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rv solar install

Our 960 Watt RV Solar Install – A Step by Step Guide

RV solar power is an expensive but worthy investment that can pay for itself in the long run. Especially if you like Wild Camping as much as we do!

Free Wild Camping Trona Pinnacles

Getting a crappy solar install however will cost you time and money with no benefit in return! We’ve had 4 different solar setups on three different RVs over the years and to be brutally honest: Many RV Solar installers don’t always know what they’re doing…even when they claim they do!

Over the years we’ve had our fair share of RV technicians learning the solar ropes at our expense. We’ve also had a couple of great experiences too, so don’t go thinking there’s no hope. Any tech can throw a few panels on the roof, screw them in and say “all done” but there’s a lot more to it then that.  Each time we’ve had a solar kit installed we’ve found at least a few issues later on down the road.  It’s been a frustrating learning experience but it’s taught us a lot.  We’re hoping our hard earned lessons might save you time and money on your solar install.

Whether you plan to install your RV solar system yourself, or have it professionally done at a service center (like we did), it’s super important to understand the entire installation process. This way you know the right questions to ask, requests to make and you can confidently help design your solar install…and more importantly you’ll be able to inspect the finished job.

rv solar power

We’re calling this a “Guide” and not a “How To” because every RV solar install will be different. There are too many variables such as roof types, trailer vs. motorhome, battery location, panel size…the list could go on for days!

When we had our 960 Watt Solar All Electric Kit Installed at the Factory Service Center they allowed us to film the entire install.  We did our best to capture most every step to help people get a visual and better understand the solar installation process.

In the boxes below are additional details that are not featured in the video. Before we get started you may want to check out our gear so you can see exactly what we’re workin’ with.

 

RV Solar Pre Wire kitIf you’re buying a new RV, tell the RV manufacturer and dealer that you want solar pre-wire installed at the factory!  This option costs them very little if it’s done before the walls are put in place and yet this simple step can save you hundreds on your solar install!  Also make sure they use a high quality solar pre wire kit with minimum 10-gauge thickness. Some manufactures opt for the cheaper prewire kit that only supports a max of 200 watts of solar and that’s not near enough for most RV’s.

With our most recent All Electric Solar Kit we found a few install issues, I’ll list them from the worst to the not so terrible:

Mounting Hardware: The installer used rivets in our roof which turned out to be a mistake.  Several of the rivets came loose and we had to replace all the rivets with giant wood screws.  Make sure to confirm with your RV manufacturer about the roof material and what type of anchor is best to hold on the roof.  Even the RV company may not be 100% sure, so you’ll want to double check with the manufacturer of the solar panels for additional guidance (customer service & warranty is why it’s important to choose a reputable solar company).

Proper MPPT Placement: Do not install the MPPT controller upside down.  During a full load the fan kicks on to help dissipate heat that builds in the solar controller. When the fan kicks on it blows the heat down but since heat rises the MPPT controller doesn’t cool as easily therefor potentially putting the solar controller at risk of overheating.

Wire Length: Wires should be cut short but not too short!  One of our solar connector wires is a little tight and it gets pulled a tiny bit while I’m tilting the panels, if I’m not careful this extra stress on the wire may cause problems in the future.

Have you read the directions?

If you’re kit came with directions, read them until you understand every aspect of the install.  You should not rely on your RV tech to know the ins and outs of your solar kit.  While the tech may have installed solar panels in the past they may not have installed a system like yours.  If possible, try and be available and in the shop to confirm they are doing everything correctly.

 

Does your solar kit include everything?

Ensure your kit includes all mounting hardware like screws, brackets and solar cable connectors for your panels.
Sealants and adhesives are not generally included (due to expiration dates) so confirm with your installer that they have adhesive in stock and that they are not expired (one time we were held up 4 days due to expired adhesive).

 

Where will the panels be installed?

Measure your roof and panels then spend some time drawing your preferred solar panel setup.  You may want to draw two versions in case the installer can’t do your preferred solar panel layout (you never know what’s directly under the roof so it’s good to have a backup plan ready).

Once you’ve got an idea of the panel layout place your boxes on the roof in the same arrangement to make sure it will all fit as planned before you begin carrying up the panels.  To get more exact you can trim the bottom half of the box to your solar panel dimensions, saving the top of the box to cover the panels during the install.

 

Where are potential shadows?

Shadows are your enemy when it comes to solar panels.  Keep the panels as far away from rooftop A/C units, vent fan covers or satellite/TV antennas. Remember the sun is lower on the horizon in winter making shadows even longer, so an A/C cover might not cast a shadow at 12 noon during the summer but it may completely cover the panel in winter.

 

What size solar & battery cables do I need (gauge/wire size)?

Solar cable length should be no more than 25 feet from the solar array to the battery bank, this reduces “voltage drop” (loss of charging power).  If the cable is too long you will lose some of your solar power before it gets to the batteries.

Solar cable should be no smaller than 10 gauge.  In general, the larger/thicker the wire the better the power will be transferred through the cable.

