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Thread: Recommendations on solar setup

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    La Paz, Baja California Sur
    Posts
    146

    Default Recommendations on solar setup

    Disclaimer: I'm a newb on the forums with a new setup but I'm no dummy and can get things done. Also, and maybe most importantly, I did spend the last two hours (at least) reading through this solar forum so I'm not coming in asking you to just repeat everything for my sake. At least I don't think I am.

    Okay, here's my van.





    We are a family of five (three kids ages 13, 14, 15 - no kidding!) who spend alot of time in Baja on remote beaches (San Francisquito) for days at a time and on the lonely, remote roads that lead to them and Jesuit missions, etc.

    What we want to accomplish with the solar setup: We'll be running an ARB fridge, LED internal lights at night for reading, and charging portable DVD players, iPods, laptops, etc. On some of the long winter nights coming up, those nights may last for 12 hours or so.

    I have not built my battery bank yet but will go as high capacity with AGMs as I can.

    Now, cost is not the biggest factor - value is. My main concern is having the panels stolen while we're away from the van. It would be optimal if I could permanently mount them on top of the rear pop-up where thieves wouldn't even be able to see them, but if someone can recommend another solution for portable panels, I would likely go that way so that they can be positioned better and moved to other vehicles.

    Or is solar expensive overkill for my needs and just design a high-capacity AGM bank charged by the alternator?

    What do you guys think?
    Last edited by BajaBus; 12-07-2010 at 03:00 AM.
    Justin
    '97 Ford E350 4x4 Van
    '90 Suburban 4x4
    '09 KLR650 (now a 685 Stage II)

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Location
    World Traveller
    Posts
    1,686
    Sweet truck.

    -Sam
    Tigret Tamer.
    Luxury is the lubricant of life.

    Put a little gravel in your travel.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Location
    Prescott, AZ
    Posts
    1,131
    I run self container vehicle for two with a 60 watt panel. It sounds like you will be using 30-40 amps per day. If you plan to spend 3 days in one spot at a time, then you will need 80-120 watts worth of panels depending upon the time of year. There is a simple calculation you can perform found here http://adventuretrailers.com/page/ac...t_calculation/ If you need some help and advice, feel free to call us. Welcome to ExPo!
    Mario Donovan, Trailer & Vehicle Builder and Traveller.
    12' JK Rubicon w/ Habitat, self contained, 48K miles & counting
    92' Jeep MJ, 371K+ miles of dust & joy, retired
    "No matter where you go, there you are"

    www.adventuretrailers.com
    ATOverland

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    La Paz, Baja California Sur
    Posts
    146
    Quote Originally Posted by AxeAngel View Post
    Sweet truck.

    -Sam
    Thanks, man! We're planning on having fun with it.
    Justin
    '97 Ford E350 4x4 Van
    '90 Suburban 4x4
    '09 KLR650 (now a 685 Stage II)

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    La Paz, Baja California Sur
    Posts
    146
    Quote Originally Posted by elcoyote View Post
    I run self container vehicle for two with a 60 watt panel. It sounds like you will be using 30-40 amps per day. If you plan to spend 3 days in one spot at a time, then you will need 80-120 watts worth of panels depending upon the time of year. There is a simple calculation you can perform found here http://adventuretrailers.com/page/ac...t_calculation/ If you need some help and advice, feel free to call us. Welcome to ExPo!
    Thanks for the welcome, Coyote! I'll be calling you guys.
    Justin
    '97 Ford E350 4x4 Van
    '90 Suburban 4x4
    '09 KLR650 (now a 685 Stage II)

  6. #6
    The two biggest power draw items will be recharging the laptops, and powering the fridge. The Draws of LED lights, I pod chargers/ cell phone chargers is pretty minimal. My laptop while watching a DVD will draw over 7 amps. That is almost 3 times as much as my fridge takes when the compressor is running, and it only runs 20 minutes an hour. With my Laptop off, but charging the battery, it takes about as much energy as the fridge's compressor( 2.7 amps)

    The ARB is efficient, but teenagers are not. Keeping it in a hot Van in the desert will increase it's power consumption. The more it is opened, or cold beer replaced with warm, the more it will use.

