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Old 04-05-2018, 03:53 PM   #1
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basic solar guidance needed

I have been doing some poking around here for a while now, and have low electrical intuition and experience, that being said i'm not a complete dummy and am good at puzzles.

The situation: The scale of electrical in the bus is intended to be for more a weekend camper than a full time living space. 1st, 12v led lighting for minimal light, we kept the windows and installed skylights to aid this demand. 2nd is charging. We are not very gadget driven so really charging a laptop every few days and a cell phone every other day or so would be our inverter based needs. heating will be done with a woodstove and a grizzly brand sleepingbag (best 2 person bag for the money). Cooking will be done on propane and woodstove. 3rd appliances and tools; considering the use of something like a small rice cooker, a hardwired stereo instead of relying on the now ever audible bluetooth speakers. The final electrical demand is a fantastic vent for above the propane stove.

I have 2 100W renogy solar panels ordered and a morningstar ts-45 tristar controller. For battery storage I am considering 4 6v golf cart batteries as per a general trend on this site and other sources.
To achieve 12v output, i would wire the panels in parallel and the batteries in 2 rows in parallel, in series?

Does a 600w pure sine wave inverter seem as though it could fulfill the charging demands of this system while also allowing the occasional appliance/ power tool? or am i better off with a smaller inverter for charging and running the occasional extension chord for projects etc. Is a car stereo on the 12v system more efficient and preferable than home stereos?

It seems as though most people are positioning battery banks in luggage compartments instead of in the bus. is this prudent? The tristar does not come with any monitoring and the morningstar monitor is an additional $160, worth it? or should i stick with the harbor freight multimeter for now.

One of the most confusing parts for me is electrical hardware. Do i need a breaker box? Fuses from the panels to controller? bus bar to attach 12v lighting/fan/stereo to?

I been reading my handybob, slowly piecing together the knowledge, paroosing the build threads, watching the youtube. All input is appreciated. Thanks.

Jack
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Old 04-05-2018, 04:26 PM   #2
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The Morningstar's meter, whether the remote RM-1 or the meter attached to the front of the controller, is there to tell you what the controller is doing. It will not tell you the state of charge of the batteries, for which you need a proper SoC gauge or meter. There are plenty of those on the market, ranging from the basic Midnite Solar meter that tells you how long it's been since the batteries received a full charge, to amp/hours in and out meters that theoretically tell you, sort of, how "full" the battery is, to gauges like the SmartGauge (available in this country through Balmar) that accurately tell you the battery's exact SoC. You pays yer money an' you makes yer choice.

A Harbor Fright DVM will NOT tell you much except the resting voltage, which in itself is not particularly useful. Certainly have a DVM for all those times you'll need one, but don't expect it to be a SoC meter. A good ol' hydrometer that measures the electrolyte's Specific Gravity is always a good way to know how much charge any FLA battery has, but it needs to be used correctly and consistently.

The generally-accepted wisdom is to charge standard FLA batteries at between 5 and 13% of their 20-hour rate, using a proper 3-stage charger that can be programmed to your batteries' specific charging requirements. Under-charging will cause inevitable long-term plate sulfation, and over-charging (usually not an issue with RV/bus systems!) can overheat batteries and cause excessive water loss, so stick to about 10% and you won't go wrong.

The best place to learn about PV is on the Northern Arizona Wind & Sun forum; any time spent reading the collective wisdom there is well worth it. HandyBob also has some good thoughts on the subject, even though he's somewhat opinionated (like the best of us are . . .)

John
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Old 04-05-2018, 04:31 PM   #3
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Howdy Jack! Excellent lead-in information!

Quote:
Originally Posted by SandraBulocksRevenge View Post
I have 2 100W renogy solar panels ordered and a morningstar ts-45 tristar controller.
200 watts (max) is about 14 amps at a charging voltage of 13.6 volts so you have some expansion capability in that charge controller!

Quote:
Originally Posted by SandraBulocksRevenge View Post
For battery storage I am considering 4 6v golf cart batteries as per a general trend on this site and other sources. To achieve 12v output, i would wire the panels in parallel and the batteries in 2 rows in parallel, in series?
Yes

Quote:
Originally Posted by SandraBulocksRevenge View Post
Does a 600w pure sine wave inverter seem as though it could fulfill the charging demands of this system while also allowing the occasional appliance/ power tool?
It really depends on the appliance/tool. Pure sine wave is great and will run everything. The 600 watt size will limit you to 600 watts - obviously. I did a quick search to see what an electrical drill requires. The first one to popup was 960 watts. I would expect that not to work very well on 600 watt inverter though it may work to some extent (not sure, never tried that).


Quote:
Originally Posted by SandraBulocksRevenge View Post
Is a car stereo on the 12v system more efficient and preferable than home stereos?
I have very little experience with home stereo systems but the little I do have tells me they are somewhat power hungry. At a minimum, you are ahead by not taking the conversion loss imposed by the inverter.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SandraBulocksRevenge View Post
It seems as though most people are positioning battery banks in luggage compartments instead of in the bus. is this prudent?
Depends somewhat on the battery. If an AGM/sealed type unit I think you have more options. If a 6 volt lead-acid type that is vented, it needs to be outside the living space and vented to the outside.

