Want solar and SO confused

Discussion in 'Power - Site Power/Batteries/Generators/Solar' started by tenttrailer13, May 10, 2021.

  1. tenttrailer13

    tenttrailer13 New Member

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    Hi! I've had the popup for about 6 years. I got it used from a couple who took very good care of it. Everything was factory and in great condition. I've done nothing to upgrade it besides add an extra battery and run them in parallel. I believe all relevant stats are in my signature.

    We're starting to camp for longer stretches of time (1 week), and I do school work with the kids during the weekdays in which I have to utilize my phone and iPad. During these warmer months, the batteries have been sufficient for our lighting, water pump, and heater needs. The problem is, I've been relying on a little phone charger power bank to charge my phone and iPad, and then I have to try and find some place safe to leave the power bank to charge (in a bathroom, or side of the ranger station) so I can charge the devices again the next day. It's not working well for us.

    I'm interested in solar. I don't want to build anything, so I'll get a kit. I'm getting confused about DC and AC and inverters. I've read around here and watched YouTube videos, but I'm almost immediately lost. I get that the solar kit connects to the batteries and will help keep those topped off. But, I don't understand how I then charge my phone and iPad.

    Once the kit is connected to the batteries, will my outlets inside work? Or do I need to purchase something else along with a kit? Or do certain kits come with their own outlet or USB that you plug into? And then, can you only charge for as long as there's sun? Or do the kits themselves have their own little battery packs and I could charge the devices at night once everything is charged up? Is it possible to replace an outlet with a cigarette lighter outlet and then charge that way? Oh my gosh, I'm dizzying!

    As far as usage, right now, I leave the heater's thermostat at 50 degrees and the heater kicks on maybe 1 hour/day. At most, I use one set of the interior lights (factory, so I assume they are not LED) for 2 hours/day. For the water pump, we go through maybe 60 gallons in that week. I don't use the fridge fan, because its noisy and seems like a power drain. And I'd need to charge 1 iPhone and 1 iPad fully each night. Though I'd like to get a system big enough to handle winter camping that would allow the heater to run constantly (is that even possible?). Also, I'd get a kit that I could move the panels around to seek out the sun.

    I have a feeling the answer is right in front of me, but its like one of those optical illusion pictures, and until someone points it out to me, I'm just so lost. Thank you in advance!!!
     
  2. Anthony Hitchings

    Anthony Hitchings Well-Known Member Silver Supporting Member

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    If you come over for lunch or supper (or just desert by my wife) I can talk you through it all.

    Tony in Oakland.

    wife and I were fully vaccinated on March 17 (Pfizer)
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2021
  3. LilRed

    LilRed Active Member

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    Solar will only recharge your 12v dc battery and run its items. If you want 120v ac, you will need an inverter. That said, installing some 12v outlets will let you recharge your phone battery just like in your car. Solar can keep you topped up but you’ll need to size it based on battery capacity and discharge usage.
     
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  4. tenttrailer13

    tenttrailer13 New Member

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    You are too nice, Tony! I'm actually in Sonoma. Would you be up for Facetime or Zoom instead?


    I like the idea of 12v outlets inside. I should be able to take an existing 120v outlet in the popup and replace it with something like this, right? https://www.etrailer.com/12V-Power-Accessories/Diamond/DG61030VP.html

    For battery capacity I have 2 24v marine batteries. So, I have 48 volt capacity? Or, is capacity the amp hour? One battery is 80ah, the other 62ah. So, my capacity is 142ah?

    Is discharge use the amount of watts (amps? volts? not sure how this is measured either) that I use each day?
     
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  5. LilRed

    LilRed Active Member

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    The usb ports will work, yes. Personally I installed an generic 12v port just like my car, where I can plug any usb or accessories into, and unplug when not in use to avoid parasitic drain when not actually in use.
    Two parallel batteries will yield twice the capacity; however deep cycle (or any lead acid) can only be discharged to 50% or it damages the internals. The newer Lithium will give you full usable capacity but often require a special attention to temperature and your converter/recharge methods.
    One of the members here has a neat company and product for lithium, but also a good estimation tool for your usage on battery type and capacity. https://nomaticsupply.com/pages/battery-calculator
     
  6. BikeNFish

    BikeNFish Well-Known Member

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    How much are you willing to spend for "simplicity"? Have you considered a "Solar Generator"?

    Solar generators are basically lithium battery banks that you can recharge with solar panels (hence the name), 110 outlet, or even your vehicles cigarette lighter outlet while you drive.

    I have invested in a Jackery 1000 and two 100watt solar panels (you do not need to use Jackery solar panels to charge a Jackery). I consider the Jackery, "Solar for dummies" <-- me. The Jackerys aren't cheap, but are simple plug and play and run independent of the pup's battery.

