. The full hookup price with AAA discount was $44.00/day. Tent site? $13.00. At 19 ft our trailer fits nice in a tent site. A few days later, camping dry at North Rim of the Grand Canyon was $9/night with the Geezer card. So it’s a no-brainer for me. I can carry a two gallon jug of water from a spigot with the best of ‘em.

My only issue is worry about over using electricity for the furnace, or the water pump, or if the propane runs out. How many days could we go before them twin 6 volt batteries show a critical 12.1 volts? Probably 3 to 4. Getting portable solar panels to replenish batteries have therefore been on my mind. Have never considered buying a generator.

Our recent stay at the North Rim, however, has changed my thinking. There, we were camped solidly in the shade. It does seem shaded campsites are more common…OK, depending where in the country you are. There may be no shady spots anywhere in southern Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, etc. Full sun sites are also hotter sites.

Don’t I have to shift them around with the shifting sun? Would I want to go off during the day leaving my charging solar panels exposed to theft?

At North Rim we saw a number of campers recharging their batteries in the late afternoon with small, surprisingly quiet generators. They are put away after a couple hours, done doing the job the solar panel does.

I was told the best one, the Honda generator, costs over eleven hundred dollars. For me that’s an instant deal killer. I was in Costco the other day and saw this, priced at $599.99. The brand is “Smarter Tools gasoline 2000W inverter/generator Sine Power Pro.” It has the Yamaha MZ80 engine and claims a sound rating of 51 to 59 dB. Weight, 47 lbs. Me beginning to like.

Anyone got one?
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Old 10-05-2014, 03:12 PM   #2
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Honestly solar has a generator beat unless you have high power demands that solar can't keep up with - such as running an A/C.

You can be set up with a 100w solar panel and charge converter for under $150.

The issue of theft remains regardless of your choice of power - someone will take off with a small genset faster than they probably would attempt to take off with a portable solar panel, but you'd be out much less if all you lost was a panel.
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Old 10-05-2014, 03:24 PM   #3
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You can always do what Rv Sue did. She put the solar panel and her 2 battery's in her van ( she has one in the camper also) so no one can steal it from the camp ground. Then when she gets back she has a long cord she runs from the van to the camper. When she is away from camp driving down the road or parked her battery's are always being charged.


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Old 10-05-2014, 03:39 PM   #4
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Of course, the true, prime issue with solar is.... if you're in the shade you get no sun, so, no workeee. At north Rim we were next door to the guy with the Honda generator which he ran only to recharge his batteries. I hardly noticed until walking Ben after supper.
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Old 10-05-2014, 03:47 PM   #5
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We have 105w of roof-mounted solar on our Scamp 5er, and it does a good job of keeping up most of the time. Our trailer offers two things we can't use when we're dry camping: the microwave and Lynne's electric blanket.

The setup works well enough that we don't have any provision for a generator in our Surfside refit project, which is nearing completion. It has a 100w roof-mounted solar panel, and we've put a plug-in socket on the side of the trailer where we can connect an extra panel. That way we can set our 40w portable panel up away from the trailer if we park in a particularly shady spot.

Other things we've done in the Scamp and Surfside include adding a Wave-3 catalytic heater to the Scamp, which takes zero electricity to run. In the Scamp we'll often set the Suburban furnace to come on at some particularly low temperature and set the Wave-3 on low to keep the trailer warm at night. The Suburban only comes on on the very coldest of nights.

For our Surfside we installed an "Everest" furnace and don't have a Wave-3. THe Everest furnace consumes less electricity and runs much more quietly than the the Scamp's Suburban.

Both trailers have LED lights throughout. You can save more electricity by going to LEDs than almost any other energy saving measure you might think of.

The last two thing our trailers have are AGM batteries and winter charging on a BatteryMinder desulfinator/trickle charger. AGM batteries last longer, tolerate being more deeply discharged, and accept a charge with less loss of power than conventional "flooded" batteries. The BatteryMinder has a desulfinator circuit that reverses sulphation, a process that occurs when a battery is heavily discharged that hurts its ability to hold a charge. Used together, an AGM battery and BatteryMinder, an AGM battery should last a decade or longer, so you'll make back the extra you spend on the AGM battery in 6 years or so.
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Old 10-05-2014, 04:35 PM   #6
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I have camped in many locations that restrict or ban the use of generators.
I have never camped at any location that restricted or banned the use of solar
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Old 10-05-2014, 04:47 PM   #7
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If you look around you can easily find Honda EU2000i's for $999 on-line and, occasionally for $899, but that is rare. The Good news, you never have to apologize if you get the Honda, you can always get service and parts if needed, and the Honda will always have a very high resale value.

That's at least the third "Off Brand" inverter generator I have seen at Costco in the past few years. And where do you go if it breaks, how long will it last and what's it's recovery value.

