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is tilting solar panels worth it

RV Solar Tilting: Is It Really Worth It To Tilt The Panels?

We’ve had a few different RV solar setups over the years but we never tilted our panels.  People would watch our solar videos and say ‘you should tilt your solar panels; you’ll get way more power.’  Our excuses have always been: we move too often; we don’t want to get up on the roof that much or it’s only helpful a couple months out of the year.

With our most recent solar set up we decided to put our lazy excuses aside, install the tilting kit, test it out and see if it’s really worth the hassle.

As you can see from the video, tilting made a huge difference at our wild camping spot.  But…just because we got a nice boost doesn’t mean it’s a clear, “yes tilting is worth it” answer for everyone.  Things like how often you wild camp, what time of year you camp and where you camp all come into play.

Our RV Solar Setup

Before I dive in too deep, here is the “off the cord” gear we are working with. Click on the links for more info:

I’ve spent days (probably weeks) researching online, emailing questions to our solar manufacturer, our solar installers and friends with solar on their RV roofs. I wanted to have a solid basic understanding so I could make an educated decision on whether or not it’s worth it to tilt and then share what I’ve learned with you.

I’ve made my best attempt to answer all the questions I could think of while keeping it simple.

After all, the idea is to help you get the most out of your RV solar panels, not dive into overwhelming detail. We’ll see if I can accomplish that goal or not.

Solar Tilting Test Location

    • Location Name: Joshua Tree BLM South
    • Our EXACT GPS coordinates: 33.673887, -115.799702
    • Nearest Large City: Indio, California
    • Dates of Stay: January 11 – January 24, 2016
    • Panel Face Direction: Directly South

The Solar Output During Our Stay

    • 37 amps – Highest power reading from our Solar Panels while lying flat on the roof (average of 6.17 amps per panel)
    • 57 amps – Highest power reading from our Solar Panels while tilted (Average of 9.5 amps per panel)
    • 20 amps – The difference between flat and tilted solar panels. To get a similar amount of solar power without tilting we would need 3 additional solar panels.

What We Could Do Better

Tilt Angle –The recommended tilt angle for January at that GPS location was 59° (3° more degrees than our tilt).
Panel Face Direction –True South based on our GPS coordinates was slightly southwest so we should have moved the RV a tiny bit to compensate for this.

    • More Solar Power! This is the main reason you tilt your solar panels. With a proper tilting kit on your RV you will bring in around 40% more solar power during the Winter months.
    • Another advantage is easier access to the roof for weather proofing inspection, solar panel wire inspection & roof repairs.
    • Tilting helps the panels “breathe” which may help keep them cooler when the sun is beating down on them.
Some of these scenarios are highly unlikely but they are things I think about none the less.
 

• Climbing up the ladder can be dangerous and my mathematical thoughts about this is: the more I climb up that ladder the greater my chances are of falling and hurting myself, which wouldn’t be good if we’re 100+ miles from the nearest hospital.

• Weather can increase the risk. A morning dew on the roof makes it extremely slippery as does rain and snow.

• Lowering the panels in wind is stressful. The day after filming this video we reached our 14 day stay limit so it was time to leave. Mother Nature decided to whip the winds up to an aggressive 30+mph and here I am on the roof with one hand trying to unscrew the panel from the tilting arm and the other hand trying to keep the solar panel from getting ripped off the roof when the bolt finally disconnects from the wingnut.

• Driving Off with the panels up would be an expensive and disastrous mistake. I think to myself there’s no way I’ll forget…but if there was an emergency and we needed to move the RV in a rush I could see myself doing just that! It’s not likely but it could happen.

• With easy to remove wing nuts it might be easier for a culprit to steal the panels off your roof. This isn’t likely to happen while you’re in the RV, but if you store your RV for extended periods of time, or park and leave your RV it is a possibility.

• When I’m climbing up the ladder with the tilting arms in hand I think to myself what if accidentally gouge one of these into the side of the RV, that would be bad news for the paint job!

• Maybe it’s our install job or our roof type but I feel each time I tilt the panels I’m putting extra stress on the mounting feet, the screws and the Dicor sealant that holds those mounting feet into the roof.

Back to that original question! The answer is yes…and no. After tilting for nearly a year, here’s the debate from my perspective:

    Tilting is TOTALLY worth it:

        Who doesn’t want to get the most bang for their buck? 40% more “free” power in winter is hard to say no to. (Granted it’s not free if you consider the cost of 6 tilting kits at $80 each. It’s almost the same price as adding another solar panel. Perhaps a DIY tilting kit from the hardware store would be cheaper?)

