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Author Topic: Tilting Solar Panels  (Read 3624 times)

Kevin Means

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Tilting Solar Panels
« on: July 04, 2016, 04:57:27 PM »
For those of you who enjoy boondocking, and who have rooftop mounted solar panels, I thought you might find this interesting. We know that we can get 30 to 40% more power out of our panels by simply tilting them toward the sun, but when they're mounted on an RV's roof, that's easier said than done, and it also involves a certain amount of risk.

Several months ago I initiated a poll on this forum, and I asked RVers who have manual tilt-kits how often they actually climb onto their RV's roof to tilt their panels. About 85% of respondants said they don't tilt theirs, because it was too much trouble (especially if they weren't going to be staying somewhere very long) and they were somewhat concerned about falling and getting injured.

When I started shopping for tilt-kits for our six panels, I was surprised to learn that no one made an automatic tilting device, so for the last 18 months, we've been working on a remote controlled system, and it's finally done. It's a single-axis system, meaning it tilts in one direction only. Fortunately, when boondocking, we almost always have the option of facing our RV in a direction that suits us, so in most cases, a single-axis system works fine. We experimented with various methods of tilting them in different directions, but ultimately determined that the cost, complexity and weight of a two-axis system made such systems impractical to build.

The still image (below) is of all six of our panels in the full up-position. I can tilt them to any angle between zero and sixty degrees, and lower and lock them in the down position for travel or inclement weather - all with a key fob or a switch inside our RV. Finding a way to tilt them wasn't all that difficult, but finding a way to reliably and securely lock them in the down-position proved to be VERY challenging.

They're not for everyone - especially if you don't do much boondocking. You may be able to achieve similar results by installing more solar panels (if you have the room) but if you boondock a lot and your RV uses a lot of power, and you want to get the most out of your existing panels, tilting them toward the sun really does make a big difference.

We made a youtube video if you'd like to see the system at work. They're pretty neat, and as you might imagine, very handy! https://youtu.be/PUEBOQ5U52o

Kev
« Last Edit: December 04, 2016, 12:26:01 PM by Kevin Means »
2011 Winnebago Tour 42QD
Towing a Jeep Rubicon Unlimited LJ or an Acura MDX
RVI Brake 2, Minder TM-66 TPMS, 970 watts of solar
(Can't wait to spend more time RVing)
Lakeside, California

Sun2Retire

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #1 on: July 04, 2016, 07:10:13 PM »
You, Sir, have waaay to much time on your hands
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DutchEagle

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #2 on: July 04, 2016, 08:20:09 PM »
Thanks for this update Kevin.
You are so right a project like that will be a full time job although it would be an awesome job because the invention is just  great. While you just finished the development phase, I bet that in those 18 months there was not enough time to relax a single day. The plans however could be sold as you said so maybe you will have some commission on sales if someone would take the production and management of this.
Instead of producing this solution you could sell the parts and a DIY manual or sell this to RV dealers who install Solar. I know I'm just throwing out my ideas that also has implications in every step of the way because people want support and have their own specific problems too.
When I retire I'm not taking on a full time job anymore, I don't have time for that! So I don't blame you for not going into this business better pack up the RV and go! Remember the GNR starts July 18th :)
 
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Jim Godward

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #3 on: July 05, 2016, 12:03:58 AM »
We have been doing this with RV antennas for Ham radio.  Those actuators sure make it easy to do stuff like you have done.  When we changed to the foam bed mattress a few years ago the bed became too hard for my wife to raise so I used an electric linear actuator to raise the bed, sure makes life easier when the boss is happy!
Jim
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JDOnTheGo

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #4 on: July 05, 2016, 06:44:07 AM »
WOW - just WOW!  That is mighty impressive Kevin!!  Well done!
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garyb1st

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #5 on: July 05, 2016, 09:40:02 AM »
WOW - just WOW!  That is mighty impressive Kevin!!  Well done!
X2
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SargeW

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #6 on: July 05, 2016, 10:19:53 AM »
Dang Kev! Outstanding work and a great idea.  If you were not so busy inventing stuff you would have a lot more time to RV!  Seriously though, GREAT work. 
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Kevin Means

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #7 on: July 05, 2016, 10:50:14 AM »
Thanks all. I appreciate it. It's a pretty neat toy/tool/whatever and it works great. It should increase our panel's output by about 35-40% in the winter months, which is when we really use solar, and I'm also anxious to see what affect tilting has during partially cloudy conditions.

Believe it or not Marty, you actually crossed my mind when we were trying to decide if we were going to build and sell these ourselves. I thought, "Marty's gonna yell at me for not using our RV enough if we do this." :D 

Kev
2011 Winnebago Tour 42QD
Towing a Jeep Rubicon Unlimited LJ or an Acura MDX
RVI Brake 2, Minder TM-66 TPMS, 970 watts of solar
(Can't wait to spend more time RVing)
Lakeside, California

VallAndMo

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #8 on: July 05, 2016, 11:45:09 AM »
Hello Kev,

Outstanding work! I for one would be very interested on this.

