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Old 12-14-2017, 02:44 PM   #1
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solar install on 21

Well, the other half and I finally cracked and ordered the 21 yesterday. Now on to the build sheet.

One question is: one rooftop solar panel, or two. We will likely order one, but are interested in opinions on the second one. I'm not really interested in fiddling with portables, but would consider this as a supplement later if unavoidable.

Another question is which controller, the ETI one, or choose my own. I have lots of experience with 12volt stuff on a sailboat, but nothing on solar. I am inclined toward greater adjustability and electrical information than otherwise.

We already have a pair of 6volt AGMs which we use with our Northern Lite camper, so we will have the trailer wired for them. Our camping tends to be shoulder season rather than the height of summer so the furnace will get used on some trips. I have a battery to battery charger that currently charges the AGMs for the camper, but am not sure I want to use it for the trailer. That is a bloody long wire run. On the other hand, if the charger would actually step input voltage up, it might handle the voltage drop to the charger location fine... Time to call Sterling.

Thoughts would be appreciated...

Cheers,

Allan Edie
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Old 12-14-2017, 03:07 PM   #2
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Turns out that the Sterling BtoB charger does step up voltage. So, if the charger is mounted next to the batteries, and as long as the voltage drop to the charger doesn't cause voltage from the tow vehicle to drop lower than 13 volts at the charger, the charger will boost to whatever voltage is needed by the multi step charge sequence. It seems that I will be installing the BtoB after all.

There will be line losses in the marginal wire sizes in the towing harness, but likely not sufficient to cause an issue. And the batteries will actually see proper charging voltage and sequence, unlike (to say the least) what they would see from the normal alternator hookup through the 7 pin. My plan at this point is to simply use the normal 7pin hookup as the charge source and see if the voltage drop is tolerable. If it is not, I will just upsize the wire in the 7 pin circuit rather than fussing with separate charge wiring.

Once I have this sorted next year, I will post results.

In the meantime, I still would like feedback on the solar questions.

Cheers,

Allan Edie
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Old 12-14-2017, 04:00 PM   #3
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It really depends on what time of year you camp, and how much electricity you use. As I've mentioned a couple of times here at the forum, I consider myself a heavy user of electricity; 40 - 50 amp hours per day. On my 17 I had 2 panels (a stock 95 & an added 100 watt) that kept up in the summer, but didn't in the winter (low angle sun & shorter days). Adding a 160 watt portable too care of the problem.

I decided to forgo the TV antenna & add a second panel to my new 21, of a total of 320 watts on the roof. During the fall that was plenty to keep up with my usage unless I was parked in the shade. Now, at Quartzside, in direct sunlight & mid December, the two panels are still not quite enough. For example, this morning I was getting around 4 amps from the rooftop panels. Added the 160 watt portable aimed at the sun & it went up to 12 amps. Since I like to be close to fully charged by noon or so, I keep the portable plugged in even here in the sun.

I'm currently in the process of modifying the roof top panel mounts so they can be tipped to the correct angle for maximum output. I hope that will let me keep the portable panel in the truck.
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Old 12-14-2017, 05:24 PM   #4
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...
There will be line losses in the marginal wire sizes in the towing harness, but likely not sufficient to cause an issue.
...
Some of us are unlucky enough to have a significant voltage drop between the alternator and the trailer batteries. On my Tacoma for example, pulling 12 amps (while trying to power the fridge on 12v) I measured a drop of over 1.5 volts. Enough to totally prevent batteries from charging under those conditions. And I'm not inclined - at this moment anyway - to go through the expense of adding a dedicated wire from alternator to trailer plug. Without adding any additional charging hardware my only solution is to tow with most everything in the trailer turned off. This may not work for you...

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Old 12-14-2017, 06:30 PM   #5
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Hi Alan,

Thanks for the reply, I appreciate it. If I can test your patience, I have a few questions. I will be trying my intended setup on a 2014 Tacoma, so your experience may be directly applicable to my plans.

How did you measure the voltage drop - was the 1.5 volts between the alternator and the battery location in the trailer? What year is your Tacoma, and do you know what gauge wire supplies the 7 pin plug? Is the 7 pin wiring on your Tacoma the standard OEM tow package for that year? Did the voltage at your battery location on the trailer go below 13 volts? Was the 12 amps just the fridge, or all loads combined?