An 80-amp breaker (easily accessible) is placed on the solar positive because of the high voltage, you never know when you may need to shut down the power from the panels.

The Big Takeaway: The thicker and shorter the wire the less power loss.

 

Wire solar panels in Series or Parallel?

We chose to wire the panels in series because of the amount of solar panels, our wire gauge & MPPT solar controller.  It’s complicated to explain this in a simple way, but if you need to know here is my best attempt at a short explanation:

Because we have wired all 6 panels in series it will output 120-volts DC. Because of this high voltage we are able to get away with 960 watts on a #10 AWG wire from the solar panels to solar controller. This effectively reduces the current going through the cable to around 9 amps. Our Outback MPPT controller steps the voltage back down from 120-volts to 12-volts in order to charge the battery bank. After leaving the MPPT controller the current is around 55 amps.  From the solar controller we use a short, heavy duty #2 AWG cable to handle this large amount of power.

 

What is the difference between connector types (MC4 vs SAE)?

MC4 connectors typically can handle 30 amps, include #10 gauge solar cable, are water tight and won’t easily disconnect from the vibration of driving.  The typical SAE connectors are rated for 20 amps and are less robust and therefore less expensive.

 

Best practice for a water tight cable installation?

Even if your RV doesn’t have solar pre-wire, a cable entry plate will allow you to position the solar panels as close to the battery bank as possible. The cable entry plate we installed is designed with an underside channel to ensure that when sealant is properly used it will be 100% water-tight around the edges.

 

Do I need a remote for my inverter or solar controller?

In general, once the settings on the inverter and solar charge controller are entered, we “set it and forget it.” That said, we use our remotes daily to monitor battery charging, see how much solar power we have coming in and how much power we’re taking out.  Remotes for the solar controller and inverter should all be easily accessible in living areas or with your RVs control panel area (with the tank monitors, A/C controls, etc.).  When it’s sunny outside you’ll want to check these remote panels often and celebrate when your battery hits 100% charged while you’re out in the middle of nowhere!

 

Where should I install the components?

Inverters, solar controllers and batteries should be kept away from water. Batteries especially should be in a separate and enclosed area with ventilation (ventilation is a must for lead acid batteries, but check with the battery mfr about AGM or Lithium batteries).

Do not place inverters or MPPT charge controllers inside your RV, they often produce heat and in the summer they will not only heat up your RV but the fans can be loud.  We recommend installing these items in a water tight storage bay.

Fuses for inverters should be located as close to the battery bank as possible. All fuses should be easily accessible if/when they need replacement.

 

Is it safe to walk on the roof with the solar panels?

You will need to get on the roof to clean your panels, for tilting and inspection for sealant wear. It’s important to leave a path to safely walk around the roof, you do not want to walk on the solar panels.  Avoid a tripping hazard with less exposed cable on the roof. You should be able to run most of the wiring under the panels so there is as little exposed wiring as possible.

 

We hope our experiences and tips will help you have a smooth solar install with nothing but sweet sunshine and wild camping to look forward to.

If you have any solar install tips and tricks of your own, please share in the comments below.

Still have questions? Let us know in the comments below as we’re planning several more solar videos and we’ll try to include the answers!

 

Disclaimer – A big thanks to Go Power for helping inform consumers like us and fund the production costs of this video. As always, we are free to say whatever we want and only share our honest opinions and experiences.

Hello there! I honestly don’t know what to say, so I am going to tell you a bunch of random facts instead. I'm a fish eating vegetarian who hates spiders and loves snakes. I almost never took vacations growing up. I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking (still do). I misspell about every other word I write and still struggle with grammar. I love splurging on a good high tea (which is really hard to find these days). And whatever you do, don’t tell me I can’t do something, because then I'll HAVE to do it!

Comments (91)

  • Mike shankin

    Enjoy your videos. I have a Bigfoot truck camper that I would like to convert to lithium battery solar system. Would you be able to give me some names of any installers you have confidence in. Anywhere out west. Much appreciated. Mike

    reply
  • Hello Nikki & Jason,

    Thanks for the great blog and videos. Have you considered adding a wind turbine for cloudy days?

    Wendy

    reply
  • Sandy Goerner

    Did you use Precision RV Service (Marvin) for any of your RV system installations? We are considering them/him for our solar and composting toilet install and would like to get pro and con references for them.

    reply
  • Michael Hesterberg

    Hi, I was just thinking about overall costs! You have purchased what appears to be “top drawer” stuff. Then you had to upgrade several components, as well as consign the project to a small army of specialist RV technicians! NOPE! This was definitely high dollar! Scare me now!

    reply
  • Rob

    Love your videos
    Just getting started and your videos are terrific.
    Our problem is we want to get the highest quality
    Diesel pusher. We can’t seem to get any real recommendations. Why did you settle on the bounder ? Can you recommend who or where I can get some good information? We don’t want to find out the hard way.
    Thx

    reply
  • Ben

    Hello,

    We need a supply of solar panels btw 150 to 275 watts.

