Solar advise for new van

Submitted: Thursday, Jan 24, 2008 at 23:21
ThreadID: 53882 Views:2595 Replies:7 FollowUps:4
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Hi, we have just today picked up our new Jayco Expanda pop top van and are starting to prepare for the commencement of our big trip back to Qld in March. I want to set it up so we have the ability to 'bush camp' for a few days (potentially up to 5 days) at a time in between van parks.
I stopped into a well know 12 volt retailer in Perth who quoted us the best part of $4k for them to fit 4 Uni-Solar pads, and all the gear to go with it. Thinking this price was out there, I went to another who was over double the price.

I don't mind paying top $$$ for top service and products, I just prefer to do it through the wallet and not the nose.

Apart from the usual lights etc, we will be running 12 volt TV at times (10yo daughter thing) Waeco CF50 as a freezer and a CF80 as the fridge (between sites these will be in the back of the cruiser). I guess my question is, with such a huge variation between prices for what I can make of is basically a similar set & installation, what would be a realistic price to pay, and is there a better way to go about it?

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Reply By: Mainey (wa) - Friday, Jan 25, 2008 at 00:05

Friday, Jan 25, 2008 at 00:05
You have to compare apples with apples.

Unisolar is about $170 per Amp Retail, were both quotes based on the same number of Amps and brands of panels?
It will depend on how many amps you need?
The batteries may be part of the big difference in price?
The Solar regulator would probably be different also.
Is a Dual battery system part of the deal?

Installation on a 'flexible' pop top roof may be different between the two companies too.
Did either explain how they intended to fit the panels???

AnswerID: 283651

Follow Up By: Waza & Wend - Friday, Jan 25, 2008 at 00:24

Friday, Jan 25, 2008 at 00:24
Mainey hi,

I'm new to this solar thing (hence the post for advise) but the more expensive consisted of 5 x 80w BP solar, and 4 x 6volt batteries and a PL40 regulator. Cheaper quote had the 4 x Uni Solar panels, an RO20 regulator, but did not include the required 2 x 6 volt batteries.

Dual batteries in the cruiser are already in place.
FollowupID: 548262

Follow Up By: Mainey (wa) - Friday, Jan 25, 2008 at 01:10

Friday, Jan 25, 2008 at 01:10
You will get conflicting advice where ever you look.
I will recomend one panel, someone else will recomend another, does not mean one is wrong (or right either), just their choice is different.

The STORAGE BATTERY is the critical item and if you skimp there you loose.

Second most critical item is the Solar regulator.

The Solar panels are rated as a MAXIMUM Amps available in perfect weather conditions, and you should go a few Watts higher to guarantee the performance in long term camp site use.

There is no single 'best' system, because people use their systems differently, some travel some don't, some are out in the sun on extension leads and some on the vehicle roof.

Back to your quote:
did you get quoted for 5 x 80 watt panels maybe because 4 larger 100 Watt panels would not fit ??

5 x 80 Watt BP panels (~4.8 Amp) are ~25 Amps Max, so the regulator should be ~25 Amp.
The PL40 (40 Amp) is an excellent regulator, but you can use lower Amp, which is lower price, with-out any problem.

The 4 x 64 Watt Unisolar panels are ~16 Amps Max, so the reg has to be ~20 Amps min, which it is.

As to batteries there is only ONE choice:
which brand of AGM battery.
Ok, there is a second choice.
Second choice is how large a capacity, or maybe even two or three smaller ones.
As to being 6 or 12 Volt is dependant on storage space and charging times.
FollowupID: 548266

Reply By: Von Helga - Friday, Jan 25, 2008 at 09:26

Friday, Jan 25, 2008 at 09:26
Waza and Wend,

Please don't take this the wrong way as we would all like to be able to take "more" to the bush however what I think you need to do is the critically analyse what 12 volt power you are actually going to need by finding out what the current draw is for each and every item that uses the 12 volt power. At the same time critically analyse the need for it at all. The more you want to use the more the cost grows, as does the maintenance and management whilst on the road.
When you know that detail then I would suggest you give the "Home of 12 Volt" in Adelaide a call.
Don't skimp on the battery size as once you have appropriate current being produced by whatever panel/s your needs dictates, then you need to store that power .i.e 75 ah or 100AH go for the bigger.
Unlike AC power the power produced by the solar panels is never constant or for long enough every day, even parking your van in the shade for a couple of days will have an effect on the Qty of power produced hence the critical need to assess how much you need in the first place.

