Be sure to sign up for the weekly RV Travel Newsletter, published continuously every Saturday since 2001. Click here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The WWII Stinkbug Invasion

This September a friend and I had the opportunity to travel to Virginia and provide overnight security for Airfest 2011 at Culpeper Airport in Virginia ( Next week we'll be getting back to  more technology. In fact, we'll be looking at better battery technology available today and in the not too distant future. Including Lithium Phosphate (LiFePO3) Any way, on to the show!

The Sea Harrier
Culpeper Virginia seemed like a great short trip. Leave Thursday morning, arrive Thursday evening and camp on the ramp amidst 40 or so WWII aircraft with some modern jets thrown in. Not to mention Culpeper Airport is the home of the only privately owned and flown Harrier Jump jet in the world!

So far, so good. Believe it or not, it was a pretty uneventful trip down, a leaky airbag gauge forced me to add air on one side every 15 minutes or so, but OK nothing is perfect!

The Trip took way less time than planned. That is, until we were supposedly 26 minutes out, according to the GPS.  This rural area approach road was so packed it took 2 HOURS. I have no idea why. When we finally reached the final 2 mile uncongested stretch there was no indication what had caused the snarl. Ah well...

The Aero Cruiser in its' first spot, all alone.
So we got there a bit later than I would have liked. After checking in with the organizers and figuring out where to park (and then re-park!) we settled in just as everyone was leaving. Turns out we were to be the only two folks at the airport overnight. Cool! We made a semi-gourmet dinner with sliced flank steak, fresh various colored peppers, tomatoes, onions and freshly made tortillas.

We wandered around the airport admiring the aircraft and making sure no one was doing anything nefarious. In the dark. Alone. Very Cool! Got a bit cold at around 4AM so I fired up the furnace, and all was warm and cozy.

Early AM brewed some coffee and made some scrambled eggs with leftover veggies and cheddar cheese (Extra Sharp, of course!) Watched the sunrise with a fresh cup of brewed coffee, very pleasant.
Airport Diagram

That’s when things started to go a bit south. We were told we had to move to another location on the airport. OK. Off we went. Parked and went back to the Airshow. Watched some amazing aerobatics, saw some great formation flights and were amazed at just how loud a Harrier is hovering at full throttle. End of the day came far too quickly. 

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
We trekked back to the remote spot where we were parked, out by the older hangars and were stopped dead in our tracks. Almost one whole side of the RV was covered in Stink Bugs. No matter how hard we tried to get them off, more reinforcements arrived from the adjacent forested area.

As we prepped for travel we found many of them had made it past the spinning blades of the roof vent fans set on exhaust and we had to evict them. The ones that didn't make it through were insect paste. Nasty, very nasty.

Finally, we were off, with Passenger Pete on "Bug Patrol" finding and eliminating as many as he could on the run. We arrived at Cabella's in Hamburg, PA at about 7PM. Now it was a mad scramble to remove the vents and purge the invaders with extreme prejudice. After about an hour of combat we had them at bay. Little had we known that Virginia was experiencing an epidemic of these critters. It was in the newspapers when we arrived at home, on the TV and radio. These little nuisances aren't really dangerous. They fly, but not well. They don't really sting. If you crush one it could let off a stink that will be unpleasant at best. I catch them in a paper towel or suck them up with a 12V wet/dry vac and then dump them outside. Far away from the RV.

I'm sure some of them still lurk in the nooks and crannies of the RV, hibernating until the warm weather prods them to action.

We'll be ready.

Rich "The Wanderman"

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Better Solar Charging Mouse Trap.PART 6

It's been a long road, but we made it! For those of you who haven't been slogging through this new fangled Solar charging install, I recommend you take a peek at the first 5(!) parts of this series. There are convenient links at the bottom of this article.

