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Old 10-31-2021, 01:46 PM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Dec 2020
Location: SW Washington
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Do I really need solar

Hello all -
I'm currently pricing out solar system and am wondering if I can get away without doing solar panels right away. I'm thinking about getting the battery bank setup and installing solar panels later when I have the time/money.
My question is... would I be able to charge my battery bank with generator/shore power/alternator charge and it be just as good?

We are in the Pacific NW, so there are lots of cloudy days. We do plan to travel around the country and be in southern states, so when we do that, it would make sense to have the solar panels installed.

I have a 110v Fridge that will need to be on 24/7 while traveling. (wondering if it makes sense to do 12v fridge instead?)
Other appliances include a TV, DVD player, outlets for charging phones/laptops, rooftop AC, LED ceiling puck lights, 12v water pump, 12v compost fan.

Heat will be chinese diesel heater, water heater is propane, cooktop is propane.

Thanks

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Old 10-31-2021, 02:23 PM   #2
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Couldn't you add solar later if you determine that your set up needs it?
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Old 10-31-2021, 02:29 PM   #3
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I plan to add solar later on after I do my paint job. I built a solar-ready system that currently relies on alternator or shore power for charging.
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Old 10-31-2021, 02:29 PM   #4
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If you want a fridge and don’t want to worry about solar, get one that runs on propane. Add a house battery to charge off your alternator for lighting.
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Old 10-31-2021, 03:39 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tcbitt_PNW View Post
Hello all -
I'm currently pricing out solar system and am wondering if I can get away without doing solar panels right away. I'm thinking about getting the battery bank setup and installing solar panels later when I have the time/money.
My question is... would I be able to charge my battery bank with generator/shore power/alternator charge and it be just as good?

You are asking your question in a way that is pretty subjective and personal (and also weighted towards the answer being "no")


I think what matters to you is not whether "it will be just as good?" without solar, but whether it will meet your particular needs/priorities and supply the energy you need.


I think that you already see the path that will work best for you (build your system incrementally--adding solar later when you leave the PNW and have more money). A generator+shore+alternator can supply your power needs as long as you can afford to keep feeding it gas/diesel/propane or as long as you have a plug to plug into. But do consider the cost of fuel and sites with hookups.



Solar is a 'nice to have' that many consider essential based on their priorities, with a not-trivial upfront cost, but 'free' energy after that, and a bit of added freedom after that.


If you do build in increments, it might be best to think through the full system design now, and plan for it, even if you don't add solar until later. Possibly pre-wiring for it, or at least having an idea how you will add it later could save some headaches down the road.
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Old 10-31-2021, 03:50 PM   #6
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Like Dzl said, if you're going to add solar later maybe wire it up in advance so it is ready to "plug-and-play"
Having just finished our build, I think it would be such a pain to add another system - building in the necessary components to add on later will probably save you some headache.

For us solar was necessary - we live in Vegas but will be traveling the states full time for a year. So far we haven't had to plug in, solar is taking care of everything . . .but Vegas > Oregon for solar...
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Old 10-31-2021, 05:14 PM   #7
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Thanks all. I guess my main concern was it being possible. Sounds like it is, and Iím definitely prepping to have it be plug and play later on, to save on headaches.
I did a wiring diagram this morning and itís all starting to make more sense now how I can achieve this.
Any thoughts on 12v vs 110v fridge? Iíve been told that propane fridges need to be level at all times to work properly and that could be an issue depending on where we are parked.
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Old 10-31-2021, 05:18 PM   #8
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As to the 12V DC vs 120V AC refrigerator, I've not seen a scenario where going with the 120V unit is more efficient. Once you include the idle energy consumption of the inverter, which you now need to leave on all the time to power the fridge, you can easily double the energy usage (depending upon the size and efficiency of the inverter) of the fridge alone. *If* you do decide to go with the 120VAC fridge, just be sure to include the inverter draw in your calculations.
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Old 10-31-2021, 05:24 PM   #9
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12v fridge
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Old 10-31-2021, 05:42 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tcbitt_PNW View Post
Thanks all. I guess my main concern was it being possible. Sounds like it is, and I’m definitely prepping to have it be plug and play later on, to save on headaches.
I did a wiring diagram this morning and it’s all starting to make more sense now how I can achieve this.
Any thoughts on 12v vs 110v fridge? I’ve been told that propane fridges need to be level at all times to work properly and that could be an issue depending on where we are parked.

