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Old 10-27-2018, 01:09 AM   #1
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Question general solar and batteries questions: future build

Hi all

I am thinking ahead… we may possibly get a different camping setup - buying a 22’ class B Transit high roof, and turning it into a camper.

I don’t know hardly anything about solar and batteries.

so i finally got the time to do a spreadsheet of the electronics I'd sometimes need to have in the Class B van, and running on 120v - on an inverter, while in the middle of no where… boondocking.

it is just below 2,100 watts.... (max) all on an inverter.... and that is not including the 12v lights, ceiling fan, etc in the van.

I really dont want to haul a generator.

I was thinking Lifeline (or similar) AGM*Deep Cycle Marine*Batteries.

So... pardon the novice questions:

would a 2,800 watt inverter be enough? for a max draw of 2,100 watts. and that is not including the 12v lights, ceiling fan, etc in the van.

and how much battery capacity would I want to be able to run this gear (just less than 2,100 watts) for, say, 1 hour?

(maybe even…. 3 hours?)

and...

how much solar would anyone suggest…. for the roof to be able to more or less recharge in about a day.... yes I know time of year / angle of sun all is a variable.

Thanks for any and all tips… and thoughts.

John
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Old 10-27-2018, 02:32 AM   #2
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... and how much battery capacity would I want to be able to run this gear (just less than 2,100 watts) for, say, 1 hour?
You probably want the battery capacity in amp-hours. If the inverter is 90% efficient, that's 2100 / 0.90 = 2333 watts (and the inverter may be less efficient than that). The voltage depends on the current state of charge of the battery; if that voltage is assumed to be 12 V, then 2333 W / 12 V = 195 amps. An hour of 195 amps is 195 amp-hours, but keep in mind that when discharging the battery this rapidly, it has much less capacity than when discharged at a more moderate rate.

If you really run this much stuff for an hour or more a day, you need a very substantial battery (larger than the Escape optional dual 6V 230 Ah) to get through a rainy day, and multiply that for multiple days or multiple hours in one day.

To generate this much energy (2300 watt-hours or more) from solar in a few hours, that's hundreds of watts of solar panel. Van or travel trailer, you could just plan on covering all available roof space with panels.
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Old 10-27-2018, 10:04 AM   #3
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That is a lot of power use! Are you planning on an ac/dc fridge? If yes I would look into propane if it were me...it uses almost nothing for propane/day and MOST of the time works very well...that would cut back on your power use considerably and save on battery weight as well.
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Old 10-27-2018, 10:40 AM   #4
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All this is based on my experience with a much smaller system - 480 watts of solar & a 1500 watt inverter, use for far shorter lengths of time, but I suspect, if anything, I'm underestimating the size of the system.

To put this in battery terms, using Brian's amperage figures, you would need around 4 Lifeline GPL-4CT (a 220 amp hour battery at 20 hour rate) for each hour of use at the full inverter load to leave the batteries at 50%. You may even need more since you are hitting the batteries much harder than they are designed for (look up the Peukert Law).

The next problem is how to recharge them. Under ideal conditions, a 160 flat roof mounted watt panel can produce 40 amp hours per day. You will need to put back at least 200 amp hours per hour of use; with losses, probably closer to 250 or 300. While larger panels are available, once you get over 200 watts, you may find they don't fit on the roof. In any case, you are looking at a minimum of 1000 watts of panel(s) per hour of use. This does not allow for any other battery use, cloudy days, or low angle winter sun.

Again, this is off the top of my head without enough research to be dead accurate, but it is close enough to suggest that it isn't practical. I would look for ways to limit your power needs. I think I'm a power hog at 40 - 50 amp hours per day - at 4-5 times that, you need to find another way...
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Old 10-27-2018, 10:48 AM   #5
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Another way to look at this problem is you are going to need about 200 pounds of lead/acid batteries (regardless of agm vs wet). And to restore that large amount of power in one (sunny) day you will need about 200 pounds of solar panels. And even then, one cloudy day will render the inverter unusable. Your whole camping experience will revolve around making and storing power. You might - as much as I cringe to say this - consider the advantages of a generator. Put some thought and money into a sound-proof enclosure.

