Want solar, have controller, what next? - Fiberglass RV



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Old 05-12-2019, 09:58 AM   #1
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Name: Deborah
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Want solar, have controller, what next?

I've determined that I want to find a portable solar unit, 100-135w, for my new to me 2015 Casita. Previous owner had a Victron MPPT 75/15 controller with Andersen adapters wired into side of battery compartment. This controller, selling for $120 on Amazon, needs a $50 Bluetooth dongle to give a readout to my phone. (so some cost) EDIT: Plus this controller is installed in the battery compartment, next to but not above the battery. Victron manual says this is ok, other sources say no. I don't think seller used it a lot. What I don't want to is buy a system depending on this controller, plus a $50 dongle, and then have it get "gassed" by the battery.

I need to find a unit that is manageable for me in terms of weight and set-up (fit 61 year old solo woman). If I buy something to use with this controller, if it doesn't have Andersen connectors, are there adapter cables? If I buy something with a controller and just ignore the controller I have, would I just clip onto the battery directly?

Is there anything else I should know? I'm trying to avoid having to hire someone to do this. It doesn't seem like it should be too complicated if I can just get it into my head.

Thanks so much.
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Old 05-12-2019, 12:43 PM   #2
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Trailer: 2017 Escape 21
Oswego, NY
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DebiT View Post
I've determined that I want to find a portable solar unit, 100-135w, for my new to me 2015 Casita. Previous owner had a Victron MPPT 75/15 controller with Andersen adapters wired into side of battery compartment. This controller, selling for $120 on Amazon, needs a $50 Bluetooth dongle to give a readout to my phone. (so some cost) EDIT: Plus this controller is installed in the battery compartment, next to but not above the battery. Victron manual says this is ok, other sources say no. I don't think seller used it a lot. What I don't want to is buy a system depending on this controller, plus a $50 dongle, and then have it get "gassed" by the battery.

I need to find a unit that is manageable for me in terms of weight and set-up (fit 61 year old solo woman). If I buy something to use with this controller, if it doesn't have Andersen connectors, are there adapter cables? If I buy something with a controller and just ignore the controller I have, would I just clip onto the battery directly?

Is there anything else I should know? I'm trying to avoid having to hire someone to do this. It doesn't seem like it should be too complicated if I can just get it into my head.

Thanks so much.
If you are concerned about weight, look at the flexible panels. They are usually unmounted, and considerably lighter than the hard framed panels. You will need to find a way to hang them that aims at the sun - many tied them to the side of the trailer, or built light weight wooden frames with legs.

If the panel you purchase comes with a controller, you can connect it directly to the battery, although doing that in the Casita battery cave gets old fast. I'd bypass the built in controller and use the Victron controller. You do not need the Bluetooth dongle for the Victron to work, although without it you cannot use your phone to monitor the controller.

Very few panels will have Anderson connectors. You can either replace the MC4 or SAE connectors that come with most panels with an Anderson connector, or make up an extension cords (which you will probably want anyway) with the proper panel connector on one end & an Anderson on the other. Other than observing polarity & the proper sex of the connectors, it isn't a project that requires an electrician.
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Old 05-13-2019, 09:35 AM   #3
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Trailer: 2012 Casita 17' SD
Illinois
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https://campaddict.com/portable-solar-panels


Here is an article which describes the solar basics for RVing. Importrant information on the reverse polarity used on some of the different panel brands. An adapter is available to fix this issue. Make sure you get one with the correct wire gauge not the 18 gauge which I believe is the one linked to in this article. The article also mentions the adapters available to change from the MC-4 plug to the SAE plug end.

I am also considering solar and found this article extremely helpful for my solar illiterate brain.

Good luck
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Old 05-13-2019, 11:56 AM   #4
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Name: Alex
Trailer: Bigfoot
Washington
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I just got a renogy solar suitcase.

https://www.renogy.com/renogy-100-wa...ase-w-voyager/

It comes all wired together (including 20A waterproof charge controller) with two regular battery connector clamps (lightweight jumper cable style). I picked this one because it folds up small enough to fit in the rear cargo hold on my Bigfoot 17.5. I probably spent a little more than necessary, but I didn't have to modify the trailer at all. I'll just unfold it by the front of the camper and plug it in. We'll know for sure how well it does after our one week trip to Glacier NP in June. I'll post a follow up about it afterward.
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Old 05-14-2019, 08:06 AM   #5
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Name: Alan
Trailer: 1983 Casita & 1972 home-built
Oregon
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PV panel current uprating factors

One thing to remember with PV is that the designated current a panel puts out is multiplied by 1.56 to establish current capacity for controllers, wire sizes, fuses/breakers (one at every + connection), , etc. You size everything according to this multiplier because 1.25 x 1.25 = 1.56: cold weather effect times edge-of-cloud effect on PV panels increases actual current under certain weather conditions.