As you can see, no evidence of the solar panels from the ground!
Now that everything is working and I've had a few months to test out the system in the wild, so to speak. I learned quite a few lessons. Mostly that some behavioral modifications will be needed to get the most out of any Solar charging system. It would be nice if you could get lots for nothing. Alas..this is not the case. When you use power, it has to come from someplace. In our case it's either the sun or the batteries or a combination of both. The trick is making sure you have enough power when you need it. Let's take a look at a major power hog, the microwave. This great device is a fantastic time and effort saver for an RV. If you have a shore power hookup and/or run your generator all the time when you use it, there is no need to think about WHEN you turn it on.

Microwace/Convection Oven
GOTCHA! If you use an inverter to take your precious DC power and turn it into AC power for your microwave it uses a serious amount of juice. Take the average 1000W microwave. That 1000W at 120V which is around 8.3 Amps draw. Of course we now have to convert to 12V so times 10 equals 83.3Amps! (Really it's more because of losses and such) That's a lot to ask of 1 or 2 batteries for any length of time. So now what? Well, if you have fully charged batteries and your Solar charging system is working you should be able to offset the draw a good bit. If you are generating 25 Amps and are drawing 83.3 Amps, your batteries only have to fill the gap (58.3 Amps) and this has to happen for a short time. I mean, how long do you normally run a a microwave? 2-7 minutes? I wouldn't cook a Roast or anything, but for reheating food, or frozen dinners, go for it. You will use some battery power, but then (as long as you have sun) the panels will put it back in.

Dash Mounted Energy Monitor
The Trick is to use high load devices after your batteries are charged and you have daylight left over. Yes, you can cheat a bit and use it when the batteries are around 80% without too much trouble. Here's where a change in behavior will help you out. I wake up in the morning (sometimes early!) and want (need?) some coffee. At this point your batteries have gotten you all the way through the night (maybe using the furnace, another big draw item) without any charging from the sun. Now you want these tired guys to supply a lot of power? Naaahhhh. Let 'em rest, start charging and recuperate. Use the stove, go to a convenience store, have iced coffee or, better yet, get up later! A few hours of sunlight and you should be in a better position to run a higher draw item with ease.

Later on, as a secondary project to this, I have been looking into adding a "diversion load" capability. The MPPT controller will support this and it seems like a good idea. What is it you may ask? It's just the ability for the controller to DIVERT amps to another use after the batteries are charged ore when there is excess available. I was thinking of adding a 12V heating element to the water heater and using it to slowly bring the water up to temperature. Well, maybe.....if anyone has an idea for a use of power after the batteries are finished charging, let me know. I was also going to use a passive solar water heater on the roof. Not very big, but it would just feed water into the water heater after it is heated by the sun. Not electrically, just a black heat absorbing flat-ish bag affixed to the roof. I'd need a small pump to get water up to it, but gravity would bring it down to the hot water heater tank.....maybe next season!

Now for the big question.

How much did all this actually end up costing?

Good question. The panels were around $1980.00 Shipped via DHL from China. The MPPT 45AMP controller was around $450.00 Shipped from California, heavy cable and wire was another $300.00 from various sources. We used 5 tubes of 3M 760 adhesive at $12.00 per tube for $60.00. I had the inverter already, but it would be close to $450.00. Fuses and Fuse Holders were $50.00 all together and the remote monitoring for the Controller was $150.00. Since I already had an Energy Monitoring System, I didn't need to buy another, but if you did, figure on another $300.00 including the shunt. The grand total???


...Seems like a lot of money. Prices have come down a bit, so this could be done for around $2600.00 or so in today's' pricing. Less if you already have any of the pieces installed. Included was the Shipping from China at $500.00, so if you use an alternative method it could be brought down as well.

Remember, I did all the engineering and installation for this project, so there was no labor charges. (Well, Passenger Pete did want some food in exchange for labor so I guess I could figure that in.)

I would do it again in an instant. The whole system weighs less than a single large conventional panel, including all the pieces and parts. It puts out more than I need Watts-wise and fit on what real estate my tiny roof had available. As it is, I haven't run my generator at all last season (except to exercise it) and am enjoying the peace and quiet (not to mention fuel savings!) that this Solar Charging system brings. I highly recommend it!

