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Old 02-19-2015, 06:20 PM   #1
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Solar???

Hey Everyone,

Making some final decisions on the new SMB and I keep going back and forth on Solar. I have a friend or two in the Solar industry as well as a couple of well educated electrical friends. Every time I speak with them about solar, they basically laugh and don't understand why I would put the money in to it. Based on two basic premises:
- The solar is so weak it is basically unnoticeable
- It would be so much easier and efficient to turn on the vehicle and let it idle when needed. Or to get a "silent" running generator.

Other than taking of valuable storage space for the generator, I have a hard time arguing with them. Yet it seems most people opt for solar with their SMB's.

Anyone feel like running through it in small easy to use words for me from an SMB owner's perspective?

Thanks as always...
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Old 02-19-2015, 06:41 PM   #2
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Re: Solar???

I think it depends on how you're going to use your SMB. Yeah, you can idle your van to run an appliance, but to actually charge your house batteries, it will take a few hours of idling. If you have a decent amount of solar wattage, you can essentially keep your batteries full at all times. Of course, that all depends on if the sun is out.

My main concern on my SMB was having the fridge on for 3-5 days at a time on camping trips. We only camped at campgrounds so it was pretty much park and enjoy, but there was a small amount of driving every other day. In my situation, I would have felt self conscious running the van for a couple hours trying to charge my batteries if I needed it. One trip, I camped near a guy running a generator for most of the day and that got kind of annoying as well. I had a large enough battery bank that I could run the fridge and everything else for about 3 days straight without really having to worry. I thought about getting a portable solar setup but sold the SMB before I pulled the trigger on one of those.
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Old 02-19-2015, 06:59 PM   #3
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Re: Solar???

Since you are getting a new SMB you should, as a minimum, a have them wire it for solar. We added solar to ours so that we did not have to run the engine. Solar does not generate any noise. The big plus for me is that I can leave the rig for the day to go hiking, shopping, sightseeing etc and when I come back the batteries are charged. These adventures could not be done if I had to run the engine or generator for several hours. Leaving the rig or generator running with no one around is asking for trouble.
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Old 02-19-2015, 06:59 PM   #4
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Re: Solar???

My van is not my daily driver and it's nice that the solar panel keeps all three of my batteries topped up while it sits in the driveway. I have a bi-directional separator, two house batteries and the starting battery.

In this use case, keeping the batteries topped up will extend their lives compared to not having solar. If you drive your van regularly and have ample house battery capacity for a typical camping trip then you may not need it.

...it's also very sunny where I live, so it seems very worth it to me.
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Old 02-19-2015, 07:14 PM   #5
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Re: Solar???

To put it simply I would go for solar. This past new years we camped for four nights in the desert. We drove to get there the first day, drove a little on the second day and did not drive at all on the third and forth day. Our solar provided all the power needed to keep our house battery charged on those days. Mind you this was in the dead of winter with short days.
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Old 02-19-2015, 07:54 PM   #6
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Re: Solar???

I'd have to disagree (I understand you are just asking so I don't mean this to sound "disagreeable").

First of all, a properly set up and wired solar power system will be very noticeable, in my experience. Many SMB's have a small compressor refrigerator, and (depending on where you live and travel), I believe that 200-300 watts (well set up with minimal voltage drop and a good controller plus monitor) would keep things pretty ship-shape. Not "bottomless," but you'd be able to run the fridge, LED lights, some furnace, charge laptops, etc.

Second, idling the engine to charge is not a great idea (presuming you don't have the type of vehicle that is designed specifically for it), because the alternator is not a smart charger and is relatively inefficient. Also it's just added unloaded engine hours. Of course charging while driving is sort of a freebie, but feeling "driven" to keep on the move to charge is a pain (my '97 had a compressor refrigerator and no solar and I had to stay on the move whether I wanted to or not -- or else plug in).

Third, there is no silent generator. Oh do I wish there were, because then every time I go camping or boondocking I wouldn't have to spend 50% of the time listening to the "quiet" Hondas of the people camped nearby (and not all that nearby either as the sound carries). Also, you have to store the generator (which then means you ahve to leave something else at home), plus carry fuel for it. Not that there is no place for a generator (and some people are considerate), but there is no "silent" generator.

