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Old 06-05-2015, 09:23 AM   #1
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Portable solar panel vs mounted

Hi...

We're working on our build sheet. We had planned on getting a mounted solar panel, but hearing that 3 have blown off is making us reconsider that decision. I know that we could ask ETI to bolt it to the fiberglass, but I'm really hesitant about adding holes. Every hole is another area of maintenance.

I don't know much electricity in general, or solar panels in particular. I'm wondering if you all can give me your thoughts on the idea of using a portable solar panel vs a mounted one.

- Would it be a PITA to set up and use a portable solar panel?
- Should I have ETI do anything to our trailer to make using a portable one easier or more effective?
- Should I get the 2 6 volt batteries to use with the portable panel?
- Is there a good site I could look at to learn more about this sort of thing?

Thanks so much for your thoughts!
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Old 06-05-2015, 10:01 AM   #2
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If you do a search here, and over at FGRV, you will get lots, and lots, of opinions on the topic. And only you can say what is right for you, as different folks, in different situations have done many differing setups.

Right now, I just use a portable 40W that does a nice job of adding to my dual 6V batteries. I have rarely done more that 4 cold nights in a row, so the batteries alone are good enough. In the future, with lots of travel, and little use of serviced campsites, this will likely change.

I would not hesitate in the least to have Escape mount a permanent panel on the roof. There are many successful installations, and the 3 that have had trouble are a rarity. I imagine Reace will work diligently to ensure that future installations are even better.

If you are travelling in bright sun, the permanent installation will charge on the fly, and if setting up on a sunny site will also charge great.

However, if you set up your trailer in the shade, then the charge will not be that strong.

With a portable panel, you can set it up to get the maximum gain from the sun. You can also bring it out only when needed. If you do a lot of serviced sites, then this might be the way to go. The downside is it doesn't charge while not set up, and some will worry about it being stolen a lot.

My thought for future setup at this time, is to have a permanent installation, and if I find that is not adequate, supplement with a portable panel stowed nicely away somewhere, to be brought out only as needed. I would be that for the most part, the permanent mount would fit the bill, but it sure would be nice to add in the portable panel as required. Kinda the best of both worlds. My thoughts may change into the future though.
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Old 06-05-2015, 10:01 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by sallemann View Post
Hi...

We're working on our build sheet. We had planned on getting a mounted solar panel, but hearing that 3 have blown off is making us reconsider that decision. I know that we could ask ETI to bolt it to the fiberglass, but I'm really hesitant about adding holes. Every hole is another area of maintenance.

Only 3 solar panels have blown off out of however many have been installed is an interesting stat.
I wouldn't worry too much about the added holes. These trailers have a number of holes that, so far, I haven't heard any problems about. The awning produced holes, the bathroom vent produced a hole, so did the AC (if you have one), the wires from your solar panel (if you have one) produced a hole, the fantastic fan produced a hole and so did (those with) a refer vent on the roof, the black tank vent produced a hole too. My thought is that 4 bolts holding the solar panel to the roof is the least of, and possibly the smallest holes your roof will incur.
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Old 06-05-2015, 10:05 AM   #4
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I don't know anything about it, other than you need to make sure it doesn't walk off via a ten finger discount while you're out sightseeing in your TV.
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Old 06-05-2015, 10:09 AM   #5
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Thanks guys... really appreciate your input.

We have a 2005 17B and we have had to address leaking in the bathroom vent... and when we first got the trailer, the holes for the awning had some leaking that we had to address. That's why I'm concerned about having more holes put through the fiberglass. You guys both have newer trailers... have you had to deal with any leaking? I'm wondering if the materials/techniques ETI uses in more recent trailers have alleviated the leakage issues.
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Old 06-05-2015, 10:27 AM   #6
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I've not experienced any leaking but, if I did, I'd use butyl tape and an exterior caulk to fix it, because in my mind, these two combined are the best sealer around.
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Old 06-05-2015, 10:32 AM   #7
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I don't know anything about it, other than you need to make sure it doesn't walk off via a ten finger discount while you're out sightseeing in your TV.
Yes, absolutely a concern and consideration. Thanks.
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Old 06-05-2015, 11:18 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by sallemann View Post
Hi...
I don't know much electricity in general, or solar panels in particular. I'm wondering if you all can give me your thoughts on the idea of using a portable solar panel vs a mounted one.

