Help solarizing my RV?

solarspongesolarsponge Registered Users Posts: 3
Hi,

I'm new to solar and know very little about electrical. If this is covered elsewhere please kindly send me in the right direction. I have a toyota rv 4banger special. I don't mind chasing the sun but I'm over chasing down propane and carbon monoxide leaks. Also the appliances are old so I am wanting to go solar and get some HE appliances. I was thinking about running a light, lean and mean system that I could add to as my goal is to end up in an off grid cabin at some point. I want to make the right choices so I am looking for good, honest advice and quality, smart pieces. Hopefully this community can save me some time and money. I THINK this is what I want to run:
1.fridge, freezer (Sundazer?) Alot of days this will be the only thing running.
2.ac (mainly for the dog), vent fan, heater(very little)
3.couple led lights
4.crock pot, rice cooker, coffee maker, one burner, toaster
5.direct tv auto dish and small led tv
6.water pump, hot water heater

It seems like there are a myriad of options and choices, from kits to batteries to money pits. It's a little overwhelming. There's gotta be some empirical knowledge out there, right? I don't mind spending a LITTLE more for something that will last longer or be lighter or more efficient. What is the best set-up for me? Best panel, controller, inverter, fuse, battery, etc.? Where should I get it? And any advice on appliances would be wonderful as well.

I do have a gas generator I can use for back-up.

Thank you,
Max

Comments

  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 29,514 admin
    Welcome to the forum Max!
    I'm new to solar and know very little about electrical. If this is covered elsewhere please kindly send me in the right direction.

    We are going to start with some basic math for solar/electrical power. It will help us figure out what will work (or won't work) for your needs.
    I have a toyota rv 4banger special. I don't mind chasing the sun but I'm over chasing down propane and carbon monoxide leaks. Also the appliances are old so I am wanting to go solar and get some HE appliances. I was thinking about running a light, lean and mean system that I could add to as my goal is to end up in an off grid cabin at some point. I want to make the right choices so I am looking for good, honest advice and quality, smart pieces. Hopefully this community can save me some time and money.

    Need to start with your loads--If the system will not run your loads, it is hardly worth building the system this first place. I suggest we start with just your RV needs--It is difficult to move/migrate/expand a system from something small into a cabin size unit.

    Energy usage is a highly personal set of choices--My suggestions are just that--These need to be your choices. For RV's, there are substantial weight and space limitations--And things like Refrigerators and Air Conditioning take lots of power.

    So--First thing you can help us with is just how many solar panels can you mount on your vehicle... You may have to look at the physical size of solar panels to fit them like a jigsaw puzzle. Perhaps you will have to use 140 Watt panels in series/parallel. Or you can use fewer 200-250 Watt panels. Whatever fits best.

    Also, where will you be dry camping? High desert in summer (at least lots of sun)? Mountains in winter (less sun, shading in valleys/from trees)?

    And there is how many batteries and what size can you fit--The battery bank is the "heart" of your system. It will tell you how many loads you can run and what size solar array would work best (try to balance loads against batteries against solar panels). For batteries, you might look at "golf cart" type batteries (6 volt @ around 200 Amp*Hour). They are cheap and pretty rugged. There are some folks that are using Lithium batteries--Much lighter and can have some nice properties--But they are not cheap.

    Then, there are the loads:
    I THINK this is what I want to run:

    1.fridge, freezer (Sundazer?) Alot of days this will be the only thing running.
    2.ac (mainly for the dog), vent fan, heater(very little)
    3.couple led lights
    4.crock pot, rice cooker, coffee maker, one burner, toaster
    5.direct tv auto dish and small led tv
    6.water pump, hot water heater

    A small electric refrigerator/freezer can be possible... But if you are weekend/seasonal camping--A propane unit may be more practical.

    Air Conditioning, A well insulated trailer with a fairly large solar array and battery bank can be done--But A/C really sucks up the power--A small RV just does not have the room for solar panels or the insulation needed to keep cool (usually). Heater--Typically propane, although a "heat pump A/C" system can be done. Otherwise, a small/efficient electric fan is usually the only practical solution for small RV cooling.

    LED lights--Yes--no problem there.

    Crock pot/rice cooker are possible with solar electric heat--But for smaller RV installations, may not be possible.

    The new LED TVs (or laptop computer with TV input) can be done pretty nicely these days. Satellite Receivers can be a bit more of an issue. They use a surprising amount of power, and if left off when the TV is not used--They can lose their "marbles" and need their access codes reset (just a general comment).

    12 water pump and a propane water heater--Fine. An electric water heater--Probably not.
    It seems like there are a myriad of options and choices, from kits to batteries to money pits. It's a little overwhelming. There's gotta be some empirical knowledge out there, right? I don't mind spending a LITTLE more for something that will last longer or be lighter or more efficient. What is the best set-up for me? Best panel, controller, inverter, fuse, battery, etc.? Where should I get it? And any advice on appliances would be wonderful as well.