Periodically, I will be updating the this system to make it more user friendly and transparent. Next will likely be Lithium Phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries. I'll be writing an article all abut my research into them and whether it's going to be doable.

Stay tuned to this space for more technical project information as well as some lighter-side moments as I go...

Down The Road...

Rich "The Wanderman"

Read Part 5 of this series.
Read Part 4 of this series.
Read Part 3 of this series.
Read Part 2 of this series.
Read Part 1 of this series.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Better Solar Charging Mouse Trap.PART 5

Welcome back! Now that we have things more or less hooked up it's time to get some power to the batteries and run our stuff without melting everything!

Old Inverter Installation.
Since the Solar Charge Controller is designed to charge our house (and chassis) batteries we need to get the juice to flow to them. This is where the biggest wires will be found. If the max output of the charge controller is 45 AMPS then you should size the wires for at least 20% more than that to be safe and efficient. I COULD have done that and been pretty much done at this point. But Noooooo! I had to try and be slick and add an Inverter to the mix. Inverters are nifty. They take your DC batteries output and turn it into good old fashioned house AC. No generator needed. Of course, it won't run EVERYTHING,  all the time. And forget the A/C, not going to happen on your typical 2-4 house battery setup. At least not for very long! Originally, I had the inverter wired up on a piece of wood directly to the battery. I did have a big switch and a "catastrophe" fuse protecting it. I believed I was a genius since I had managed to wire the inverter to power all the outlets along the passenger side of the coach and setup my AC fuse panel to work this out. The 1800W Inverter that I have also has an AC transfer switch in it. Simply, it allows AC power to flow through it to my passenger side outlets when I am on shore power or the generator.

I'm an idiot. This works, but has a lot of issues. Number one being I had no idea how much power I was using! If I didn't switch off the inverter I would kill the batteries. D'OH! Back to the drawing board. I wanted it to work essentially the same way, but have my energy monitor keep track of its power use. I also wanted a more compact installation.
MPPT Charge Controller (L) - Inverter (R)

Here's what I came up with. works!
It was a bit counter-intuitive. The controller's NEGATIVE is wired to the INVERTER negative then on through the SHUNT. This let's me monitor it's power use AND the power generated by the Solar Panels/Controller. Like a "Y" splice in a hose. I know...makes no sense....but's that how it works. The POSITIVE from the controller is wired into a heavy On/Off switch then on to ANOTHER Switch then straight to the HOUSE BATTERY compartment through a large Catastrophe  "T" fuse in a water resistant holder then on to the POSITIVE post. The POSITIVE from the INVERTER is wired to the SECOND switch. The trick was making sure EVERY load on the battery bank would go through the SHUNT and be measured by the Energy Monitor. Then, for safety every thing that uses power should have it's wiring protected by a separate fuse. All of this was very confusing when I first began to figure it all out. Eventually, I got my head around it. You will too, I promise. If you get stuck, drop me a line...I can help.
Click To Enlarge. Shunt is on the Right.
Charge Controller Display/Inverter Remote

To Monitor all of this gear I installed the optional remote control for the charge controller below the remote control for the inverter. The other white box in the picture is for the satellite dish. It tells the elevation so you can aim the dish. The small Black box is the inverter remote. it reads out voltage of the battery and allows the inverter to be put into standby. I have the Energy Monitor Display mounted into the front dash area. It was already installed when I purchased the RV and would be a HUGE P.I.T.A. to relocate!

In the final Part of this article (Part 6!) I will go over the costs, operating the system, the ups and downs of battery charging from Solar and what you can expect. It's been a long ride, but the benefits certainly outweigh the hassle! Hopefully, this series will have helped out a bit.

Be Seeing You...Down the Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Read Part 6 of this series.
Read Part 4 of this series.
Read Part 3 of this series.
Read Part 2 of this series.
Read Part 1 of this series.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Better Solar Charging Mouse Trap.PART 4

    Welcome back! Can you believe we're at Part 4 of this article already? I've said it before, this all sounded so simple when I started!