    OR Magnum Energy MS4024PAE 24V Pure Sine.

    Kindly advise if you can supply us.

    Kind Regards,

    Ben

    929 297 6110

    reply
  • Bill k

    Hi I’m Bill. Just had 12 panels installed on my class c Renagade Verona 40 vrb . Using 1800 kW array to charge my factory battery bank. Dry camping for about a week now . Generator run time is zero . How Would IFind out if this system is designed properly . Battery bank is charged by midday (Sunny). Guestions. What if it rains for 3 or 4 days ?. Did they use the right size wire during install?Should I add more batteries? Going to Indiana to check out the factory to see what they think .. Any ideas thx Bill k

    reply
  • David

    This may seem like a dumb question but how many panels come in a single kit? Do you have to buy multiple kits to get coverage? What if you just let’s say want 1kw can you just go buy one single 1000w solar panel? Or would you need multiple of those kits? If someone could shed some light on that. My family and I are planning to go off grid and we have a few questions and we have 10 months to work out the kinks!

    reply
  • outwestbound

    Hi. Are you guys happy you did the 6 panels in series? I’m looking to do this, but the risk is of course that shading will be a problem. After living with the array for a while, in desert and other environments, would you do the single series array again? Thanks

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  • Gary

    On your 960 watt system, which brand of panels did you purchase?

    reply
  • Mike & Karrie

    Hi Jason & Nikki,
    I was wondering why you switched to the Outback Flexmax 80 for this install? Did it have anything to do with your subsequent changeover to lithium batteries? I noticed the video of the 960watt install was done while the old batteries were still in the coach. We are looking at the same type of capacity and have had trouble getting specs from the mfg for the types of battery support. Most charge controllers have a setup for the type of battery, lead acid, AGM, etc. and I could not find that in the Outback manual. I have only found one charge controller that supports lithium in their manuals, the Blue Sky Solar Boost 3024iL. Were there any specific parameters you had to change for the Outback to support your lithium setup? We love your channel and web site and are going to miss the specific RV interaction when you switch to water. BTW, contact a local Coast Guard Auxiliary for a boating class. I was with the Auxiliary for 6 years teaching boaters and inspecting boats for compliance and you will get a world of knowledge out of the class. May even teach Jason about tying knots.
    Best of luck
    Mike & Karrie

    reply
    • We had the Outback FM-60 but it could not handle the power from our new setup, that’s why we upgraded to the FM-80.
      The Outback products have a manual mode where you can set all parameters, both our solar mfr and battery mfr highly recommended the Outback products.

      reply
  • outwestbound

    Hi Nikki, Thanks for your blog. I’m designing a similar system (160 watt panels) to yours for my fifth wheel now.
    Question: In hindsight, would you have added a 7th solar panel taking you up to 1,120? There are two parts to this I guess.
    1) I realize that another panel “may” require an even bigger charge controller than the 80 amp Outback you guys have. Do you recall if controller sizing was an issue with adding more watts, if more wattage was considered?
    2) Were your expectations fully met at 6 panels, or again, would that 7th make a difference? I’m thinking about the 7th panel for days when I don’t want to get on roof for tilting or more cloudy days. For me, I’m just wondering if the 7th panel would allow a more predictable/ reliable total AH output to the batteries.

    Thanks
    John

    reply
  • Harry Brewster

    I am asking about the latest installation of the 6 panel 960 watt system. Also Need to know where you purchased your Lithium batteries.

    reply
    • We purchased them online, but we’d recommend you contact Lithionics in Clearwater, FL since our lithium mfr isn’t responding to customers at the moment.

      reply
  • Harry Brewster

    Where did you get the solar panels and inverter installed. I am looking for good installers that don’t charge and arm and a leg. I live in Florida.

    reply
    • As it says in the video our solar was installed at the Factory in Indiana. I’d contact GoPower! to find out who is able to install such a large solar kit in your area.

      reply
  • Steve or SDW

    Hey Guys
    Been following you for a couple of years, but this is the first time I’ve commented. Enjoy your website.
    Were Rv’er as well. I’ve got an electrical eng. degree, and I still let someone else install our solar sys. for us. We killed 2 birds with one stone so to speak. We made a site seeing trip to Oregon and had our solar sys. installed by AM SOLAR. Their in Eugene, Or. They have a large building with a place to hook up out back and they been doing rv solar systems longer than anyone else. They have their own engineers on the second floor of the building, designing and building the charge controllers for a matched system. It’s not cheap, but nothing in solar is. As I know you’ve found out. They were great people to work with. Hope I didn’t sound too much like a commercial 🙂

    reply
  • Bruce

    Do you always like to have the driver side facing south and the patio in the north shade, or is that just a necessity because of the panel placement?

    reply
  • Andre' Downer

    You guys kick a**. Jut bought an RV and am in the process of implementing a lot of the upgrades you have covered here, including going solar and switching to Lithium batteries. Hope to cross paths with you some day as we attempt to explore the country as you are now.