If COSTCO is still that brand in 3 years, I will take a look, until then, is Honda or none.
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Old 10-05-2014, 05:26 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by peterh View Post
...The BatteryMinder has a desulfinator circuit that reverses sulphation, a process that occurs when a battery is heavily discharged that hurts its ability to hold a charge. Used together, an AGM battery and BatteryMinder, an AGM battery should last a decade or longer, so you'll make back the extra you spend on the AGM battery in 6 years or so.
I would be careful using the desulfation mode with your AGM batteries unless you can limit the voltage to 13.6. Higher voltages could boil off some of the liquid within and you are unable to replace it. Most AGM mfg. don't recommend desulfation. We have the Trojan's in our trailer and I've spoken to their tech dept. about this. They said don’t do it. It's no problem with our solar setup as we can set the voltage points at whatever we want on the controller. The onboard PD Converter/Charger is not so blessed.
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Old 10-05-2014, 06:02 PM   #9
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Desulfation and Trojans

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Originally Posted by Steve Outlaw View Post
I would be careful using the desulfation mode with your AGM batteries unless you can limit the voltage to 13.6. Higher voltages could boil off some of the liquid within and you are unable to replace it. Most AGM mfg. don't recommend desulfation. We have the Trojan's in our trailer and I've spoken to their tech dept. about this. They said don’t do it. It's no problem with our solar setup as we can set the voltage points at whatever we want on the controller. The on board PD Converter/Charger is not so blessed.
We had a set of Trojan 105s in our motorhome and they were 14 years old when we sold the motorhome. The were virtually continuously on the Convertor and it's desulfating Charge Wizard. The Trojans seemed as solid after 14 years as when we purchased them around their 4th year.

Personally the desulfation cycle seemed to work just fine.

Actually for 2 of the years we rarely used the motorhome but kept it under charge and we'd be gone for 6 months at a time. Though some water boiled off while we were gone, never enough to harm the batteries. We'd just add an inch or so of distilled water when we got home and the Trojans were fine.
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Old 10-05-2014, 06:14 PM   #10
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With many TVs having inverters these days, why is it a bad idea to charge the RV batt with the TV inverter and a battery charger? Or for that matter, run a microwave for 5 minutes?
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Old 10-05-2014, 07:03 PM   #11
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TV Inverters

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Originally Posted by Dean Vorhees View Post
With many TVs having inverters these days, why is it a bad idea to charge the RV batt with the TV inverter and a battery charger? Or for that matter, run a microwave for 5 minutes?
Most TV inverters are fairly small, about 200 watts, and you would have to keep the engine running to not run down the TV's battery. A direct connection, battery to battery would also work, but has the same problems.
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Old 10-05-2014, 07:14 PM   #12
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Norm, you are correct about the flooded Trojan 105's. Ours are Trojan AGM's and need to be charged a little differently from yours.
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Old 10-05-2014, 07:51 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Myron Leski View Post
Of course, the true, prime issue with solar is.... if you're in the shade you get no sun, so, no workeee. At north Rim we were next door to the guy with the Honda generator which he ran only to recharge his batteries. I hardly noticed until walking Ben after supper.
I do most of my camping in the PNW with lots of tree coverage but I still feel solar trumps generator. Generators are not a popular item at some of the spots I have camped. Not to mention the fact they have a running cost (gas consumption) that you don't have with solar & most of the better generators are more expensive than a basic solar system that most of us can get away with if we set the trailer up correctly (LED lights for starters) and watch our power consumption.

I keep my solar panel loose so on those occasions when the trailer is in the full shade I can put the panel out on a stand in a position where it can pick up some light & move it as the light moves. As far as theft of the panel goes I don't leave it sitting out in the open when Im not at the trailer but I have stuck it up on the roof were it is not visible many many times and left the trailer for the day. It will do some charging even if not in full sun. I have even left it up on the roof while attending a 3 day music/camping festival with 30,000 people attending and I was away from the trailer from noon to midnight and it did not walk. Luck perhaps but thats why I have insurance just in case my luck runs out.
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Old 10-05-2014, 07:52 PM   #14
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It is possible that you might hit a prolonged period where your solar panels would have little or no direct sun. But I think the possibility is reasonably unlikely. If your batteries will last for 3 or 4 days, at some point in that 3-4 days you probably will be in a place with available sun. With 100W or more of solar, you should be in decent shape.

I left my 75W panel out all the time while at Yosemite (for a week), and no problems. I did move it around sometimes to catch more sun, but probably didn't need to.

The cheaper generators are made in China, and I've read that it can be hard to get parts or service for them... and they aren't always as reliable as the Honda or Yamaha. About the best thought of, cheap genny is the Champion inverter generator; folks say they are pretty good and pretty quiet, and under $600 at some retailers.

Any time you have a small engine, you have to run it every couple of months to keep it working right. You should plan to use pure gas (no ethanol content) and maybe some Sta-Bil gas stabilizer. It's another thing to maintain, something heavy to move around.
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