- Would it be a PITA to set up and use a portable solar panel?
- Should I have ETI do anything to our trailer to make using a portable one easier or more effective?
- Should I get the 2 6 volt batteries to use with the portable panel?
- Is there a good site I could look at to learn more about this sort of thing?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to your main question. It depends on your camping style and needs.

For example - in order of increasing solar power needs:
1) If you mostly camp where 110 AC is available then the bare minimum single battery, no solar, is OK.

2) If you occasionally camp away from 110 AC for only a few days or less, then the two 6v battery option is OK with no solar.

3) If you boondock for more than a few days then two 6v batteries and the roof mounted solar will work, as long as the panel gets direct overhead sun for a few hours.

4) If you camp in the fall through early spring season ( low sun angle ) or park in shade, then a second portable panel may be necessary. You will learn this by trial and error.

Since we are planning to camp in both shade and in the low sun season, I asked ETI to install a "porthole" for a wire near the battery compartment so I could connect a portable panel when the time came. There may be other similar options, like a 12v connector wired to the GoPower controller. ETI will provide the specifics.

My thoughts on keeping the portable panel from walking off while I'm out fishing: A chain to the nearest stationary object - picnic table, tree, etc. Or a pair of ground screws with the panel on an A-frame and a chain between the 3 objects ( so the ground screws can't be unscrewed.) Of course, nothing will stop a determined person from cutting a chain.

The PITA factor is relative to the size of your portable panel. Little ones in the 40 watt range are probably easy to deal with. The biggest - in the 150 to 160 watt sizes are likely to need to live in a pickup truck bed until needed. (Note, stay away from the 200 watt and up sizes. In addition to being huge, they are designed to produce voltages that aren't compatible with the Escape installed controller. Plus, if you don't need that much power then you are denting your wallet for no reason.)

There are probably excellent websites with more info. Keep watching this forum and someone will provide a link.

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Old 06-05-2015, 12:01 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by alanmalk View Post
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to your main question. It depends on your camping style and needs.

For example - in order of increasing solar power needs:
1) If you mostly camp where 110 AC is available then the bare minimum single battery, no solar, is OK.

2) If you occasionally camp away from 110 AC for only a few days or less, then the two 6v battery option is OK with no solar.

3) If you boondock for more than a few days then two 6v batteries and the roof mounted solar will work, as long as the panel gets direct overhead sun for a few hours.

4) If you camp in the fall through early spring season ( low sun angle ) or park in shade, then a second portable panel may be necessary. You will learn this by trial and error.

Since we are planning to camp in both shade and in the low sun season, I asked ETI to install a "porthole" for a wire near the battery compartment so I could connect a portable panel when the time came. There may be other similar options, like a 12v connector wired to the GoPower controller. ETI will provide the specifics.

My thoughts on keeping the portable panel from walking off while I'm out fishing: A chain to the nearest stationary object - picnic table, tree, etc. Or a pair of ground screws with the panel on an A-frame and a chain between the 3 objects ( so the ground screws can't be unscrewed.) Of course, nothing will stop a determined person from cutting a chain.

The PITA factor is relative to the size of your portable panel. Little ones in the 40 watt range are probably easy to deal with. The biggest - in the 150 to 160 watt sizes are likely to need to live in a pickup truck bed until needed. (Note, stay away from the 200 watt and up sizes. In addition to being huge, they are designed to produce voltages that aren't compatible with the Escape installed controller. Plus, if you don't need that much power then you are denting your wallet for no reason.)

There are probably excellent websites with more info. Keep watching this forum and someone will provide a link.

