Solar panels...

I’m heading off around Australia in January with my family of two adults and two kids (6 and 8). I’m trying to work out what energy system I need. We’re travelling in a 200 Series Land Cruiser towing a Conqueror Commander S.

We’re going for a full year and want to be fairly self sufficient so we can maximise the time we spend in the Kimberly and other such places.

The Conqueror came with an 82 litre National Luna fridge, a 100w blanket style solar panel, two 100ah batteries connected to a DC to DC converter and power management system. The Batteries are connected to the car Anderson plug.

I plan to put another fridge (looking at the EvaKool RF85 or RF110) and another deep cycle battery in the car. I’ve found it hard to get any charge out of the blanket solar panel and have been told their output is generally poor.

So, does anyone have any advice on solar panels? I figure I need 120-160w of panels – but I wonder if it’d pay to get 200w panels.

Thanks
Chris
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Reply By: MEMBER - Darian, SA - Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 at 19:55

Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 at 19:55
It will probably pay off in the long run to invest in both portable rigid solar and a small charging gennie. With both options, plus the car's alternator while mobile, you have the best chance of keeping batteries charged. There are times of course where its just downright wrong to run a gennie (noise pollution) and there may be little sunshine too. I'm no technician, but my readings suggest choosing a good solar regulator is more important than the actual panels. There are plenty of solar panel kits online.......I bought my 100W folding kit from Low Energy Developments, Victoria. Not the cheapest, but a robust framed panel kit, a good quality configurable PWM regulator with lead and fittings, plus a good quality carry bag. In my view that kit is as heavy as I would want....if I needed more power, it would be an extra kit. An example.......
L E D Panel Kit .............
As for a gennie....I chose a Yamaha EF1000iS....not too heavy, frugal on fuel, easy to start every time, 12V charging output and mains quality 240V (I run a 3 stage 240V charger off my gennie).
Good luck with the project....maybe Santa will spring you some $ for these essential camping toys :-).
AnswerID: 593840

Follow Up By: Chris G12 - Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 at 20:21

Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 at 20:21
Thanks Darian
I reckon it's possible to do it without the gennie tho. Not a fan myself and limited for space.
Cheers
Chris
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FollowupID: 862156

Follow Up By: MEMBER - Darian, SA - Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 at 20:46

Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 at 20:46
Generally agreed re your gennie view...mine is rarely used.....my fixed van roof panels, plus the portable panel usually suffice, but with 3 expensive 120Ah Full Rivers on board, the gennie is insurance for overcast / wet camping....can't let the batteries get below bottom spec volts.
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FollowupID: 862159

Follow Up By: Chris G12 - Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 at 20:50

Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 at 20:50
What voltage do you consider bottom spec?
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Follow Up By: MEMBER - Darian, SA - Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 at 23:10

Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 at 23:10
12V......but thankfully my FR's haven't been near there yet.....after fully charging, they soon get down to 12.7V once load is put on them, but the relative rate of drain slows greatly after that point...far as I know, their intended hard work zone is 12.7 to 12.
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FollowupID: 862171

Reply By: Athol W1 - Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 at 20:56

Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 at 20:56
Chris
Do not under estimate your Solar Panel requirements, as the panels actually supplying their rated output will be very rare, I would be relying on the panels supplying about 75/80% of their rated output. Also when you most require good output for the supply of fridges (hot areas) is when solar panels tend to be poor performers due to panel temperature.

I also trust that your Anderson Plug on the car is supplying power to your 12v to 12v charging system and not directly to the batteries, as the 200 Cruiser has a 'Smart alternator' and will not supply sufficient voltage to your van batteries to achieve a good charge. It is also of benefit to fit a Charging Diode in the fuse box of the Cruiser, as this will also help the starting battery and also any auxiliary battery fitted. The smart alternator has been used to gain some fuel economy (about 0.5%) at the expense of battery life (a fully charged battery will last better than one only getting 75% charge).

Hope this helps
Regards
Athol
AnswerID: 593843

Reply By: nathan l - Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 at 21:21

Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 at 21:21
Hi Chris

We're heading off in mid January with the same set up! Heading down the East Coast from Noosa, across the bottom to Adelaide then up the middle to the Territory for the Run off!

