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Old 09-22-2011, 05:00 PM   #1
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Solar vs Generator

Our goal for our upcoming solar egg is to take a solar generator approach vs gasoline generator approach. You have to tote gasoline around, it's expensive, you have to refill it constantly, then you have the noise and the pain of firing it up. It seems like 800w of panels could permanently replace a 2000i generator. We might get a 1000i as a backup to top things up but that may not be necessary. I did some research and ran some math and came up with some thoughts on my blog: http://solarriderz.com/2011/09/22/solar-sustainability/

How many hours are people running their generators for a day on average? Say your at quartzsite and it's hot, how many kwh are you using up a day? I wonder how this differs between extra insulated vs non extra insulated trailers.

I figure 800w of panels would be the equivalent to running your generator almost 3 hours a day every day, when would that be enough vs not enough.
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Old 09-22-2011, 06:44 PM   #2
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Re: Solar vs Generator

I have never gone more than 3 nights in a row with temps around, or just below, freezing at night, and don't have LED lights yet, and even with the furnace running a fair bit, I still had a good bit of battery left. i am running dual 6V.

I have boondocked 7 days in the summer with very little use of the furnace, and had lots of battery left.

I love the idea of solar power, but most places I park my trailer gets very little sunlight. If I do go this route, I would definitely use portable panels and find a way to secure them so they don't run off. I am not a huge fan of the look of the panel mounted on the trailer, and using the portable units would avoid this. The only problem would be how I would store and transport them when not in use. Maybe the roll-up ones will be produced in larger sizes, that would be great.

I still think that I might go the way of a 1k gen set. They are very small, very quiet and burn very little fuel. If I was to do this though, I would likely completely abandon the solar idea.
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Old 09-22-2011, 10:19 PM   #3
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Re: Solar vs Generator

Quote:
Originally Posted by Solar Rider
I did some research and ran some math and came up with some thoughts on my blog:
While I appreciate what you are doing and will follow your blog with interest, your calculations omitted a number of costs associated with using solar instead of a generator:
- mounting system for the panels
- charge controller
- batteries and their replacement after x number of cycles. The lighter the battery the fewer cycles before replacement (lead-acid vs. lithium-ion polymer)
- inverter to convert DC to AC
- high current wiring from the panels to the charge controller to the batteries to the inverter
Taking these into account may not change the final answer, but it will present a more balanced argument.
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Old 09-22-2011, 10:33 PM   #4
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Re: Solar vs Generator

And, with anything, you need to consider how much use you will get out of the item or system.

As in, how long will it take for the initial expense to be recovered? and then there is maintenance and flexibility ( my Honda generator isn't attached to the trailer so I can use it at home or on the road - when it needs maintenance or repair, can just toss it in the back of the RAV and take it to the shop ).

The older I get, the less inclined I am to buy new stuff, with instruction manuals and problems to solve.

From my limited study of alternative power, solar and wind have a long, long way to go to get close to being a real alternative to fossil fuel. The solution to the energy crisis will likely be something else entirely.

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Old 09-22-2011, 11:25 PM   #5
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Re: Solar vs Generator

Yes I excluded some costs. Lifepo4 can offer 5000-7000 cycles, that's 20 years, 400ah will require 100lb, no maintenance, no adding water, no trips to the gas station. The packs are expensive now, but the current escape solar and dual battery plus the original battery cost is 1500 and you already have a charger, so maybe 2000 for the current 100w system that's what 220ah 50pct dod, 110 usable. Lifepo4 gives you 80pct dod so 320ah usable. If you add up the cost of the current system and the price of a generator your looking at 3.5k ish. A solar system will be more expensive upfront but not an reasonable amount given the advantages, maybe 6k so 2.5 extra for 3x as much battery, no gas ever, no maintenance, lots of flexibility and less for not asp less extreme system. Given these trailers are already 27k it's not a crazy difference and worth it for us given our admittedly special use. Again just sharing.
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Old 09-23-2011, 08:34 AM   #6
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Re: Solar vs Generator

Solar Rider

I will also have solar installed for my trailer when I purchase it. However it will be portable and not as large as you have planned. Will you need that much watt hours every day, purchasing a light weight trailer, smaller tow vehicle, and a less stress filled life are all condusive with less energy use. You could start out with a moderate amount of solar and increase capacity as needed. Which would also allow you to keep up with current technology and not break the bank all at once.

Keep in mind that solar does not work in the dark. It is a great technology that has a role in energy production, but it will not be a reliable source until we are able to put a collector in orbit of the sun and connect it to our power grid.

