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Kit vs. Build Your Own Solar System For a Pop-up Camper

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  • Kit vs. Build Your Own Solar System For a Pop-up Camper

    I recently purchased a smaller pop up camper. I'm looking for a solar system for those times i do not have power. Mostly it will run 1 or 2 LED lights, and keep a laptop and phone charged. The fridge and stove run on propane. I know little about solar and see complete systems for sale. My question is, is it best to buy a preassembled kit, or build your own? What would I be looking for in a good kit or to build a good solar system for my requirements? Can you also charge the solar batteries from your vehicle if needed?
    Thanks!

  • #2
    Design and build your own. Not only will it be significantly less expensive but actually works because everything is made to work with each other. Every kit I have ever seen has grossly undersized batteries, and it is done on purpose. They do it to hook you like a fish.

    They do it to keep the initial price down, way down to get you to buy. Once you discover the batteries are way to small, they gig you with additional batteries. The customer falls for it hook line and sinker.

    It is a lot like Crack Cocaine or Heroin dealers. They sell you some dope real cheap at first or even give it away to get you hooked. Once you are in and hooked, they have a customer for life.
    Last edited by Sunking; 04-19-2017, 12:12 AM.
    MSEE, PE

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    • #3
      Does your pop-up have a battery for your lights already? If so half the battle is won already.

      I have a Renogy suitcase 100w solar charger kit for my wifes small rv, it can only be used when the rig is parked. I have a roof mounted Renogy 100w Kit for my hunting rig, being roof mounted it charges even when traveling. Both have worked well for us. But we already have batteries for our rigs. Both our kits had the panels, controller, mounting and some wiring, additional wiring , connectors and fusing had to be purchased in addition.

      Some pop-ups are set up from the factory to charge while traveling. My old Coleman pop-up had a battery mounted on the tongue for lighting that would have been a good candidate for solar charging system but didn't charge from the tow vehicle
      Last edited by AWS; 04-19-2017, 01:33 AM.

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      • #4
        The first step is to define your loads. Then you know what size inverter, batteries and PV panels you have to get. And when you get over $1K in batteries, include a generator and AC charger to preserve the batteries in bad weather.
        Powerfab top of pole PV mount (2) | Listeroid 6/1 w/st5 gen head | XW6048 inverter/chgr | Iota 48V/15A charger | Morningstar 60A MPPT | 48V, 800A NiFe Battery (in series)| 15, Evergreen 205w "12V" PV array on pole | Midnight ePanel | Grundfos 10 SO5-9 with 3 wire Franklin Electric motor (1/2hp 240V 1ph ) on a timer for 3 hr noontime run - Runs off PV ||
        || Midnight Classic 200 | 10, Evergreen 200w in a 160VOC array ||
        || VEC1093 12V Charger | Maha C401 aa/aaa Charger | SureSine | Sunsaver MPPT 15A

        solar: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Solar
        gen: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Lister

        Comment


        • #5
          This is a popup with 2 LED lights, a laptop(12v charger available , no inverter needed), and a cell phone, more than likely it already has a deep cycle battery mounted already, he just needs enough panel and controller to keep it charged dry camping. Think simple, you start talking $1k in batteries you just scare people off, heck he probably doesn't have enough GVW to haul $1K in batteries.

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          • #6
            Thanks for the responses.

            My pop-up does not have a battery, only an external cord to plug it in when parked. My thoughts were to have portable solar panels that I can put on the roof or the side of the camper when parked. Would i be better off plugging my camper directly into the solar system, then using the trailers outlets (I think would use more power)? Or run a cord from the solar system inside the camper? I live in Canada so my selections are smaller (but im willing to order from US).

            Can you recommend a brand, size of batteries, and panels I would be looking for? Or what to look for when shopping, price isn't an issue, I only want to buy it once.. My power consumption will be roughly;

            2xLED Lights = 20W
            Laptop = 85W
            Phone = 18W

            I would probably need lights for 5-6 hours. Laptop for maybe a couple movies. I like to also keep my phone charged. I would like it to have enough power so that if i travel all day, it can still power me through the first or 2nd night (that's why i wonder if my truck could charge it if needed).

