Around-Oz: Living the Dream!


Solar Explained in Simple English
For Those With Zero Knowledge of Solar

Do you need solar in your RV? The short answer is ABSOLUTELY. No matter what your life style and how you use your RV, solar will definitely enhance your living away from home experience. A generator is definitely not the best way to augment power requirements and it is not very neighbourly to inflict the noise and smell on fellow motorhomers. At most CMCA rallies for instance, the largest number of complaints always relate to generators! To give you an idea on costs you can get all the gear for a 60 watt system including a top quality regulator for just over $1000.00. Installation is well within the capabilities of the average DIYer. The idea of this article is to demystify solar and to put a few bogeys to rest. It is however not a how to do it story. Lets start talking about frequently asked questions. THe photo below shows solar working flat out on a sunny day - top regulator connected to 80 watts and bottom regulator connected to 120 watt panel - both in midday sun.


What Happens On Cloudy/Rainy Days?
This is a subject rarely covered in the text books and in the popular RV magazines. It is a rather hard subject to describe, but we feel the pictures below is the best method of actually demonstrating what happens. The short answer is that solar works quite well in cloudy conditions with no sun. The photos below were all taken at the same time. As you can see it's a very overcast day. The photo on the left shows the amperage going into the battery system. The top regulator showing 1.3 amps is being driven by an 80 watt Kyocera flat mounted panel. The regulator on the bottom showing 2.0 amps is being driven by a 120 watt Kyocera. The two bright green LED lamps indicate that the panels are charging.


The photo below left shows the voltage. All of these photos were taken in October in Brisbane at 10 AM after both systems being used the night before. Now where this all comes unstuck is winter in Tasmania! We found that three days of rain and very little sun can run the system down. In these cases we simply use a caravan park. With sealed batteries the voltage should never read higher than 14.4 volts. Above that gassing could occur even though it is a sealed battery. Wet cell batteries can easily operate at 14.4 volts. There are technological break throughs presently happening. You can already buy a "fuel cell" that converts LP gas into 12 volt DC. It can do this all night if you wish, so it will be a perfect way to augment any solar system during periods of bad weather and any other time there is no sun. These units are expected to retail for under $1000.00 making them cheaper than most good generators. There are no emission and smells at all - the gas is NOT burn't. A process known as third level molecular bonding is utilised. They are currently available only in Germany. Hydro Tasmania are also experimenting with fuel cells and there is a small amount of information on this site.


We are definitely qualified to comment on this one as we have made far more mistakes than anyone other RVer! Look, you get what you pay for definitely applies to buying a regulator. We now tend to stay with what the majority use and always try and use the same gear as our mates. This solves lots of trouble shooting problems. The three top sellers are BP, PL20 and Kyocera. If you have a 12 volt fridge then the PL20 is your best bet as provided it is wired up properly it will tell you how much power is left in your batteries if you keep using it at the current rate. In our view this is overkill if you don't have a fridge. The drawback with the PL20 is the display is dim and you can't easily monitor the voltage as in the BP or Kyocera. We have used Kyocera for the last 6 years and cannot speak highly enough of the product and it is also $100 cheaper than the PL20, it is far easier to install (non confusing) and as the voltage reading is always active you become a "power perv" and become acutely aware of what is happening with your system.


Technical Details of Our Own System
As we have to update websites on the move it is vital that we have a reliable system with emergency back up. Our mates call it a "His and Hers" system! As already mentioned we just don't believe in inflicting the noise and smell of a generator on fellow campers, so we rely 100% on solar. Whilst we aren't heavy current users (no fridge) we do use the system for long periods of time. For reliability we use two completely separate and isolated systems. One uses a Remco 100 amp sealed battery, a Selectronic 200 watt sine wave inverter, a Kyocera Solar Commander Series IV regulator and an 80 watt Kyocera roof mounted solar panel. This system is NEVER connected to the alternator or a battery charger. When stored at home it does receive about an hours sun a day (peeks under an awning!). The second system uses two Remco 100 amp sealed batteries, a Selectronic 200 watt sine wave inverter, a Kyocera Solar Commander Series IV regulator and a 120 watt Kyocera roof mounted solar panel. This system is charged by the vehicle alternator and is always connected to the RV battery charger when in storage.


Using Solar Intelligently!
Sadly many newbies quickly become disillusioned with solar simply because some RV manufacturers promote the lifestyle as Five Star - more or less indicating that you have all the luxuries of home plus more. In the real world this just isn't true. As solar Guru Collyn Rivers points out - if you had a trailer load of batteries in tow you still can't duplicate your home set up. Become a "power perv"! Look at your voltage gauge every 10 minutes or so. We religiously follow a few golden rules. When working in the day use high amperage devices only in sunlight - laptop computers for instance take 4 amps or more and we have two. Try to stop using high amperage device by 3PM to allow a top up before the evenings TV etc. NEVER EVER completely discharge your batteries. They have a very finite number of discharges life. If you never discharge below 60% capacity you will significantly increase battery life. We get really long life from house batteries simply by STOPPING USING power as soon as the voltage reads 12.4 volts. Winnebago sadly have totally missed the boat with their own safety system - it doesn't cut out until 10.8 volts. This is really sad, as a battery is almost totally flat when you drop to this low level and if done on a regular basis could reduce the life to as little as 50 discharges. Winnebago however do redeem themselves - they use the absolutely best battery charger available in the Mastervolt and have been using the sealed Remco batteries for the last 18 months! We have never used a battery conditioning device such as Megapulse etc. We have proved that provided you use a top quality solar regulator this type of device is just not needed and actually introduces yet another "phantom power" consumer. Solar can be a very deep subject and the best way we can suggest to get more knowledge is to read Solar That Really Works by Collyn Rivers. You can if you wish buy it here or read reviews from many sources. Just in finishing this story we have received lots of emails from motorhomers who haven't even got 2 years from their house batteries. In all cases the charger was not used during storage and none had solar! Tells you something doesn't it?

Bob & Chrissy Eustace



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Last updated: March 30, 2006
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