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Old 04-07-2014, 05:12 PM   #1
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Solar panels and generators - where to start?

SMB-ers -

After a long period (years!) of looking at camper van options (part of which was to join this forum last year), I've recently obtained a 1995 Dodge B2500 2WD SMB with the 318 motor. I'll take and post some pics at a later time.

The van is in great shape for its 152K miles and I've had it looked over mechanically. I've slowly been testing and/or updating all of the SMB systems (furnace/stove, water, CO and LP testers, AC, etc.) and all is working.

After a short search session here without finding the answers I need, here are a couple of questions:

1) If I want to run off an exterior generator, should I just take the output from the generator and hook it up to the exterior plug on the van as if the van was plugged into a live outlet - or is there another 'better' configuration I'm not aware of? I assume that the output of the generator would need to be powerful enough to run the 110 items I'm interested in, such as the StarCool AC.

2) If I want to set up a solar panel for regenerating the house battery - are there some best SMB practices I should follow, or is it on a product-by-product basis (meaning that I would figure out which system I want to go with and then follow their instructions)? Can any of you suggest a relatively simple product that you've had success with?

Many thanks! Looking forward to years of using my SMB.

Wally
Portland, OR
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Old 04-07-2014, 05:36 PM   #2
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Re: Solar panels and generators - where to start?

Quote:
Originally Posted by walib
SMB-ers -

After a long period (years!) of looking at camper van options (part of which was to join this forum last year), I've recently obtained a 1995 Dodge B2500 2WD SMB with the 318 motor. I'll take and post some pics at a later time.

The van is in great shape for its 152K miles and I've had it looked over mechanically. I've slowly been testing and/or updating all of the SMB systems (furnace/stove, water, CO and LP testers, AC, etc.) and all is working.

After a short search session here without finding the answers I need, here are a couple of questions:

1) If I want to run off an exterior generator, should I just take the output from the generator and hook it up to the exterior plug on the van as if the van was plugged into a live outlet - or is there another 'better' configuration I'm not aware of? I assume that the output of the generator would need to be powerful enough to run the 110 items I'm interested in, such as the StarCool AC.

2) If I want to set up a solar panel for regenerating the house battery - are there some best SMB practices I should follow, or is it on a product-by-product basis (meaning that I would figure out which system I want to go with and then follow their instructions)? Can any of you suggest a relatively simple product that you've had success with?

Many thanks! Looking forward to years of using my SMB.

Wally
Portland, OR
1) No do not do that [edit unless you're talking the shore inlet receptacle which is fine with the correct sized extension cord]. Run the correct size buss wire from the generator to the main distrabution breaker box thru a transfer switch. The box should be rated correctly...most are. [The household type] plugs are only rated for specific amps. If there is/are plugs in the van I would think there is a 30 or 50 Amp shore power [inlet shore power] plug outside. That is where you would also need to add a transfer switch if you go that route. You could also run a dedicated circuit to an outlet that has nothing to do with the shore power AC system that's already on board but forget about powering everything else.

The simple solution would be to make a properly rated extension cord to plug into the existing shore power plug from the generator. A Starcool depending on the model will require at least a 2800W-3000W generator and 30 amp min shore [inlet] which you should have.

The transfer switch must be rated for that load as well if you do an internal wire job.


2) some like portable systems. Do you want to mount your solar to the roof and wire down into the house battery system?

In this sections FAQ's there are some good links like the basic RV electrical worth looking at.
viewtopic.php?f=14&t=2167
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Old 04-08-2014, 07:20 AM   #3
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Re: Solar panels and generators - where to start?

Wally,
The FAQ's that Dave has linked is a great place to start. I happened to live in Beaverton, so if you would like to stop by sometime, I can go over your rig with you and try to explain as much hands on as I can. I can probably help with ideas on future upgrades if you like. PM me, if you would like to set that up.

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Old 04-08-2014, 07:53 AM   #4
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Re: Solar panels and generators - where to start?

Dave's answer confuses me: why not just plug the external generator (assuming a Honda stand-alone unit or similar) into the shore power outlet? Why the need to run a direct wire, transfer switch, etc., if the SMB already has a shore power plug and associated wiring?
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Old 04-08-2014, 08:05 AM   #5
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Re: Solar panels and generators - where to start?