OK. Onward we go. Let's talk about wires and wiring. Basic. Run wires from Panels to Charger, from Charger to Batteries.

Yeah, right!

While I have been known to cut the odd corner here and there, wiring should never be one of those corners. It is really important to select the right type and size (gauge) of wires for each wire run segment.

Click to Enlarge!
My install included connecting the Solar Panels, The MPPT Charge Controller, a large Inverter/Transfer Switch, several high amp switches, fuses for all lines, an Energy Monitoring system and a monitor/display for each device.

As you can see, this is a bit complex to look at. If we look at each segment separately, it becomes MUCH easier to digest.

First, we have to select the wires from the panels to the charge controller. Not too hard. The size is simply based upon the voltage, amps and distance. Here is a quick wire sizing calculator:
Voltage Calculator

Notice the heavier wires coming out of the fuse block.
Since these were to be partially outside, on the roof, they needed to be well insulated against weather and UV rays to keep them healthy for the long haul. I ended up with 8 AWG dual conductor marine duplex wire. It wasn't the least expensive, but was the most durable and came in white so it wouldn't absorb as much heat as a a black sleeved version. Looking back, I seriously over-sized the wires. I had forgotten i needed to run 3 individual runs. One set of two wires from each panel to the Charge Controller. These needed to go across the roof in a few places then down into the fridge vent, to a fuse panel then into the controller.

 Each Solar Panel had a junction box with screw terminals inside and a water-proof, well I always say water-RESISTANT wire pass through on the outside. I stripped back the duplex sleeve and the individual conductor's insulation, started to pass them through the pass through.....and found out they weren't going to fit through. Oh, great. Now What? Did you ever hear that if something isn't working, force it? If it breaks it needed fixing anyway? No? Well with a judicious amount of force and much cursing I managed to force the wires through and screw on the clamping nut. FYI: Make sure you put the nut over the wire BEFORE you insert it into the junction box. Don't ask how I know that.

So, now that we have the panels wired to the fuse block (1 fuse per panel) we have to wire the fuse block to the Charge Controller. I have 3 sets of positive and negative wires going IN to the fuse block and I wanted to have 2 (1 positive and 1 negative) coming out. This was easy. The fuse block gave me two large terminals to connect to and I used MUCH larger gauge wire to connect to the charge controller. The fuses are inline with the POSITIVE wiring from the panels and the NEGATIVE wires are tied together at a terminal on the fuse block. Since the wire run was very short (<1ft) I used some extra 2/0 AWG from the battery run.

**Warning Light Science Content!!**

     Why an MPPT Charge Controller? What the heck is it, what's it DO?!? 

Well, that's a good question. M.P.P.T stands for Maximum Power Point Tracking this is a fancy way of saying that it can figure out how many volts your panels are producing and convert it to more usable charging current (AMPS) when the Voltage exceeds what the battery needs to charge it. It's good for me, since I have panels that are around 36-44 Volts, I can start charging earlier in the day and longer into the afternoon/evening. Nothing is free, however, you cannot get more WATTS out of a panel than it will produce.At best, you can generate around 20% more charging during a given day. For me that was really important since I didn't have enough roof real estate to keep adding panels.

**End Science Content**

   So now we've got power to the controller! Yay!  What are we going to do with it? In PART 5 we will talk about Inverters, transfer switches, battery wiring and making the system co-exist with what you have now. Everything has to play nice together!

Until Next time,

Be Seeing You...Down the Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Read Part 6 of this series.
Read Part 5 of this series.
Read Part 3 of this series.
Read Part 2 of this series.
Read Part 1 of this series.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Better Solar Charging Mouse Trap.PART 3

The continuing saga of a simple project... Well sort of!

Having panels 3MM thin and light would make installation easy, shouldn't it? Sure it would. From the beginning I was always going to mount them to the roof using some kind of adhesive or silicone caulking. Now I had to figure out which one to use. Sounded like a simple bit of internet research. They say, "Murphy was an optimist," I couldn't agree more. The normal big box home store inventory didn't have something that would work over the long haul, in all sorts of weather and temperature extremes. I'll not go into detail here, but learning all about construction adhesives, elasticity, elongation, etc. Was NOT what I had in mind when I started this project. After calling various manufacturers I found the perfect stuff! It was strong, elastic enough to provide some shock resistance and had specs that met or exceeded every physical requirement for roof mounting the solar panels. of course, it was $12.00 a tube and I'd need at least 10 tubes. Ah well, nothing is perfect.