       

    Tilting is NOT worth it:

        We have room on our roof for more panels. Current price for a 160 Watt expansion panel is $630. We could install two more panels for less than $1,500 effectively increasing our summer solar output by more than 30% and nearly matching our tilted winter solar output. I’d no longer have to climb on the roof each time we park, potentially scratch my RV while climbing the ladder with the tilting arms in hand, or worry about the extra stress on my roof or mounting brackets.

       
      Based on Experience, What Do We Recommend?
      We only tilt in the winter and only when we’re camping in one location for more than 3 days. If you are a serious winter wild camper then yes, invest in a good tilting kit and maximize your solar power output. If you’re not a winter camper and move every 3-5 days then don’t bother with a tilting kit, it’s not worth the risk, time investment or the hassle.

An automated tracking system is still a pipe dream for most RVers, they’re expensive, non-aerodynamic, extremely heavy and too large for an RV roof. Manual tilting is still the best option for most RVers. Our tilting kit is comprised of 2 aluminum bars, 2 bolts and 2 wing nuts. Come to find out our kit is better than most because with the multiple holes and two bars we can adjust our solar panels to just about any angle for maximum sun exposure based on the season.

Here is the Amazon Link to our exact solar tilting kit, you will need to order one kit for each solar panel: Tilt Mount Kit http://amzn.to/1NIJLwk

Winter – The sun sits low on the horizon and the days are short. Tilting can increase solar output by 40%
Fall & Spring – The sun is getting higher on the horizon and the days are getting longer. Tilting can increase solar output by 20%
Summer – The sun is high and the days are long. Tilting provides little to no benefit, in fact if you tilt you may get less solar power
• The further south, the closer you are to the equator and the more solar power you should be able to capture.
• I can’t think of a simple way to explain this so I’ll give an example that should relate to many RVers that travel on the Western side of North America.

      o January in Yuma Arizona: 10 hours of sunlight; Solar Panel Tilt Angle 58° (5.84 kWh/m2/day)
      o January in Seattle Washington: 9 hours of sunlight; Solar Panel Tilt Angle 63° (2.36 kWh/m2/day)

    • Results will be similar on the East coast, for example Jacksonville Florida vs. Bangor Maine.
    • If you’re wondering what the heck “kWh/m2/day” is you’re not alone. It is called “solar insolation” and it’s the measurement that refers to the amount of solar energy that can be captured. Notice in my January example above Yuma has the potential to bring in over double the amount of solar power compared to Seattle.

Finding the best tilting angle for your solar panels is based 100% on your GPS coordinates and the season. I use the NASA Solar Energy Site to calculate my solar panel tilt angle. At first glance it seems extremely complicated, but here is a step-by-step example of how I calculated the optimum tilt for our Joshua Tree BLM South camping location:

1. Enter your Latitude and Longitude in the boxes on the left side of the screen. Click the “submit” button on the center of the screen.
nasa-solar-tilt_1
2. In the 4th box from the top titled “Parameters for Tilted Solar Panels” select the option called “Maximum radiation for equator-pointed tilted surfaces”. Click the “Submit” button at the bottom center of the screen.
nasa-solar-tilt_2
3. At the bottom of the table you can see the potential amount of solar power and the optimum angle for tilting. For example, at this location in January the optimal angle of tilt is 59° for maximum solar power. In June it’s best for the solar panels to be completely flat.
nasa-solar-tilt_3
4. As a guide the higher the number the more solar power you will capture. For example, in January at this location, exposure on a flat (Tilt 0) panel will be 3.40 kWh/m2/day. The exposure on a 33° tilt will be 5.37 kWh/m2/day. The exposure on the recommended 59° tilt will be 5.88 kWh/m2/day, that’s 42% more power than what the flat panel will produce.

• In North America you want to generally point your solar panels south, towards the equator.
• If you want to get the maximum power output from your panels, you’ll want to point your panels “true south”.
• For us, our solar panels are on the driver’s side of the RV so we point our windshield facing west.
Shadows are your enemy. Do not place solar panels too close together otherwise they may shade each other when tilted. This is one of the reasons we chose the linear side-by-side install on our RV solar setup.

Additional Resources – Learn More and Get Every Amp Out of Your Solar Panels.
Here are a few sources for Expert Solar Energy Information, the information is extremely technical and I’m not even going to try and pretend like I grasp half of it.
NASA Surface Meteorology and Solar Energy – At first this site was completely over my head (I received the link from the engineers at GoPower!). After a phone conversation with GoPower! I now understand a small portion of the site that helps me calculate the best solar tilt angle based on my GPS Location and month of the year. I figure since it’s NASA they probably have this sorta thing figured out.
Sun Earth Tools – Sun Position – This website has a ton of info about sun position, solar, sundials, etc. I don’t understand 90% of it, but you’re free to click around and totally geek out if that’s your thing.
NOAA Magnetic Field Calculator – Find True South (base on Magnetic Declination) by typing in your GPS location.
National Renewable Energy Lab – Solar Radiation and Insolation Maps for the USA.


