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Old 05-29-2017, 10:15 AM   #1
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I need solar power...HELP!!

Ok, so I am currently stranded with my bus because I can't figure out the tail light problem (brake lights are off, interior power is all screwed up) So I figure I will try to embrace it and hunker down. I need power! I want to set up a solar panel but I have no idea what brand to get, what inverter is good, what battery is good. If anyone has real world experience I could use it! I dont have the biggest budget but I will try to get what I can for now. I won't be mounting it to my roof just yet because well...I don't know how.
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Old 05-29-2017, 12:14 PM   #2
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So... I am thinking that you maybe wanna get a handle on your present tail light issues before you add the solar. Solar is complicated enough when everything else works.

That said... everyone with solar has an opinion on the subject (myself included) and what each of us can do is give you a brief description of what we have and maybe that will start you thinking about what you want.

If all you want is to trickle charge your engine battery to keep it topped off then you just need a simple 12v solar charging kit (panel). Any number of places have that.

For a system to power your fridge, computers, TV, house lights, water pump, etc., then here goes...

I'll start with a list of components common to most systems (not in any particular order). Solar panels, mounting hardware, panel wiring and connectors, charge controller, battery bank, battery bank monitor, disconnect switches, heavy gage battery wiring and connectors, inverter, breaker panel, shore power relay, shore power charger, ac wiring and outlets, maybe a battery watering system and a few other things.

I know... that's a lot of stuff. But truth is... you need damn near all of it!

I have two house-size 240watt 48v panels tied in parallel to an MPPT charge controller charging four 6v golf cart style batteries for a 12 volt, 440 amp hour system. I have a 2000 watt pure sine inverter and have propane for on-demand hot water and catalytic heat. This system should provide enough to keep a small upright fridge going for a few days of cloudy weather. With sunny days I can even power a small window AC unit to cool the sleeping area of the bus. All lights are LED and I have a single burner conduction cook surface which I can use sparingly when not connected to shore power.
My bus is a six window bus.

Some will tell you that you need greater than 480 watts to properly tip off the four batteries and I will respectfully disagree. But if I had room I would add a third panel for a little more capacity. I am still converting my bus but it has been running entirely on solar for over a year and it works great!

I'll let others chime in.

Regards!

Ross
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Old 05-29-2017, 12:22 PM   #3
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Well I can't fix my tail lights atm, I need to start tearing the bus down to find the wires. Basically I just want to get a panel, a battery, and a plug in so I can charge my phone and run a fan. It's sooooo hot inside a bus I'm dying!

Eventually I'd like to get the full setup and wire the bus so I have all the cool plug ins and a fridge and whatnot. Looking for good quality I can expand upon, but the bare minimum to get started.
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Old 05-29-2017, 01:51 PM   #4
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Some folks know the solar end of things and engineer their own solution. Some dig in and learn as they go.

Others buy a ready made "kit" that has all of the right pieces and installation instructions.

Take a look at: https://www.amazon.com/Renogy-Monocr...rds=renogy+kit

Renogy has a good rep for decent quality and good technical support.
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Old 05-29-2017, 06:00 PM   #5
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The comment section of those panels mentioned mppt charge controller? What is that?
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Old 05-29-2017, 06:27 PM   #6
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MPPT controllers do tons of things. Someone who is really solar intense can probably go on for hours. Among other things, mppt controllers will allow you to charge a 12v battery or 12v battery bank with higher voltage panels.

Let's say you found a great deal on a 48v panel. Let's say it gives you a whopping 1 amp each hour it sits in the beautiful sun. In the middle of the day they'll probably be cranking out somewhere over 60v give or take. You cant use those 48v panels hooked directly to the batteries unless you want to fry them. The mppt controller will take that 60v or so and break it down. Through its magic, it may give you 14v at 3 amps p/hour. These are just numbers off the top of my head and are only to be used for illustrating the controllers functionality much like a kindergartener will illustrate something that requires a lot of detail with crayons. It takes the extra voltage and turns it into more amps for your energy consuming pleasure.

The nice thing is when the sun is coming up or going down, and your imaginary 48v panel is cranking out way less than that, the mppt controller will keep it at 12, 13, 14v whichever your battery needs at its current state of charge, for a lot longer.

The other nice thing is the amp output of the panel doesn't have to be anywhere near as important as the voltage. The higher the voltage the better.

For alooooooooooot more on solar, visit the site below.

https://handybobsolar.wordpress.com/
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Old 05-29-2017, 06:40 PM   #7
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So I should get that. Should I also get 48v panels? Are those the best? I can start small and build higher right?

