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Old 09-29-2010, 02:29 PM   #1
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Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

All,

We're first trying to contain our excitement, as we finally have a delivery date (April 12, 2011) for our (drumroll please) ... 17B! We paid attention to all of your smart advice, relented, and just bought a used but immaculate 2006 RAV V6 to enable us to move up in the world. Our "new" RAV, named Olive, now waits for her dream date in our garage.

Tammy sent us the "options spreadsheet" which has been great fun to digest, and I know in the coming weeks and months I'll probably have many more questions for this forum. The first thing that comes up for us though is w/r/t the solar panels. We didn't realize this was a factory option -- how cool! But we're totally unfamiliar with panels in this capacity, so here are our questions.

First -- how long do the panels need to be in the sun to charge things up? I can see that they'd be swell in the western US and Great Plains, but say you live in the Midwest and you're camping primarily in forested areas ... are they going to be truly useful? Will they charge while you're driving?

Second -- how much UUMPH do they give you, and for how long? Is it akin to being plugged in?

Third -- can you have solar AND A/C? And if the answer is yes, can the solar RUN the A/C?

Fourth -- are they difficult to maintain? Protect?

We do believe our number one goal as we outfit/design our Escape will be the ability to boondock -- to get away from people! Not you people, of course. We're talking the ones at those overcrowded cattle-pen campgrounds we all know, don't love, and try to avoid at all costs. We know our desire for A/C sort of contradicts this, but the A/C would come in handy for the times we're working out of the trailer and need to leave our dogs inside (we assume in these cases we'd be near enough civilization anyway that we'd be able to plug in if necessary -- we were on a trip in rural Illinois this summer where we essentially had to leave our car running any time we did an interview to keep the pups cool, as temps were near 100F).

I've got one other intro question which I'll post separately.

Hooray!

Elizabeth
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Old 09-29-2010, 04:45 PM   #2
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

Hi: medora...And Welcome!!! I hope your "Olive" is pitted. Sssorry I couldn't resist. You won't be sorry about the decision you've made. As I've said many times...certain options are better added during the build. It's your trailer...have it your way!!! Alf
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Old 09-29-2010, 05:27 PM   #3
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

I don't know if you have added a brake controller & charge wire to your RAV4 yet. If not, there is a good couple of web pages that I used to add them to mine:
Brake Controller & Charge Line
PDF of Toyota's Official trailer light wiring installation instructions

Another note - if you don't have a hitch yet, make sure you get a class 3 - you will need it for the Equalizer Hitch.

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Old 09-29-2010, 05:29 PM   #4
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

Joe, thanks for that -- much appreciated. When's your delivery date? Gonna pick up in person? Getting solar panels?

~e
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Old 09-29-2010, 06:00 PM   #5
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

Actually, it's Jon - My mom wanted to be a bit different so she left out the "h"! Pick up is scheduled for the 21st & I plan to spend some time in the southwest, then head to western Canada when it gets too warm.

I do want solar & will probably go with Reese's system. I expect to power a cell phone amplifier & cradlepoint router along with my laptop to keep up my web page while traveling.
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Old 09-29-2010, 06:09 PM   #6
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

Don't get your hopes up about solar panels. They will typically only provide 40 watts per panel. You can do better with perfect conditions, but not much better. This might be enough to keep your batteries charged if you are frugal with your energy use. Say you have a 12-W lightbulb. Each hour of charging in the daytime will give you three hours of light at night - in that corner of the trailer.

Boondocking requires careful resource management. You will want LED lights instead of incandescent. The fan will drain the batteries; the furnace will drain them faster. You have to be especially wary of water use - we don't have large holding tanks. We try not to spend more than three nights away from a dump station when the two of us camp.

Your car will slowly charge the trailer batteries as you drive. Much faster than the solar panels, though.

Air conditioning eats a lot of power. I don't think that RV air conditioners will run off batteries. If they do, it won't be for long.