    I did plug my pup into my Jackery just to see if I could do it. HERE is a post on some of my preliminary tests. I would not recommend running your entire camper on one, but it can be done for short periods of time. Jackerys are made for recharging devices and can even run SMALL appliances (laptop, CPAP, mini fridge, etc.).

    It takes less than 5 minutes to set up the two solar panels to charge the Jackery. Tear down is also less than five minutes.

    I have no affiliation to Jackery other than being a customer. There are other companies that make these solar generators (Bluetti, Rockpals, etc.) Jackery and some other solar generator companies have a sale going right now.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2021
  7. jmkay1

    jmkay1 2004 Fleetwood/Coleman Utah Gold Supporting Member

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    . Just wanted to point out that your outlets are only 120v. You will need to install the 12v power outlet thing and feed it from a known 12v line. For example right beside my door in a cabinet I have wires that are feeding the porch light and thermostat. Both of which are 12v. So I can run a line from those wires itself for the 12v outlet. (Actually on my to do list). I’ve often just charged my phones and stuff in my tow vehicle. However when the kiddo was with me i bought her a battery pack and bought an inverter to attach directly to the battery ( I only have one) to charge that. When I’m done using it I can put it away. Not ideal hence the reason I’m looking to install a 12v outlet in the camper. That way phones and devices can be charged from the camper and I don’t have to worry about a separate battery packs.
     
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  8. Econ

    Econ Well-Known Member

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  9. rsdata

    rsdata Active Member Gold Supporting Member

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    I have invested in a Jackery 1000 and two 100watt solar panels (you do not need to use Jackery solar panels to charge a Jackery). I consider the Jackery, "Solar for dummies" <-- me. The Jackerys aren't cheap, but are simple plug and play and run independent of the pup's battery.

    I have done the same thing... this system is simple to use and portable, and has everything you have requested...

    go to jackery dot com for info... 1 portable panel and a 500 watt or 1000 watt Jackery power unit is all you need to start
     
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  10. firepit

    firepit Well-Known Member

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    I am no expert as I am fairly new to solar as well.
    How about a power station and folding solar panel...You can top off your batteries and charge your power station
    with solar panel.
    The power station can run fans...a television and charge your phones etc etc.
    Plus a power station is handy at home during power outages.
    Mine is a Eco Worthy 120W solar panel and the Power station is a Ibuture 330W (Amazon)
    I have ran my TV for over 3 hrs on the Power Station and it says 4/12 to 5hrs on the spec sheet.
    20200807_090838.jpg 20200807_090620.jpg
     
  11. SteveP

    SteveP Well-Known Member Platinum Supporting Member

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    Too much effort and way too much risk. Just install 12 volt sockets and/or USB outlets in a couple of convenient places. Just drill 1 1/8 inch hole in a cabinet wall and connect them to an existing 12 volt circuit. Let us know when you decide where to place them and you'll get plenty of advice on doing the connections. If your laptop is a current Apple that powers from a USB C you can even get an outlet that can handle that.

    For solar charging you're going to want 100 to 150 watts for your current battery bank. Look for a "suitcase" kit. If the pup is not solar ready you can start out just connecting with the battery clips, connect the red clip to the positive on one battery and the black clip to the negative post on the other. If you want to get fancier in the future you can get advise on that too. Just use it as a maintainer instead of a charger, make setup and connecting part of your campsite setup and leave it in the sun until you break camp.

    If you need an inverter get one of the small ones that plugs into a 12 volt port. 300 watts should be sufficient to charge your laptop. Unplug it when not in use to avoid parasitic drain.

    You should invest in a wire crimper and multimeter and learn how to use them, neither are very expensive. And swap those old bulbs for leds, it's almost amazing how much power you'll save.

    BTW, love your sig.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2021
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  12. tenttrailer13

    tenttrailer13 New Member

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    @BikeNFish @rsdata I’ve looked into the solar generators, Jackery, Bluetti. They appear easy and looked to be convenient for other situations. I have a hard time justifying the cost of those compared with a solar suitcase, when I really don’t find myself in other situations where I need portable power.

    @LilRed @jmkay1 I really liked the 12v port idea, then I read The 12 Volt Side of Life that @Econ posted….and I went down a rabbit hole.

    For a second there I was all in - get an inverter with a charger, built in transfer switch and monitor panel, 2 golf cart batteries, and a load of solar panels. But then I looked up prices, and I’m back to the the 12v port idea.

    I have this light switch in the front cargo box (pic attached). I never use it. It can be accessed inside by a sliding door next to the dining table. I should be able to replace this light with the 12v USB port and be able to charge a phone or iPad, right? Or are the light wires not compatible?

