During our last visit to the shop, we asked the guys at C & G Trailers to install our solar system for us. But rather than buying a complete turn-key solar system, we did some shopping around and put together a basic system of our own.
As some of you who have solar systems, or have looked into them, might know that it is an expensive investment. But the benefits of having a solar array charging silently away at your batteries are truly magical. Unlike generators that need to be refueled and maintained, solar panels last practically forever. They have no moving parts and require no regular upkeep. The fact that they turn our abundant sunshine to usable energy stored away in our RV batteries for later use is a modern day miracle.
As opposed to charging your batteries using an AC extension cord, a solar system bypasses the inverter and charges the batteries directly. That means there is no energy lost during the AC to DC conversion. It is very efficient and obviously an environmentally friendly alternative. Something every solar system should also have is a good quality charge controller. A charge controller monitors the level of charge you have in your batteries and provides the right amount of voltage going into them so they do not get damaged. In a pinch, you can wire solar panels directly into your 12-volt batteries but you are taking the risk of permanently damaging your cells.
A high quality, modern charge cotroller should also be of the MPPT variety. That stands for Maximum Power Point Tracking. As compared to the traditional PVM (Pulse Width Modulation) charge controllers, the MPPT controllers will maximize the amount of amperage and voltage coming into your system and can generally give you a 10-20% boost in the number of amps you are putting back into your system. Think of that as similar to getting 10-20 percent more watts in your solar panels which can mean a pretty significant cost savings.
When we installed our solar system, we purchased the parts individually buy finding the parts we wanted. To be able to completely replenish the batteries daily in an Airstream of our size, we would need at least a 200-watt system. We typically do not boon dock for more than a few days and did not see the need to install such a large system right away. You will also need to carefully consider the size of the panels as they need to fit the space constraints of your roof. We started with just two 50-watt panels that fit nicely in front of the AC unit.
Using the existing solar wiring from the factory, we asked our friends at C&G Trailers to mount and wire the solar panels. Instead of purchasing and installing a complete system, which would have cost close to $2000, the installation of the panels was only a couple hundred dollars. A new set of wires were connected to the batteries and both were lead out to the space directly above the TV and behind the fridge.
To complete the system, I purchased a Blue Sky 2000E MPPT Solar Controller from an online retailer and carefully cut out the space required to install the panel. I taped the area with blue painter’s tape during the cutting process to avoid scratching the surfaces around it. After first testing and then connecting the wires, we were in business.
Here is a video of how the system works in a sunny afternoon.
We are so far very happy with our solar charging system. It will not completely eliminate the need for our generator or electrical hookups but it keeps our batteries nicely topped off when she isn’t being used plus we now have the luxury of not having to run our generator every day when we are boon docking. With the way we installed our system, we spent a fraction of what a turn-key system would have cost and still have room to upgrade to more panels in the future.
Here are the components we bought for our system:
Our total cost of the system came to just about $700. $350 for the solar panels, $200 for the labor and parts of mounting and wiring by C & G Trailers and $150 for the charge controller. That is 1/3 of what a system like this would cost if bought as a package.
over and out,