Obviously it’s all a personal decision based on too many factors for me to provide a definitive answer. So, what is your take?
Together maybe we can simplify and demystify the solar tilting process. If something clicks for you let me know. If something has you more confused than ever let us know and we’ll try to address it. Thanks so much for reading!

 

Famous for my "how-not-to" videos, and typically the man behind the camera, sometimes I’m forced to be here in the “spotlight”. When you see my face you’re probably reading something more technical than adventurous, but either way I do my best to tell it like it is and infuse my opinions into the commentary…after all this is a blog and not MSN.

Comments (83)

  • André

    Trough style mirrors made from cheap aluminium really put the turbo on your panels. Together with an aiming device it is the way to go. Best to have your panels in a field rather than a roof. All maintenance is so much easier then.

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  • Timothy Taylor

    Would it not be better to make the outside skin and glass solar PV. Then no matter witch direction you face you are producing. Why waste all that surface area.

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  • Hi,
    Nice test on tilting the PV panels.

    You can use the NREL program PVWatts to estimate the benefit from tilting PV panels. The benefit varies quite a bit with season, and how far north you are, and PVWatts picks up all these variables.
    Just enter your location, array wattage, and tilt. The output table they provide gives the average output by month in KWH — divide by 30 days to a month and you have the average daily output by month. Run PVWatts for a flat panel and then for a tilted panel to get the benefit.

    Google PVWatts for find the online calculator.

    For example in Helena, MT the a 45 degree tilt doubles the output in mid winter, but actually results in a small reduction in output for mid summer (because the sun is behind a tilted panel for part of the day in the summer).

    Gary

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  • JDM

    We’re dry camping at a casino in SoCal right now and the other day we were behind a motorhome with a beautiful tilting AND tracking solar panel mount with the panels standing up tall. Really nice looking, and it would’ve been getting as good a charge as ours do in the summer (for fewer hours, sure). But I hate to think what it cost. And what happens in a higher wind than the gentle breeze we had that day. It would make for quite a sail.

    But it was nice.

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  • Jamie Coffman

    Consider ganging all of the panels together using a rack mount. Then add assist pistons (maybe re-purposed from a junk yard hatch back) as necessary. Bunch of hacks out there for DIY single axis tracking controls that could be built for cheap. Wouldn’t accurately track the sun’s arc consistently, but it could easily self adjust vertically just using a couple of photo eyes and an old windshield wiper motor.

    Also meant to mention that your system is built so that output is limited by the lowest production of any one panel I believe. The advantages of the systems that use the micro-inverters for each panel are that one can be partially shaded or simply wearing down, but it won’t effect the output of the others. Supposed average gains over single inverter set-up is something like 20 or more percent. Don’t know how you “clean” that power, not an electrical engineer, but I’m, sure there’s some sort of line/power conditioner that should make it work. Other than that, how about a solid panel of solar PV panels mounted as a swing up awning. Severity of the angle while traveling would limit production, but when parked and deployed you could sell power to your neighbors. 😉

    Curious if your system will “spin the meter backwards” if you’re connected at a park and producing more power than you can use?
    Just some random mental floss.
    Enjoy your videos and blogging immensely. As a retired cabinet maker and mechanic, your lack of “handymaness” (new word?) is sometimes painful to watch, but always ends up amusing and educating, so good even when it’s a “How Not To”. Not judging. Watch me try to shoot and edit video would no doubt amuse you to no end. Happy Trails. 🙂

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  • Karen

    Does anyone know if it’s possible to get solar panels that can generate 7,500watt plus power? I have a mobile pet grooming trailer and over the years generators have been a problem. Thought it would be cool if I could go solar. Looking for something lower on maintenance. My main need for high wattage is air conditioner and hair dryer, I am in California so I use air year round.

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    • Michael Doherty

      Sure you can have a 7500 watt array, but you couldn’t mount it on a trailer. it would be say 45 feet long by 12 feet wide!

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  • I have a thought, tilt your panels the other way and you won’t have to walk on the roof any. Just stand on an A frame ladder.

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  • Kelly

    Hi Jason & Nikki, our family loves your website and videos! Thank you so much for sharing your adventures and knowledge! In one of your videos you mentioned getting the tilting in prep for your trip to Alaska. Can you share how your solar set up performed during your time in Alaska? Was tilting worth it for that trip? Thank you!

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  • ORKIDISH GIRL

    hi ,

    the Solar Panels should be right angle ( 90 degree ) with the Sun rays moving all the time to achieve %100 of full electrical efficiency of the panels

    i think cheapest solar panel Manuel rotator is by water but the inventor did not make RV tools , i think

    if you ask her she may help.

    this can help you :

    What is the SunSaluter?