Im changing a fair bit in our commander as its a South African import, not the Australian imported version.

Changing all the Electrics this week so the van will run off two 105 ah Full River batteries being charged by the 200 Series alternator and the 120w roof solar panel through a CTEK charge controller. Also installing a new 240 volt charger as the existing isnt supplying the batteries with a sufficient charge.
The Cruiser also has 2 Full River batteries and a redarc BCDC charger. I will be getting a portable panel (probably 80w) to plug into the car or the van for extra charge.

I have a BM1 Compact fitted in my cruiser and its the best device iv ever had! it shows voltage coming in and voltage being used at any given time with a digital reading. It shows your batteries voltage and hours to full charge or discharge. SO handy.
We are fitting one in the van this week to replace the existing dated led display.

Still so much to do!

Where are you heading first?

Nath
AnswerID: 593845

Follow Up By: Chris G12 - Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 at 22:35

Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 at 22:35
Thanks Nathan
We're heading north from Canberra, to the cape, across to Lawn Hill NP, down to Alice, up to Kakadu and Darwin, onto the Kimberly, then around the SW back to Canberra.
Christmas
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FollowupID: 862168

Reply By: Member - Will 76 Series - Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 at 23:07

Tuesday, Dec 15, 2015 at 23:07
Chris, we are also hitting the road next year and have the same dilemma & considerations. Our camper has 2 x 120w solar panels which so far have provided enough power to the camper and 12v appliances. The issue is the fridge in the car so I am investing in another panel just for that as after 2 days the Engel goes to power save mode and is not efficient. It is interesting about the generator as I was caught out earlier this year by leaving lights on the camper and running my batteries low. The only way I could recover and save the batteries was by plugging into the mains power which we were lucky enough to be camped close to. If it had of happened in an isolated area we would have been in trouble. I am thinking of going a generator as well but not sure if it is an overkill. Very keen to hear other comments on your thread.
Will
AnswerID: 593848

Reply By: Motherhen - Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015 at 00:35

Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015 at 00:35
Solar panels are getting cheaper and cheaper Chris. Utilise your roof space to the maximum. As an example we have 4 x 130 w KyoceraSolar Panels, and put in 4 x 110 ah Fullriver batteries to save the power generated, but at around 33 kilogrammes each, it is a slice of the payload. There is only two of us, and we have a small caravan fridge and Engel run as a freezer, plus normal lights, pumps, computers, battery chargers, and 12 volt fan in hot weather. Even in cloudy and wet weather, the batteries are up to "float" before lunchtime. Only in the hot tropics do they not always reach 'float' during the day, but the four batteries hold adequate power for our needs. In any climate we can be independent of 240 volt power unless we want to run the air conditioner or fan heater.

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AnswerID: 593849

Reply By: Member - ACD 1 - Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015 at 00:52

Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015 at 00:52
Hi Chris

I did 8 months - 2 childerbeasts and the Nagivator - mostly free camping in my UEV 490 last year.

My setup - 3 x 105 ah batteries, two 60 watt stick down solar panels, Anderson plug from the Ladcruiser, 90 watt power film (only as a backup - it was only connected once at Ponto Falls where we camped for 10 days). It also has a 90 litre NL fridge/freezer, 1000watt microwave, 1000 watt toaster and the coffee machine running off a 1500 watt inverter (not all at once) plus all the UEV electronic upgrades and we used the diesel heater and fans most nights.

We didn't come anywhere near running out of power. Lowest the batteries got was 83%. We camped for up to 5 days in one spot and then moved on. If we stayed in a Caravan Park for a couple of days, we would hook in and fully charge the batteries.

I don't think you will have any problems running what you have with what you've got. For piece of mind, you could put a 120 watt panel on the roof. I would steer clear of the stick down ones on the Conqueror roof. If they aren't sealed/stuck properly they will cause leaks through the roof seams and it is extremely difficult to repair.

If you we in Perth, let me know and you can come and have a look at my UEV and see how it is put together. If you are elsewhere, I can probably put you in contact with others who have similar setups.

It may also pay to have a look at the Conqueror Owners Forum (if you are not already a member - cost free) as this issue has been discussed there previously.