One suggestion: perhaps you could "opensource" the design, similar to what the Raspberry Foundation does with the Pi or the Arduino guys did with their boards, and license it freely for personal use. This way, anyone interested (and with the right skills) could build their own, and you could profit from it with minimal effort by receiving royalties from any company or party building it for others (ie, "commercially").

Cheers,
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   Vall.
« Last Edit: July 05, 2016, 01:59:19 PM by VallAndMo »

Becks

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #9 on: July 05, 2016, 12:57:18 PM »
Wow, as everyone says, great job Kevin. Hope to see them work at Q Forum rally this winter. I'll bet if I park next to you with my 1040 watts of solar you will be producing way more than me. 
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Kevin Means

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #10 on: July 05, 2016, 02:58:20 PM »
Klaas and Vall... Yeah, these things are every bit as neat as they look, and we've already had several people contact us who are interested in buying them. I knew that was going to happen, which is exactly why I decided to NOT go into the business of building and selling them myself. I was concerned that I'd be quickly overwhelmed by orders, and my shop is too small for any serious production runs. It would kill me to try and keep up with a lot of orders and I didn't want to get into the business of hiring people, or dealing with warranties, shipping etc. Those things are best handled by established companies who already produce other products - at least that's what I think.

As far as licensing it, I don't really know what would work best, but I think (at some point) I'll try to find a company like I described above, who's familiar with the RV industry and who sees the value in this product. I don't have any personal contacts in the RV parts manufacturing industry, and cold-calling companies with a sales pitch does not excite me at all, nor do I think I'd be very good at it. We do, however, have patent-pending status (which was, by far, the most expensive part of this project) so we have some time to make decisions and some protections.

If anyone knows someone in an established company who might be interested in building/selling these, I'm all ears. I don't want this to be perceived as a commercial business on the forum, so please PM me if you have any suggestions. I'll even pay a finders fee if it works out. Meanwhile, I'm going to go ponder my next project... ;)

Kev
2011 Winnebago Tour 42QD
Towing a Jeep Rubicon Unlimited LJ or an Acura MDX
RVI Brake 2, Minder TM-66 TPMS, 970 watts of solar
(Can't wait to spend more time RVing)
Lakeside, California

Gizmo

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #11 on: July 05, 2016, 02:58:41 PM »
Very nice work Kev, great idea and nicely done.
Regards, Bruce, Lin An, Kenji & Suki
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Kevin Means

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #12 on: July 05, 2016, 03:18:44 PM »
Thanks Bruce! By the way Becks... I'd also be interested in seeing how our systems perform. We're planning to be at Q next year, hopefully you'll be there too.  For what it's worth, there's a couple on youtube who produce a VLOG called "Gone with the Wynns" and they have (pretty much) the exact same solar setup as ours (six 160 watt panels and an Outback FM-80 controller.) A few months ago, they produced a video showing how much more power they got out of their panels by tilting them. They went from 36-38 amps (flat panel) to 51-52 amps (tilted.) That's almost a 40% increase in power - pretty significant! Interestingly, they also opine about what a pain it is to have to climb onto their roof to tilt them. Here's a link to their video. http://www.gonewiththewynns.com/tilt-rv-solar-panels

Kev
2011 Winnebago Tour 42QD
Towing a Jeep Rubicon Unlimited LJ or an Acura MDX
RVI Brake 2, Minder TM-66 TPMS, 970 watts of solar
(Can't wait to spend more time RVing)
Lakeside, California

John Hilley

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #13 on: July 05, 2016, 03:39:53 PM »
What do you use to lock the panel down?
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VallAndMo

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #14 on: July 05, 2016, 03:53:14 PM »
Hello John,

What do you use to lock the panel down?

Watch the movie Kevin linked at the end of his first post on this topic... it's very well described there.

Cheers,
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   Vall.

Kevin Means

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #15 on: July 05, 2016, 05:12:35 PM »
Vall's right... you can see the locking mechanism at work in the video, but basically, it consists of two 3/8" steel bars (AKA locking pins) that are about 20" apart from each other for strength and redundancy. The locking pins are either pushed or pulled into position by the actuator, depending on whether the device is locking or unlocking. Each locking pin passes through a hole in the 1/8" thick aluminum base to hold the tilting platform in the down-and-locked position. The pins are guided and held in place by two additional 1/8" thick aluminium supports. A solar panel would bend and its mounting bolts would tear loose before the locking pins broke. There are photos and a more in-depth description at www.solarvector.net

Kev
2011 Winnebago Tour 42QD
Towing a Jeep Rubicon Unlimited LJ or an Acura MDX
RVI Brake 2, Minder TM-66 TPMS, 970 watts of solar
(Can't wait to spend more time RVing)
Lakeside, California

ChargerSE

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #16 on: August 28, 2016, 06:44:08 PM »
So you decided to sell this system?  That is good news.  I am definitely interested.