    The SunSaluter is a solar panel rotator designed for the developing world. Using only the power of gravity and water, the SunSaluter enables a solar panel to follow the sun throughout the day, boosting efficiency by 30% and producing four liters of clean drinking water. It is 30 times less expensive than conventional motorized solar panel rotators, much more reliable, and consumes no electricity itself.

    http://www.sunsaluter.com

    then the tools for RV IT IS DIY
    frame with hooks in both sides and rotate 180 degree from east to west
    like in SunSaluter is a solar panel rotator video

    & for rv you need Manuel stand with lock or something to Raise, lower and rotate 360 degree the stand that hold the panels
    like this antenna stand idea
    http://www.solidsignal.com/pview.asp?p=rv3095

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  • Try a D-pin or cotter pin in place of wing nuts to make life easier.

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  • You would think there is a better way, better faster hardware to raise the each panel. On my 100 watt portable suitcase panel I just loosen the wing nut on the legs and re-tighten. Maybe 30 seconds to follow the sun. I max out at 5.6 amps. But just moving the panel a few inches I can go from 2.9 to 5.0 in a second. So yes, the angle and placement of the panel is dependent on the angle to the sun…I went with the Renogy panel ($279 on Amazon)

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  • Jack Lockett

    Thanks for your videos, I’ve seen most of the instructional ones and enjoyed them a lot. I was wandering as to which mounts do you use for the panels? I’m getting ready to install my own setup. I’m also looking forward to your next video on what you can run on that 960watt system that you have.

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    • Jack Lockett

      I just found the kit you use, thank you for the instruction blogs also!

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  • Stephen Gallagher

    Very nice job guys …. As a former sailor and pilot I realy get a kick out of your technical videos…. Watching you learn and thrive is pretty cool….Will you be doing a video about the actual performance of those Li ion Batteries….. Thanks again….

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  • illya

    Jason,
    Instead of thumb screws, can the bars stay up there on one side and a spring to keep them from rattling with a pin like a trailer hitch has to lift them up? Seems like it might save you some time and trouble with very little cost for some hardware.

    Thanks, illya

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  • I do very little dry camping, but was still looking into installing solar at Quartzsite. The general conscience was 400-500 watts for maintaining battery levels without having huge draws This would allow me to watch the TV and run associated electronics etc etc. The estimates I received were from around $1700 up to $4000, with the average around $2,000 installed. Like most, I’m not made of money and held off. While at Quartzsite I talked to Keith one of the co-owners of Redlands Truck and RV’s and he suggested that in my case buying a small 2000 watt Honda Generator might be a route to go. I’d never thought about it, but talked to the Honda reps and the more I looked into it, the more it made sense to me. The advantages were Cost $949.00 about 1/2 the price of solar. Just plug in your shore power cord so, basically no installation. Super quiet, hardly hear it running, provides power no matter what the weather conditions, is a back up for the main generator if it should ever fail. By the way, while taking daily walks around the campgrounds, I noticed several people using small generators instead of running their big gens. Down side for me, have to carry gasoline, takes up storage area…………and again, I don’t dry camp that much. So my solution was, not to do anything. I learned at Quartzsite that running my 7500 watt gen in the evening prior to going to bed, charged the batteries enough to keep my furnaces running all night long. In the morning I’d run the gen again for an hour or so to top off the batteries, and I’d be set for the rest of the day. Ideally, I’d love to have a large solar setup, but just can’t justify it, however, I’m still considering a small generator, time will tell. Thought I’d just share this as an alternative to solar for those out there trying to decided like me. Good Luck.

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    • Michael Doherty

      Running a 7500 watt generator is too loud for me and I suspect if people are near you, they don’t appreciate it either. The small Honda generators are quite quiet. But….. Silent solar is so nice. It’s not even a matter of money if you value your (and others!) peace and quiet and the obvious conservation benefits. I think being in AZ, its a shame to let that beautiful, energy filled sunshine go to waste. $1,700 is high, but $4,000 is out and out theft. May I suggest you look into buying the components on eBay or other internet sites. I know for a fact you can near 500 watts of high quality monocrystalline modules for under 600 bucks. Its not hard to do the install. But being in sun central AZ, I’d bet if you ask around you could get a first class experienced installer to do it for you for a reasonable cost. There is another benefit in that your battery bank will generally last a lot longer when it is properly charged every day. There is no effort too. If the sun is out, it just quietly happens.