    While it is difficult to be sitting in the desert and not take advantage of the suns energy to charge the batteries, I believe, since you only have 2 weeks or so before leaving, you should just concentrate on getting the AGM batteries mounted, and properly isolated, and wired to the alternator for the fastest alternator recharging possible.

    That being said, alternators do a pretty poor job in bringing the batteries to full charge. It varies by vehicle, but usually when the batteries are above 80%, the alternator only makes enough amperage to keep the voltage regulator happy. This means going from 80 to 100% can take several hours of driving. AGM batteries can be recharged faster than flooded batteries, but once the vehicles voltage regulator sees 14.4 or 14.7 volts, the amps taper way down to a level just high enough to hold 14.7. This can be as low as 8 amps, when the batteries are still 60 amp hours from full.

    Idling the engine to charge the batteries is pretty wasteful as most alternators need higher RPM to make around half their rated amperage, and the hotter an alternator gets, the less it is capable of producing, and the more it produces, the hotter it gets. When my engine is hot, and my batteries are still 35 to 40 amp hours from full, I'm lucky to see 12 amps flowing into the batteries. When they are within 20 amp hours, I'm lucky to see 8 amps.

    Again Vehicle specific, but Once 14.7 is reached, the amps get limited.

    If you really want solar for this trip, I'd look into at least a 135 watt Kyocera panel, and either hard mount it to the luggage rack, or have a method of storing it while driving. Being able to tilt it to the winter sun makes a huge difference this time of year. I have 130 watts on my roof here in Northcounty SD and am only getting 30 amp hours a day or so, but in the summer will get about 62 amp hours, and more when I tilt it.

    Then there is the issue of wiring it to a MPPT or PWM charge controller keeping in mind shorter fatter cables over minimal connections will more efficiently transfer the suns energy to your batteries.

    While even a little solar is good to offset your usage, to keep the batteries happiest, they should really get 5-13 percent of their rated capacity, so 5 amps per 100 amp hours of battery minimum if you really want the batteries to last and perform. My 130 watt panel, if tilted to the winter sun is good for 7.3 amps. The MPPT controller might add an amp to this in cooler weather.

    Also consider bringing a high amperage charger like[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Black-Decker-VEC1093DBD-Battery-Charger/dp/B000EJQJ1G/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top/177-9012854-2785326"]http://www.amazon.com/Black-Decker-VEC1093DBD-Battery-Charger/dp/B000EJQJ1G/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top/177-9012854-2785326[/ame] and extension cord for those times when you have access to the grid. Before I had Solar, when I'd drive into the nearest baja town, I'd stop over at a friend's Casa with some lunch, and put 50 or 60 amps back into the batteries in a few hours.

    That link has been varying in price by 50$ lately.

    Good Luck, and have fun South of the Border. Hopefully you will not have to hide in the van often to avoid the occasional sandblasting afternoon windstorm. But if you do, you can amuse yourselves by watching those miserable few who only have tents.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Location
    Auburn, WA.
    Posts
    4,442
    Justin, nice van.
    My solar setup is in this section, and I got my setup from Adventure Trailers.

    Your needs are bigger than mine, but the same type of setup with a bigger panel would work.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Posts
    2,463
    1. Slick rig

    2. If it was me I would just get a small Honda generator. Cheaper than lots of solar panels, and it works day/night and rain/shine.

    3. Mount the generator and fuel can(s) on the rear bumper.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    La Paz, Baja California Sur
    Posts
    146
    Quote Originally Posted by wrcsixeight View Post
    The two biggest power draw items will be recharging the laptops, and powering the fridge. The Draws of LED lights, I pod chargers/ cell phone chargers is pretty minimal. My laptop while watching a DVD will draw over 7 amps. That is almost 3 times as much as my fridge takes when the compressor is running, and it only runs 20 minutes an hour. With my Laptop off, but charging the battery, it takes about as much energy as the fridge's compressor( 2.7 amps)

    The ARB is efficient, but teenagers are not. Keeping it in a hot Van in the desert will increase it's power consumption. The more it is opened, or cold beer replaced with warm, the more it will use.