******

I think people here could give you a better idea of how well solar might work for you, if you can tell us where you plan to travel, and what your envisioned camping style is. Solar is not necessarily the best choice for everyone, but it can work amazingly well. (For example, if you live in a cloudy/rainy area, drive every day, and only go from campground plug-in, to campground plug-in <---- extreme example of course, but In this case solar wouldn't be a great addition.)

I'm just helping a friend add 300 watts to his SMB this week. Should work nicely for his small compressor refrigerator, LED lights, and laptop charging -- of course he'll be keeping tabs with a monitor, as it is still not an endless cornucopia, but he doesn't anticipate needing to carry a generator for his travel style, and it will definitely be a "noticeable" addition.
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Old 02-19-2015, 08:15 PM   #7
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Re: Solar???

At least on my van, solar is not there to run large high load items, it's there to run the fridge & charge up the batteries to a float level, something a standard alternator won't do. As mentioned it promotes battery life.The only reason I have two 135w panels is in part due to the size of my battery bank and the extra 135 watts does help in overcast weather or more shady areas. Even if you have the whole van covered with solar it's still not enough to run heavy loads so there is a point where your buddies are correct. Even with the biggest array you can stick on the roof, there might be times where heavy overcast will not allow enough sun to supply a particular load. Thanks to LED lighting most loads in my SMB are small.
I have an extra portable panel that I've never used, mainly because I'm usually in fairly good sun.
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Old 02-19-2015, 08:28 PM   #8
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Re: Solar???

Quote:
Originally Posted by boywonder
My van is not my daily driver and it's nice that the solar panel keeps all three of my batteries topped up while it sits in the driveway. I have a bi-directional separator, two house batteries and the starting batteries...
What he said. If you are going to park it outside, and unless you run it a minimum of once a week, your SMB will really benefit from solar keeping your batteries charged up.


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Old 02-19-2015, 10:00 PM   #9
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Re: Solar???

240 solar panel + 20 amp mppt controller lying flat on your roof will get you about 12 amps of charging power at midday in sunny conditions. 12 amps doesnt sound like alot but it's enough to run fans, charge laptops, run lights, run a 12 volt fridge.

The main reason i use mine is to run my 3.5 amp swamp cooler when its hot. i have lots of power to spare.

your friends were probably thinking about the smaller harbor freight 15 watt panels which produce very little power. With 240 watts your cooking with fire so to speak. i use to have a 120 watt panel which people told me was too big for my van, but its 6 amps of power was kind of dissapointing to me. When I first connected my 240 watt panel and saw 12 amps, I knew i would never use anything smaller.

I only have a 102 ah agm battery but for me its more than adequate and by 12 noon its already in float mode. All i use is solar, never needed to connect to car alternator or gas generator. But when I left my van lights on, I did have to hook up the start battery to the solar panel, 3 hours later i was able to crank over the engine.

I see no disadvantages to solar, the initial cost to buy the panel and battery might be high, but its a one time cost then you have free power. As long as you have the room on your roof, its a good option to have.

I paid 200 dollar for a used 240 watt panel. I paid 102 dollar for an ecoworthy 20 amp mppt controller, I also bought a used agm battery for 100 dollar, I install everything myself, less than 500 dollars. Even if you buy everything new its probably less than a 1000.00. One of the quiet generators cost about that much and would be more useful if you plan to use power hungry devices.
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Old 02-19-2015, 10:42 PM   #10
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Re: Solar???

Quote:
Originally Posted by purana182
Hey Everyone,

Making some final decisions on the new SMB and I keep going back and forth on Solar. I have a friend or two in the Solar industry as well as a couple of well educated electrical friends. Every time I speak with them about solar, they basically laugh and don't understand why I would put the money in to it. Based on two basic premises:
- The solar is so weak it is basically unnoticeable
- It would be so much easier and efficient to turn on the vehicle and let it idle when needed. Or to get a "silent" running generator.

Other than taking of valuable storage space for the generator, I have a hard time arguing with them. Yet it seems most people opt for solar with their SMB's.

Anyone feel like running through it in small easy to use words for me from an SMB owner's perspective?

Thanks as always...
No offense, but I don't think you friends have experience with boondocking in a small RV.

Not having to run any gas powered motor and yet being able to keep my beer cold indefinitely is well worth the cost of solar...
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