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      • I couldn’t agree more on the generator thoughts! The piece it together and DIY route is all fine and dandy if you are capable of doing the install yourself and know enough to track down and purchase the right pieces. I have seen some great inexpensive DIY setups over the years. In reality, that isn’t the masses (most certainly not myself or anyone I knew 6 years ago). We prefer to go with reputable manufactures with good solid warranties and customer service (I am all about calling up with questions). We have heard a lot of horror stories over the years about buying no name panels and parts. So, it’s always a balance of knowledge, expertise, time, money and so on. The more I learn over the years, the more confident I become with the DIY stuff.

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        • Sure you can have a 7500 watt array, but you couldn’t mount it on a trailer. it would be say 45 feet long by 12 feet wide!

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  • You can save a lot of money by avoiding “tilting kits” and instead buy angle iron from a hardware store. For example, an 8-foot long piece of 1/8″ thick aluminum angle iron sells for just over $26 from Home Depot. You could cut it to make four 2-foot long struts with that, enough for tilting two panels. Add bolts and wing nuts for a couple of dollars (less if buying in bulk). Works out to maybe $15 per panel.

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  • Wade Bissell

    Thanks for that excellent video. I was wondering what that little solar panel on top of your air conditioner was for? Power for a ventilation fan? Something related to your composting toilet maybe?

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  • Scott McCarter

    If you are able to gather and store all the power you need from the panels being flat and can’t sell the excess power the cost of tilting doesn’t see worth the risks or cost. Don’t you still need the generator for periods of extended clouds shade or snow? It seems to be a quest for reasonable balance of power options. And with the expected lifespan of the vehicle and equipment is it possible to recoup the cost? I also enjoy your videos immensely. Thanks.

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      • I second the motion on the peace and quiet. The noise of a generator ruins the experience for me.

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  • Hey guys!
    Love your blog and get inspired!
    I saw one of your wild camping posts for Joshua Tree BLM and decided to pull in there on the way to visit family in Riverside. I may have just missed you – I looked 🙂
    We almost got stuck a couple of times but 4wd paid off (fifth wheel). Found a spot about half a mile west of the road.
    I just had a 480w solar system installed with the non-adjustable lift kit but I love it! I could drill some extra holes if I wanted to.
    The day after we arrived the wind started howling and I hadn’t put the panels up yet and wasn’t about to. Still did ok. Ran the genny a bit in the afternoon.
    I had a guy (now a friend) come out to install the locally sourced components and he did a great and clean job. Mobile Homestead Solar (contact info in the blogpost).
    Anyway, solar is the way to go.
    Thanks for the valuable content.

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  • roscoe

    sounds like it makes more sense to wire properly than to tilt, especially since tilting is risky since you have to cclimb on the roof

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    • illya

      They didn’t wire it improperly at all, with a long distance they probably chose the best option as far as cable thickness and management.There are pros and cons to both ways, I am running my panels parallel as there are only 3, very short wire runs on a 2012 suburban, so no point in the higher voltage. Sadly my fedex man missed me today and ill have to wait until tomm for delivery. I am building my suburban as the main power source for my cargo trailer conversion.” Off topic” One thing im doing is wrapping my exhaust pipe on the suburban with copper line for a hot section which will recirculate into a insulated tank for a hot water. pump set to run up to about 105-109 F so no need to mess with mixing water for colder. just quick disconnect lines to feed the trailer shower. Im wondering if i should capture the water from the shower or just let it hit the ground. It would mean a larger collection tank as i plan on at least a 35 gallon hot water tank. I will have to take some videos and share this project somehow with all you rvers. Getting 2 more optima yellow tops 48ah which will give me 6 total, not a lot of AH but plenty of amps on demand. I will make sure any future purchases have the wynns promotion link.You guys have been very helpful and such a great inspiration. Your positive attitude and obvious happiness together is felt and shared with so many. Many thanks, illya

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  • Matthias Gemeinder

    Hi, Wynns,
    here in Germany we have a company selling a satellite dish for motorhomes, that has a solar panel mounted on the back. You can either watch TV or collect solar power. And the system follows the sun. It is just a 50 W Panel, but because it is following the sun, it is very effective. The link below is in German, but maybe seeing the Picture tells the Story. There is also a Video on Youtube, where you can see it moving.
    http://ten-haaft.com/rmc/product/samysolar-varianten/
    Another great Story I once read, but could not find a link back to tonight is a Family, that took a travel Trailer nad mounted it on a truck bed. In order to protect the Windows against burglars, they constructed large Frames on the sides of the construction that they covered completely with solar panels and whenever they set up camp and in order to be able to enter the camper or open windows, they have to tilt the solar panels up with an electric motor. So when parked/camping, the vehicle looks like a big T. Great idea and not expensive. I will try to send a Picture.
    Keep up the great work!
    All the best from Germany!
    Matt

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  • We’re big winter tilting fans and typically see up to 40% boost on a good winter day. I wrote about our tilting experience here (hope it’s ok to link):
    http://wheelingit.us/2011/11/15/rv-solar-part-iv-panel-tilting-winter-solar-optimization/

    For our 600 watts it’s definitely worth it. If we get more panels we may not bother. In summer we never bother.