AnswerID: 283680

Reply By: jomah - Friday, Jan 25, 2008 at 17:17

Friday, Jan 25, 2008 at 17:17
Man; for four thousand dollars you can stay at an awful lot of van parks; or if you really like the bushy thing you can also buy an awful good generator set up. Solar power, very green , very xpensive.
AnswerID: 283766

Reply By: MEMBER - Darian (SA) - Friday, Jan 25, 2008 at 18:07

Friday, Jan 25, 2008 at 18:07
On recent solar plan observations, the $4000 you mention must cater for 4 small panels and basic battery capacity - the regulator and their labour $ wouldn't leave anywhere near enough $ for decent collection and storage hardware.
As mentioned by others, there's not much point to it all unless you have assessed your energy needs first, and then arrived at the solar system that may* satisfy your needs profile (*the weather rules out guaranteed energy via solar - camping circumstances often rule out generators at times - the weight of batteries rules out a vast bank of them too.... its all a matter of compromise..... one thing seems sure...... minimising your need for energy is a great start).
AnswerID: 283772

Reply By: gsx - Friday, Jan 25, 2008 at 18:58

Friday, Jan 25, 2008 at 18:58
hi waza. I run a vitro 118 lt frig & an engel 40lt [as a freezer] & all the gear in a 15ft pop top van with no problems using-- 2- 130w kriotera panels at 15kg's ea 2- 1230ah alco bat's morningstar regulator. the bat's weigh 35kg's ea so you have to place them in the van so you don't upset the balance [ball weight] of the van also you will have to get the gas struts gassed up on the pop top. mine so far has kept up even with several cloudy days. i work at a caravan repair center & have an electrical background so i get some practice. hope this helps
AnswerID: 283783

Reply By: Derek from Affordable Batteries & Radiators - Friday, Jan 25, 2008 at 23:16

Friday, Jan 25, 2008 at 23:16
Hi Waza

The most cost effective way is to DIY the system.

You may also consider 2 other options.

1) A 50A Petrol Powered battery charger for around $600 to $900
2) A 240V generator if you have a/c and may wish to run it.

Just to give you a solar idea that is not listed above. I recently spent 5 days in Birdsville with no 240V power. I run a Engel 90L compressor fridge in the van and a Sidewinder 50L fridge in the car. Van has a 120 a/h AGM and the car has a 90 a/h wet cell as a aux. The car was driven for a few hours each day to sight see and the van was connected to our 100w Bi-Fold all day. When I get back to camp I connect the car and van together to share the power. At no time did my batteries drop below 12.0v on the trip.


AnswerID: 283815

Reply By: deserter - Saturday, Jan 26, 2008 at 14:24

Saturday, Jan 26, 2008 at 14:24
Ask Geezer_David the same question over on this caravan forum

Plenty of caravanners are now following his advice - he suppiles also.
AnswerID: 283856

Follow Up By: Mainey (wa) - Sunday, Jan 27, 2008 at 16:23

Sunday, Jan 27, 2008 at 16:23
ask what he thinks of Sharp & Kyocera Solar panels
see if 'advice' is biased... bet suntech is the answer
FollowupID: 548668

Follow Up By: Faulic_McVitte - Sunday, Jan 27, 2008 at 20:22

Sunday, Jan 27, 2008 at 20:22
Caravan forum is the place I found the best advice. Delighted with the system. If you dont ask there you are doing yourself out of good unbiased info.
FollowupID: 548691

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