Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hello? Yes, I Got The Message, Take A Day Off For Thanksgiving!

Morning's Suck.
    Yup, that's what I awoke to this morning. I had all the greatest intentions of continuing my testing of the new solar charging installation. Not going to happen. Seems we had a tiny bit of SNOW overnight. Of course, the weather "experts" didn't mention this fact over the last few days. I figure it must be a higher power telling me to take a break from tinkering and spend some time with my family on Thanksgiving! 

OK! OK! I'll do that. In fact, let's talk about celebrations and RV's. 

Almost Looks Pretty!
I don't know if any of you watch AMC's "The Walking Dead" or not, but it's a post-apocalyptic set show where a virus has caused the freshly dead to walk again. Mostly typical Zombie fare, but this one looks at it from a longer term survival motif. I bring all this up, since last weeks' episode was set at a camp for survivors. How does this fit in to the idea of celebration's with RV's? Simple. The whole camp was a bunch of various Class A's, Class B's and Travel Trailers! They put a bunch of them together, almost like Conestoga wagons on the way to California! Not quite a circle, but the idea was the same. Have a comfortable safe place to live while keeping life's problems at bay. Sound familar? (Less the Zombies of course!)

Getting together with some friends, perhaps in a remote spot, perhaps at a campground. Circle up the RV's and have a party! You have all the fixins; friends food, drink, power, heat and/or A/C, bathrooms, entertainment, etc. What could be better? Pull out the grill, pop a cold one and celebrate with friends.

Anywhere you like, whenever you like. Sounds like the RV Lifestyle has some real allure! Besides, if you don't like the weather...MOVE! Have a caravan, re-create that classic trip out west. The only limit is your own imaginations.

This year, I've got a house full of non-RV company. Mostly family, but a few friends too. Some of them think I'm crazy to light off for parts unknown with no reservations and no set schedule....but we know better...don't we! I'll enjoy helping with the cooking, seeing some of the people at the party and being warm and inside. But, in my mind, I'll be RV'ing.

Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for all you have and people to share it with. I know I'm grateful for all of you - taking the time to read my various ramblings and musings. I can't exactly say I'm grateful for Winter and snow, but I know I'll be grateful for Spring and another RV'ing season!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

New Solar - Better Than The Old Solar - PART 5

    Here we are again! While I did manage to get a few days of "winter" sun, the rain came during the weekend and put a damper on my plans. There he is... Murphy the eternal Optimist. The best info from this week? We've proved that amps into the batteries on a "good" day in the winter exceeds the old system by 25%!! That means I am getting much more efficiency from the same size panels in a given day's sunlight.

I knew they would be better than the older panels, but this was an unexpected treat. Especially in winter sunlight.

In other news, the bonding adhesive works exceptionally well with the semi-flexible panels. No problem getting it to stick to fiberglass, EPDM (Rubber) or aluminum. So pretty much ANY RV is a candidate for this system! Since the panels are adhered to the roof with a specially designed 3M paralastic adhesive, there will be no holes in the roof!

I have been toying with the idea of replicating this solar charging system for other folks. Many of you have written in and asked if that was a possibility. While I am still thinking about going "full speed ahead" on this, I would be willing to take on a few test cases. Since we are entering winter in the North-East, and you'd have to come to us, I have found a very large heated work space with a giant roll-up door that will do nicely for installs. It's off of the New York State Thruway (87) South of Kingston, NY.

There has been some confusion about these new panels. they are NOT the old UniSolar type that would roll out on the roof. They are, essentially, the "guts" of a traditional glass panel  made into a multi-level laminated panel without the glass and frame.

 If you are interested, let me know. You can email me (for this project!) at:

I'll begin scheduling the installs for Dec 1st and beyond. Since panels are locally sourced, no issues with inventory. Each install should take a day and a half (around 8-10 hours + 4 hours next day) some may take longer, as each RV is different. The install is a flat cost, so no "surprises!" I like the adhesive to cure at above 55 degrees for 2 days, so you'll be able to drop off and pickup over a weekend or a couple of weekdays. The facility is VERY secure. Heck there aren't even any windows! As a bonus, the parking lot/driveways are big enough to turn around any RV!