Passenger Pete On The Roof

After far too many rainy weekends a buddy and I began the process of adhering the panels to the roof. We test fit them and then taped off the size and shape of the panels on the roof. We then measured, test fit and ran the wires from where the controller would be to each of the three panels. Cleaning was next. Soap and water first, then alcohol to finish.

We applied the adhesive with a caulk gun and spread it thin with several wide scrapers. A uniform thickness would make life easier and minimize cleanup. Well, it should have! This stuff sets up FAST so cleaning up excess has to happen right away. Not to mention it gets all over everything including us. Make sure you have lots of alcohol (not the drinking kind!) for cleanup.The Sandbags (sometimes it's good to be a film maker!) came in handy to keep everything down until it cured.

So far everything was looking good. then it began to rain, unexpectedly, a lot, for a long time. We covered the roof and everything on it with plastic and hoped the humidity wouldn't kill the adhesive job.

In the mean time I went back to researching the best way to get the power to the batteries. I had decided on an M.P.P.T. (we'll cover wiring and charging in PART 4) and was going to use the inverter that I had already purchased and installed to convert 12 Volt power to 120 Volt AC power. The trick was, how to wire this all together without frying all my wiring and becoming extra crispy in the process?

Tune in next week when we'll look at how well and not so well that went!

Be Seeing You...Down the Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Read Part 6 of this series.
Read Part 5 of this series.
Read Part 4 of this series.
Read Part 2 of this series.
Read Part 1 of this series.

A Better Solar Charging Mouse Trap.PART 2

Typical Bracket Mounting
And...we're back! The last posting introduced my solar charging system and how false starts and misinformation can lead to inspiration. Now let's talk about the semi-flexible solar panels.

Solar panels are, most commonly, aluminum framed, glass encased assemblies weighing around 30 lbs. They are usually mounted with "L" or "S" shaped brackets using holes drilled through the RV roof and then sealed. Some manufacturers and installers use what is essentially double-sided tape. Mind you, it's VERY strong tape, but still....tape.

170 Watt Panel
After I found out I couldn't really use any of the commonly available panels on my tiny roof and still have enough power to run everything I wanted for as long as I wanted, began searching high and low. I found a manufacturer in China that could (and would) make me almost any size I wanted in any voltage I wanted. Now all I needed to do was decide on the specs. Sounds easy?? I thought so.

If you'll recall I needed at least 360 WATTS of panels to get the job done. I sent the measurements I had to the manufacturer and they sent me back some basic specs. Based upon the sizes I sent they configured 3 panels. A 170 Watt version shown here and 2 140 Watt versions. 1 of the 140 Watt panels is the same width as the 170 Watt, and the other is almost square. Together they added up to 450 WATTS(!) given my limited roof real estate. I was thrilled, more than I needed and they only weighed between 5 and 8 lbs each! Since they are SEMI-flexible they would conform to the contours of my roof. Mostly. More on that later on.

Originally my specs called for around 18 volts. I figured since I had a 12 Volt battery that 18 Volts would run a charger just fine. Being new at all this I hadn't looked any further into the system. yet...

WARNING: Science Content Ahead -

Let's look at maximizing efficiency for a moment. DC (Direct Current) systems can have lots of losses. The idea is to put as much back into your batteries as you can without losing it along the way. In order for a 12 Volt battery to charge you need to have MORE than 12 Volts.

Imagine VOLTAGE is like water pressure in a pipe and AMPERAGE is the amount of water flowing. The Battery is like a water balloon you are filling. You need to have more pressure going into the balloon than the it has pushing back to get water to go in. A large quantity of water will fill the balloon faster. The longer the distance the water has to go the lower the pressure you have, so you get less water at the other end. Think of a long garden hose. At a lower pressure you can get a bigger hose to get the same flow. Ideally, you have enough Voltage to charge your battery and enough Amperage to fill it quickly.