For wire size, then you use the normal additional electric code deratings for high ambient temperature like rooftops, conduit, etc.


Some panel manufacturers and some controller manufacturers have a calculation table on their website that allows you to input panel model or specs, and controller to see if the controller can handle the PV being checked. The results can be surprising; my 15A controller was not deemed to handle a 10A poly panel safely.



The thing with wire size is a trailer doesn't use much wire, so go ahead and use larger wire for everything, it doesn't cost much at all. Shoot for 5% voltage drop or less. 12V systems are very high current, so the correct wire size may look huge and counter-intuitive even though it is code-correct and safe. The fuse/breaker is sized to protect the wire and devices downstream from over-current.



You can get parts like new lugs for your Anderson connnectors and Type SXL wire at places like this family-owned business: https://spectrowireandcable.com/prod...ul-rvi-csa-50/ and this https://www.delcity.net/. Ebay has manual-cycle breakers for your system at reasonable prices: https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_fro...akers&_sacat=0


There are many online PV tutorials, some led by women, which is always great. Spend some time learning and your system will be more fun to set up yourself.
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Old 05-14-2019, 08:08 AM   #6
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Name: Deborah
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Thank you
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Old 05-14-2019, 08:16 AM   #7
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Name: Deborah
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SnowballCamper View Post
I just got a renogy solar suitcase.

https://www.renogy.com/renogy-100-wa...ase-w-voyager/

It comes all wired together (including 20A waterproof charge controller) with two regular battery connector clamps (lightweight jumper cable style). I picked this one because it folds up small enough to fit in the rear cargo hold on my Bigfoot 17.5. I probably spent a little more than necessary, but I didn't have to modify the trailer at all. I'll just unfold it by the front of the camper and plug it in. We'll know for sure how well it does after our one week trip to Glacier NP in June. I'll post a follow up about it afterward.
That surely would be convenient. Please do post a follow up
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Old 05-14-2019, 10:04 AM   #8
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Name: Ed
Trailer: Casita 17 ft SD
Colorado
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Solar Controller

The Anderson Power poles are readily available from Amateur Radio stores (Ham Radio Outlet, DX Engineering, West Mountain Radio). Chances are there are Amateur radio operators in your community and if they are involved in emergency services they will have an extra set of Anderson Power Pole connectors and will probably be willing to install them for you. It takes about half and hour. Currently Camping World has a suitcase 120W solar panel on sale right now.

The only thing you need to check your controller for operation is a $10.00 digital Volt meter.

The Casita battery box is well vented so there will not be a build up of gas in the battery compartment. I would not be concerned about the solar charge controller being located in the battery box.

Welcome to the wonderful world on Fiber Glass Eggs.
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Old 05-14-2019, 10:17 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ehoepner View Post
The Casita battery box is well vented so there will not be a build up of gas in the battery compartment. I would not be concerned about the solar charge controller being located in the battery box.

My understanding ( after talking to the manufacturer of my controller ) is that it's not build up of gas, but that exposure to gas can corrode the electronics.
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Old 05-14-2019, 06:01 PM   #10
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Name: Deborah
Trailer: Currently shopping
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ehoepner View Post
The Anderson Power poles are readily available from Amateur Radio stores (Ham Radio Outlet, DX Engineering, West Mountain Radio). Chances are there are Amateur radio operators in your community and if they are involved in emergency services they will have an extra set of Anderson Power Pole connectors and will probably be willing to install them for you. It takes about half and hour. Currently Camping World has a suitcase 120W solar panel on sale right now.

The only thing you need to check your controller for operation is a $10.00 digital Volt meter.

The Casita battery box is well vented so there will not be a build up of gas in the battery compartment. I would not be concerned about the solar charge controller being located in the battery box.

Welcome to the wonderful world on Fiber Glass Eggs.
I'm very much an electricity newbie. I know there is a voltimeter out in the garage, but I don't know how to use it. I can look that up, but can you please tell me what on the controller I am checking?