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Old 10-27-2018, 11:50 AM   #6
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On the battery side, Lithium would be only approach that would make sense to me for your application.
As noted above, recharging the bank becomes the issue, but the lithium bank allows more usable amp hrs which helps immensely in high draw applications.
Once you price out the cost of the Lithium bank that would be necessary to support your requirements, if you still want to move forward then you can look at the solar/generator needs to maintain it.
I’d run it by AM Solar or some similar and have them cost out what would be required.
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Old 10-27-2018, 11:52 AM   #7
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On the battery side, Lithium would be only approach that would make sense to me for your application.
As noted above, recharging the bank becomes the issue, but the lithium bank allows more usable amp hrs which helps immensely in high draw applications.
Once you price out the cost of the Lithium bank that would be necessary to support your requirements, if you still want to move forward then you can look at the solar/generator needs to maintain it.
I’d run it by AM Solar or some similar and have them cost out what would be required.
Yup you hit the nail right on the head.
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Old 10-27-2018, 12:50 PM   #8
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Thanks everyone for all the great and very helpful posts.

Looks as if my thought of using all my electronic gear for an hour, here and there, would require an extremely large and costly battery and solar setup.

So likely I would just have a capable 120v shore power, and realize that I would simply need to find a campsite that had hookups to do my work.

The good news is that I would hopefully only need to do work on the very occasional day.... not every day... so I could get away with this “find a campsite with hookups” approach.

So then I guess the question becomes .... how do I make sure I specify to the builders... that my 120v shore power system can handle the 2100 watts (max) draw for the electronics ... plus overhead for fans, lights, etc.

Thanks. :-)

John
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Old 10-27-2018, 01:42 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Losangeles View Post
Thanks everyone for all the great and very helpful posts.

Looks as if my thought of using all my electronic gear for an hour, here and there, would require an extremely large and costly battery and solar setup.

So likely I would just have a capable 120v shore power, and realize that I would simply need to find a campsite that had hookups to do my work.

The good news is that I would hopefully only need to do work on the very occasional day.... not every day... so I could get away with this “find a campsite with hookups” approach.

So then I guess the question becomes .... how do I make sure I specify to the builders... that my 120v shore power system can handle the 2100 watts (max) draw for the electronics ... plus overhead for fans, lights, etc.

Thanks. :-)

John
2100 watts using 120v is less than 18 amps. Two 15 amp circuits fed from separate 15 amp breakers should be sufficient.
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Old 10-27-2018, 01:55 PM   #10
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I actually prefer to convert everything to watt*hours vs amp*hours... simply multiple volts * amps * hours to get watt*hours. 2 GC2 golf cart batteries at 6V 220AH each, taken to 50% 'safe' discharge give 12V * 110AH = 1320 watt*hours total usable power. allow 10-20% power loss any time you run through a conversion like an inverter, or solar power to battery charging, or whatever.

why so much power? my wife's rather powerful 'workstation' laptop (core i7, 1TB SSD, 16GB ram, 15" high res screen) uses about 50 watts when its charging and running at the same time doing her engineering related work. all our lighting is LED, we don't need a microwave or electric coffee maker when we're camping, heating is propane, fridge is propane. a 20 lb propane bottle contains the /equivalent/ of 125000 watt*hours (!!), you'd need 200 golf cart batteries for that much power! (yes, I know, propane is for heat, not electricity, although you /could/ run a generator on it, but that would have less than 50% efficiency).
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Old 10-27-2018, 02:37 PM   #11
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So likely I would just have a capable 120v shore power, and realize that I would simply need to find a campsite that had hookups to do my work.