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Originally Posted by SandraBulocksRevenge View Post
The tristar does not come with any monitoring and the morningstar monitor is an additional $160, worth it? or should i stick with the harbor freight multimeter for now.
In my opinion, a good quality battery bank monitor is required (uses a shunt to keep track of all electrons flowing into/out of the bank) for good state of charge (SOC) information as well as many other things. A meter on the charge controller is at least interesting (IMO) but probably not required beyond setup/troubleshooting. Voltage of a battery in use is the worst possible way to determine SOC. Some folks don't mind beating their batteries to death and replacing them every couple years. I like to take care of mine and help them to last as long as possible.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SandraBulocksRevenge View Post
One of the most confusing parts for me is electrical hardware. Do i need a breaker box? Fuses from the panels to controller? bus bar to attach 12v lighting/fan/stereo to?
All power circuits should be protected by a fuse/breaker at the "source" end. How that is accomplished is entirely up to you (unless trying to meet some spec). Some folks like the pre-packaged 12VDC/120VAC systems/boxes that are available. I went with typical breaker boxes/circuit breakers for all 120VAC and several fuse panels for the 12VDC.
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Old 04-05-2018, 04:36 PM   #4
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OK so my #1 pet peeve is people who use an inverter or things that run from DC power anyway. Your laptops and cell phones are obvious examples of that. It will cost you nearly twice as much power to charge your laptop if you're using an inverter! Look at your laptop's charger, it will show the output voltage. Usually it will be around 19v. If so, this combination AC/DC charger is awesome and what I use: https://amzn.to/2GBzkzO

So now you need 12V and USB outlets to plug into. I use s few of these these: https://amzn.to/2GB2hjp

As far as a stereo goes, it really depends on your goals. If you just want some ambient music while you're relaxing, that's a much different job than a system that you can rock out while driving down the highway. Of course you know I will say get something DC powered but remember that the watts sent to your speaker are first drawn from your battery! I have a regular car stereo head unit connected to some 6x9 speakers for when I'm driving, and I use a small bluetooth speaker with a tuner when I'm not.

If you never go to cold climates, you can keep your batteries outside safely. If there's any chance you will see freezing (or below freezing!) temperatures, your batteries will perform poorly and can even be damaged. I keep mine inside! Of course, most batteries REQUIRE ventilation!

Speaking of batteries, I use a pair of 200AH 12v AGM batteries. The main advantage to the 6v (in my mind at least) is that they're half as big, it's easier to move two little batteries than one big one!

I bought inline power monitors from WindyNation and it gives great information when it works.. Unfortunately it crashes very regularly (daily!) so I don't recommend them.

You should have a switch panel for your power system, and you should have circuit breakers. I use this switch panel: https://amzn.to/2qaqBNT and these auto-resetting circuit breakers: https://amzn.to/2qaTcTp This can get complicated quick but if you're running suitably low power devices it doesn't have to be.

I have to throw a shout out to the propane stove/oven I got. It's the same one every other bus person I've met uses, and we love it! https://amzn.to/2uU0osO

I wouldn't bother trying to use an electric rice cooker, they just eat power... Some of them go as high as 700 watts, crazy talk for a solar power system!
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Old 04-05-2018, 06:08 PM   #5
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Thanks so much for the quick replies. you guys rock.
So i'll boil rice on the stove top and forget about the home stereo system. I'll also just use the cordless tools and keep the table saw home when im off camping. I need to get a little more "code savy" when it comes to electrical safety i reckon, and the general action, location and installation of fuses/breakers is something i might need some on site help with.

I need a good battery monitor to stay on top of SOC and keep the batteries healthy. Is the difference between sealed and vented batteries mostly cost? Why would I want golf cart batteries over the full size 12v batteries? Starting to seem like 6 on one hand and half a dozen in the other especially with such a small system.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Iceni John View Post
The generally-accepted wisdom is to charge standard FLA batteries at between 5 and 13% of their 20-hour rate, using a proper 3-stage charger that can be programmed to your batteries' specific charging requirements. Under-charging will cause inevitable long-term plate sulfation, and over-charging (usually not an issue with RV/bus systems!) can overheat batteries and cause excessive water loss, so stick to about 10% and you won't go wrong.
John
John- Can you parse out this idea a little more? I was understanding that the tristar ts-45 is a three stage charge controller but are you saying that i should get an actual charger? Could you post a link to a similar item?

"Your laptops and cell phones are obvious examples of that."
Oh duh! If these both run off dc then why all the flim flam about pure sine inverters for these devices? Is that mainly from the more RV derived folk who are plugged in?

If im understanding all the amazon links;

From batteries I have a breaker box, next i have switch panel which i can charge from but also wire house lights in to each of the separate switches? Finally you linked a universal charger that you would use plugged into the cigarette lighter port of the switch panel (if you are operating on 12v dc) or otherwise would plug right into your inverter/ extension chord if you are operating on 120/110 dc?