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Old 09-23-2011, 09:15 AM   #7
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Re: Solar vs Generator

strawberry, how do you intend to store and carry your portable panels, especially so they are out of the way for the many times you would not need them? This is my biggest concern with this method.
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Old 09-23-2011, 11:06 AM   #8
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Re: Solar vs Generator

I'm debating between a 200ah and 400ah pack, they weight on these things is much less than lead acid, 200ah would give me 1.6kwh usable (@50lbs), if i had 700w of solar that would add 2-2.8kwh during the day. I may start with that and add more batteries later. My requirements are unique thought, we will be on land without hookups of any kind for long periods, a decent solar setup would let me run everything: A/C, hotplate on the picnic table, microwave, water heater, etc without propane. I'm not going all electric as I want to keep resale value in mind, but if i didn't care about resale I'd definitely consider all solar. I want things simple, taking panels in and out and worrying about them being stolen is not for me.
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Old 09-24-2011, 08:04 AM   #9
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Re: Solar vs Generator

Jim

I plan on purchasing the 5th wheel, I also intend to pull with a full size truck. This should give me serveral options:

Using small panels:

1. They could be stored under bed mattress.

2. In some kind of rack in bed of truck.

3. In a box of some design in the bike rack mount on the trailer.

4. They could also be mounted to the top of trailer.

5. Any combination of the above.

6. Left at home when not needed.

It should be noted that I do not intend to stay at places with electric hook ups. You can not generate cheaper than you can buy it. LP or white gas cooking appliances will also reduce power needs.
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Old 09-24-2011, 08:17 AM   #10
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Re: Solar vs Generator

Solar Rider

Sounds like a good plan. Be aware that weight or the amount of materials in a battery is equal to capacity. I am not saying new technology can not reduce the weight but it is still a chemical reaction so mass plays a part in it. The manufactures do not field test they simulate the conditions. The end user does the actual time in field test.
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Old 09-24-2011, 11:07 AM   #11
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Re: Solar vs Generator

strawberry, sounds like some good ideas, let us know how it goes.
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Old 09-24-2011, 11:44 AM   #12
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Re: Solar vs Generator

I think there is merit in adding solar if you plan to be parked with out services for at least a week, parked for more than a weekend using a laptop, or have devices for health needs that consume power. Otherwise, there seems to be plenty of capacity with dual 6V batteries and two propane tanks. With this, I would say that a microwave and hot plate are unnecessary. The stove and oven work great.

The reference to powering A/C is an interesting point in that I can imagine some places that would be difficult to stay at without some temperature relief. But, I would be amazed if a solar/battery set up could power air conditioning, as suggested above. There has been so much discussion on the forum about difficulties in starting A/C on a 2000i generator, that I don't see how this would work coming through an inverter. So I am curious if some smaller A/C unit is being considered and what testing is planned?
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Old 09-24-2011, 12:40 PM   #13
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Re: Solar vs Generator

I have never had need for A/C yet, having only camped in temps up to 30°C. We just hit the ceiling fan when the temps drop and the trailer cools off real fast. If I was to install A/C and use it (and I likely will some day), I would just make sure I had a site that had hook-ups. I too have my suspicions that using an inverter will not work well, or would drain the batteries really quick.

We don't really need any appliances hat require 120V, they are just luxuries, and each individual has to decide what level of luxury they wish to have. The only 120V appliances we travel with are a small kettle and a small heater for use should we be hooked to the grid to save on propane consumption (and be quieter in the case of the heater). They are both small and lightweight, but frankly get very little use, so we could easily do without them.

Ultimately for me, I feel the less stuff I take with me will Escaping, the simpler and more enjoyable my travels will be.

I don't mean to take this idea to the point where I might be inconvenienced and not enjoying myself, but I do believe there is a balance between comfort and the luxuries we need to achieve this. Of course, everyone will define this level of comfort differently. I have a vast background of backcountry travel where you need to take everything in on your back, in a sled or in a canoe. I think this has taught me to enjoy life camping with very simple needs. I still do this, and just did a 4 day canoe trip on Maligne Lake in Jasper NP last week.
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Old 09-26-2011, 12:23 AM   #14
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Re: Solar vs Generator