    reply
  • I enjoyed reading your site and learning all the solar info you have posted, we also RV, Canada in the summer and south USA in the winter when we can, we pull a 42 ft. 5th wheel trailer. We are always interested in new ways of doing things.

    reply
  • Doug Kirkpatrick

    We ordered a new class B+ RV with built-in solar panels, flat on the roof. I wonder about hail damage to the solar cells and how to protect them during storage time. I’m thinking about securing a lounge chair cushion on them, to keep them from generating electricity and to protect them from hail and birds. What do you think?

    reply
  • Tab

    Did you or have you decided yet to release the name of the batteries you are using?

    reply
  • Ethan Thompson

    Do you use satellite tv at all what set up do you like?

    reply
  • I believe I have arrived at the heart of my question. Given your present solar configuration, a full tank of gas, and a full tank of propane could you comfortably boondock in the Alabama Hills for two weeks without requiring additional gas or propane? If so, what might be your conservation strategy. Assume full sunlight with lows of mid 30s and high of high 60s.

    If you don’t believe that would be feasible, how many days could you last without having to resupply gas or propane.

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  • Jason, I just watched both your and Nikki’s posts on winter RV camping. While I got the impression you were on shore power it answered my questions about everything but actually heating your coach in a boondocking situation. I’m not envisioning an attempt to boondock at the low temperatures of a ski resort, I’m considering, for the example, boondocking in the Alabama Hills, where the current temperature is 35 degrees, warming up to 69 degrees by 3pm.

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  • Jason, it has occurred to me that my questions are about resource management while boondocking. The first week I had the Bounder, it sat in my drive with the heater set to 65 degrees. I burned the entire tank of propane in about a week. This made me realize that I had a limited resource and required a strategy to make optimal use of it while heating the coach.

    You mentioned that you didn’t consider solar for heating because you used your gas heater. Based on my experience above that placed a time limit on your boondocking stay and, depending on how long your stay was, would have required a conservation strategy.

    I posted a query on IRV2 and got a lot of great advice about this, including information about how many amps the furnace blower is drawing, and recommendations for use of propane radiant heaters. Here is the link if you would like to follow it. http://www.irv2.com/forums/f56/how-to-best-heat-your-class-a-coach-with-solar-278262.html

    To get back to my point, you and Nikki have experience boondocking in more extreme climates, Alaska and Burning Man. I am interested in knowing how many consecutive days you might have boondocked, what range of coach temperatures was acceptable to you, and how you combined the use of your generator, solar power, and propane to maintain this. You were very detailed about strategies for cooling in your Burning Man post but did you use your A/C? Did you add window insulation against the cold in Alaska? Did you splurge on the heater or A/C when you got up in the morning or in the evening?

    I appreciate the benefit of your experiences. You might consider a post about boondocking conservation strategies. Your “Day in the Life” post was great and I watch it repeatedly but there was no mention about temperature control.

    By the way, in that IRV/2 post “TWINBOAT” mentioned a diesel heater that he highly endorsed, having it installed in his boat.

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  • I have been sorting out the best configuration for my own Bounder and it has occurred to me that, in none of your posts have you addressed the biggest potential boondocking power hogs, heating and cooling. It would be very helpful to know what the limitations of solar are on heating and cooling.

    Local temperatures have been high 30s to low 40s heating up to high 60s. What combination of propane heat and electric heat did you use when you were boondocking in Alaska? What role do you see for solar in cooling?

    reply
    • Our next solar related video will be about running the A/C, but I haven’t thought about heat considering we use the propane furnace during Wild Camping and it’s not too big of a power hog.

      reply
  • Steve

    Jason and Nikki, you are so Awesome! Thank you for sharing so much of your lives with us!
    I too am right now forward engineering a 39′ Tradewinds coach (TradeWynns?!).
    I too am courious about your battery bank size and type… I suspect you have a seperate video coming re this!
    (P.S. Tried to purchase your Kit, but had a problem with not being able to get the correct zip code accepted..?! Also: would be most helpful if you could post the panel demensions, so measuring/placement could take place before ordering..!)

    reply
  • mark

    love the new solar vid keep up the good work
    I am in the process of building a system very similar please could you tell me what size fuse you use from the outback to the battery

    reply
    • Check the Amazon link in the post, it’ll have the exact fuse size.

      reply
  • Joel McKown

    Tell us about the battery bank, what kind, size, quantity, where located? I want to add to my Vesta’s battery bank, any suggestions? Did you increase the battery bank on your Windy? I have two 180watt panels on the roof, there was no more room up there for any more than two.

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  • As always, a truly great video. SO…. can you run the air conditioning off those panels? 😉

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  • Stacey

    Was this the same RV you guys had the flexible panels on? If so, why did you choose to change them out?