For the mppt, which brand is best? Which panels are good (renology right?)
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Old 05-29-2017, 10:02 PM   #8
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Not trying to be snooty but there have been two or three similar threads in the last two or three weeks alone and there is a wealth of information in each of them that would have answered almost all of your questions. The concept of solar power is not specific to you and you might learn a lot about the basics by thumbing through them. When you have a better idea of what you want, come back, and you'll get some more specific answers.

Quote:
rossfree: I'll start with a list of components common to most systems (not in any particular order). Solar panels, mounting hardware, panel wiring and connectors, charge controller, battery bank, battery bank monitor, disconnect switches, heavy gage battery wiring and connectors, inverter, breaker panel, shore power relay, shore power charger, ac wiring and outlets, maybe a battery watering system and a few other things.
A battery watering system. Ingenius. I might need to snag one of these.

Iheartbus, read up on all of it. Handy Bob Solar is a great place to start as previously mentioned.
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Old 05-29-2017, 10:15 PM   #9
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Maximum Power Point Tracking is a type of solar charge controller that simply maximizes the amount of usable power going into your batteries. In comparison, Pulse-Width Modulated controllers waste much of the panels' power. However, MPPT is always more expensive than PWM, but for systems larger than a few hundred watts MPPT is well worth it. I have two MPPT charge controllers that convert my panels' 30 volts and 68 amps into 14.7 volts and 120 amps to the batteries. The wattage is still about the same , but it's changed into the lower voltage and greater amps suitable for charging batteries. If I had PWM controllers instead, I would get the panels' current into the batteries, but at only the batteries voltage, therefore wasting half the PV power. Not smart!

I personally like Morningstar's MPPT charge controllers - the TS-MPPT-60 is very efficient, can have a remote display elsewhere in the bus, requires no cooling fan (always the first thing to fail), and can be remotely networked so it could potentially be set up and monitored through a computer anywhere in the world!

John
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Old 05-29-2017, 10:21 PM   #10
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Thanks John, idk why but it seems some people are reluctant to give info and expect people with questions to dig through multiple posts in hopes of finding something g close to what they are looking for. I don't have strong internet I'm out in the woods and only comment when I am in town, so I don't have the time to do that. I appreciate the straight answer.
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Old 05-29-2017, 10:54 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Iheartbus View Post
Thanks John, idk why but it seems some people are reluctant to give info and expect people with questions to dig through multiple posts in hopes of finding something g close to what they are looking for. I don't have strong internet I'm out in the woods and only comment when I am in town, so I don't have the time to do that. I appreciate the straight answer.
Because you asked an extremely broad and open ended question about real world experiences when you could have found the answer yourself in less time than it took to post about it. Use your mouse to click three times while you're in town to answer your previous questions -- you will get an encyclopedic understanding of the differences between PWM and MPPT with one search string on Google. As for my recommendation about Handy Bob Solar, you will literally hear that response from anyone knowledgeable and successfully using solar in their skoolie. He is the one stop off-grid bible. I exchanged emails with him frequently when I was learning how to run my bus off grid. I am now completely and comfortably off-grid. There are not a lot of members who can say the same.

John and I have monster systems relative to most skoolies. They are somewhat complex and definitely expensive. Mine is upwards of 5 grand but I can't speak for him. If you are just looking to power a fan for now, you can buy any cheap kit and small inverter. You don't need the best equipment. You can expand later. If you were really trying to be efficient, you could buy a cheap solar panel and charge controller and a few 12v fans. That way you can skip the inverter.

I'll be more direct for you, though.

Buy THIS kit. It's more than enough power to run a few fans. If you use a 120v fan you'll also need an inverter. $400 shipped. And you don't have to click any more links or waste any more of your time learning how it works, or why it works, or use the resources available on the forum from experienced members who have setups that work.

But again, without knowing exactly what you want to do, what kind of power demands you might have in the future, whether or not you'll have access to a 30 amp hookup to top that battery (or batteries) up over a few cloudy days --
without knowing all of that, none of us can tell you if an investment in a starter kit is worth it. And without knowing how it fundamentally works you'll never have the knowledge to expand and build an efficient system. You won't learn that on a single thread.

Good luck though.
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Old 05-30-2017, 08:47 AM   #12
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I want the best. The best control panel, battery, and solar panel. I want to build a huge system that makes me completely off grid, but it needs to grow over time. So I want the best of the best, but a small portion of it for now to get started. Best wires, best mounts, whatever you guys have the best experience with, that has last the longest, that produced the best electricity, that had the least maintenance and failures. I will probably only have the money for now for just 1 panel and 1 battery and 1 control panel, but eventually I'd like to get the big amazing beautiful 5k system.