    Lets start with the basics (solar array size, battery bank size), and we can predict, roughly, how many loads/appliances you can run.
    I do have a gas generator I can use for back-up.

    What size/model of genset? If you had to make a trade-off--Would you prefer to run the refrigerator from propane or genset during bad weather/winter time?

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • ApplesApples Solar Expert Posts: 39 ✭✭
    I don't mind chasing the sun but I'm over chasing down propane and carbon monoxide leaks

    Add generator noise to this, and you have the quintessential argument for solar power.

    Are you prepared to inve$t in solar components? Even though your RV is a smaller one, your posted list of appliances could be utilized in a much larger vehicle, so you must think of building a solid foundation in solar. Buy once, cry once, as the saying goes... or nickel-and-dime yourself into spending more overall!

    As you noted, " from kits to batteries to money pits". Remember too you'll not only need panels, a controller, batteries and an inverter or two (a larger-wattage unit will typically have a high "idle" electrical draw so it should be switched off when not needed, then the smaller inverter can remain operational for things like charging laptop computers, cellphones, etc), but also the copper cable, cable lugs, a proper crimping tool, heatshrink tubing, etc... it all adds up when you're building your first solid solar electric system.

    2.ac (mainly for the dog), vent fan, heater(very little)

    There are very small doghouse/animal crate air conditioning units created strictly to heat and cool small spaces... one manufacturer is Climate Right and will cool up to 400 cu. ft (a rough example would be a 6' X 6' X 8' space). You might be able to run something like that, otherwise typical A/C units consume kilowatts, and their use requires a large and expensive solar setup in order to power them.

  • solarspongesolarsponge Registered Users Posts: 3
    Welcome to the forum Max!

    Thank you!
    So--First thing you can help us with is just how many solar panels can you mount on your vehicle... You may have to look at the physical size of solar panels to fit them like a jigsaw puzzle. Perhaps you will have to use 140 Watt panels in series/parallel. Or you can use fewer 200-250 Watt panels. Whatever fits best.

    I came up with 2 3'x'5' spaces and 1 3'x6' space. Thank you for the link. It looks like there are alot of options.
    Also, where will you be dry camping? High desert in summer (at least lots of sun)? Mountains in winter (less sun, shading in valleys/from trees)?

    Preferably lots of sun. I can see where shade with no ac and no solar would be a catch 22. Do rv'ers carry a mobile panel to get the best of both worlds so to speak?
    And there is how many batteries and what size can you fit--The battery bank is the "heart" of your system. It will tell you how many loads you can run and what size solar array would work best (try to balance loads against batteries against solar panels). For batteries, you might look at "golf cart" type batteries (6 volt @ around 200 Amp*Hour). They are cheap and pretty rugged. There are some folks that are using Lithium batteries--Much lighter and can have some nice properties--But they are not cheap.

    I lean toward lean and mean. How much price and weight difference are we talking about? I want to go as light as possible. I will sacrifice creature comforts and a little more $ for lightweight. Especially if one lasts significantly longer than another and requires less maintenance. I will end up saving money on gas and drive-train on the back-end.
    A small electric refrigerator/freezer can be possible... But if you are weekend/seasonal camping--A propane unit may be more practical.

    I was looking at a small fridge and freezer like these: http://www.sundanzer.com/product/dcr50-dcf50/ Any thoughts on these or others?
    I was hoping to get away from relying on propane systems in the rv with the exception of maybe a small tank for bbq'ing.
    What size/model of genset? If you had to make a trade-off--Would you prefer to run the refrigerator from propane or genset during bad weather/winter time?

    Genset. It's not in front of me but it's a smaller unit from harbor freight that came with the rv. I am open to replacing it if need be.

    Thanks Bill. Much appreciated.
  • solarspongesolarsponge Registered Users Posts: 3
    Are you prepared to inve$t in solar components? Even though your RV is a smaller one, your posted list of appliances could be utilized in a much larger vehicle, so you must think of building a solid foundation in solar. Buy once, cry once, as the saying goes... or nickel-and-dime yourself into spending more overall!

    Shooting for the most bang for the buck. Long term investment.
    As you noted, " from kits to batteries to money pits". Remember too you'll not only need panels, a controller, batteries and an inverter or two (a larger-wattage unit will typically have a high "idle" electrical draw so it should be switched off when not needed, then the smaller inverter can remain operational for things like charging laptop computers, cellphones, etc), but also the copper cable, cable lugs, a proper crimping tool, heatshrink tubing, etc... it all adds up when you're building your first solid solar electric system.

    Noted. Thank you
    There are very small doghouse/animal crate air conditioning units created strictly to heat and cool small spaces... one manufacturer is Climate Right and will cool up to 400 cu. ft (a rough example would be a 6' X 6' X 8' space). You might be able to run something like that, otherwise typical A/C units consume kilowatts, and their use requires a large and expensive solar setup in order to power them.

    That looks perfect. Has anyone tried one of these?

    Thank you
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