    Nina

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    • Thanks for sharing Nina and of course it is ok to link! The more experiences shared, the more we all benefit and helps each person make the right decision based on their needs.

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  • Dave

    Wondering if your solar collectors are hooked up all in series? Looked like that in your video in that there was no change in amps until the last panel was tilted.

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    • We usually see a change as we tilt each panel, but I was slightly shading each panel as I positioned them and that could be one reason for the delayed increase.

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  • Will

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    • Yes, we are very familiar with the geeks setup as they are good friends. We don’t like that their (and lots out there) tilting arms are not adjustable as the angle of the tilt depending on where you are and the time of year is very important.

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      • Illya

        Not to even mention its kinda a back burner issue for you guys at this point. Probably thinking more along the lines of pulling in the sail as you’re tilting too much haha

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  • Hey, I was at Joshua Tree BLM South during that period too! Did you see me? The tiny A-frame camper on the left as you’re going in.

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  • Rodney

    To clear up the solar tracking issue. From Rodney’s point of view

    Having a system to rotate and tilt is definitely NOT a major task to design. Almost any backyard tinker guy can accomplish this with a little motivation. Certainly any machanical engineer could design a great system in his sleep. The motivation must be either your own personal need, or a ton of money.

    As with many engineer types like myself, we lack the drive and desire to take the time to do this for ourselves, until there is nothing else to do. Fortunately for me that time is coming and I already have the drawing sketched out to tilt, swivel and align to any angle remotely.

    It sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is.

    This is not something that I believe is marketable unless the target it the high end motorhome owners. Even then it’s another thing to forget when leaving the campsite.. It’s much easier to buy more panels.

    However, the best part of having a tracking system is being able to park without the risk of shaded panels. Having one small high efficient solar array such as the “Sunpower X” panels tracking the sun allows for a smaller area of the roof that needs to be clear of the trees. In most of our campsites shaded panels would be a problem if the entire roof needed to be open to the sun.

    Solution: two completely separate systems. One of the front of the motorhome, and one on the back of the motorhome. The end of the motorhome that is in the sun is used, and the other is dormant. Automatic electric controlled breakers makes this easy.

    For the machanical tinker guys out there, read on. To The rest, this part is boring.
    So, backyard shade tree machanical dudes, get to work. You can do this.
    Here is A CHEAP basic system idea
    Hint: #1. For rotating think of a series of small wheels in a 24 inch or larger circle rotating in a channel
    Hint #2. Motorcycle Chain used for spin with a servo motor driving the chain.
    Hint #3. For tilting Think of the electric screw drives such as used in the hospital type tilting beds. Nice little controllable electric screw drives. Cheap out of an old bed.

    Now, let your machanical brain ponder that for a while and MAYBE, you could become the guy with the solar tracking system on your roof.

    Rodney

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  • Will

    http://www.amsolar.com/home/amr/page_114_38/tilt_bar_set_-_15.545deg.html

    Hi Wynn’s, here are the Best tilt system parts you can buy. RV Geeks has them too I believe. Thumb screws to lock unlock the panels. Expensive, but professionally machined so the screws fit into permanent threads, no more loose nuts. Check them out!

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    • Some parts of that kit are great but I don’t like that the tilt is set and not adjustable. If we are going to bother tilting, we want to at least be at the correct angle for maximum gain.

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  • Pepperell

    KISS #3: If it’s make to ground, you could tie into the TV antenna UP light circuit with a pin switch on your forward-most solar panel.

    I’ll stop now. ?

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  • Michael

    As always, very informative, interesting and entertaining (ideal brand). The one downside of having panels wires in series is that when one is underperforming (in the shade, wrong angle, damaged, etc.) it can restrict the ENTIRE array of panels. This likely explains the jump when the last panel was raised.

    There are many other complicating factors that effect the power generation in addition to the tilt angle including: time of year, time of day, distance from equator, atmospheric conditions (cloud reflections), etc. Geesh, why does mother nature make things so complex for us simple-minded RVers?