If you tend to run off battery (or alternator) power mostly, a 12V fridge will likely be the more efficient option. If you will tend to be plugged in to shorepower or running the generator maybe the 12V fridge isn't worth the added cost.


I personally like the Chest style 12V fridges because they tend to be fairly robust and purpose built for vehicles, and you don't have the efficiency penalty of the inverter.


Note that the inverter penalty is twofold, first, there is conversion efficiency, you only get a fraction of the energy out that you put in, due to conversion efficiency. A good inverter will have a peak conversion efficiency of low 90's, but for small loads like a fridge would likely be in the 70's or 80's. And a cheap-ish or lower mid range inverter would likely be mid 80's at its peak and lower for small loads. Second, you've got the no-load consumption. That is the amount of power the inverter is drawing any time its on regardless of whether its currently in use. With top tier small inverters, this can be somewhat low, with cheaper or larger inverters, this can be quite substantial.
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Old 11-03-2021, 04:51 PM   #11
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Without disagreeing that it is possible people are glossing over the cost to run a generator. My 2000w Honda uses 1 gallon of gas in 8 hours usually and I have to change the oil every 100 hours, which is kinda annoying, but I think I have one of the most efficient generators out there.

On top of that, if youíre using lead acid batteries youíre very likely to smoke them if you donít have solar. They like to be fully charged as often as possible and every day otherwise they start to degrade. Seems like most people wreck their first set. They also like long duration slow charging, so running the generator for long periods at low power, which is inefficient.

If it were me, after killing my first batteries and under rating my solar originally I would make absolute sure that you have a battery monitor at minimum, and I would buy 4 used solar panels and a charge controller even if itís a cheap pwm unit.

250w panels used here are $80 each and crappy charge controllers donít cost much. Youíll spend $500 but my bet is itíll save you $500 in battery life and gasoline costs in the first year or come close. If not, be very diligent with charging and understand the battery monitor so you donít end up killing your batteries.
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Old 11-03-2021, 05:58 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rffffffff View Post
Without disagreeing that it is possible people are glossing over the cost to run a generator. My 2000w Honda uses 1 gallon of gas in 8 hours usually and I have to change the oil every 100 hours, which is kinda annoying, but I think I have one of the most efficient generators out there.

On top of that, if youíre using lead acid batteries youíre very likely to smoke them if you donít have solar. They like to be fully charged as often as possible and every day otherwise they start to degrade. Seems like most people wreck their first set. They also like long duration slow charging, so running the generator for long periods at low power, which is inefficient.

If it were me, after killing my first batteries and under rating my solar originally I would make absolute sure that you have a battery monitor at minimum, and I would buy 4 used solar panels and a charge controller even if itís a cheap pwm unit.

250w panels used here are $80 each and crappy charge controllers donít cost much. Youíll spend $500 but my bet is itíll save you $500 in battery life and gasoline costs in the first year or come close. If not, be very diligent with charging and understand the battery monitor so you donít end up killing your batteries.

Very good point. Iím only putting off panels because Iíd like to paint first so I donít have to move them out of the way. You did remind me that I need to go plug in my shore charger to top up my AGM batteries!
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Old 11-03-2021, 06:19 PM   #13
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A note about propane fridges, I have had a few and the instructions actually state within 6 degrees of level. Which is more tilt then you would be happy with when parked. I do not like propane fridges, flame goes out sometimes, needs to have a fresh air opening and an exhaust vent too. I now use a 120 volt fridge running from an inverter. This has worked out well for me.
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Old 11-03-2021, 06:55 PM   #14
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no solar

I have these two big 8D batteries.... ran two 12volt chest type refrigerators for four days..... when they were both active at the same time.. voltage dropped to 12.00 when they were both off the lowest voltage I saw was 12.2

One is no name 40 liter chest type bought used for $200

one is wytner 50 liter chest type bought used for $320

I am using two for redundancy The chance of two going out at the same time is pretty slim. and for 8 to 12 people on board the bus about 90 liters of food capacity is not large. Both brands held the programed 34 degrees as checked by external thermometer. both chilled from ambient to 34 in about 30 minutes or so... maybe less.