In terms of batteries/ wiring in general, If i am to use sealed "agm" batteries, i may want a concealed place to have batteries inside, where there would also be all of the other electrical works, otherwise if i go with a FLA battery (golf carts or other) then i would want it outside, vented, not in the cold. How do people vent the luggage compartments under the buses that they often store batteries in? I have seen them stored there but maybe recall one person drilling holes into it for propane venting not for batteries. Would it be a bad idea to share that compartment with propane? Maybe gray water storage shared with batteries is better so long as i dont flood my flooded batteries. Brokedown, what is a battery monitor that is generally recomended? Is "smartgauge" the one to have?

thanks again
jack
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Old 04-05-2018, 10:08 PM   #6
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Jack, the TriStar is a proper 3-stage solar charge controller. You have one of the best out there. As long as you set its DIP switches correctly, it will correctly charge your batteries.

John
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Old 04-05-2018, 10:18 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SandraBulocksRevenge View Post
Thanks so much for the quick replies. you guys rock.
Brokedown, what is a battery monitor that is generally recomended? Is "smartgauge" the one to have?

thanks again
jack
Yes. SmartGauge Electronics - SmartGauge compared to Amp Hours Counters et al

John
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Old 04-06-2018, 05:37 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SandraBulocksRevenge View Post
Is the difference between sealed and vented batteries mostly cost? Why would I want golf cart batteries over the full size 12v batteries?
A little Googling about this will reveal that the various batteries types are quite different (more plates, thicker plates, etc.). Each with its own pros and cons. A simple set of FLA golf cart batteries is a very good solution for a reasonable price. However; that does not make them 'the best for all situations'.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SandraBulocksRevenge View Post
If these both run off dc then why all the flim flam about pure sine inverters for these devices? Is that mainly from the more RV derived folk who are plugged in?
Many of us run many different things from our inverter. In my case, a residential refrigerator, microwave/convection oven, induction cooktop, CPAP machine, laptop, television and so on. Except for the induction cooktop, none of these items "require" a pure sine wave inverter but a few of them do seem to run "better" with it (I've had both modified and pure sine installed). I am defining "better" as the microwave producing more heat & the refrigerator compressor making less noise. Given my power situation (plenty of it from solar), powering my laptop thru the 120VAC adapter is very easy/convenient. As efficient as possible? No.

Many devices run from 12 VDC (or at least DC) but wiring that is not always simple. My TV is an example. It has a 120 VAC cord directly into the unit. I know what is happening inside but I was not about to tear it apart to hardware 12VDC in. It is a win for you when you can find the TV (or other) that you want AND it accepts 12 VDC input. That is not always the case.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SandraBulocksRevenge View Post
From batteries I have a breaker box, next i have switch panel which i can charge from but also wire house lights in to each of the separate switches?
The following is one possible electrical diagram (probably more complex than most people need). My point in listing it here is to try and help you visualize the general flow of things. It does not include the switches for the lights nor the battery monitor/shunt (as it has a BMS) so please don't let those confuse you. The setup is entirely up to you. A combined circuit breaker/switch panel (like on a boat) may be the desired approach, or not. All of my breakers/fuses are pretty far removed from the switches. Light switches are a good example, just like a house, locating them 'near' the light and in the same room is pretty convenient. Of course, this depends on your coach, floor plan, etc...


Quote:
Originally Posted by SandraBulocksRevenge View Post
In terms of batteries/ wiring in general, If i am to use sealed "agm" batteries, i may want a concealed place to have batteries inside, where there would also be all of the other electrical works, otherwise if i go with a FLA battery (golf carts or other) then i would want it outside, vented, not in the cold.
If you plan to use your rig in the cold (let's define that as below freezing), you should probably make provisions for the care of your batteries (and maybe heaters for your holding tanks as well). I certainly avoid those temperatures. All of my motorhomes have had FLA batteries and were "outside". My current lithium batteries are in the basement so not directly exposed to the cold but mighty close to it.

I'm pretty sure you would want electrical and propane separate.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SandraBulocksRevenge View Post
what is a battery monitor that is generally recomended?
The Trimetric from Bogart Engineering is another good one. They all have their pros/cons and lovers/haters.
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Old 04-06-2018, 07:52 AM   #9
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Although this might not be the right thread for this kind of info. Lead acid is about 85% efficient in energy in versus energy out. That numbers drops to 60% when the SOC is above 75%. Meaning a lot of energy gets used to make fumes and heat.
A lithium battery is about 95% efficient. So you would need another 20% more solar panels to make up for the lead acid batteries inefficiency versus lithium.

Later J
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Old 04-06-2018, 04:41 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brokedown View Post

Speaking of batteries, I use a pair of 200AH 12v AGM batteries. The main advantage to the 6v (in my mind at least) is that they're half as big, it's easier to move two little batteries than one big one!
Did you mean this, or do you have a pair of 6v batteries? You said you have a pair of 12v, but then talk about the advantage of 6v batteries.
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