Cheers

Anthony
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AnswerID: 593850

Reply By: 2517. - Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015 at 08:17

Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015 at 08:17
I agree with Motherhen with 350 watts of solar and 2batteries you will have no worries,thats what I have used for years with a slimar set up.
AnswerID: 593857

Reply By: Bob Y. - Qld - Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015 at 10:05

Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015 at 10:05
If you're going to add another battery, AND another large fridge into the equation Chris, then I feel you'd want at least a 200w panel on the Conqueror. Depending how much area is on the roof then even 2 x 140's or 160's would be even better.

As most people try to camp in the shade if the weather warms up, then your charging is reduced, so you'd need a supplementary folding panel of 140-200w that can be placed in a full sun position. The standard that I've seen mentioned here many times is 100w Solar per 100Ah battery capacity.

I've got a 160w panel on roof of our slide-on camper, 2 x 120Ah batteries and a folding 120w panel. This set up tends to struggle a little when camped in shady areas, with 40L & 30L fridges, and the smaller one set as a freezer.

Chris, have a read of follow-up 862170 by Graeme W, in thread 131114. He mentions his set up, and has few, if any, problems.

Enjoy the trip,
Bob



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AnswerID: 593860

Follow Up By: Chris G12 - Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015 at 10:12

Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015 at 10:12
"The standard that I've seen mentioned here many times is 100w Solar per 100Ah battery capacity"

Just the sort of advice I was looking for thanks heaps. I'm not going to put anything on the roof of the conqueror because of the shade issue. I'm going instead with just the portable units.

I'm thinking I will go with a 200 W hard folding panels plus the 100 W blanket I have already.
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FollowupID: 862182

Follow Up By: Frank P (NSW) - Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015 at 11:04

Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015 at 11:04
"I'm thinking I will go with a 200 W hard folding panels plus the 100 W blanket I have already."

I think you should be ok with that, subject to weather. "Subject to weather" says to me that a small (1kVa) gennie would be advisable.

I have two fridges, one run as a freezer and a power-hungry crossover camper. 240 watts of portable solar charging 320Ah of AGM kept up with that most times. But based on the 50% discharge rule for AGMs (12.0V for my batteries) we were good for only 48 hours in cloudy weather or a shaded campsite. We always had to carry a gennie as a backup.

By way of contrast, we've upgraded the batteries to 360Ah of lithium and the solar to 440 watts (same 240 watts of portable, plus 200 watts on the roof). Now we can last a week in poor sun, and since the upgrade (a year ago) have never run the generator - except for maintenance. We're thinking seriously of not carrying it.

Cheers



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Reply By: 2517. - Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015 at 11:58

Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015 at 11:58
The trick is you camp on the Eastern side of a Western tree sun in the morning shade in the afternoon.
AnswerID: 593865

Reply By: nathan l - Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015 at 18:44

Wednesday, Dec 16, 2015 at 18:44
Hi Chris,

We have just returned from Living and exploring in Cape York for the last 4.5 years. It's unreal but hard to get around in the wet. Hence us heading south first.

Might bump into you on the road somewhere.

Goodluck

Nath
AnswerID: 593877

Reply By: 671 - Thursday, Dec 17, 2015 at 13:27

Thursday, Dec 17, 2015 at 13:27
Chris

The books on this site http://caravanandmotorhomebooks.com/ should help. I noticed they have been suggested by Exploroz at the bottom of your question.

Click on "The Author" at the top of the page to see his qualifications.

I noticed he has told people on the Caravaners forum to contact him if they have any questions. His email address should be easy to find.
AnswerID: 593895

Reply By: Grizzle - Thursday, Dec 17, 2015 at 14:08

Thursday, Dec 17, 2015 at 14:08


I have put that panel on the roof rack of my car permanently fixed. The cable runs down the snorkel and into a basic 10 amp regulator. The panel is a 95 watt from ebay.

I run a 40 litre Engel and a 50 litre CFX Waeco. I have 2 optima batteries in the car. I think around 66 amp each.

The solar panel and the batteries make me pretty much self sufficient and I can stay static for days at a time. I also run an 11 litre Waeco console fridge but if I run all 3 I run out of battery power, so I only use the Console fridge when driving for chilled water/Chocolate Milk etc.

I did a trip a couple of years ago where my batteries died and without the panel I would have been stuffed. Obviously when driving I was ok then when i stopped I just parked to car into the sun which kept me going.