I wish I could go through the other discussions but I only have a small window of time in town, that's why I ask for the experienced ones to tell me what to get.
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Old 05-30-2017, 11:31 AM   #13
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Iheartbus; The majority of the people here have built solar systems to some extent. The problem, based on the questions you're asking, is those same people only have experience with the system they built. You're asking questions more suitable for the solar kit sellers that have broad experience with solar systems. If people don't have the experience you're asking questions about, they sit quietly and listen.

It's true, these same subjects keep repeating over and over again every couple weeks. Even concerning mundane subjects like insulation, most of us have only installed insulation once so we don't have a broad comparative view of what's the best insulation. It's the same with solar. You learn as much as you can and you take your chances. There is no short answer because each of us lives under differing weather conditions and have varying electrical needs.

I passed on the idea of solar. The complexity and amount of delicate equipment isn't practical in my situation since I like cruising brushy back roads. Instead I'll invest in a generator and possibly have a small battery bank.

Good luck.
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Old 05-30-2017, 11:32 AM   #14
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I understand that some folk may want to start small and add on later, but it makes it more difficult to know what to get initially. For example, what cables do you get for the CC's input? Do you get what you think you'll need, or the biggest that you can, or something small now and upgrade later? Cables must be sized according to their currents, and breakers/fuses are sized according to the cables. You could easily end up needing to replace expensive cables and breakers when the system outgrows them. Sometimes it's just easier to save up and buy everything at one time, even though you don't need all the capabilities to start with. PV itself is still cheap - you shouldn't be paying more than a dollar a watt, and if you buy right you can get panels for close to half that. The panels may end up being the less expensive part of the whole project - charge controllers, breakers, inverter(s), cables, etc etc all add up fast! 4/0 cable is at least $4 a foot, then you'll need a proper lug crimper ($200 or more) and cutter ($50 minimum) and lugs at a few bucks each, plus good heatshrink - that's just for making cables, nothing else. If you want to maximize solar harvest you need to be able to tilt the panels to improve their insolation capture, so that's something else to think about. You should have your batteries on easily-accessible pull-out trays to make it easier to check their water and SG, otherwise you'll end up not doing that vitally-important task just because it's so damn hard to reach them, then after a year or two you find your batteries are dying due to insufficient care. Do you have space for pull-out trays for them, ideally next door to the CC and inverter but not in the same actual compartment?

Some folk go to great lengths to calculate to the Nth degree what their intended loads will be, then they size their system accordingly. Sure, you can do that if you want, but my approach is a hell of a lot simpler and easier, not only for solar but for tank sizes and pretty much everything else on a bus: just have the most that will fit! Easy. When have you ever heard an RVer complain he has to much water capacity, or his poo tank's too big, or he has too much electricity. Nah, didn't think so either. Just carpet your whole darn roof with panels, then you'll never later regret not installing enough. I've got eight panels because that's all I have space for, but if ten panels had fitted I would have bought ten. It ain't rocket surgery!

HandyBob is a good resource, but as I've previously mentioned I also trust the advice given by the solar gurus on the Northern Arizona Wind & Sun forum. If they say to do or not do something, heed their advice - they know of what they speak.

John
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Old 05-30-2017, 01:02 PM   #15
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From what you are describing it sounds like you are describing a starter kit JUST like the one posted earlier. Those things are so inexpensive it is hard to imagine going wrong, and I don't believe there is anything in a package like that would be a mistake - you would add an MPPT, panels, batteries, and larger inverter as you grow. $300, how can you go wrong?
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Old 05-30-2017, 02:31 PM   #16
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From what you are describing it sounds like you are describing a starter kit JUST like the one posted earlier. Those things are so inexpensive it is hard to imagine going wrong, and I don't believe there is anything in a package like that would be a mistake - you would add an MPPT, panels, batteries, and larger inverter as you grow. $300, how can you go wrong?
Someone also said previously that he needs to talk to someone experienced in selling kits. I make my living off of renewable energy. Wind mills and solar panels and charge controllers and most recently helping design off grid systems. The issue with this whole thread is that going from a system that powers a few small fans and a cell phone vs a system that will run a small home is a huge difference. There are components appropriate for each system that are not really interchangeable if you're trying to be efficient. It makes no sense expanding from a 100 watt 100aH system to a 1kW 1kaH system. The components for one system are too small for the larger system and the components for the larger system are too big for the smaller system. Its inefficient. A starter kit is a great option as its plug and play, he can use it to toy around with forever, and then upgrade to a new bigger system in the future when he has the finances. John is right -- the Northern Arizona forum is great, but I figured talking to someone who doesn't have time or Internet resources to read the posts on this forum may benefit from learning the basics in one place, so Handy Bob might be useful.

