After months of repair work and years of getting myself into the position to do so, I'm preparing to take off and live in my RV full time. It's an older 24' rig with lots of franken parts, she's not pretty but she smells like freedom and is all but ready to roll.
The last peice of the puzzle to put together in the next month or so is the solar power system. I'm wondering if anyone can describe their setup, and maybe some tips on what has worked and what hasn't.
I've combed through the community section and seen some tips, as well as read through The Tiniest Mansion and all of Tynan's solar posts, however this being probably the biggest investment besideds the RV itself, I'd really like to get it right. Any advice you all could give would be much appreciated.
I found two 325 watt panels on Craigslist for $400/each in Chicago ( use a nationwide craigslist search engine). Had them shipped freight ( freightquote.com ) for $150. I used 4gauge jumper cables to wire from the panels to charge controller. Pics of my install here:
Bought two cheap power splitter blocks on ebay to use in a combiner box. Also on ebay, were two high-amp circuit breakers (used in stereo systems too); one goes one each side of the charge controller (PV in, and 12V out). I use 4 golf cart batteries I bought for $70 each at Sam's; I originally bought 6, but I wasn't using as much power as I'd planned. I'd buy AGM batteries if you can afford it; I have to check the specific gravity and add distilled water to my lead acid battery cells once every couple of months, plus I could charge AGM's at an uncapped rate ( lead acids need regulated ).
I bought a MidNite Classic 150 charge controller (90+ amps, MPPT); it was the nicest and largest controller on the market two years ago and probably still is. I use a trimetric battery monitor that gives me a clear and simple view of the state of charge on my battery bank.
I'm pretty happy with it. In summer, I run the vent fan 24/7 plus two more inside all night. With that plus my marine fridge, lights, and laptop, the bank is almost never discharged past 80% in the morning. In winter while not running fans, it's never below 90%. Staying above 70% is the number most shoot for when designing your system (best balance of weight and battery longevity), so you could probably do okay with 2 batteries, though Tynan drains his two down to 50% each night.
I use this guy as an authority in solar/electric design: http://www.jackdanmayer.com/rv_electrical_and_solar.htm
A lot of sharp members in the Escapee forum too. If Tynan's old forum is ever archived, there was valuable information shared there too.
I started writing all this stuff pretty indepth but never finished it. This is a very rough cut:
I brought almost everything from amsolar.com. They make the lighest panels for RVs but they're also the most expensive. Can likely get the same wattage for half the price. I used their 3M VHB tape which is welding level instead of screwing the panels onto the roof.
There's a great book somewhere out of print called Boondock RVing or something like that. Has a whole chapter on solar setup. Great book.
Otherwise, you just need panels, maybe a combinator box to feed all the panel inputs into, charge controller, and batteries. It's amazingly simple though it took me months of research and hesitation.
I think John probably has the best solar setup right now if he's around here
I'd be interested to learn, too. I just bought my first RV two weeks ago, and it has been in the shop for a week getting a new pimp all JL sound system installed.
I got a '95 Rialta, and it actually came with a Solar panel on top already. However, I'm sure it's not the big 230W panels that Tynan talks about, because theres still a big roof air conditioner on top. It is wired up with a Solar Charge controller, but it's not as fancy as the one that Tynan has that can show you exactly how much is being charged at a particular time.
So far, living in So Cal the Sun has been enough to charge what I need to do, but I haven't pulled any serious wattage out of it yet.
Best info you could ever get from the web. and it works like it is suppose too. Read and learn!
My last post on living in an RV has generated a bunch of questions by comment and by email. Instead of responding to them individually, I'm going to answer them all here.
How long did it take you to outfit the RV with solar power?
Putting solar power into an RV is a simple job, primarily because most things in an RV (everything that I use) runs of 12V DC power instead of standard household 120V AC power.
One of my class this semester is Cleantech: Business fundamental and public policy. It is taught by Stefan Reichelstein of the GSB and Dan Reicher of the Stanford Law school. My neighbor Rob Nagle is with me on this fascinating class.
Last Friday, our guest speaker was Tom Werner, the CEO of Sunpower, a three billion dollar integrated solar company. Mr. Werner gave us an overview of his company and made a very positive and convincing case for massive growth in the solar industry.
The most interesting part was a more restricted Q&A session with the professors, a journalist from the wall street journal and about a dozen students.
Here are some insights I gained from the event.