    While it is difficult to be sitting in the desert and not take advantage of the suns energy to charge the batteries, I believe, since you only have 2 weeks or so before leaving, you should just concentrate on getting the AGM batteries mounted, and properly isolated, and wired to the alternator for the fastest alternator recharging possible.

    That being said, alternators do a pretty poor job in bringing the batteries to full charge. It varies by vehicle, but usually when the batteries are above 80%, the alternator only makes enough amperage to keep the voltage regulator happy. This means going from 80 to 100% can take several hours of driving. AGM batteries can be recharged faster than flooded batteries, but once the vehicles voltage regulator sees 14.4 or 14.7 volts, the amps taper way down to a level just high enough to hold 14.7. This can be as low as 8 amps, when the batteries are still 60 amp hours from full.

    Idling the engine to charge the batteries is pretty wasteful as most alternators need higher RPM to make around half their rated amperage, and the hotter an alternator gets, the less it is capable of producing, and the more it produces, the hotter it gets. When my engine is hot, and my batteries are still 35 to 40 amp hours from full, I'm lucky to see 12 amps flowing into the batteries. When they are within 20 amp hours, I'm lucky to see 8 amps.

    Again Vehicle specific, but Once 14.7 is reached, the amps get limited.

    If you really want solar for this trip, I'd look into at least a 135 watt Kyocera panel, and either hard mount it to the luggage rack, or have a method of storing it while driving. Being able to tilt it to the winter sun makes a huge difference this time of year. I have 130 watts on my roof here in Northcounty SD and am only getting 30 amp hours a day or so, but in the summer will get about 62 amp hours, and more when I tilt it.

    Then there is the issue of wiring it to a MPPT or PWM charge controller keeping in mind shorter fatter cables over minimal connections will more efficiently transfer the suns energy to your batteries.

    While even a little solar is good to offset your usage, to keep the batteries happiest, they should really get 5-13 percent of their rated capacity, so 5 amps per 100 amp hours of battery minimum if you really want the batteries to last and perform. My 130 watt panel, if tilted to the winter sun is good for 7.3 amps. The MPPT controller might add an amp to this in cooler weather.

    Also consider bringing a high amperage charger likehttp://www.amazon.com/Black-Decker-V...012854-2785326 and extension cord for those times when you have access to the grid. Before I had Solar, when I'd drive into the nearest baja town, I'd stop over at a friend's Casa with some lunch, and put 50 or 60 amps back into the batteries in a few hours.

    That link has been varying in price by 50$ lately.

    Good Luck, and have fun South of the Border. Hopefully you will not have to hide in the van often to avoid the occasional sandblasting afternoon windstorm. But if you do, you can amuse yourselves by watching those miserable few who only have tents.
    Thanks a million for all the great information, WRC! With barely more than two weeks left and a long list of essentials to work on combined with the excellent advice that I'm getting on the forums, it sounds like it'd be best to get my battery setup built, check my usage in real conditions and go from there. No sense spending close to a grand (or more?) on a solar setup only to find that it's not what I need. I am ordering up a high-output alternator today and will also get a battery charger for plugging in when I can. After the 10-12 days on Baja playas, I think we'll know what we need.

    We'll be on the Sea of Cortez side when camping so we're really hoping that the wind will cooperate but I've spent many a miserable night not getting a wink of sleep due to the freakin' nonstop wind. Grrrr...
    Justin
    '97 Ford E350 4x4 Van
    '90 Suburban 4x4
    '09 KLR650 (now a 685 Stage II)

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    La Paz, Baja California Sur
    Posts
    146
    Quote Originally Posted by Corey View Post
    Justin, nice van.
    My solar setup is in this section, and I got my setup from Adventure Trailers.

    Your needs are bigger than mine, but the same type of setup with a bigger panel would work.
    I already checked out alot of your links from another thread, Corey but will look more into your setup now. Thanks, amigo!
    Justin
    '97 Ford E350 4x4 Van
    '90 Suburban 4x4
    '09 KLR650 (now a 685 Stage II)

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