    So while you may see a short 30ish percent power jump near sunrise or sunset, most of the year the sun rises quickly within a few hours which negates most of the benefits of changing the elevation tilt. So with your ability to raise a panel to around 45 degrees, your nice kick will decline to maybe 10 percent after a few hours – still worth the effort and you’re getting 20 minutes of exercise! BTW Jason, yesterday I received my new MSI GT72S Dominator Pro G-220 – thanks again for the tip 🙂

    Happy Trails, Michael

    http://www.solarchoice.net.au/blog/wp-content/uploads/Angle-to-sun-solar-panel-efficiency-variaton-graph.jpg

    http://solarelectricityhandbook.com/solar-angle-calculator.html

    http://www.solarpaneltilt.com/

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    • Thanks for sharing Michael…and I hope you used our Amazon link for that new fancy computer 🙂

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  • Pepperell

    KISS #2: Chop the the arms in two, bolt the pieces together with wing nut at one end, attach one remaining end to panel, the other to roof bracket. It will fold when you lower it. Again, you would only need to loosen the wing nut to raise or lower.

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  • Pepperell

    I was thinking cheap aluminum reclining outdoor lounge chairs with the long slot with notches. Keep the wing nut, just loosen a turn, raise to an appropriate height, tighten the wing nut. KISS.

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  • illya

    This really shouldn’t even be a question or problem in today’s world, on my 2012 suburban i press my remote and the back hatch lifts up and closes. How hard would it be to have something so simple made? I guess it’s demand for it, but i do think it should be an option for people.

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  • John S.

    Thanks, you have answered some of my questions.

    Also have to say that the comments are very informative. I like the idea of a simple motorized panel tilt mechanism. Hmmmm, that it would make for a great college mechanical engineering problem to solve. Anybody know a college engineering prof?

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  • Eric

    Do you think it would be safe to travel with your panels at just a slight angle, say 18°? That might be a reasonable compromise. Given the stats on that location (and likely much of the lower 48 – generally speaking) a permanent 18° tilt would result in a 21% loss in January, but only a 7% loss when averaged annually. Compared to being perfectly flat, you would actually gain 10% annually. Maybe?

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    • Maybe with some sort of wind guard to deflect the wind as driving…but a cross wind might just be enough to rip them out of the roof while driving and that wouldn’t be good!

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  • Craig

    Another excellent video guys. Thanks so much for your efforts. Looking forward to the ac on solar/battery reality.

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  • ron

    Any reason to have double brackets on each panel, seems to me u could use only one to save time.

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    • Agree Ron, maybe one bracket in the center of each panel.

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    • If it’s not windy I sometimes only connect one bracket to save a little hassle.

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    • Camping in the So. Cal. deserts in winter, the wind can get intense. I’ve been out there when it’s been up to 50 mph at times. I wouldn’t trust one strut on a panel in those situations.

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  • While traveling this winter with the WINs (rvsingles.org) I saw many of the members had modified their panel tilt with gas springs like those used on bay doors and a spring latch to hold them closed when not tilted (most are using a screen door latch). They can now tilt the panels (or return them to flat) from the ground with no climbing – just an extendable pole and hook. There’s a video of the original WiN with this setup from back in 2007 at http://randyanddiana.blogspot.com/2007/12/brilliant-invention.html

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    • My mind has been blown! Now how do I set this up on my rig, that is the question.

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  • Rob

    I’m not sure how you mppt controller is wired, but you probably only saw the spike in your Amps when you tilted the last panel because that’s the way solar works. The inverter sets to the least power in the array. If you have a shadow on one panel it brings all the rest in that array down to that same level. Once you got them all angled they all started cranking out the power.

    People also might note that if they mainly use their RV in the summer months and/or in the south the tilt will be less advantageous. Winter and further north. Till on.

    Love your blog. Especially the tech stuff.

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    • Scott Helmann

      Rob,

      I concur with your findings. With all the panels connected in series and using a MPPT controller you are, for the most part limited by the panel producing the least amount of current. The advantage is you can use smaller wiring as the voltage is higher but shade 1 panel and your output power drops way off. If the panels are connected in parallel then you would see a definite 3-4 amp rise (referencing nikki and Jason’s video) as each panel is tilted. Panels connected parallel are a better choice (although requires much heavier wiring) if you park in partial shade while wild camping as any panel that is fully in the sun will produce full power. Just another trade off to consider.

      800 watts of roof panels, 150 watt portable panel (for camping in heavy shade), Morningstar Tristar controller and suresign 300Watt super efficient inverter and Xantrex link pro monitor and Xantrex 2000watt power inverter.

      800 watts, Morningstar

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    • Kevin

      Agee… While series has many advantages… There is this disadvantage…
      Jason & Nikki might consider a slight rewiring to split the front and back three panels to a 3 series/2 parallel bank setup… That way if any one panel is shaded it will only effect half the array…

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    • Rob, Scott and Kevin,
      We have a video planned that should answer some of these questions, but I have to do a lot of research and talk with the MFRS before I can really answer.
      Thanks for the tips.

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  • Kevin

    You forgot to mention in the downside section that Nikki can not dance on them!…

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  • Could you use a cotter style pin to make it easier to tilt them? That way you wouldn’t have to fiddle with the wingnuts.