Ya, that would be one honkin huge generator to be lugging arround!
Dave I assume in your answer to #1, you were specifically addressing powering the starcool when you said don't do that. Otherwise, to power smaller things from a geni off the interior outlets or charge up the batts, you would just plug it into the 30A outlet, right?
Just making sure, we have solar to charge up the house batt, but just got a small 2000W generator as insurance that we might take to Alaska, never needed one and haven't used it...yet.
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Old 04-08-2014, 10:36 AM   #6
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Re: Solar panels and generators - where to start?

Quote:
Originally Posted by BrianW
Dave's answer confuses me: why not just plug the external generator (assuming a Honda stand-alone unit or similar) into the shore power outlet? Why the need to run a direct wire, transfer switch, etc., if the SMB already has a shore power plug and associated wiring?
Quote:
Originally Posted by daveb
The simple solution would be to make a properly rated extension cord to plug into the existing shore power plug from the generator. A Starcool depending on the model will require at least a 2800W-3000W generator and 30 amp min shore intlet which you should have.
Well I could have noted that first instead of later in the post but considering moving around a larger generator might be difficult and being the amperage can be quite high when using the starcool, it might be better to have the generator solidly mounted with oversized buss wire feeding into a transfer switch. The shorter the extension cord the better so it might be fine to use a short jumper and haul the generator close to the shore power plug. But you still have to worry about theft. Also a mounted generator could be fitted with a better exhaust system, automatic starting, and plumbed fuel supply. There are a few advantages to generators portables though. Sorry for the confusion.
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Old 04-08-2014, 12:57 PM   #7
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Re: Solar panels and generators - where to start?

Quote:
Originally Posted by REF
Ya, that would be one honkin huge generator to be lugging arround!
Dave I assume in your answer to #1, you were specifically addressing powering the starcool when you said don't do that. Otherwise, to power smaller things from a geni off the interior outlets or charge up the batts, you would just plug it into the 30A outlet, right?
Just making sure, we have solar to charge up the house batt, but just got a small 2000W generator as insurance that we might take to Alaska, never needed one and haven't used it...yet.
Yes correct Ref. I think it's just a poor idea to plug into an under rated inside socket. I had a 1000 Honda and just plugged into the outside shore power. If you plug into an interior socket you're not distributing the power through the AC panel correctly. Not that it wouldn't work on light loads, but there is a reason plugs are designed how they are. What if a kid pulled it out? You have exposed prongs that could kill. One of my coworkers was working on a 15 amp circuit and was killed by it. We handle voltages up to 12,000V daily and the kid was just ready to make journeyman but he got complacent and the little #12 120V wire got him. Just not worth it in my opinion.
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Old 04-08-2014, 03:44 PM   #8
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Re: Solar panels and generators - where to start?

Quote:
Originally Posted by walib

If I want to run off an exterior generator, should I just take the output from the generator and hook it up to the exterior plug on the van as if the van was plugged into a live outlet
It sounds like Wally just wants to run an extension cord from his power source (genset in this case) to the shore power hook up on the exterior of the van. This is ok, right Dave? Were you thinking that the OP was eluding to essentially making a double male ended extension cord to run power into an outlet?

I suppose this is assuming that the shore power hookup was wired correctly - I would assume so since the van has a starcool unit.
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Old 04-08-2014, 04:13 PM   #9
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Re: Solar panels and generators - where to start?

Probably my bad, but I did post using the shore power input plug is fine provided it's rated for 30 amps which most are. I doubt SMB would install a Starcool w/o out it. I just wanted to make sure they understand that...Maybe I'll edit my post to reflect that (done). I guess the part that thru me was the wording "Live Outlet". I also have live outlets inside and outside the van that are not dedicated as shore power input power ports.
thanks guys. It was quickly written post on my part poorly done.

BTW I used a adaptor to use a smaller cord for small loads. That can also be done for basic charging and lower amp items but not the starcool.
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Old 04-08-2014, 05:30 PM   #10
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Re: Solar panels and generators - where to start?

Thanks Dave - I just wanted to be sure. We always appreciate your in depth electrical knowledge!
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