If your setup has the same wiring as mine, and the voltage at the trailer battery went below 13volts while drawing only 12 amps, I will have to upsize the wiring to supply the B2B charger. Which will be a nuisance.
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Old 12-14-2017, 07:13 PM   #6
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firstly I would ask if ETI can do the roof strengthen + prewire at build, but no 2nd panel at build, and at what cost.

so you could (maybe) do that.

Yes they do extra wood blocking in the roof under 2nd solar if you get 2nd solar.

and

will you go dual 6v? I recommend it if you like to boondock. sounds as if yes.

and

we have dual ETI solar on our 2017 21' and i love it. I tow all the time with fridge on 12v only, and never ever ever have to think about "did i turn propane on? or off?" during a tow day. Propane stays off on a tow day, even during lunch breaks. Awesome.

just my 2c..... oh and unsure how they would bold down 2nd panel, after the fact, without messing up your interior ceiling.....

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Old 12-14-2017, 07:24 PM   #7
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Hi Alan,

Thanks for the reply, I appreciate it. If I can test your patience, I have a few questions. I will be trying my intended setup on a 2014 Tacoma, so your experience may be directly applicable to my plans.

How did you measure the voltage drop - was the 1.5 volts between the alternator and the battery location in the trailer? What year is your Tacoma, and do you know what gauge wire supplies the 7 pin plug? Is the 7 pin wiring on your Tacoma the standard OEM tow package for that year? Did the voltage at your battery location on the trailer go below 13 volts? Was the 12 amps just the fridge, or all loads combined?

If your setup has the same wiring as mine, and the voltage at the trailer battery went below 13volts while drawing only 12 amps, I will have to upsize the wiring to supply the B2B charger. Which will be a nuisance.
Always glad to answer questions. But remember, while answers are free, correct answers cost $$$

To measure the voltage drop: Plug in the trailer, turn on the load, turn on the engine. In my case most of the load was the fridge which takes a nominal 12 amps on 12v. I may have had a light or two running but nothing else of significance.

Next I went to the converter (WFCO, the battery charger) and found a terminal that connected the charger to the battery. This is very close to the spot where all the loads are distributed. Using a good voltmeter I measured the + voltage at the terminal and the + voltage at the Tacoma battery. Obviously I needed one voltmeter lead to be extended by 20 or 30 feet. Since there is no current flowing in the voltmeter leads there is no worries about incorrect voltage. With the engine running at a fast idle I noted a difference of 1.6 volts between the car battery and the distribution point.

Next, moved the leads and measured the voltage across the car battery at about 14 as expected. Then measured the voltage across the distribution terminal to trailer ground at about 12.4. This is consistent with the 1.6 volt drop. And it is too low to charge my AGM batteries while the fridge is running.

My 7 pin is stock OEM 2014 Tacoma. No, I have no idea what the wire gauge is, either in the trailer or the vehicle. But I do know that I am a tightwad and not likely to upgrade it when the alternative is to not run my fridge on 12v when towing. Actually, I am quite happy with the solar charge while towing - no shade from trees! Those that know my camping style know that I rarely even check the battery voltage while boon docking. Not being a big user of power I'm happy if the furnace fan comes on during a cold night.

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Old 12-14-2017, 07:41 PM   #8
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Since your preferred camping times are "shoulder seasons" I recommend that you install as much solar on your roof as will fit. I have three panels and 4 big 6 volts batteries and wish one of my 95 watt panels was a 160...for those few days when you don't get much sun. Solar panels are really inexpensive when you consider the return you get. Go for all the solar capacity that will fit.

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Old 12-14-2017, 07:41 PM   #9
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Allan-

One option, if ETI will do it, is to have one panel installed and have the wiring for a second one installed in case you want to add it later. You might want to have the wiring connection for a portable panel installed as well.
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Old 12-14-2017, 09:15 PM   #10
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Thanks Alan, that is what I need to know. It appears that if I want my 2014 Tacoma to do anything much, I will need to upgrade the wiring. A nuisance that, but I will deal with it. I may just try the existing setup for the first trip to see exactly how bad it is, and proceed accordingly.