william
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Old 11-06-2021, 07:31 PM   #15
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Dec 2019
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I have lived without solar panels for years. I used a bank of golf cart batteries and an inverter for my CPAP. By moving the coach the batteries charge very quickly. Yes you can recharge them with the generator, or an alternator hooked up to a gas motor. As far as Refrigeration I use an ammonia resorption refrigerator, basically an RV fridge. I've been told by members here that the gas is a non-renewable source of energy so my son the engineer calculated how much fuel is spent melting and purifying the material for a solar panel and that fuel would run my refrigerator her over the next 50 years. You can try it without solar panels oh, and if it's not to your liking, install them later.
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Old 11-06-2021, 10:42 PM   #16
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Panels are a _lot_ cheaper than batteries if you know where to look... A few panels to offset costs during the day will make a modest battery bank feel like multiple times its size (depending on loads). My opinion... If you want cost savings, start with the minimalist battery bank and the maximum amount of solar panels you can afford- especially if you are new to solar.
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Old 11-07-2021, 02:48 PM   #17
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I would consider how I would be using my RV as part of the question.



Are you planing to be connected to shore power every day?
Does your rig have the ability to charge your battery bank going down the road?


My "new Crown" has a second alternator to charge the RV batteries, so going down the road will keep the battery bank charged. I also have a 65 amp RV charger that will keep the RV batteries charged when connected to outside power or running of the generator.


The RV charger is spendy but cheaper than a complete solar array and doesn't need good sun.


A second alternator is also cheaper than a complete solar array. The second alternator could be complicated if there are space, mounting or pulley issues. In my case space, pulley, and mounting were not issues (the original alternator mount was modified).


I am installing a 1 Kw solar array but later. The charge controller for the solar will be installed soon so I don't need to do re-work later.


Keep in mind your electrical needs may "grow" over time.
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Old 11-07-2021, 07:08 PM   #18
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Dec 2019
Location: Union Bridge Maryland
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On my older coach I used an ambulance alternator to charge engine and house batterys. Theres a device ties battery banks together while driving and separates the two system while parked. If I drove an hour or so,all batterys were back to fully charged. 4 golf cart batterys hooked up to create 12 volts last over a week. Golf cart batterys are tough and are used to being drained down and recharged. They are also 100% recycled. He said he'd be traveling in the bus.
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Old 11-07-2021, 07:42 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tcbitt_PNW View Post
Hello all -
I'm currently pricing out solar system and am wondering if I can get away without doing solar panels right away. I'm thinking about getting the battery bank setup and installing solar panels later when I have the time/money.
My question is... would I be able to charge my battery bank with generator/shore power/alternator charge and it be just as good?

We are in the Pacific NW, so there are lots of cloudy days. We do plan to travel around the country and be in southern states, so when we do that, it would make sense to have the solar panels installed.

I have a 110v Fridge that will need to be on 24/7 while traveling. (wondering if it makes sense to do 12v fridge instead?)
Other appliances include a TV, DVD player, outlets for charging phones/laptops, rooftop AC, LED ceiling puck lights, 12v water pump, 12v compost fan.

Heat will be chinese diesel heater, water heater is propane, cooktop is propane.

Thanks
A well-designed electrical system should give you the ability to charge from multiple sources -- solar, shore power, engine alternator or portable generator. It's not difficult to achieve this, but you have to put in the time to think it all through and plan it properly.
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Old 11-08-2021, 02:06 AM   #20
Skoolie
 
Join Date: Jun 2021
Location: Baja often, Oregon frequently
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Engine: Cummins 505ci mechanical
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re -- petroleum-based genset
.
I think trading petroleum-based Btu (or calories) to fill batteries has a lot of potential for phantom losses.
.
I think chargers and invertors are notorious for eating Watts at idle.
.
For us with nearly two decades full-time live-aboard, we started by eliminating electric consumers.
How?
We blank-slated.
We intentionally avoided attempting to re-create a stand-still house inside our rig.
.
First:
* we established dimensions for the basics... sleep, cook, lavatory.
* what is the minimum length to hold these activities?
* how much can they overlap?
.
Second:
* we acquired a likely candidate, tossed-in some car-camping gear, and headed off to verify POC (Proof Of Concept).
.
Third:
* with POC, our rig could organically evolve, changing as our needs change.
.
.
I think a good plan has a place.
I feel the same about a good schedule.
I think they ought to be way down the list, behind having fun and accumulating experiences... and building tribe.
Opinion.
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