Mike's solar power story (long)
Executive summary, for you executives out there:
I purchased my Escape 21 in early April 2014 equipped
with one 95 watt solar panel, controller, dual six-volt
batteries, and the 1500 watt inverter. In late April I had AM
Solar in Oregon add a second 100 watt solar panel, additional
wiring, and a battery monitor. After the addition of the
second panel I had no problems with power for the rest of my
two-month trip. After the purchase of my trailer Escape
increased the size of the solar panel it offers to 160 watts.
One of these might have been sufficient for my needs, without
the addition of a second panel.
I intended to use my trailer "off the grid" as much as
possible, as I thought it would save money and allow me to
spend several days in places I would otherwise not be able to.
I thought that in order to do this I would need more solar power
than the one 95 watt panel that ETI offered as an option.
AM Solar, in Springfield, Oregon, specializes in solar
power for RVs, and has a good reputation in the RV blogosphere
for their work. So it was my intent to have them do all of the
solar power work on my trailer. My plan was to pick up my
trailer in Sumas wired for solar, stay for a bit in the Seattle
area as a shakedown, then bring the trailer down to Springfield
to have AM Solar install the solar panels.
But with this plan I was going to be camping for at
least a week without solar power before having the panels
installed. I whined about this on the forum and was persuaded
to have ETI install a solar panel before picking up the trailer.
In retrospect, I could have just stayed at a site with hookups
that first week, but I wasn't thinking clearly.
So I picked up my trailer from ETI equipped with a 95W
solar panel, solar controller, 1500W inverter, and dual 6V
batteries. Then I spent the next seventeen days in probably
the worst place in the 48 contiguous U.S. states to test a solar
power system: Whidbey Island then the Olympic Peninsula in
Washington. The Go Solar controller that ETI installed showed
low battery charge for much of this time, down to less than
60%. I whined about this on the forum as well and was told that
the charge level from the controller was based upon voltage and
wasn't very accurate. During this 17-day period I moved to a
site with electric power for two days, just to charge up the
After the Champoeg rally I drove down to AM Solar to
have additional panels installed. I was asked about my "RV
lifestyle". I replied that I use the laptop a lot, and intend
to use a microwave about fifteen minutes a day or less. I don't
watch much TV, I said. I was told that the microwave wasn't a
big deal; television usage for several hours a day (via an
inverter, I presume) was the big draw on batteries. Given that,
my dual six-volt batteries were enough for my needs.
I was given a proposal for the installation of three
additional 100W panels, with their own controller, additional
(heavier) wiring, and a battery monitor. The estimate was for
nearly $3000. This was more than I was willing to spend,
especially since I didn't really know my power requirements. We
scaled it back to one panel, using ETI's controller, with
thicker wiring, a Bogart battery monitor, and wiring to connect
two additional panels at a later date if I need them. This
estimate was for around $1750 and I had this done. I'm quite
satisfied with the installation.
For the next month or so after this I was on shore power
for one night, at a state park in Oregon. I had no problems
with power, and the battery monitor showed that the charge
going from a high of 100% down to around 72% at one point. I
ran my 3-way fridge off propane when stopped, but when traveling
I switched it to 12-volt power. This would slowly drain the
batteries down about ten percent over five hours or so. I
bought a 700-watt microwave at a Walmart for $50 just to try it
out. Using it for eight minutes via the inverter would bring
my batteries down about five percent or so.
At the Moab rally I noticed that Jamman's Escape 19 had
two solar panels. He told me that ETI installed both. I didn't
realize they would install two panels, or I might have done
this on my trailer. More recently ETI has started using a
larger 160W panel. If one of these had been available when I
bought my trailer, I would have tried one first with the
inverter and microwave before adding a second panel.
Given all this, I'm pretty happy with my installation
and think it will suit me for a while. I'm tempted to try to
run the fridge off 12 volts continually (well, in the daytime)
at some point, which will require at least one more solar panel.