Now that we have that straight, back to Solar Panels. In order to make my system work efficiently I had to figure out how far my power had to travel and make sure my "pipes" (wires) were big enough to get the job done. If you've even done any work to the 12 Volt side of your RV you'll know that wires come in all sizes. From tiny wires going to gauge lighting, up to the heavy duty ones connected to your battery.

Table Shows Wire Size in AWG
The basic rule is, the higher the current (AMPS) the bigger the wire needs to be at 12 V. The longer the wire run, the thicker the wire. This will reduce losses. However, you can easily get to the point that the wires are WAY too big to be used easily. The fix is simple. Raise the Voltage! Higher voltages lose less with distance. Now my 18 Volt panels were beginning to look wimpy, especially since I had to travel 14 Feet from one of them to the charger. (We'll get into wiring and cable types in PART 3) It was looking like I would be better off with higher Voltage panels. I checked with the manufacturer and found I could spec almost any reasonable Voltage. After some research into the Charge controllers I found that I could comfortably use 36 Volt panels. In fact I would derive some side benefits from this....we'll talk about charge controllers and MPPT later on.

Science Content Concluded (Whew!) 

So now I was ready to order my custom panels. After trading some English language (mostly!) e-mails with the manufacturer I negotiated a sample price of around $3.10/Watt. You can get better deals now, but that included DHL shipping from China.

Tune in Next Week for PART 3 where we will talk about mounting the panels and dealing with wire runs. How do monsoon rains figure into a "simple" solar installation? 

Be Seeing You...Down the Road

Richard "The Wanderman"

Read Part 6 of this series.
Read Part 5 of this series.
Read Part 4 of this series.
Read Part 3 of this series.

Read Part 1 of this series.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Better Solar Charging Mouse Trap.PART 1

    On my quest to be as close to self sufficient as possible, one of the many things I wanted to do was become an "off the grid," no generator use kind of guy. When I first started looking into HOW to do that, it became obvious that I had a lot of learning to do before I could even begin an install or even purchase the system I needed.

Research! As always is the first order of business. I figured a good place to start would be the roof. After all, my RV is very compact and that means severely limited roof real estate.

The "Before" Diagram

As you can see, I had very few choices for panel placement based on all the "stuff" already up there.

After figuring out the sizes I began looking for panels that would fit. This is where it got frustrating. It seems that there were VERY few panels that could meet the narrow width I needed. I searched and called around for months trying to find something that would fit the limited space AND provide the minimum I needed to meet my electrical load demands.

I had to figure out how much power I use on an average day. I added up all my electrical needs (and wants) including, lights, water pump, furnace, A/C, microwave, computer, phone charger, appliances, and some miscellaneous items. Right away I discovered I would need an inverter to power the AC 120v devices from the batteries. We'll cover that more in depth in a later section of this multi-part article. Then I found out that I would not really be able to run the roof A/C on solar power for long enough to make a difference, so that was out. I discovered and added in all the little parasitic 12V loads I had. Things like the CO detector, stereo memory, etc.

A word about RV lighting. My RV was built before the use of LED lighting. So all of the interior and exterior bulbs were regular bulbs. I had NO idea they drew so many AMPS from the batteries! The smallest one I had in a swivel cockpit style fixture drew 2.2 AMPS every Hour!! That started me off on finding nice warm white LED replacements. (Stay Tuned we'll cover those in another article!)

So, having figured out I needed between 80 and 100 amp-hours per 24 hour cycle it was relatively easy to find a formula online to calculate what I needed in WATTS. Bear in mind my worst day estimate was 4 hours of sun per day in winter. You get MANY more hours of sunlight in the summer. If I use 100 amp-hours at 12 V I need to have at least 25 amps generated over 4 hours of sunlight. (4x25=100) If you multiply 25 AMPS times 12 VOLTS you get 300 WATTS. (W=A*V) Figuring in losses due to cable length and de-rating the panels' output so we'd have a healthy safety margin I added 20% more (60 WATTS). I KNOW this isn't exact, but it was fine for figuring out if I could even produce enough power from the roof space I had.