Lifepe4 is getting mature and the ah ratings are pretty accurate, am solar did some tests with one lithium pack and saw almost no change in ah, regardless of draw. EVs use lifepo4 extensively, and it stands up to incredible abuse, rv house use is a joke in comparison. The 2000i is only 1600w 2000 peak I believe, the inverter were looking at is 2800w cont 4000 peak, I'm not worried about the ac starting. Another poster measured the draw of the ac. It's around 1000w running. For us this is about simplicity, hookups, generators, driving long distances to dump waste will make life more complex for us, we like as few things to tote around as possible. We need to go 1-2 weeks with no inputs, keep young babies in a cool environment in the hot sun, and be comfortable. I don't consider cooking outside a luxury, its oart of enjoying the outdoors, a small induction hot plate is a fraction of the size of even a tiny BBQ, power isn't a problem and again less hassle, no extra gas to bring, just plug it in and use your normal frying pan, maybe ease of use and flexibility is a bad thing for some, not us and if simplicity and flexibility is luxurious then sign me up. Re more efficient ac units Dc airco makes some really efficient dc ac units but theyre too pricey. Even a polar cub isn't really more efficient just less cooling, slightly lower draw. If 20kwh lithium battery can power a car 100+ km a 5kwh battery can run a air conditioner, and 600+w of solar will keep things topped up. You guys may think this all sounds complex and complicated but we have simplicity in mind. Everyone's trailers already have batteries and chargers, ours will too, they'll just look slightly different and weigh slightly less. More importantly for us they'll offer all the convenience of a hookup, all the pleasure off remote locations and be fully integrated. Any fuel you have to lug along with you is a luxury, heck pulling around a toilet and a heated shower is a luxury, most people enjoy that. Having backpacked extensively I appreciate what technology allows: titanium, ceramic water filters and carbon fibre can let you go further, be lighter and suffer less hassle when portaging and spending extended time in the wilderness, I don't see those as luxuries just better tech, but I've certainly heard people say that equipment that weighs half as much is a luxury, if it is it certainly hasn't hurt my enjoyment. What were doing isn't for everyone but it will be light, simple, more flexible, integrated and require us to lug less around and not more.
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Old 09-26-2011, 06:16 AM   #15
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Re: Solar vs Generator

Hi: Solar Rider... I'm watching from the wings to see the end result. If all works as you speculate/calculate I just might spring for a retrofit so we can cut the umbilical cord and get away from the current bush. The cost of a genset of size and fuel supply would go a long way towards powering up with "Old Sol". What happens during our Oct-Apr storage season I'm in the dark about that!!! Alf
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Old 09-26-2011, 09:18 AM   #16
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Re: Solar vs Generator

Solar Rider, would you mind breaking up longer posts like the above some, as my aging eyes go crazy with that much text and info put into one paragraph.

While my thinking is not along the exact same line yours is, I am very interested in hearing what you come up with. I truly love learning stuff. We all have our values of what is most important to us, and that is a good thing, it would be terrible if we all thought the same (especially if it was like Alf does ).

I also recognize that your research into this is something you enjoy doing, and that is a good thing. I lose myself into research on things all the time, and most often enjoy doing so.

Just curious as to where you live, as you do not list it in you location. I know around most of Canada, A/C would get very little use. Funny thing though, is the furnace does.
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Old 09-26-2011, 10:52 PM   #17
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Re: Solar vs Generator

Solar Rider - Thanks for the the additional details. Looks like your onto something. I hope you keep us informed how it comes together. I've got a decade or two before breaking my work habit to be able to get out traveling for long stretches. In the meantime it is fun to hear about the technological progress people are making.
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Old 09-27-2011, 03:36 PM   #18
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Re: Solar vs Generator

I was re-visiting the technomadia website http://www.technomadia.com/ and noticed that they built a lithium Ion battery pack that they use to run the A/C!! Pretty cool..
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Old 09-27-2011, 08:07 PM   #19
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Re: Solar vs Generator

Yeah, emailed them, we're going to share some details, waiting for them to do an in-depth post. I think they had pretty similar intentions, except they're providing power for an entire bus, which obviously has much greater cooling requirements, I believe they're running a 5000wh pack, which is what I was thinking of originally but that maybe excessive. They also posted a video recently of using their induction hot plate, boiled a decent amount of water in 3 min vs 5 or something for the 240v electric burner. A 1300w induction plate used for 3 min is only 65wh, if our solar setup produces 2500-3500wh a day with reserves of 5000wh you can see how using some electricity isn't a big deal. AC is a killer thought.

I wonder how often in an hour the fan and compressor run during a given hour (once the trailer is at temperature). Maybe 15% of the time the compressor is actually running to keep things good. I realize it depends on the settings, heat, insulation, etc. Just trying to get some thoughts going. If it was say 50% of the time the compressor is running than you'd be using 450wh an hour.

I think when we wont use the AC much, I keep debating not getting it, most time will be in ON, NC and SC. The problem is if I get a really hot week and I want our baby to sleep in the roasting beach sun well I'm going to wish I had gotten the AC. Things can get really muggy in Ontario, and horrible in NC in the summer so I think we'll be getting the AC.
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