Want a big system? John is right. Morningstar is the ****. Buy yourself two Morningstar TS-MPPT-60 charge controllers and string the equivalent of 600 watts of solar, whatever you can get the best deal on, through each charge controller. If you run the panels in series you don't need 4/0 gauge cable. You can save yourself on that expense. 8 or 10 gauge will be more than adequate to run 5 amps through, depending on your length. Even with voltage loss you'll be well under the 3% recommendation.

Batteries? Crown and Trojan are the best. I prefer Crown. The biggest Crown batteries I could find were the CR430's. Either way, keep them maintained.

If you want to run 120v, Magnum is king. You shouldn't need much more than a 2k or 3kw inverter depending on what you're doing. Xantrex is also okay. But I'd go with Magnum. All of this equipment will cost you thousands. And again, you should really do it all at once. To illustrate this point, a 2kW inverter draws more amps at idle and under load than a 300w inverter. You might only need a 300w inverter right now. a 2kW would be overkill and unnecessarily drain your batteries.

Plan your system, do it right the first time.

Hope this helps.
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Old 05-30-2017, 05:05 PM   #17
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Yea it does ty. I would like to play with a small system to get started, I just know I will need a bigger one in the future. My needs will consist of running an energy efficient computer (350 watts or so, including the monitor) a small EE fridge, some lights, and a fan. Oh and charging a phone and probably a game device. I won't likely need anything else for the bus ever, but having spare power for those shady days is great.

I'd like to get the best and start small because in my experience starting over is not efficient for the amount of money I make, I'm very poor, that's why I did this in the first place. Its gonna take me a few years of saving to get everything I could hope for.

I could probably spring for one of those mppt control panels, a good crown battery, and some panel and work from there right? It would be low power but eventually as I upgrade all the good parts will already be there?

I appreciate the help, I'm hoping soon to get unlimited on my phone so I don't have to go into town everytime I want to read and comment, it's been a hard last few weeks.
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Old 05-30-2017, 06:43 PM   #18
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The best advice I can give is for you to do your homework at this stage, read and learn all you can, ask questions, and try to understand the rationale behind the reason that things are done the way they are. Remember, most of us are not reinventing the wheel here - we're just using existing technologies in slightly different environments, so a good off-grid system should be a suitable basis for a good bus/RV system. The hardest part may be the physical attachment of the panels to the bus roof, and finding accessible nooks and crannies for everything else. I remember it took me weeks of puzzling how to run the panels' feed cables down to the CCs - for stuff like that you're pretty much on your own because no two buses are the same.

John

PS - my mention of 4/0 cable was for the inverter's and batteries' cables, obviously not for the panels' downfeed cables! Each of my panels uses 10 AWG to the combiner box, then each four panels in parallel use 4 AWG to the CC's breaker, with 2 AWG from each CC to each bank of batteries. 4/0 is too pricy to use except where it's really needed.
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Old 05-30-2017, 07:29 PM   #19
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PS - my mention of 4/0 cable was for the inverter's and batteries' cables, obviously not for the panels' downfeed cables! Each of my panels uses 10 AWG to the combiner box, then each four panels in parallel use 4 AWG to the CC's breaker, with 2 AWG from each CC to each bank of batteries. 4/0 is too pricy to use except where it's really needed.
Haha, glad I misunderstood. I get you're into bigger is simpler but that's a lot of cable. I have 2/0 between inverter and batteries as my inverter is only 2200 peak. 2200/12 = no more than 183 amps. I'm fine with 2/0 on a 1.5 foot run. In fact, my inverter won't take anything bigger.

John knows what he's talking about. Take his advice. The problem as I stated earlier with buying "only the best" from the beginning is, say you got that CR430. First, you need two, because thats a 6v battery. 2 in series is 12 volt. Second, how are you going to charge it properly? You cant trickle charge these batteries without excessive sulphation, which is bad. It kills the battery. You should have around 400 watts to a battery that size. And if you have 400 watts, you need a controller that can handle it. So you're already into a big system. See what I mean? Maybe tackle other projects until you're ready to start. I don't know. Hope it works out though.
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