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  • Scott

    Niki / Jason, thank you for another well produced and informative tech article and video! We have two 145 watt panels and I’m considering installing a tilt kit for optimum solar harvesting. We do a lot of boondocking in the desert and quite often the wind will pickup during the day or night. My question for you and anyone else with personal experience, is do you have to lower the panels when the wind is kicking up and coming from behind the panels? My concern would be the stress on the panels and their mounts. We all bring our awnings in when the wind picks up. Is that true for tilted solar panels? Thanks in advance! Scott

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    • illya

      it would take a lot of pieces and very strong. wind would be my guess, those are alum angles and quite strong. If you are taking them down chances are there is no sun anyways as a storm is blowing in and you are battening down the hatches as they say. I dont think id ride down the highway with them up. i would think they will hold without any damage to 25- 30 mph winds max.

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      • We’ve had the panels tilted during several wind storms (some reaching 50+ mph) in the CA desert this year and so far they’ve held no problem…but no I wouldn’t leave them up while driving.

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  • Iain

    I’m looking at a similar setup on a Newmar coach. I was wondering why you chose to connect the solar panels in series vs parallel. It seems like you could have issues with relatively minor solar obstructions to any one of the panels cutting the power from all of them.
    Thanks!
    Iain

    reply
    • Hi Iain – Jason and Nikki had a similar question on their YouTube channel, so we thought we could clarify:
      When part of the array is shaded, wiring in series will still produce power. All of the panels have diodes to prevent power loss when wired in series. What you would see is the voltage drop from 100 plus volts to 80 volts and this would only be if one panel was completely blacked out (not if shaded by clouds). The batteries are 12 volts and only require 14.7 VDC input to receive a complete charge. Using an MPPT controller and bringing in higher voltages will actually have less effect from shading. Another great reason to use the panels in series is because we raise the voltage while lowering the current to the MPPT controller allowing us to use smaller gauge cables without the loss you would have at a parallel voltage. The MPPT then steps down the voltage from 100 plus volts to 20. The MPPT controller is located next to the batteries so we use the large #4 cable to carry the high current and low voltage to the battery bank.
      Hope this makes sense and helps out.

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      • Thank you guys for clarifying this…all I know is it works even when we have a tree next to us shading some and/or part of the panels.

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  • William (Bill) Weaver

    After reading the posts about the math of solar power systems, I found a link that may help.
    http://www.motherearthnews.com/renewable-energy/~/media/5AC8887CA9044FBEA2BF09F628782653.ashx

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    • This is a very basic idea, I think we’ll do a video in the future about this exact question. Thanks for sharing.

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      • illya

        i look forward to this because there is a lot of conflicting information about series setups. One source even claims that if you have one panel in the shade it shuts down the entire output. Obviously not the case. I guess covering a middle panel with cardboard would answer a lot of questions about what actually happens.

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  • Hi from Italy!

    do you think tesla home batteries could be your next option?

    https://www.teslamotors.com/presskit/teslaenergy

    reply
    • We discussed this with Fleetwood last year and they seem to think it’s not an option. Not sure exactly why, but that could surely change in the future.

      reply
  • Roger

    Hey Guys, always informative (though not as hilarious as Smart vs Dumb Charger ;-).
    Glad to see you got to use your new toy (sorry, tool) to shoot the scene at the end, incredible!

    I have a couple of questions, solar experience and general:
    Have you ever had a need to tilt the panels the other direction? Will that setup allow tilting to the port side?
    Also, I know you’re Pros, but how long does it take you to set up your whole kit once you arrive – with the tilting and cleaning (and leveling and unhitching..)?

    Hey, and for you folks enjoying the site, do like I did and make the Amazon link at the bottom your default Amazon link – easy to do and good karma!

    reply
    • Roger, you are awesome! Thanks for the Karma 🙂
      We’ve received so many questions about solar I’m trying to figure out what to do with them! Excuse my real quick answers, I’ll likely go more in depth with many of them in the near future:
      tilt – they will tilt the other way, but we typically just face the RV a specific direction.
      Setup takes about an hour from the time we pull in to the time we’re all ready (a half hour without the solar tilt).

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  • John Puccetti

    I think the B—– Batteries are out. You are now using gel batteries can you explain the benefits and costs?

    reply
      • illya

        my guess would be the film was taken before the lithium were installed

        reply
      • John Puccetti

        Funny I just noticed the Balqon was not on the site and 100 Amp AGM deep cycle are now in the shop. Very curious because I am having a lot of trouble deciding what battery to chose for going off grid. Our home is 2800 watts solar we would need an outback inverter. I had hopes for the Tesla battery but it is not offered now.

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  • Scott, let me play what you said back to you so I am sure I get it. To keep it simple lets assume 100% efficiency.