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  • Those who know me know that I’m only an expert at hurting myself, so your downside section resonated with me. In fact we don’t even have solar. That said I was looking carefully at your setup and had a thought (for the manufacturer of the tilt kit). If the bottom section/area underneath the panel had a frame the size of the top panel section and the tilt legs had a hinge in the middle that locked when extended (think portable card table), then the legs could stay on all of the time and the panel could be folded back onto the frame (which would presumably be mounted onto the roof with four screws each) each time. The top panel could be locked to the frame with a cotter pin or other device. While you would still have to climb onto the roof your work load and set-up/breakdown time would be significantly reduced. Plus, I don’t believe you are adding to the number of holes you’d need to put into your roof from what you have now. If any of the engineers out there make this thing I want a cut!

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    • yea, the portable panel they make has a built in tilt arm, we keep asking them to make it standard on their rooftop panels!

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  • Don McKelvay

    t
    Thanks for your work and excellent quality.

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  • John Puccetti

    I did the same thing on my house I tilted my panels one time and never again, I just left them at 22 degrees. Way to much work. You could save a lot more power by tracking the sun from sun up to sundown. But I had to try it also and learn by trial and error. In any event panels is a good thing. I hope you do the same thing on your catamaran.

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    • Mickey Mitchell

      catamaran is the wrong boat to go around the world they only fit end slips and pitch pole easy.
      the lin and larry Pardey boat is the best design to use. I lived on a boat for 5 years. They are friends of mine check out the Pardey’s before you get off shore. please Mickey 🙂

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    • We will definitely install solar on the CAT but who knows the exact setup till we’re in it 🙂

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  • I’m not a fan of ladders or putting my big, clumsy frame on top of our rig, but the idea of a tilting solar array still appeals to me. A few hours spent with the panels, the tilt kits and an experienced auto customiser would lead to the installation of a series of 12v linear or rotary servo actuators that could be used to raise one or all of the panels. Bonus – they could be calibrated for actuator throw and could be raised a little bit for southern latitudes or summertime use, or the panels could be raised to near-vertical for northern locations or the lowest sun positions in winter.

    This is strictly a trial and error one-off solution, but many customisers regularly use actuators to open and close doors, trunk lids and hoods, etc. A lightweight solar panel array would be easy for a competent pro. Think Lambo doors.

    Food for thought.

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  • Illya

    I had a thought about auto tilt panels i wanted to share. If the hinged side of the panels were mounted to a pipe that could turn motorized from a switch, and still have bars on the other side of the panels for stability it seems like it would be a fairly easy way to do it. Woth worm drive gears you could use a simple 12v motor with limiters as to not keep going. A solenoid lock when down would also provide security. Of course that would mean a complete redesign of the mounting. Just seems like that would be so cool to have it operate like that though. Do you still have the go power 3000? I would hook that up also for added power and a backup if so. My guess is for your next video yes… And no… You have the powet to run ac but for how long is the question. Looking forward to your next video, you guys have inspired me a lot. I am currently looking to buy a cargo trailer and convert it to a living space. Mainly just for my 4 yo daughter and myself to camp out of. My 300 watts of solar panels and a mppt controller come this wed so ill be busy, you guys make work for people lol. I really look forward to your videos. Thank you so much! Illya

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    • I think it can be done, but it’s way over my head! I’m hoping the GoPower! engineers are reading these!

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  • We ran some similar testing last winter with our setup too.. and came to very similar conclusions. We haven’t gotten around to writing it up, so thrilled you have (saving us the effort.. thanks!).

    Yes, tilting does give us extra power. But getting up on our roof is even riskier than yours (curved, no built in ladder, etc).

    Instead, we have 600w of flexible panels we set out on the ground. They’re a lot easier to deploy and pick up in high winds. And we can tilt them if we want to go to the effort. We have them their own charger. Added to our 800w on the roof (which has maxed out our available roof space), when we’re stopped for a while – this keeps us feeling abundant in power. For shorter stops, the 800w keeps up with us just fine.

    So for us – yes, we have the ability to tilt. And we might use it occasionally if stopped for a while. But adding extra panels is our more ideal solution.

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    • I am so envious of your flex panel solar ground unit! It’s like our little portable panel on CRACK!

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  • illya

    excellent info! You answered many questions in a very simplistic way. I think being in series is why it took a bit to show the true results of tilting vs parallel. The only suggestion i could think of for peace of mind would be a back up alarm or some type of beeping that would occur if you engage the transmission while the panels are up.to keep you from driving away with them up. I really see no downsides to tilting, even manually it doesn’t seem like a big deal. what else do you have to do out there besides improve your life..You guys are awesome, thanks for sharing.

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