Before we set out on our new life I did as much research as I could on solar panels and 110v power sources for the rig. There seems to be a lot of conflicting opinions about solar panels and apparently a lot of people aren't happy with their set up, so I think its worth while detailing our experience to try and sort out some of the conflict. I ended up buying two 190 watt panels, a Trimetric TS-MPPT-30 charge controller, two Rolls Surette S-550 batteries and an AIMS PWRINV3600w inverter. We have been very pleased with how this combination hasolar1s performed over the last 5 months so let me get into the thinking behind m choices. First the solar panels. Our panels are free standing and it takes aobut 10-15 minutes to get them set up each time we move. The advantages are that we can adjust the angle of the panels to the sun to get maximum power production on cloudy days. Many people dont realize how critical the angle to the sun is in determinging the performance of a panel. Earlier this morning the sun was at a farily sharp angle to the panles and we were only collecting 20-30 watts of power, Now at noon it up to 350 watts. On a sunny day in Arizona its not critical and we dont need to move the panels at all. We set up the right vertical angle ( changes with the seasons) and just point the panels south. Howerver on a cloudy day its nice to be abe to adjust the panels to maximize the power. Many people have their solar panels mounted on the roof of the rig. If they are permanently mounted flat on the roof then you are never going to get anything like the maximum output from your panels. You can compensate by buying more panels but of course that drives up the cost. We run 4 computers, 2 TVs and a number of smaller battery chargers in out trailer every day. In the last 5 months I have run the generator one time for 2 hours. We are not particularly aware of our energy use and we dont take great steps to conserve. The set up we have meets our needs. We decided on free satnding panels for a number of reasons - mainly to maximize power generation but also so we dont have to park th rig in the sun and we dont have to park it in a particular orientation ( which you would have to if your rooftop panels can be angled into the sun) Our 390 watts of power has met all our needs and the panels only cost $400.  

The Tristar controller was generally reviewed as pretty bulletproof and it has performed really well. When I had a question during intiial set up I called the factory and got immediate answers to all my questions and a lot of helpful advice. I cant say that this model is better than say midnight solar but I can say it is a good unit and works solidly as advertized.


I decided on a mdified sine wave inverter because of previous experience with a Xantrex unit and the unit we got works really well. The no load current on this model is only 0.5 amps so it doesnt draw down the batteries if you are not using power. I havent had any problems with any of my "sensitive" eqi[ment. The two TVs work fine, I have my old dektop computer on board and that is OK as are our two laptops. The only device that doesnt work as well is the microwave. The microwave is a 1000 watt unit and works as if it was about half that. IT takes about twice as long as I would expect to hear leftovers or pop pocorn. It does still work OK tho just at reduced power. If I fire up the generator it works perfectly so it is an issue with the inverter. I'm not sure if this is a function of the modified sine wave or if its just a high current draw that the batteries are not handling. I havent been bothered enough to try and figure it out. Again the advantage to the unit I chose is low cost - $300 vs $1500-2000 for a pure sine type. The specific model I chose has both conventional 110v sockets and a terminal strip so I could wire a 30amp socket straight to the inverter. That allows me to plug in my 30amp power cord exactly like I would if I was hooking up to shore power

PANEL SUPPORTS

Having free standing panels of course means that you need some way to support them, set them at the right angle and anchor them in a high wind. To accomplish this I present to you - the broom handle!! I looked around for a lightweight strong strut that pv1would let me adjust the angle of the panes but would also be easy and quick to attach. The broom handle fits perfectly - its cheap and readily available and comes with a metal end that prtects against wear and tear. I attached ti to the panels using clevis pins - the ones I used were 5/16. Youthen need to drill a hole in the side of the panel slightly larger than the clevis pin - I used a 11/32' drill. I drilled a similar hole in the top of the broom handle so I could fit the pin through the broom handle before sliding the cotter pin in place to lock the brrom handle to the panel

 

pv2a  I added holes in the broom handles just above the metal and and used zap straps through the pv4holes to provide a place to attach a tent peg to anchor the panel to the ground in case of a wind storm. So far we have weathered 40mph winds without trouble. 

Next thing we need is a place to store the panels when we travel. I bulit a simple box out of FRP (. fibre reinforced plastic) but you could use any type of placticised decking material. I used cloroplast panels for the front and back and reinforced the front panel with aluminum angle to give me a place to attach wing nuts to make taking the fromt panel on and off easier. I lined the sides, top and bottom of the box with sections of a camping sleeping mat to give good cushioning. So far after 6000 miles we have had no problems

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