Ken & Sheila

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #17 on: August 29, 2016, 04:41:17 PM »
Kevin,

I would pull that last link or at least remove your phone numbers from it. This is the internet and things spread and you'll be getting calls.

Nice job btw.

ken
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Kevin Means

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #18 on: August 30, 2016, 12:31:42 PM »
Sorry I didn't respond sooner Charger - I just noticed your question. First - thanks for the interest. They're every bit as functional and handy as they look. We just returned from a trip where we bounced them down 2500 miles of freeways, potholes and strong winds and they worked flawlessly. It's funny how much attention they draw from other RVers with roof-mounted panels.

Two things I have decided are... I am not going to manufacture them myself and I am not going to hire someone to manufacture them. I just don't have the time or inclination to do, or oversee everything that needs to be done to market, build and support them. At some point, I'll probably approach an established manufacturer who builds similar products, and see if they're interested in buying the rights to build/sell them, or buy the patent outright.

Ken... good idea. The website will also go offline soon. Taking care of a few things first.

Kev
2011 Winnebago Tour 42QD
Towing a Jeep Rubicon Unlimited LJ or an Acura MDX
RVI Brake 2, Minder TM-66 TPMS, 970 watts of solar
(Can't wait to spend more time RVing)
Lakeside, California

DutchEagle

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #19 on: August 30, 2016, 07:38:19 PM »
You can sell the website and domain name with it, just remove phone numbers and email, makes a good selling point for interested parties.
Klaas (Retired 9/1/2016) & Eileen (+dog Bailey)
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Badlands Bob

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #20 on: September 10, 2016, 08:09:00 AM »
I could see this evolving into a fully automated system.  Program your controller with the date, time and GPS coordinates and it will automatically raise and lower the solar panels during the day to optimize power. 
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Frankedj

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #21 on: September 18, 2016, 08:39:29 AM »
I am curious as to what the cost of the tilt & lock systems did to the cost of the solar on the roof not including any equipment below.

I am working on a remote tilt and lock myself and getting it close to going up on the roof. I lift 7 panels onto their short ends on a single frame with four 12" stroke  actuators. What I did pretty much doubled the cost of what is on the roof but I was not about to climb up there twice a day.
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gatorcq

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #22 on: September 18, 2016, 02:18:32 PM »
Increase your solar to 1600 watts, and you will not have to tilt.

That's my plan, arr 2 addition panels to my current system.
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Kevin Means

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #23 on: September 18, 2016, 04:55:23 PM »
Increase your solar to 1600 watts, and you will not have to tilt.

That's my plan, arr 2 addition panels to my current system.
That's going to be true in most cases, but the added battery capacity needed to store all the power generated by 1600 watts of solar - especially on sunny days - is going to be expensive and take up a lot of space, or the excess power generated will be wasted. Additionally, it will likely be impossible to install that much solar on any RV's roof, there's just not enough room. Most of the panels will have to be portable. (Nothing wrong with that.)

Kev
2011 Winnebago Tour 42QD
Towing a Jeep Rubicon Unlimited LJ or an Acura MDX
RVI Brake 2, Minder TM-66 TPMS, 970 watts of solar
(Can't wait to spend more time RVing)
Lakeside, California

Kevin Means

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Re: Tilting Solar Panels
« Reply #24 on: September 18, 2016, 05:14:28 PM »
I am curious as to what the cost of the tilt & lock systems did to the cost of the solar on the roof not including any equipment below.

I am working on a remote tilt and lock myself and getting it close to going up on the roof. I lift 7 panels onto their short ends on a single frame with four 12" stroke  actuators. What I did pretty much doubled the cost of what is on the roof but I was not about to climb up there twice a day.
A fair amount was spent on R&D (I still have to total everything) but when the build specs were finalized, the retail cost of all the parts used to build each system (not including solar panel) was about $90.00. The patent, however, cost a LOT more than the entire R&D process.

By the way, during the R&D process, we tested two designs with multiple-actuators (2 or 3 actuators) but ultimately abandoned the concept for several reasons, including: Complexity and cost - more parts = more money and potential problems; We determined that the solar panels installed on the roofs of (most) RVs did not require the lifting capacity of more than one actuator; Despite our best attempts, if one actuator failed - for any reason - the functional actuator(s) destroyed the tilting device, and I'm quite sure, would also have destroyed, or certainly damaged the solar panel had one been attached (We were using a dummy load.) I also think there's a good chance that the RV's roof would have been damaged due to the twisting affect. Those actuators are strong!

I think a multiple-actuator device might be OK for one-off uses - as long as someone were willing to visually monitor its operation every time it was used, but for production models there was too much risk. JMO

Kev
« Last Edit: September 20, 2016, 11:26:11 AM by Kevin Means »
2011 Winnebago Tour 42QD
Towing a Jeep Rubicon Unlimited LJ or an Acura MDX
RVI Brake 2, Minder TM-66 TPMS, 970 watts of solar
(Can't wait to spend more time RVing)
Lakeside, California

 

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