The good news is that I would hopefully only need to do work on the very occasional day.... not every day... so I could get away with this “find a campsite with hookups” approach.
While generators are widely despised (and I won't argue with that), occasional use for one hour might not be so bad. In this case, because the RV is a motorhome rather than a trailer, it might even make sense to idle the engine (with a well-prepared and high-output charging system) for a very occasional hour.
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Old 10-27-2018, 02:45 PM   #12
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Last time I used my Honda EU 1000i ( during the allowed time frame ), I pointed the exhaust at the bushes where there were no campsites, away from my neighbour. That didn't stop them from glaring, even though they were 100' away.
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Old 10-27-2018, 03:25 PM   #13
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Since I would be one of those glaring at a generator user in a natural area, I might also suggest that a brief stop to get some work done - supported by a running engine - would be best in a truckstop or appropriate parking lot (e.g. Walmart).
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Old 10-27-2018, 06:15 PM   #14
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Last time I used my Honda EU 1000i ( during the allowed time frame ), I pointed the exhaust at the bushes where there were no campsites, away from my neighbour. That didn't stop them from glaring, even though they were 100' away.
It’s good to see that you are considerate of your neighbors. It bothers me that most users of generators place them on the drivers side as far from themselves as possible. Also, the fact that you paid the price for one of the quietest ones.
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Old 10-27-2018, 07:37 PM   #15
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That said, I don't want to carry fuel for it, so I'm using a pair of 40 watt solar panels instead.
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Old 10-29-2018, 02:27 AM   #16
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Since I would be one of those glaring at a generator user in a natural area, I might also suggest that a brief stop to get some work done - supported by a running engine - would be best in a truckstop or appropriate parking lot (e.g. Walmart).
Thanks Brian, and everyone, for all the great ideas and info.

I went back to my list of electronics I'd need for work... and cut it down to the very minimum... and at the very least I'd need 1200 watts continuous to run my electronics. (work tools)

I do own a Honda 2000 that I modified to run off propane... works great, and zero smell of gas as it has never been run on gasoline.

The van won't have propane installed at all.... dont really fancy hauling around a big tank of propane...

so perhaps finding shore power would be good for work, if i need to work

or buying an expensive metal box to mount and then carry a generator, outside the van, would be an option. Not wild about that idea.

or as you suggest... could I somehow just run the van's engine, and have a 12v inverter, and have the van itself provide 1200 watts?

or perhaps I get the 2nd alternator installed by Ford when being built... i think it is an option.... how would this work, on a Transit? anyone done similar on an F150 or simialr ford?


thanks anyone for any ideas

john
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Old 10-29-2018, 04:34 AM   #17
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A second alternator wired to a bank of batteries should be adequate if you plan to move every day.
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Old 10-29-2018, 10:55 AM   #18
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or perhaps I get the 2nd alternator installed by Ford when being built...

john
There are alternators with two outputs. One can go to the van battery charging system and one can go to a higher output regulator for a higher capacity "house" battery.

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Old 10-29-2018, 11:41 AM   #19
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Looks like times have changed. I checked a couple of my old sources and Balmar no longer offers an alternator with dual outputs but does offer a regulating system with outputs for two different batteries with different needs.

HehrPowerline used to make high output alternators with two outputs. I did find one company offering them, Roberts and Son, their part #250-10250. They list a HehrPowerline 220A-14VIREF. If you're idling a big engine to charge a battery it does make sense to get the most out of it with a high output alternator.

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Old 10-29-2018, 01:38 PM   #20
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Commercial vehicles usually have optional packages available for applications such as building a motorhome. There is an optional high-output alternator for the Transit (and even dual batteries), and if you can find a brochure I think you'll find more details on alternator output and electrical packages than the regular Ford website offers.

Rather than running two different charging systems, it would probably be better to have one, and a DC-to-DC converter to take the van's power and produce the desired voltage for charging the deep-cycle "coach" or "RV" battery.

If you're serious about converting a van, I suggest looking at the information provided by the manufacturer to support this. The usual terms are "upfitter" or "body builder", and in Ford's case the support website is Ford Body Builder Advisory Service. It is freely available, and includes "incomplete vehicle manuals" (meaning for vehicles which are to be completed, not incomplete manuals!). I didn't find much for the electrical system in there, but it it links to a set of upfit reference guides including two that list this:
Alternator Output 150-Amp
Alternator Output HD (Opt.) 250-Amp (Gas) / 210-Amp (Diesel)
If you get even half of the HD output at idle speed, that's enough to keep up. There may be a fast-idle provision as well; it's probably worth checking.

These electrical system possibilities would also be applicable to someone towing, who wants to equip the tow vehicle for fast charging of a trailer battery, but the usual 7-pin connector circuit would not be adequate for kilowatts of power at 12 volts.
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