You can leave your dogs in reasonable comfort in the trailer with the fan running unless the outside temperature is extremely hot. We have done that many times on days that would have killed them if left in the car. 80 degrees outside is fine - even on a hot parking lot.
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Old 09-29-2010, 08:59 PM   #7
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

I'm far from an expert on solar however I do know that the market offers a vast array of solar panels rated at different wattages - from 5 watt trickle chargers to 200+ watt panels not to mention that multiple panels can be daisy chained together to increase power production capacity. The wattage is only relevant in that it determines the amps of power that can be produced & put towards recharging the battery. Our 95 watt solar panel provides 5.5 amps in peak sun. The time of year, geographic location & weather can play a large role in how much sunlight time per day is available for solar charging & how much of that time is at peak power & lesser levels. The amount of time in direct sunlight producing max amps can be longer or shorter based on whether the solar panels are mounted utilizing fixed mounts or adjustable mounts; or if the panels aren't mounted at all thus providing the ability to track the sun throughout the day.

I do agree that making a trailer as energy efficient as possible helps especially having all LED lighting. It also helps to figure out your power needs/uses and how long you typically will be boondocking to determine the size of the solar setup that would best meet your needs. I believe there are worksheets available on various rv solar vendor websites that can help you calculate/estimate both your power needs and the power generated by different solar setups to help you decide. For that matter, I bet you could get a solar sales rep to walk you through it.

As for having both A/C & solar - Yes you can have both. However, I concur with Ron that you will not be able to run a/c off of solar. The car does provide charge to the trailer's batteries while driving which is particularly useful when on the road for long distances/durations. However the solar panels would be particularly useful supplementing the charge supplied by the car when driving short distances/durations. As for upkeep, there really isn't any. We just make sure to clean them off (dust, dirt, etc) before each trip to make sure we maximize our potential for efficient power production. Today's solar panels are durable such that they can withstand the various weather elements (rain, sleet, snow and even hail).
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Old 09-29-2010, 09:22 PM   #8
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

You may find this helpful, http://www.fiberglassrv.com/solar.html
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Old 10-01-2010, 08:45 PM   #9
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

Elizabeth congrats I am overdue to reply to your and Pauls email...We are currently at the Lake Arrowhead campground for some Halloween action, with our cozy Cafe Egg Have been very busy the summer. This is typed on my iPod touch, so later more!
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Old 10-03-2010, 05:28 PM   #10
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

Elizabeth, we don't have solar panels, except a small one that maintains our battery over the winter and I have very limited experience with photovoltaics. (But we do live in a house that is sited and designed for passive solar heating.) Personally, I would prefer panels that could be moved rather than ones mounted on the roof. So many of the sites we camp in are forested, especially here in the Midwest, and more often than not the trailer is shaded at least part of the day. With non-mounted panels you could place them where the sun exposure is best on your site. You could even move them around during the day when you are there to maximize collecting time. The downside would be that those panels then have to be stored somewhere, unlike ones mounted on the trailers roof.
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Old 10-10-2010, 11:57 AM   #11
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

Hello Elizabeth, We have just finished our first summer with our Escape (Escape Pod), and spent 32 nights in her! The best decision we made was the solar panels, the ones supplied and installed by Reace. We boondocked for 10 nights in Saltery Bay Provincial Park on what is known as the Sunshine Coast, but despite the name, our campsite rarely saw direct sunlight due to the huge cedar trees. Our batteries were kept charged at all times thanks to the panels. We do have LED lights, which make a big difference. We used the lights as much as needed, which really isn't much when camping, charged our boys electronic gadgets, and even showered every few nights. We used a jerry can to keep our water full, and have a portable container on wheels for dumping the grey/black water tanks. You can buy these at RV places. They are expensive, so our friend just uses a water container (dedicated to this job!). We have also camped in Jasper (mountains) when it went below freezing at night, and the furnace needed to run on and off at night to keep the trailer warm. Again, despite the cloudy skies, the batteries rebounded as soon as daylight returned, for 3 nights in a row. We also have air conditioning (because we have a dog!), but the solar panels clearly will not power these. We also went with the extra insulation and tinted windows, which helps to keep the trailer not only warm, but cool on hot days. We have never needed to use the AC. We just changed our tow vehicle from a Honda Odyssey to a Toyota Highlander, in part based on comments made on this forum. We still have to get our new tug rigged for towing. Enjoy!
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Old 10-10-2010, 01:07 PM   #12
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