Batteries. I have 2 115Ah lead acid batteries in a small drawer under the RV. They give me 230Ahs to play with. You aren't supposed to use more than 50% of the battery capacity of wet cell lead-acids to extend their lifespan so I really only have 115Ahrs to play with. Sheesh. It all seemed overly complicated, but it works out, I promise.

*In another article we'll look at expanding battery capacity and some new, exciting technology slowly coming down the road.*

170 Watt 3MM Thick Solar Panel
Finally, I was able to look into panels that would fit AND give me the WATTS I needed to charge my batteries fully each day, with some extra left over. There simply wasn't anything available that would fit the limited space I had.

This was NOT going well.

You know, if you look hard enough you can find almost anything on the Internet. I found some bleeding edge technology that would work. They are semi-flexible, aluminum backed, mono-crystalline highly efficient panels that I could get manufactured in almost ANY size I needed. Eureka! The only trouble was they were only made in China by a few manufacturers. So I spent a couple of months corresponding with various China based factories figuring out who made the best product and was the easiest to deal with. We worked on size, number of panels, panel voltage, and how to get them to the United States.

In PART 2 of this article, we'll look at these choosing the specs for these panels, choosing a Solar Charge Controller, how to get them to stay on the roof and how to wire the whole thing up without melting anything important.

Rich "The Wanderman"

Read Part 6 of this series.
Read Part 5 of this series.
Read Part 4 of this series.
Read Part 3 of this series.
Read Part 2 of this series.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Who is "The Wanderman"

Welcome to my little corner of the internet. I’ll be writing about a variety of RV topics, from adventures and misadventures to improvements and bleeding edge technology for our rigs we’ll explore it all. First, a bit of history; over the last 3 years I’ve purchased, restored and modified an "Orphan" Class A RV. Namely a 1991 Gardner Pacific Aero Cruiser 23RBa. There weren't all that many produced between 1989 and 1992 of this compact, low profile (23’8” length - 99” height) coach.

I’ll be sharing my trials and errors from these and the many more mods I have planned.

My goal is to find trips to offbeat destinations.
My last one was to an air show in Virginia where a friend and I supplied security overnight to several dozen WW2 planes and some vintage military jets.

Some of the latest changes to the RV included designing and having manufactured the 3mm thick semi-flexible Solar panels and all the associated hardware.

The system is functioning quite well and has allowed me to be electrically self sufficient indefinitely. Next is a solar hot water supplemental system to add  capacity and efficiency to the 6 Gallon Atwood DSI (with Hott rod modification.)

This past month I completely rebuilt and improved the stock suspension to allow for additional ground clearance and handling improvements.

Yes, it is a tinkerer's dream. Perhaps next I will look into an engine swap to newer technology to increase my already decent MPG. Who knows?!?

A bit of background, my name is Richard Miller and I have been RV'ing on and off for 15 years. I finally decided that it was time to spend more time on the road than at home in the stick built house. Unfortunately, I am not retired so this dream has morphed into having a way to escape at a moment’s notice any time I can string together a few days or more. I live in New York City three days a week and Upstate NY the balance, with trips to various locales spread out over the year. I keep the RV ready to go. No reservations, no plan….just go. So far it's working for me.

Varied interests make for an interesting life. I have been and for the most part still am active in film/TV producing, law enforcement and the commercial orbital space industry. I am a commercial helicopter and fixed wing pilot. I SCUBA dive. I enjoy tinkering with motorcycles, hovercraft and anything else I can get my hands on! I have been working with computers since they used punch cards. Yes, I still even use Unix (Telnet for e-mail!) My coach is setup to have mobile broadband, satellite TV and on the go digitally stored video content.

The best part?  It all works!

Be seeing you, “Down the Road.”

Rich “The Wanderman