Back to the solar issues, it is sounding like I will at minimum have the wiring and mounts installed by ETI, thanks gang for those suggestions. That said, i am leaning toward just having the second panel put in. The head scratching continues.
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Old 12-14-2017, 11:19 PM   #11
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Good info crew!! , we are fast approaching our deadline for build sheet on our 21,,, I had decided to just go with a 120 watt portable , but i do believe i will also have the prewire for a roof panel installed as well, so if necessary,, at a later date , can be added ! cover the bases while you can.
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Old 12-17-2017, 03:07 PM   #12
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You will have to ask ETI on this, but I think is true: ETI installs a solar “kit”. They simply buy the pre-packaged kit which include panel, controller, cables, etc. So, the ability to have ETI install their panel, but to specify a different controller (or leave out the controller so that you may install a different controller yourself) is not an option. I got the “solar ready” option on my 2017 21. It includes MC4 connectors on the roof, with a nice MC4 connector block/roof seal. The cables are run down to the bench area. I am assuming the roof in the rear has the extra wood blocking to support the panel weight/stress. I do not have that for a second roof panel. For that, I would guess you would have to order two “solar ready” options. I chose this path because I researched the solar kit ETI installs and while it is a decent kit, it is not excellent. I figured for similar money, I could get a MPPT controller on my choosing (much better than the ETI kit PWM controller) and do tilting mounts similar to what Jon V. has now done, the perhaps choose a 180w panel or even 250w rather than the 160w the ETI kit includes.
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Old 12-17-2017, 09:50 PM   #13
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You will have to ask ETI on this, but I think is true: ETI installs a solar “kit”. They simply buy the pre-packaged kit which include panel, controller, cables, etc. So, the ability to have ETI install their panel, but to specify a different controller (or leave out the controller so that you may install a different controller yourself) is not an option. I got the “solar ready” option on my 2017 21. It includes MC4 connectors on the roof, with a nice MC4 connector block/roof seal. The cables are run down to the bench area. I am assuming the roof in the rear has the extra wood blocking to support the panel weight/stress. I do not have that for a second roof panel. For that, I would guess you would have to order two “solar ready” options. I chose this path because I researched the solar kit ETI installs and while it is a decent kit, it is not excellent. I figured for similar money, I could get a MPPT controller on my choosing (much better than the ETI kit PWM controller) and do tilting mounts similar to what Jon V. has now done, the perhaps choose a 180w panel or even 250w rather than the 160w the ETI kit includes.
Excellent information that. I have been thinking the same thing regarding just installing my own setup. The downside would be not having the trailer ready for our fall trip soon enough next year, I'll have to think on that one. If you have done your homework on panels and controllers already, I would love to hear what you have found. There seem to be lots of options out there at the moment. I would also love to hear how Jonv has set up a tilt mount. I have been puzzling on that for a while and have not come up with anything I like much.
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Old 12-17-2017, 10:33 PM   #14
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You will have to ask ETI on this, but I think is true: ETI installs a solar “kit”. They simply buy the pre-packaged kit which include panel, controller, cables, etc.
Back in March Tammy indicated they were using the GoPower GP 160 RV kit.
http://www.amazon.com/GPRV-160-Watts...EE36R04WHFA75T
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Old 12-18-2017, 08:50 AM   #15
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Excellent information that. I have been thinking the same thing regarding just installing my own setup. The downside would be not having the trailer ready for our fall trip soon enough next year, I'll have to think on that one. If you have done your homework on panels and controllers already, I would love to hear what you have found. There seem to be lots of options out there at the moment. I would also love to hear how Jonv has set up a tilt mount. I have been puzzling on that for a while and have not come up with anything I like much.

If your thinking of installing your own roof system. one thing to consider is the mounting holes.If EFT installs them they will be under the headliner and if you do it they would be exposed.members had pointed out to me that a better solution would to have the roof panel and get wiring installed for a portable panel. I believe this is the way I will be going . I figure i start with the factory 160 watts and if I need more i will pick up a portable panel that can be pointed to the sun. I weighted the cost of prewire only and adding a panel latter to the cost of a factory panel install and the panel install won.
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Old 12-18-2017, 09:53 AM   #16
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If your thinking of installing your own roof system. one thing to consider is the mounting holes.If EFT installs them they will be under the headliner and if you do it they would be exposed.
Another option for someone installing themselves is to do flexible panels mounted with adhesive. No holes to worry about. Seems to be several other advantages too since they are lighter and more aerodynamic. Much cleaner roof line too. Only disadvantage I see is there is no longer a way to implement tilting if one desires.