    If my microwave runs for an hour, it will consume 1500 watts (1.25 amps x 120 volts)
    I can turn that into a battery power consumption rate of 125 amps per hour (1500 watts / 12 volts)
    If the battery has a capacity of 200 amp hours, in one hour of running the microwave, I have consumed 125 of its 200 amp capacity. Since I don’t run the battery down to less than 50% of its capacity, 100 amp hours, I can only run the microwave for 48 minutes (50% of 200 amp hour capacity or 100 amp hours / 125 amps per hour consumed by the microwave x 60 minutes er hour)

    That said, what is the maximum amperage I can draw on the battery in a single moment.
    Also, if a single battery is rated to provide 1 amp for 208 minutes, will four batteries daisy chained provide four times that? It might help both of us if you see the battery specs per the manufacturer on the link below.

    http://usbattery.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/usb_1800_data_web_2015b.pdf.

    Thanks so much for your enlightenment.

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  • Scott, thank you so much for your explanations. I ordered the P3 International P4460 Kill A Watt EZ Electricity Usage Monitor yesterday after reading Chris Dunphy’s article on Technomadia. Having just had the Bounder for 10 days, I am still learning the questions I need to be ask. You, Jason, and Nikki have been of invaluable assistance.

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  • By the way, you will notice in my last comment that I wanted to keep this simple. I did not add ask about at what time the train leaving Dallas for Austin, travelling at 50 MPH would crash in the Austin train, in Waco by an LPG tank farm, and take out the entire student population of Baylor University. Hook-Em Horns? 🙂

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  • Teresa

    Great timing! Thanks so much for this series. I am taking notes. Seriously! I just purchased a brand new 25’ Airstream and tow vehicle. I’m also new to RV’ing – after being totally inspired by The Wynns, thank you very much! I am now wading through what seems to be a ton of information on solar, and trying to figure out where to even start. What applies to my case and what doesn’t….and then there is the investment. It’s huge! Is it worth it? I have dreams of sewing and crafting out in the wild. I mean who doesn’t? Do I also need a generator? So many decisions, and none appear to be cheap or easy! What do you tell someone just starting out? Are there steps where you can build on a set-up, or should it be done at once so you have a cohesive “system”?

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  • I’m on a roll here and hope this might help in a blog post on the subject.

    If you are on a train from Austin to Dallas, which is 200 miles away (measure of battery capacity) and you are traveling 50 miles per hour (measure of power consumption by appliances), how long will it take you to get there? (time until battery capacity is exhausted)

    We have just three variables to deal with; capacity, consumption per measure of time, number of units of time consumed. Give it to us in plain English, Jason and Nikki. 🙂

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  • This might help in responding to my last comment if you decide to focus a post on the issue. Per dictionary.com a watt is defined as follows, “equivalent to one joule per second and equal to the power in a circuit in which a current of one ampere flows across a potential difference of one volt.”

    Does this mean wattage is measured in seconds? Does this mean my 1500 watt microwave oven actually consumes 1500 watts per second?

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    • Scott Helmann

      Robert,

      I can probably answer that question. 1500 watt microwave- if you rant it for an house would use 1500 watts or 1.5kWH of electricity. So if you want to figure this in terms of what it would take a 12 volt battery system in your camper would to power it would be:
      12 volts at 1 amp = 12 watts
      12 volts at 10 amps would be 120 watts
      12 volts at 100 amps is 1200 watts
      To power your 1500 watt microwave you would need to be providing your inverter a bit more than 12 volts at 125 amps (that’s like about what your starter on your car takes when starting your engine on a warm day).
      If you a system in your RV that has 4 golf cart batteries (typical rating is 200 amp hours), and you never want to run your batteries down below 50% so that they last a long time. Some quick math and with a real life efficiency rating of about 70% your microwave will run down your entire battery pack in about 1 hour and 5 minutes of use. These number and figures are typical of real life use as verified by several years of data- yeah I know I’m a geek that would actually run tests like this…. It’s just the engineer in me….

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    • Scott Helmann

      Scott Helmann
      January 25, 2016 Reply
      Robert,

      That last post had strange grammatical errors- let me try again…

      I can probably answer that question. 1500 watt microwave- if you ran it for an hour then you would use 1500 watts or 1.5kWH of electricity. If you wanted to figure this in terms of what it would take a 12 volt battery system in your camper would to power it would be:
      12 volts at 1 amp = 12 watts
      12 volts at 10 amps would be 120 watts
      12 volts at 100 amps is 1200 watts
      To power your 1500 watt microwave you would need to be providing your inverter a bit more than 12 volts at 125 amps or more realistically (with efficiency losses) about 138 amps (which is what I see on my system) that’s like about what your starter on your car takes when starting your engine on a warm day).
      If you have a system in your RV that has 4 golf cart batteries (typical rating is 200 amp hours), and you never want to run your batteries down below 50% so that they last a 5 years or more- we can do some quick math and with a real life efficiency rating of about 70% your microwave will run down your entire battery pack in about 1 hour and 5 minutes of use. These number and figures are typical of real life use as verified by several years of data- yeah I know, only geek that would actually run tests like this…. It’s just the engineer in me….

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  • In striving to understand how to optimize my own solar set up and am quite baffled by the mixing of measurements of battery capacity. I understand wattage is power and is equal to amps times volts but over what time. If I run the Samsung residential fridge with a label that says 1.1a and 115v, does it consume 127 watts per hour (amps x volts)? Please let me if I am right so far.