--
Alan
We use a very heavy braided cable which is encased in a vinyl cover .It locks onto the folding stand with a good lock and so far just lock to front frame for our 80 watt portable panel . We now purchased a connecter that plugs into our trailer plug . 80 watt is not too heavy and goes into a case . We store inside trailer .
The give you 15 lead wire and if you think you need more can get 30 ft . So far the 15 ft has been plenty .I do the best I can to not have it walk away but in our mind would rather now replace panel someone steals then hurt or damage someone else or there property with a flying panel .Pat
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Old 06-05-2015, 12:03 PM   #10
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We use a very heavy braided cable which is encased in a vinyl cover .It locks onto the folding stand with a good lock and so far just lock to front frame for our 80 watt portable panel . We now purchased a connecter that plugs into our trailer plug . 80 watt is not too heavy and goes into a case . We store inside trailer .
The give you 15 lead wire and if you think you need more can get 30 ft . So far the 15 ft has been plenty .I do the best I can to not have it walk away but in our mind would rather now replace panel someone steals then hurt or damage someone else or there property with a flying panel .Pat
Sorry Allan this wasn't meant for you . You have been very helpful giving me information . Pat
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Old 06-05-2015, 12:43 PM   #11
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I used portable panels when I had a pop-up, and got the roof mounted installation when I bought the 17. It was 95 watts then, and fairly ample for our needs. Now have the 19 with the 160 watt roof panel, and it's done great so far. I also had Reace install a porthole on the forward driver side, so I could later on connect a portable panel if needed/wanted. Also had the controller mounted under the driver sie dinette so I could patch any portable panel into the controller as well.
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Old 06-05-2015, 01:43 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by sallemann View Post
Hi...

We're working on our build sheet. We had planned on getting a mounted solar panel, but hearing that 3 have blown off is making us reconsider that decision. I know that we could ask ETI to bolt it to the fiberglass, but I'm really hesitant about adding holes. Every hole is another area of maintenance.

I don't know much electricity in general, or solar panels in particular. I'm wondering if you all can give me your thoughts on the idea of using a portable solar panel vs a mounted one.

- Would it be a PITA to set up and use a portable solar panel?
- Should I have ETI do anything to our trailer to make using a portable one easier or more effective?
- Should I get the 2 6 volt batteries to use with the portable panel?
- Is there a good site I could look at to learn more about this sort of thing?

Thanks so much for your thoughts!
I agree on avoiding holes, the waterproof hull/shell is the main reason I went with to a fiberglass trailer. Any hole is a potential problem and will require periodic checking.
Can't speak on the subject of ETI's use of epoxy, but that's how I attached mine. Could be a few contributing factors to the failures, knowing ETI they are on top of it.

I like the simplicity of use with a roof mount panel, but many do use the portables, your choice of course.

If you plan on camping without hookups I'd suggest 2 batteries, with or without solar.

If you want a good primer on 12 volts, try The 12volt Side of Life (Part 1), it's in 2 parts, read both.
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Old 06-05-2015, 01:50 PM   #13
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This may be a dumb question, but do you just hook up the leads from the solar suitcase onto the appropriate terminals on the battery (s) or am I missing something?
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Old 06-05-2015, 01:59 PM   #14
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You are correct, in the simplest method, you just connect the suitcases clips to the battery terminals. If you have a roof mounted panel too, there are other considerations.
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Old 06-05-2015, 02:08 PM   #15
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This may be a dumb question, but do you just hook up the leads from the solar suitcase onto the appropriate terminals on the battery (s) or am I missing something?
My 80 watt portables came with many connecters one end connects to their end -one way was actual clips for pos and neg terminals , one connecters you can permanently install on battery posts and just connect to the end . I now have ordered their connecter to just go to trailer connecter . I don't need to open box or connect directly to my batteries . The panel I ordered was a go power and the 2 previous connecters all came with their folding system . I bought my on Amazon and noticed a little price drop less then 400. Also I would mention their whole system is very well made and they give you a nice case . Pat
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Old 06-05-2015, 02:12 PM   #16
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My 80 watt portables came with many connecters one end connects to their end -one way was actual clips for pos and neg terminals , one connecters you can permanently install on battery posts and just connect to the end . I now have ordered their connecter to just go to trailer connecter . I don't need to open box or connect directly to my batteries . The panel I ordered was a go power and the 2 previous connecters all came with their folding system . I bought my on Amazon and noticed a little price drop less then 400. Also I would mention their whole system is very well made and they give you a nice case . Pat
I do have 2 6 volts and got the 80 watt instead of their 120 watt because of size and weight and if I had ordered at factory I would of only gotten 95 watt anyway . I did talk to them and was told I can add a little more too. Pat
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Old 06-05-2015, 02:13 PM   #17
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This may be a dumb question, but do you just hook up the leads from the solar suitcase onto the appropriate terminals on the battery (s) or am I missing something?
There are a couple of scenarios where it is perfectly fine to hook solar directly to the battery. Both require a certain amount of effort on your part which otherwise would be handled by the charge controller.