For a typical installation (most will be typical unless your RV is very long with batteries at the very end and the wiring gets significantly longer!) The total cost for 500 watts, installed will be $3500.00 all inclusive. That is: solar panels with blocking diodes and junction boxes, charge controller with remote monitoring, fuse panel, all properly sized wiring (panels to controller & controller to battery), adhesive, hardware and all labor. You can add a few options during the install. I have a separate battery monitor I like to use. It's a Clipper BM-2 (see this link for details.) The solar panels will be guaranteed for 3 years and the install for the same. The charge controller has a factory warranty for 5 years.

I have been testing my own system for about 3 years now. After some "tweaks" along the way, this newly improved version replaces the China sourced, aluminum backed panels (the ones that failed!) with U.S. manufactured, synthetic backed semi-flexible panels that are more efficient than the original set. Testing has proven the system works... without a hitch. The new panels provide a bit more power and that's a good thing. After a lot of research and testing, I've been really happy with this and I'd like to share it with other folks.

If this limited roll-out fares well, I will be setting up a dedicated web-site and call in number for questions. I am a firm believer in the use of alternate power sources, solar being one of them. Just imagine NOT using your generator most (if not all) the time. Peace and quiet. Boondocking without gas/diesel use! Yay! The system can be used without any intervention from the user. It simply does it's job. And that's a good thing too.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road...

Rich "The Wanderman"

*See Part - 1
**See Part -2
***See Part - 3
****See Part - 4

See Original Article

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

New Solar - Better Than The Old Solar - PART 4

Nope, Didn't Take Any Rain Photos!
    Rain. Rain. And more rain. Bleh. You know, it's REALLY difficult to test Solar panel output when it's dark, cloudy and raining! I had almost a whole day before it got nasty and cold. Oh, yes... wind too. While I did manage to get some testing done, I really wouldn't consider it final. It had its upsides though! Testing in bad weather can show the weaknesses in any system. Especially solar charging systems. If everything works in cloudy, rainy, overcast and miserable weather, than it's a fair bet that it will work better in beautiful, sunny and cloudless days in the summer!

Example Stats (Prototype)
Even with the horrible weather, I was getting a significant amount of current (Amps) from the panels. In bright sun, we theorized that I would get around 8.5 Amps per panel, so for all three I should have about 25.5 Amps flowing at around 20-24 Volts. This is about 20% (or more) better than the previous aluminum backed, China sourced panels. Since I am using an MPPT controller, I can get "extra" amps out of the system if the voltage is high enough. I've seen upwards of 32 amps into the batteries from the original prototypes in full sun. In, not so great, overcast weather (all I have to work with this week!) I have seen 22.7 amps into the batteries from the new prototypes.
The production panels should be a little bit better.

Temporarily Mounted Prototype
What does all this actually mean? Well, if you left the system alone to do it's thing, you'd have a system that would likely fill your batteries each day (from the previous night's use) before sundown. In a typical RV with 2 deep cycle "house" batteries you get around 100 amp/hours per battery. That gives you 200 amp/hours to play with each night. Of course, the recommendation for Lead-Acid wet cell batteries is to never discharge them beyond 50% capacity. So, we're back at that 100 Amp/hour rating for a typical two battery system. Now let's say you use all 100 amp/hours in a given night. You have to put that back in the next day. Due to inefficiencies in charging and how batteries are actually charged you'll need to put back around 120% or so of the capacity. Figure you need to generate 120 amp/hours of power to fully recharge the batteries. It's a little bit more complicated than that... with tapering charge and such, but we'll ignore that for now.

45 Minutes After Dusk With 1 Panel Connected
If your Solar charging system is generating 25 amps every hour (amp/hours) you will get 100 amp/hours in 4 hours and 125 in 5 hours. So, on a typical Summer day with 7 or more hours of sunlight you would be charged in a bit less than 5 hours. After that, you can have the rest of the day to use "free" power. I use the extra time to heat water** (slowly) for my hot water system, but you can use any 12V item without drawing your batteries down.