If I was doing it now I would do as some of the others have suggested and look at a really good MPPT Controller.

There are heaps of options out there so I suppose a lot depends on what type of trip you are doing.

Good Luck!!

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AnswerID: 593898

Follow Up By: Grizzle - Thursday, Dec 17, 2015 at 14:10

Thursday, Dec 17, 2015 at 14:10
I should have mentioned that I have just completed a Kimberley trip. That picture was at the the start on Cable Beach, Broome.

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Reply By: swampy - Thursday, Dec 17, 2015 at 16:35

Thursday, Dec 17, 2015 at 16:35
hi
First think of the solar panel in amps output eg 100watts =approx. 5.5 amps
slow charging an AGM 20% capacity 120 amp/hr batt = 24amps recommended min
Fast charging an AGM 30% capacity 120ahr batt = 36 amps recomended max
This is a rule of thumb [check with your batt maker ]
Solar panels shrink quickly when u talk as above

300 watts minimum does not go far

long term stays away from 240v require more solar and batteries than what a long weekender will get away with

nb if a battery space takes a 100 ahr batt , up to 130ahr fits in the same hole

Nobody regrets to much solar or batt capacity

U need to do an audit on your power

At least 200- 300 watts on roof
[u could fit less say 200 but make sure u can add more of the same size panels later say another 100w
Portable at least 100 watts prefer 160 watt
240-250 plus batt capacity just go 300ahr 3 x 100 ahr

fit a LOW volt disconnect set at 11.9-12.0 volt
have 240 volt charger 25 amp min
gene optional

swampy
ps did my system very similar to this
AnswerID: 593901

Reply By: Member - Andrew W14 - Thursday, Dec 17, 2015 at 20:38

Thursday, Dec 17, 2015 at 20:38
I must think opposite to all above. I believe in the saying that you can never have too much solar. Its cheap, light, easy to fix to roof etc.
My set up has 960 watts on roof plus 120 watt portable (not really sure why), but I am feeding LiFePO4 batteries of 300 amp hours. In addition I have a 3000/9000 watt PSW inverter that lets me run everything whenever i want - e.g air con, compressor fridge, toaster, kettle, coffee machine, microwave,,
Over the top ? sure is for many but suits me!
AnswerID: 593908

Reply By: Trevor P4 - Friday, Dec 18, 2015 at 22:17

Friday, Dec 18, 2015 at 22:17
I am going to assume you have a DC to DC charger that has an input from your car via Anderson plug (with quality good sized cable to the back of the car) plus a solar input to the same charger. My Conqueror Commander (not an S) did not come with one from Africa so I had a Ctek 250 S installed here.

What's your "Battery Management System" does it not give you details of power (watts) in and out of the batts to check your panel. What's the panel producing at the plug (with a multimeter) before you connect it to the camper, is it as per the specs on the back of the panel.

Sorry if I insult but are you moving the panel to face directly at the sun or facing North if you leave the camper for the day?

I have a 60 watt and an 80 watt set of unregulated panels (acquired at different times for different set ups). I have a regulator in the truck near the batt and the 250S in the van does the regulating as well.

which is handy as I can split them between the car and camper if stopped for some time.

The 140 watts seems enough for us on sunny days but I am not running a compressor fridge in the truck so the 200 watts would probably be good for your needs. I'd probably have 140/60 split in two portable panels with the capacity to plug both in to the camper at the same time, double adapter Anderson plug lead does the trick.

I also have a 900 watt genie for those crap days which I use solely for the battery charging.

We have set up our camper to run on 12 volts or gas and only bring out the jug and elec toaster when on town power.

Enjoy
AnswerID: 593943

Follow Up By: Chris G12 - Friday, Dec 18, 2015 at 23:40

Friday, Dec 18, 2015 at 23:40
Thanks Trevor
Yes, we have a DC to DC charger in the van. It was an optional extra.

I've only had a couple of goes with the PV blanket - but couldn't spend much time playing around with it much. A multi meter is a good idea.

I'm leaning towards the 200w panel plus the blanket. And if it's not enough, I'll buy another 160w panel as we go around.

Cheers
Chris


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FollowupID: 862263

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