    Now lets get to the battery, which in my case is four 6 volt batteries with a 20 Amp Hours rating of 208 each. Is amp hours equivalent to amps? Is 208 a measure of minutes, hours, light years, atomic weight :)? How does this relate to how long I can run that refrigerator before I run the battery down.

    Whether its about solar or shore power or your generator this is all about keeping the house batteries within a healthy voltage measurement. I have been told that about 12.6 volts is a full charge and 12 volts is a dead battery.

    This whole concept seems so simple if we match the measure of battery capacity to the measure of consumption. That seems to be watts per measure of time. If we were to know that a fully charged battery would give us x total watts without damage to the battery, we could take that residential fridge, which consumes 127 watts per hour and know how long we can run it without having to recharge the battery. If we ran that Whirlpool Microwave (12.5a x 120v =1500 watts per hour) for 2 minutes I could plan on it consuming 50 watts (1500 watts / 60 minutes per hour x 2 minutes)

    This talking about the capacity of the house batteries in amp hours and consumption in watts is like Bud Abbott’s and Lou Costello’s still very funny dialogue about “Who’s on third?”

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    • Scott Helmann

      Lots of questions Robert! I can take a stab at a couple of them if you like…

      If you want to get a real idea of what your refrigerator uses in kWh you might try picking up a device called a Kill A Watt meter- about $30 on Amazon. It will measure and record exactaly how much power the device you have plugged into takes.

      Your battery questions:

      Each battery is rated at 6 volts with a 208 minute 20 amp hour rating. This calculates to – it will deliver 20 amps for 208minutes or 208/60 hours, or is rated as able to provide 69 amp hours. This doesn’t seem right so I am guessing the number you are being provided are inaccurate. Normally golf cart batteries are rated at providing 50-75 amps for so many minutes which gives this a total capacity rating of 173- 260 amp hours. In digging further at the manufacturers sites most 6 volt commercial flooded cell golf cart batteries are rated about 200-220 amp hours capacity for RV use. Confusing enough for you? It certainly is for most people! I come from an engineering background and run a large battery shop as an additional duty so this gives me the advantage of working with this stuff all the time.
      In my opinion, if your serious about living on solar you need to first make everything in your RV as efficient as possible and then look at installing a battery monitoring system so you can track how much current you have left in your batteries. (It’s a fuel gauge for your battery bank). I use the linksys pro and there are others like the trimetric. You can read a lot if you google handy Bob and read his writings, He is right on track and his data and experiences are sound. That should be enough to get you started on the path to a system that really works. Me- my camper has been fully self contained for about 4.5 years (built it as it was the only way my wife could travel her last few years) and my 2800 sq ft house is grid tied – solar with a negative electrical carbon footprint (I generate more electricity than I use), and was built for about 5k with me doing all the labor.

      Scott Helmann

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  • Herb Smith

    What kind of pay back do you except? With over $5000 spent on this system, that would buy a lot of gas to run your generator. Granted you don’t have the noise, but I would spend the money on more batteries and let your engines alternator charge them when driving between stops. But that just me !

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  • I have spent the last 10 days finding out exactly how my 2015 Bounder 33C is wired and having watched your video twice now, I have the following questions:

    Are your microwave,/convection oven, “Fireplace”, heater, and external TV set up to run off the inverter?
    What electrical outlets do you have set up to run off your inverter? (I was expecting the one above the kitchen counter and the one above the dining table to run off the inverter and they do not)
    Should you be able to run space heaters off the inverter and, if so, where do you plug them in? If not, how do you provide heating on cold nights?
    Do you know of a contact at Fleetwood who would be able to provide me wiring diagrams for the coach so that I can get modifications made to accommodate a computer on the dining table and small electric appliances on the kitchen counter?

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    • Scott Helmann

      Robert,

      Unfortunately very rarely will you ever be able to run electric space heaters on a solar panel battery system and if you do then only for a very short period of time. They simply take way too much electricity. Try to remember if you want to heat or cool something with electricity- it’s going to take a lot of power and usually isn’t very practile. Solar power works best for running energy efficient (LED) lighting, water pump, refrigerator electronics (with the fridge running on propane), and other daily use electronics, computers or other gear, or short term use items like a microwave, curling iron, blow dryer or a magnetic induction plate.

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  • Michael Turnage

    I am officially ready to shoot myself in the head. (which, I might add is only half functional if the “left-brain/right-brain” studies are correct. My eyes crossed half way in and after reading the comments, I guess I will never have solar…..I didn’t even understand them.