            Thanks again!
            Last edited by NorthernFront; 04-19-2017, 09:12 AM.

            Comment


            • #7
              If you have room on the tongue for 2 batteries I would recommend using inexpensive 6 volt golf cart batteries. Costco carries them for about $87.00 a piece. This may be more than you need and if so there are 12 volt deep cycle/RV batteries available. A single one should cover your needs.
              I also recommend you hard mount the solar panel(s) on the roof and fish the output wires down through the sleeve in the canvas where the overhead light wires are run. Hard mounting the panels will allow the batteries to be kept fully charged when the trailer isn't being used. Fully charged batteries are happy batteries. A couple 120 to 150 watt panels will provide sufficient charging power for a pair of 6 volt golf cart batteries.
              If you are set with your loads this may be more power than you need. Most campers I have hung with still like to have a stereo and small DVD/flatscreen as well as blenders, air pumps, etc. while they are "getting back to nature" A larger system will insure if you like these type of creature comforts you will still have ample power available.
              2.2kw Suntech mono, Classic 200, NEW Trace SW4024

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              • #8
                Originally posted by littleharbor View Post
                If you have room on the tongue for 2 batteries I would recommend using inexpensive 6 volt golf cart batteries. Costco carries them for about $87.00 a piece. This may be more than you need and if so there are 12 volt deep cycle/RV batteries available. A single one should cover your needs.
                I also recommend you hard mount the solar panel(s) on the roof and fish the output wires down through the sleeve in the canvas where the overhead light wires are run. Hard mounting the panels will allow the batteries to be kept fully charged when the trailer isn't being used. Fully charged batteries are happy batteries. A couple 120 to 150 watt panels will provide sufficient charging power for a pair of 6 volt golf cart batteries.
                If you are set with your loads this may be more power than you need. Most campers I have hung with still like to have a stereo and small DVD/flatscreen as well as blenders, air pumps, etc. while they are "getting back to nature" A larger system will insure if you like these type of creature comforts you will still have ample power available.
                Thanks for your help.
                What would you recommend for a controller and inverter. Anything else I may need?
                Thanks
                Greg

                Comment


                • #9
                  I'm confused about your pop up not having a battery, it may simply have not been provided from a previous owner if it is used. Which year was it manufactured? Any modern manufactured camper would have a battery to operate the 12V systems. The lighting, water pump, fridge, and furnace will require 12V power to operate off-grid. If these things only work when you're plugged into 120V AC shore power, then it is your onboard 120V AC to 12V DC converter that is powering these things. Any modern camper absorption fridge still requires continuous 12V power to run on propane and will drain a battery in a day or so even without any other loads. Your camper's outlets that look like household outlets will not be live when off grid unless you've plugged into a generator or inverter.

                  Some important reading to understand the power systems of a camper. http://www.marxrv.com/12volt/12volt.htm

                  A solar charging system is part of the 12V DC system. It is connected directly to your camper battery. Solar can power low load items, but it's primary purpose is to provide charging current to the 12V battery whenever the sun is shining. You can most likely get 12V adapters for both your phone and your laptop, so no inverter necessary. Without doing an energy audit to know your true needs, budget on 100 watts of solar per 100 amp hour (ah) of battery capacity. Or even simpler, 100 watts of solar per camper battery.

                  If your vehicle's trailer wiring harness is a flat 4-pin one, then I don't believe it provides any battery charging. If it is a 7-pin round one, then it should have continuous 12V power that will charge the camper battery.
                  I'm an RV camper, mine has 280 watts of solar

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by ewarnerusa View Post
                    I'm confused about your pop up not having a battery, it may simply have not been provided from a previous owner if it is used. Which year was it manufactured? Any modern manufactured camper would have a battery to operate the 12V systems. The lighting, water pump, fridge, and furnace will require 12V power to operate off-grid. If these things only work when you're plugged into 120V AC shore power, then it is your onboard 120V AC to 12V DC converter that is powering these things. Any modern camper absorption fridge still requires continuous 12V power to run on propane and will drain a battery in a day or so even without any other loads. Your camper's outlets that look like household outlets will not be live when off grid unless you've plugged into a generator or inverter.