    Then to help support the added power drain, get a suitcase like this:
    https://solartown.com/solar-panels/renogy-200-watt-12-volt-monocrystalline-foldable-solar-suitcase/

    and I would just need to clamp it to my existing batteries and point the panels towards the sun.

    Am I missing some other component?
     

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  13. firepit

    firepit Well-Known Member

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    Not sure about your budget but my power station was $199 (300W)on amazon and my solar panel was $179.
    They both come in handy when dry camping.
    I like my westerns late at night or in bad weather i have got over 3 hrs on my 24 in tv.
    I can run a fan all weekend on a full charge.
     
  14. SteveP

    SteveP Well-Known Member Platinum Supporting Member

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    We use the front box for storage when in camp so the light is not necessary but useful sometimes. You can tap into the wires and keep the light if you want.
     
  15. LilRed

    LilRed Active Member

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    Your wire size and fuse at the distribution need to be looked at. Your typical USB 12v adaptor will only draw 3A, so tapping a line that is fused as low as 5A is more than enough (if that's all you have on at the same time). If you plan to use the 12v plug for higher draw items (like a tire pump), then you need to consider tapping a higher fused line.
    I installed one for my CPAP (with a 12vdc->24VDC cord), and it draws 15a. I tapped my 25a 12v fridge feed, which is only used while towing in my use.
    upload_2021-5-12_8-30-45.png
    For phone charging USB adaptors, I tapped my radio circuit:
    upload_2021-5-12_8-31-47.png
     
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  16. tenttrailer13

    tenttrailer13 New Member

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    I took a second look at your setup @firepit and now that I'm a little more educated, it does look like a really good compromise between the other solar generators I was looking at and the solar suitcase. I think I just need to sit down and do the math part on battery capacity and discharge usage like @LilRed said in the beginning.

    @LilRed I removed the light, pic attached. The letters are hard to read on the wires but they say:
    black wire: 600v VW-1 LL37082 CSA TEW
    white wire: WM style 1015 OR 1230 105c 600v VW-

    There isn't a fuse right at the light, so I guess it goes all the way back to the main panel, pic attached. If I'm understanding it correctly, the electrical system is separated into 3-15 amp parts, though I don't understand the abbreviations they used. How should I go about figuring out if there is enough amps available on the circuit the light is attached to?

    And thank you everyone! I'm feeling pretty confident I'll get this done correctly!
     

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  17. Anthony Hitchings

    Anthony Hitchings Well-Known Member Silver Supporting Member

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    re the lamp - the lettering on the wires is much less relevant than any lettering on the Lamp Fixture or on the Bulb itself. I expect it to be 12V. If that lamp comes on when the camper is NOT plugged in to shore power (e.g., your house), then the lamp is a 12V fixture.
     
  18. LilRed

    LilRed Active Member

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    I see the trouble you'd have as the DC 15A fuses are less then forthcoming in their labeling. Best I can offer is to remove a fuse, go around and turn on anything you have 12v and see what doesn't work with the fuse removed. Then write it down to know what DC position it feeds.

    If you have a decent DMM that does inline current (Amps), or even better a DC Clamp on ammeter, you can measure the consumption with all the devices turned on for that branch. If you only have inline ammeter (be sure it supports 15 amps), remove a fuse and measure where the fuse connects you will measure total current on that branch. Most of the time the fuse will limited 25% over total draw, but it's is there to prevent your wires from catching fire and becoming the fuse (don't make the fuse a 20A just because you add devices). A 14AWG wire is generally safe to have 15A, but stepping up to a 20A circuit should be 12AWG. There's a lot of other factors in cable length, material, voltage drop, blah blah engineering stuff at play here that I won't muddy the waters too much with..
     
  19. SteveP

    SteveP Well-Known Member Platinum Supporting Member

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    Just turn on everything in the camper, including the storage box light. and start pulling fuses until the storage box light goes out. Then make note of everything that went off when you pulled that fuse. Add up the amperage for those items, subtract from 15 and that tells you what you've got left. My guess is the 12 volt lights, water pump and LP leak detector are all on the same fuse.
     
  20. tenttrailer13

    tenttrailer13 New Member

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    You were right @SteveP I turned everything on, pulled the first fuse and the 12 volt lights, water pump and LP leak detector all went out. I put the fuse back in and pulled the second fuse, I didn't notice any change. Put that one back in and pulled the third and the furnace went out. So, I should have enough amps on that circuit for the new outlet.

    But I ran into a problem, I noticed in between pulling the 1st and 2nd fuse the ceiling lights went out and didn't come back on. The light in the storage box did come back on. The ceiling lights are each controlled by their own switches and a main on/off switch near the water pump switch and thermostat. I've looked at some of the bulbs, they didn't get burnt from the fuse pulling. I have 1 GFCI, I pressed test and reset. Still no lights. What could have happened?
     

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