Thanks
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Old 05-14-2019, 06:08 PM   #11
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Name: Deborah
Trailer: Currently shopping
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Posts: 71
Quote:
Originally Posted by ARVZ View Post
One thing to remember with PV is that the designated current a panel puts out is multiplied by 1.56 to establish current capacity for controllers, wire sizes, fuses/breakers (one at every + connection), , etc. You size everything according to this multiplier because 1.25 x 1.25 = 1.56: cold weather effect times edge-of-cloud effect on PV panels increases actual current under certain weather conditions.



For wire size, then you use the normal additional electric code deratings for high ambient temperature like rooftops, conduit, etc.


Some panel manufacturers and some controller manufacturers have a calculation table on their website that allows you to input panel model or specs, and controller to see if the controller can handle the PV being checked. The results can be surprising; my 15A controller was not deemed to handle a 10A poly panel safely.



The thing with wire size is a trailer doesn't use much wire, so go ahead and use larger wire for everything, it doesn't cost much at all. Shoot for 5% voltage drop or less. 12V systems are very high current, so the correct wire size may look huge and counter-intuitive even though it is code-correct and safe. The fuse/breaker is sized to protect the wire and devices downstream from over-current.



You can get parts like new lugs for your Anderson connnectors and Type SXL wire at places like this family-owned business: https://spectrowireandcable.com/prod...ul-rvi-csa-50/ and this https://www.delcity.net/. Ebay has manual-cycle breakers for your system at reasonable prices: https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_fro...akers&_sacat=0


There are many online PV tutorials, some led by women, which is always great. Spend some time learning and your system will be more fun to set up yourself.
I am looking at a Renogy compact 100w panel, and I have a Victron MPPT 75/15 controller. The controller has what I think is a 20amp fuse mounted in it (see picture below). Does this perform the function of the breaker you mentioned above? If my controller has a fuse, does my panel need to have others? Very confused about this part.

Unfortunately, I don't understand most of what you said above, but I'm trying! Can you help me understand how to tell if my controller would have problems with my panel?

Thanks for your input.
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Old 05-14-2019, 09:57 PM   #12
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Name: Francois
Trailer: Bigfoot
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Hi...

you said "I've determined that I want to find a portable solar unit, 100-135w, for my new to me 2015 Casita."


I wonder how you came to this "determination"?...Is that what the PO took with him when he sold you the trailer???? and was that fixed on top of the trailer of portable/deployable?? (roughly speaking, a panel angled perfectly to the sun will produce twice the power that a panel of the same size will produce flat on the roof)


Solar is a great hobby and takes quite a while to understand how much you need for your particular situation/use. You might end up spending WAY too much money.....OR...you might run out of power half way through the week-end. Both outcomes are not ideal.


The first thing I'd do is buy an inexpensive voltmeter that plugs into one of your cigarette lighter plugs in your trailer so you can tell at a glance where your battery is at, volt-wise. (Turn stuff off when it gets to read 12.2V so you don't damage/shorten your battery's life) A permanent 4 digit panel meter would be better....but let's start with baby steps....


There are several solar panel "kits" for sale that are very affordable...these packages come in at 40 or 50 watt range and include a simple controller....the controllers are sized that TWO of these panels can be connected to one controller.....


So my advice (given the high price you're paying for it), would be to buy a couple of these "packages"....follow the instructions and forget about your existing controller FOR NOW.....once you've "played around" with solar for a while...done some reading and used a system in the real world...for you....you will have a better understanding of your real needs and wants....you may very well dig up and re-use that controller when you build your "permanent" system. The two "package" panels you bought can always be incorporated in your future permanent system so it'll never be "wasted" money.


good luck and have fun
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Old 05-15-2019, 06:09 AM   #13
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Name: Huck
Trailer: ParkLiner
Virginia
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You can buy a mc4 to anderson connector cable on Amazon for about $25.

It can be a pain to store a 100-150 watt solar panel, put it out when camping, storing it at night and whenever leaving your trailer so it doesn't get stolen, etc. I think either a suitcase or permanently installing a panel are your 2 best options.

You might call Renogy and tell them your situation and see what solution they can offer. I have always found them to be helpful.
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Old 05-15-2019, 06:45 AM   #14
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Trailer: LiL Hauley
Syracuse, NY
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solar resource

This guy knows solar and explains it very well for those who don't know electricity. He has numerous videos covering solar panel comparisons, basic solar installations, basic electricity, etc.









https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoj...q8kmJme-5dnN0Q
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