                    Some important reading to understand the power systems of a camper. http://www.marxrv.com/12volt/12volt.htm

                    A solar charging system is part of the 12V DC system. It is connected directly to your camper battery. Solar can power low load items, but it's primary purpose is to provide charging current to the 12V battery whenever the sun is shining. You can most likely get 12V adapters for both your phone and your laptop, so no inverter necessary. Without doing an energy audit to know your true needs, budget on 100 watts of solar per 100 amp hour (ah) of battery capacity. Or even simpler, 100 watts of solar per camper battery.

                    If your vehicle's trailer wiring harness is a flat 4-pin one, then I don't believe it provides any battery charging. If it is a 7-pin round one, then it should have continuous 12V power that will charge the camper battery.
                    It's a 1989 StarCraft. It only has power if I plug it in.
                    Thanks for the information.
                    ​​​​

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      2xLED Lights = 20W x 6 hours = 120Wh
                      Laptop = 85W x 4 hours = 340Wh
                      Phone = 18W x 2 hours(?) = 36Wh
                      Total= 496Wh a day (let's round up to 500Wh)

                      I suggest getting a Kill A Watt meter to verify these watt numbers, some of them seem a bit high. 18W for a phone?

                      500Wh / 4 sun hours (less than perfect conditions with panels mounted flat on roof) / .6 losses = 208W solar needed, I'd round up for less than ideal days; 20A charge controller needed
                      500Wh x 2 (50% DoD) x 1.19 temperature compensation (50F) x 3 days no sun / 12V battery = 297 Ah battery bank.


                      Solar Queen
                      altE Store

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                      • #12
                        You do understand it requires you to park in full sun with no shade from sunrise to sunset?
                        MSEE, PE

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Sunking View Post
                          You do understand it requires you to park in full sun with no shade from sunrise to sunset?
                          ya beat me to it.
                          Powerfab top of pole PV mount (2) | Listeroid 6/1 w/st5 gen head | XW6048 inverter/chgr | Iota 48V/15A charger | Morningstar 60A MPPT | 48V, 800A NiFe Battery (in series)| 15, Evergreen 205w "12V" PV array on pole | Midnight ePanel | Grundfos 10 SO5-9 with 3 wire Franklin Electric motor (1/2hp 240V 1ph ) on a timer for 3 hr noontime run - Runs off PV ||
                          || Midnight Classic 200 | 10, Evergreen 200w in a 160VOC array ||
                          || VEC1093 12V Charger | Maha C401 aa/aaa Charger | SureSine | Sunsaver MPPT 15A

                          solar: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Solar
                          gen: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Lister

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Sunking View Post
                            You do understand it requires you to park in full sun with no shade from sunrise to sunset?
                            Yes, I was thinking of taking Littleharbour advice and mount them to the roof so they can charge all day..

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Amy@altE View Post
                              2xLED Lights = 20W x 6 hours = 120Wh
                              Laptop = 85W x 4 hours = 340Wh
                              Phone = 18W x 2 hours(?) = 36Wh
                              Total= 496Wh a day (let's round up to 500Wh)

                              I suggest getting a Kill A Watt meter to verify these watt numbers, some of them seem a bit high. 18W for a phone?

                              500Wh / 4 sun hours (less than perfect conditions with panels mounted flat on roof) / .6 losses = 208W solar needed, I'd round up for less than ideal days; 20A charge controller needed
                              500Wh x 2 (50% DoD) x 1.19 temperature compensation (50F) x 3 days no sun / 12V battery = 297 Ah battery bank.

                              I looked again at Google's website for the pixel phone. The charger is 18w, but the 5" pixel only draws 15w.

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