Solar useful in the woods North of 50?

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Frank B

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Apr 23, 2005
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Calgary, Alberta
We do mostly dry camping in the woods in the Rockies in Alberta and BC for the most part.  Summer camping is no problem, as the batteries are more than enough to operate the pump and lights.  We take no AC appliances with us, so don't need an invertor.  We also Winter camp, and, of course, run the forced air furnace.  Now THAT makes a difference.

I like quiet, and prefer to avoid a generator if possible.  In the past couple of years, I have charged the trailer batteries from the truck using some really heavy gauge booster cables.  An hour or so helps a lot.  However, this too is noisy.

Solar panels have different watt ratings.  I assume that this wattage is achieved on the equator at noon.  I also assume that the TRUE wattage will be significantly less at times other than noon, as well as at higher lattitudes.  In addition, when camping in the woods, you don't get that much direct sunlight.

Given the above, are solar panels going to be of any real use to me?  Our power requirements are low, but I assume that solar panel performance is going to be low as well in the Winter in the woods.

Next question:  I assume that solar panels are usually roof mount.  Do they mount flat on the roof, or are they set up so that they can be angled toward the sun?  Is it feasible to have a mobile mount of some sort so that the panels can be placed in the sun should the trailer be in the shade?

We've been weekend campers for about 5 years, but I've never looked into solar before.

Thanks.

Frank.
 

Jim Godward

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Mar 6, 2005
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Hillsboro, Oregon
Frank,

First, I am not an expert on solar. 

I live about 45 degrees lat. and my panels are flat on the roof.  Unless it is cloudy for several days, the 2 120 watt panels I have are adequate for maintaining the batteries even with the furnace operating at 50 degrees.  I do this as I usually do not winterize as we leave for the south right after Christmas.  That way if the weather is bad the stuff is loaded and we can just take off!  VBG  I do have a 50 amp electric available so I can and do supplement when they are covered with snow and it is overcast.  Surprisingly, they do charge even with snow on them if the sun is fairly bright, even though it may also be cloudy.  I think you will understand what I am trying to say!!

The panels can be mounted so that they can be manually tilted, aimed toward the sun.  There are even systems that will do this automatically and even track the sun.  All it takes is money!!
 

Steve CDN

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Frank,

A few years ago I met an amateur inventor / RVer who built a motorized attachment that tracked the sun for his solar panels on his motorhome.  Unfortunately I have not seen him lately, but he claimed he was able to maximize the power from the panels despite the current draw of his tracking system.

Are you planning something along the same lines?
 

Frank B

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Calgary, Alberta
Steve:

>Are you planning something along the same lines?<

No.

I am simply interested in knowing what sort of performance I can expect to get from a $2000 investment before I commit.  I have room for more batteries.  I'm now weighing whether my money is better spent in buying 4 to 6 deep cycle batteries every three years, or in going solar.  Batteries are about $95 each at our local Wal-Mart.  I need enough power to run the trailer with the heat on in -5 to -15 celsius weather for four or five days.  At six batteries every three years, batteries are still cheaper than solar over a 9 year period.

Frank.
 

Jim Dick

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Titusville, FL
Frank,

I don't know if the panels would be worth it or not. If you are forced to go with a generator I understand the new Hondas are extremely quiet. It might be a better trade off for the money. The generator could be used for other emergencies such as loss of power at home during a storm.



 

Gary RV_Wizard

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At our Silver Springs FL home
I think there is no question that the additional batteries are better fom a $$ point of view. And 6V "golf cart" batteries should last you 5-7 years rather than 3.  You might need a better converter/charger to recharge your big battery bank, though, unless you already have a good quality, 3 stage, large capacity charger from Progressive Dynamics or Iota.  That might add $200-300 to the upfront costs.

As Jim suggests, another good alternative is to purchase a Honda EU1000i to power the charger for your existing battery bank.  It's the size of a small suitcase and is VERY quiet - really just a loud hum. And it only weighs 29 lbs.  You could charge an hour a day and your neighbors would hardly notice it.
 

Steve CDN

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Frank,

Add my vote to using batteries!  By maintaining your deep cycle batteries by topping up with distilled water and performing periodic equalization (or installing a pulse charger) that automatically equalizes by spiking the voltage your batteries could last 7 to 8 years as mine did.

4 x 6 volt deep cycle batteries connected in series/parallel will give you plenty of reserve power.

If you need more info on equalization and battery maintenance let us know.
 

Frank B

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Apr 23, 2005
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Location
Calgary, Alberta
Thanks, all.  Looks like I'll be going the battery route.

Steve:

>If you need more info on equalization and battery maintenance let us know.<

Yes, please.  What should I know here?  What do you mean by a pulse charger?

Frank.
 
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