Congratulations Dan and Elizabeth!
I am so happy for you both! I am very sure that you both will be pleased with your decision.
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Old 10-10-2010, 01:15 PM   #13
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

DDevin,

Thanks so much, this is very helpful to us (just read your post aloud to Dan, my husband, who also sends thanks).

So, you're thinking that without Reace's solar you would have had less ability to boondock in these situations? You would have run through the battery too quickly? And ultimately the solar actually did charge things up even though you were getting filtered sun at best? I think 90% of the time "filtered sun" is all we're going to get around here.

Thx again!



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Old 10-10-2010, 06:31 PM   #14
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

Ah! Boondocking off the power grid. It's easy to do but so hard to define because so many variables come into play. Time of year, amount of sunshine, temperature, altitude, pets, showers, and the list can go on and on.

I think I can make it for two weeks in midsummer on my two 6 volt batteries. Can others do the same? Hard to say yes because all those variables come into play. Now my tanks will not hold two weeks of "output" but with LED's, limited use of the fan, no showers and no furnace it is doable. Change the date to mid October and all bets are off.

Car charging is cool. I never realized my battery charged from my car until I bought the handy Equus Battery Monitor. I just happened to leave the monitor plugged in for a five hour drive. I was surprised to see the charge on the battery had gone up. I did not think it went up that much, seeing it had five hours of charge. Made me wonder just how fast of a charge came from this method.
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Old 10-11-2010, 07:45 AM   #15
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

Paul in my opinion you are absolutely correct about how hard it is to compare how long batteries last while boondocking. The only thing I know for sure is that the dual 6v batteries and LED lighting help greatly. As far a I know, the rate that the trailer batteries are charged by the tow is directly related to the output of the tow's alternator. On our Tacoma, a higher capacity alternator was included in Toyota's optional tow package (along with a larger battery, transmission cooler, etc) and it charges very quickly while towing.
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Old 10-16-2010, 09:49 AM   #16
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

We may have been able to get by on these trips without the panels, but the beauty of the panels is peace of mind. It was fun to check the monitor and see the panels go down to say 60% after a night of running the furnace, and then see them rebound to 98% by the end of the day. This was in cool conditions with freezing overnight, 3 nights in a row. With our previous RV, one night of furnace use would kill our batteries. On our summer trip we estimate that we took 6 showers, and never thought twice about turning a light on. In contrast our friend who travelled with us with his trailer was frequently seen wearing a headlamp to conserve his battery power. Buit then again, he has a Scamp !
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Old 10-19-2010, 04:29 PM   #17
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

ddevin, do you recall -- were you in a sunny or shaded situation on those days you went from 60->98%?
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Old 10-23-2010, 09:32 PM   #18
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

The solar system will not run an AC unit. You will need a generator for that. The Escape Solar system will keep the batteries charged during direct or shaded sunlight. During the daylight people charge their computers and cell phones using the 12 volt plug in. Honda makes the EU2000I generator that weighs 41 pounds. It may take 2 hooked together to run the AC depending on the size. LED lights would be best for boondocking they draw very little juice.
Have fun planning your new trailer.
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Old 11-05-2010, 09:34 PM   #19
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

I can imagine in the not so distance future, they will make awnings that will double as a solar panel. Power Film makes a shelter for the military that can generate up to 2 kilowatts of power (http://www.powerfilmsolar.com/milita...ld-shelter.php). The cost is high now but they will likely produce more products when it is cost effective.
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Old 11-05-2010, 09:49 PM   #20
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Re: Let the sun shine ... on your solar panel?

I'm waiting until they have an app for that....

baglo
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