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  • illya

    what a beautiful setup, what ever happened to the go power inverter? anything wrong with it?
    it would be really cool if those panels lifted up by a switch and not have to do each one by hand, there are actuators but might get costly. i wonder if just those pressurized tailgate lift arms would work? i just got my 12v 3000 watt go power working and love it.i only have room for 3 100 watt panels but it’s better than nothing. I also put a smaller diameter pulley om alternator and it made a big difference at output during idle. Great video, thank you for these, i look forward to anything shared you have learned. very much appreciate your time and effort into all this.
    thanks, illya

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  • Darren

    I am interested in how your solar setup handled your fridge? Doing the math, I don’t see how it can keep up. Let me know first hand how it was working. Thanks

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  • Mark Munley

    Thanks so much for the info. Most grand. My wife and I are working out the bugs and learning how to operate our new Thor motor home. We have 900 watts of solar installed. And it’s been raining on and off for the two months we’ve had it. I intend to find a place soon to test the solar system. One thing I don’t understand is how to think about the input output. As an example, how low should I allow my batteries to get before I allow my Gnerator to start And how to use the monitoring devices. There are two. The outback controller. And the inverter controller. It appears there’s some redundancy here. Thanks guys.

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  • Dan

    Another great and valuable video. I’m curious: How did you choose 960 watts? Cost? Roof space? Or did you not need more than that? What was your limiting factor?

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  • Scott Helmann

    HI! I have all my panels (800 watts) connected in parallel so that when a couple of panels are shaded when parking in campgrounds under trees the panels in the sun still continue to produce power. I thought that the disadvantage of connecting the panels in series is that if one panel is shaded then your system is pretty much not putting out any power. Can you confirm this is true or not? ThanksQ

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  • This is so timely for me. I purchased a “new” 2015 Bounder 33c from a San Antonio dealer on the 9th of this month and, with the full intention of following in your boondocking steps, have been testing and learning what I have now so I know how to proceed.

    I’m glad I wasn’t expecting a ready made boondocking vehicle because it needs work. The interior TV’s, home entertainment system, the residential fridge, an outlet in front of the passenger seat and one in the bedroom are wired for the inverter. Neither the microwave, the “fireplace”, nor any other electric outlets are powered off the inverter. I tested the Dyson AM05 Hot + Cool Fan Heater on the inverter circuit and got a “Low Battery Cutout Fault”.

    I absolutely need to have solar enhancements made by experts and am in discussion with AM Solar, which is the only company I have seen glowing reviews about. Expert installation out weighs price. Please, let me know if there are other experts I should consider.

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  • Kim Nowell

    THANK YOU, for this great helpful video. Learn so much and so appreciate all your time and education. Always look forward to your next videos and posts and wish you the best on your next adventure, even though I was so hoping to meet you on the road when we get out there. Continue to enjoy and again thank you.

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  • Nice use of the DRONE for extra cool footage! And the solar info is cool too… 🙂

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  • John Puccetti

    What about the batteries? You did have Balqon what do you have now and why?

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  • David Lee

    Why did you put your panels in series instead of parallel? Was that to increase the voltage so you don’t have a higher percentage of loss from using #10 wire from the roof to the solar controller? I would only be concerned if you were to park where you had any kind of shadow on even one panel. That would absolutely kill your power production.

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  • Roger

    My toy hauler has two, 230 amp 6 volt batteries for 12 volts. How long will it take, with my system and a 50% charge on my batteries, to give me 100% charge with my 90 solar watt panel? Again, thank you for the great video. By the way, I never let my batteries go below 12.3 volts. I learned the expensive way.

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    • Cowcharge

      About three days (roughly 16 hours of good sunlight).

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  • Things are made so clear when you two explain it. Brilliant job!

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  • LisaP

    Oooo! I’ve been waiting for this one! I hope it’s nice and long. Will be watching this one on the big screen! Thank you!

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  • dick

    So do you think the portable solor panels are still a good ideal. Or is that something I shouldn’t have bought

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  • Joe the computer guy

    Yet again another great informative video. Nice watching your 33C because it is the baby sister to my 35K. I installed my Magnum BMK today. Next is the AGS and probably in the fall a solar outfit. My last one was 440 watts and a PWM controller. Curious why you went with 960 Would be great if you share any info on the energy audit you might have done. Also, did you change up the micro/convection oven to the inverter. I am a little disappointed it’s not on the inverter circuit. Yet another task to maybe the fall. Thanks again for all you do and share! Safe travels

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  • Each to their own, of course. Because we know people who do just fine with a single 100 watt panel and one battery. Your set up is on the other end of the scale.

    But it begs the question…. what is it that you do with all of that power?

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  • John S.

    Thank you this ‘update’ on solar power.

    I’m going to watch all the links to see if you answer these questions:
    1. Are the Go Solar solid tilting panels you installed in this video more resistant to dirt, scratches and gouges than the flexible ones?
    2. You said in the flat panel video that tilting gives 30% more power. Has this been your experience?
    3. How often to you clean the tilting panels?
    4. Can you demonstrate how you tilt them? (Can you reach the tilting brackets comfortably with a ladder or do you climb onto the roof?)

    Take care, John.

    P.S. I still think the very best five seconds of any video HAS to be Jason dancing on the Flexible RV panels.

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