Solar Flex Kits | Go Power!
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Old 12-18-2017, 10:09 AM   #17
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Another option for someone installing themselves is to do flexible panels mounted with adhesive. No holes to worry about. Seems to be several other advantages too since they are lighter and more aerodynamic. Much cleaner roof line too. Only disadvantage I see is there is no longer a way to implement tilting if one desires.

Solar Flex Kits | Go Power!


The flexible panels do look sharp! As I understand it, one other disadvantage to them, however, is that their inherently reduced air circulation if flush mounted will prevent them from staying as cool as a rigid panel, which in turn reduces their output. Our rigid panels can get *much* hotter than surrounding air temp. Like a black car parked in the sun.
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Old 12-18-2017, 10:39 AM   #18
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This is correct. One of the factors of solar panel efficiency is their temperature. The hotter the panel, the less power conversion from solar to electricity. The flexible panels, mounted directly to a surface affords no airflow around the panel, so it gets really hot.

The rigid panels, even with airflow around them, also get pretty hot. Its basically black metal in the sun.

As to the mounting holes being visible inside, it depends on your trailer model and how you mount panels, but for me, I will arrange for the through bolts to end up inside the cabinets. That is, out near the roof edges. I am also considering not using through bolts, only surface adhesion.

Before you all jump on me for possibility of roof panels flying off, consider this. The single company in the US doing RV solar installs with a great reputation is AM Solar in Oregon. They use only VHB adhesive tape installs. Further, if I pursue this path, I am probably going to create a large metal "foot". So, perhaps 6 inches X 6 inches square that will be taped to roof. Then the much smaller panel bracket will screw to this base plate. So, instead of perhaps 1x3=3 square inhes on VHB tape per corner, I will have something like 36 square inches per corner. And the load will be spread over that same, far greater area of the fiberglass roof.

I am also considering having multiple panels per location that are stacked. So, instead of a single 160w panel to the rear, I may have TWO 160w panels that are stacked. Upon arrival, they could be unfolded, or one slides out on rails, then both tilted. So, compared to what ETI offers of a single 160w or two 160w (320w total), no tilt. I could end up with 640w tiltable on the roof plus whatever portable units. So, I am looking at a larger charge controller as well.
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Old 12-18-2017, 10:49 AM   #19
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I am also considering having multiple panels per location that are stacked. So, instead of a single 160w panel to the rear, I may have TWO 160w panels that are stacked. Upon arrival, they could be unfolded, or one slides out on rails, then both tilted. So, compared to what ETI offers of a single 160w or two 160w (320w total), no tilt. I could end up with 640w tiltable on the roof plus whatever portable units. So, I am looking at a larger charge controller as well.
Wow, that is some juice! Would love to see that array if you go that way. It does make me wonder what you would do with that much? Compressor fridge? Sell it cheap to your non-solar camper-neighbors? Switch out all your LED bulbs for incandescent, just because you can?
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Old 12-18-2017, 11:00 AM   #20
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Down the road, I would consider switching to lithium batteries. You can pack a lot more amp-hours into the same space, for a lot less weight. So, instead of 225Ah with the ETI dual 6Vs, could go to 400-500Ah under the 21 rear bench.

As to what used for: switch the fridge to compressor style, use induction cook top, Instant Pot, Blender, toaster, computers, TV/Entertainment.

This is all big bucks. One of the reasons I chose the Escape is I intend for the trailer to last a very long time. The shell for rest of my life. The interior, just like a sticks and bricks, could get remodeled over time, modified to better suit our use, technological changes, etc.

As for camping style, I intend for this to be a travel RV. While not full-timing it (although that could also happen), I intend to "long-time" in it. Rather than the hotel/condo/timeshare/rental car type lifestyle, use the RV. But rather than think it as "camping" which, to me, implies "roughing it" in one or more aspects, I'm simply living. As similar a lifestyle to my home as possible. That means air conditioning when its hot, heat when its cold, ice cubes and ice cream on demand, microwave oven, food in the fridge, flushing toilet, hot shower and all the gadgets of first world living, even if I am parked on a beach in Mexico for two months.
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