**Will outline the hot water system in a later article.

My 2 Battery System
What if you have 4 batteries? OK, same math applies. 4 batteries at about 100 amp/hours per battery equals 400 amp/hours total, with 200 amps usable. If you use all 200 amp/hours, you'll need a bit more than 8 hours to fully charge with the basic three panel system. Personally, with even basic conservation and LED lighting, I don't believe you'd need that much power, but to each his own! This is doable in the summer, but cloudy days, rain, etc., will prevent you from fully charging. In my case, I just run the generator or drive a few hours and let my alternator finish up the charge. Or... you could simply add another panel. Another 8.5 amps or so, would speed up the process. The system I have set up is designed to be modular.
What I use To Tally Remaining/Charging To The Batteries
As always, before you buy, do an energy audit. Figure out (REALISTICALLY!) what you will draw out of the batteries in a given night and match that with the solar charging system. This will result in a system that will work, essentially, transparently. With little or no user intervention. My old system worked flawlessly, until the panels died. The new panels, made in the US and with a warranty will be much better. So far, they have been!

I'll be doing additional testing over the next week. Hopefully the weather will cooperate. Since the sun is so "weak" now, I should be getting worst-case-scenario numbers. That will give me a good indication of true performance.

Once again, STAY TUNED!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

*See Part - 1
**See Part -2
***See Part - 3

See Original Article

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

New Solar - Better Than The Old Solar - PART 3

New & Improved Prototypes
    Here we go... the third installment of a multi-part article series (Click Here Part-1, Part-2), all about my New & Improved Solar Panel install. Unfortunately, the first set of China sourced panels failed after 15 months or so, and they weren't responsive at all for requests to replace them. Since then, I have found a U.S. company (local!!) that makes better products and is willing to supply them at a reasonable cost. I also save a LOT of time and money in shipping. If all goes well with this final set of tests, I may be offering this system for installs soon.

But First:

New Larger Panel Ready To Mount
Time to get to removing and cleaning the roof for the new set of flexible solar panel prototypes. These are supposed to be even more efficient and I am eager to get to testing them out!! They look much "prettier" than the first set and have more output power to boot! Score!

Almost everyone knows I hate cleaning. Having to remove the old adhesive seems like it's going to be a lot of work. So, in the best procrastinator's tradition, I will do that next week! For now we'll mount them temporarily again. The painter's tape trick held up through multiple rain storms without a problem so... why reinvent the wheel?

Example Stats
Once in place, in REALLY shaded and overcast sunlight, I was seeing an additional 1Volt over the last set of panels. That doesn't seem like much, but it really is. It means in poor conditions I can expect more power. To put this in perspective, you need to have a certain number of volts to charge your battery. If you are charging a 12 Volt battery (like most RVs have) you'll need something ABOVE 12 Volts. In my case, the charge controller figures out what voltage the battery needs and converts the voltage supplied by the panels into the correct number.

This is known as MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking). It all sounds a bit confusing, but simply put: it takes what the panels output and makes it work with whatever your battery needs.  Without this technology, any volts above the number you need is "thrown away." This has the added benefit of allowing higher voltage panels to be used with lower voltage batteries. I cover this much more fully in a section of the original 6(!) Part series. With higher voltage from the new panels, I can have enough power to begin charging earlier in the day and lasting longer into the twilight hours (and cloudy days too!).

After this week of testing in mostly cloudy weather, I should know how many Amps will be put back into a discharged battery over a given amount of time, under less-than-perfect conditions. The old system put out around 20 amps per hour back in the battery in full sun. All indications show this set of improved panels will be significantly higher. Given my average night-time draw of between 50 and 80 amp/hours, I should be able to recharge in an hour less! Only true testing can confirm this.

I guess I will have no choice but to roll up my sleeves and begin removing the old adhesive residue and cleaning the underlying fiberglass surface. Lots of scraping, followed by lots of alcohol soaked rags. No, not the GOOD kind of alcohol either!

Once again, STAY TUNED!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

*See Part - 1
**See Part -2

See Original Article