1) You are certain your battery is less than 80% full. Then the battery will accept all the charge from the panel, even 150/160 watts, without the voltage rising too much. But keep an eye on the voltmeter and disconnect if it goes close to, or over 15v.

2) Your panel is small - say "suitcase" size, 40 watts or less. Then the panel behaves more like a trickle charger and is unlikely to do any harm even if the voltage goes over the full mark (14.x to 15.x depending on what the battery manufacturer says is a maximum charging voltage.) But keep in mind it is not a great idea to apply that voltage on a regular (daily) basis to a full battery. Not that anyone wants to waste precious fishing time to charge a full battery...

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Old 06-05-2015, 02:27 PM   #18
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There are a couple of scenarios where it is perfectly fine to hook solar directly to the battery. Both require a certain amount of effort on your part which otherwise would be handled by the charge controller.

1) You are certain your battery is less than 80% full. Then the battery will accept all the charge from the panel, even 150/160 watts, without the voltage rising too much. But keep an eye on the voltmeter and disconnect if it goes close to, or over 15v.

2) Your panel is small - say "suitcase" size, 40 watts or less. Then the panel behaves more like a trickle charger and is unlikely to do any harm even if the voltage goes over the full mark (14.x to 15.x depending on what the battery manufacturer says is a maximum charging voltage.) But keep in mind it is not a great idea to apply that voltage on a regular (daily) basis to a full battery. Not that anyone wants to waste precious fishing time to charge a full battery...

--
Alan
Hi Allan . We installed a volt meter and keep a watch on that . I really don't think my batteries are ever fully charged many discussions before . Plugging in for couple days or I have a external charger 1 x month never have I gotten more then 13.7 . When the external charger runs it will only go up to 14.7 on fast charge . My generator which is only a 1000 watt got the best . When I see batteries going down before night especially if I need heater I hook up portables during daylight . After they settle down they are only 13.5 or 13.6 . To charge these 6 volts would take a really expensive charger . The panels do have a controller on the back also . If I get another panel thinking of by passing that panel charger controller and getting a better one . Still trying to figure all this out . But I think my batteries never get over 85-90 % no matter what I do . Pat
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Old 06-05-2015, 02:35 PM   #19
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If you have a roof mounted panel too, there are other considerations.
Like what?
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Old 06-05-2015, 02:40 PM   #20
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All good points, but nobody has mentioned price.

The solar option with ETI is $850 CAD.

Portable options can be considerably cheaper. I just received a 120 watt suitcase with a built-in controller from solarblvd. This weekend, I am going to build a 10' tray cable that will plug into the 7-pin pigtail. All of this for less than $250 USD, shipped. It should fit nicely through the oversized storage hatch on my 19'.

Though, I will comment that I am not impressed with the build quality of the suitcase from solarblvd. One of the latches doesn't line up correctly, and the mounting hardware they use is not adequate, IMO.
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