Generator vs Solar?

Submitted: Wednesday, Jan 27, 2010 at 23:01
ThreadID: 75552 Views:9762 Replies:16 FollowUps:14
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Hi,

Thanks to everyone's help in the past ... this forum has been great for helping me (a novice) with planning our new camper.

Next question ...

What are the pros and cons of using a generator vs solar for when we don't have power?

Where can't you use a generator?

Typically we will be running 12V lighting, 50L Waeco fridge and some small rechargers (eg. mobile phone).

Advice re: brands of generators or solar to buy or avoid?

Thanks again.
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Reply By: Shaker - Wednesday, Jan 27, 2010 at 23:11

Wednesday, Jan 27, 2010 at 23:11
A vote for generators here.
Morally you shouldn't use them after daylight hours, also if others are in earshot it is good if you can explain that you need it to keep things going.
Some National Parks ban them completely.
Brands, probably Honda or Yamaha, in 1 KVa size Yamaha are purported to be quieter.
AnswerID: 401395

Reply By: Motherhen - Wednesday, Jan 27, 2010 at 23:12

Wednesday, Jan 27, 2010 at 23:12
Duck for cover when the War starts! Check out recent threads on the subject - it can get fiery.

I am a solar advocate. We ran an upright caravan fridge (around 120 litres) and lights with one 80 w solar panel used as a portable - that is only put out when we stopped.

For gennies I am a Honda fan; light, reliable, and they just purr along so less neighbours get upset (some still will on principal). A this point I duck for cover.

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Reply By: Member - John (Vic) - Wednesday, Jan 27, 2010 at 23:13

Wednesday, Jan 27, 2010 at 23:13
Try a search of the archives.

Try "Solar" and then try "Generators" I think you will find several thousand hits covering all the info you will ever require.

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Reply By: Member - Serendipity(WA) - Wednesday, Jan 27, 2010 at 23:38

Wednesday, Jan 27, 2010 at 23:38
I have both a generator and two solar panels. I had the generator first.

We did a big trip across the gunbarrel years ago and out of 4 cars I was the only one to have a generator and the others had solar panels. Unfortunately the trip coincided with a big low depression and it was clouded over for the whole trip.

Yes everyone plugged into my generator.

These days I take the generator with me but try to rely on the solar panels for most of the time. When it is sunny, and there are just the two of us and no kids the solar panels can keep up with our needs.

If we have our teenage kids, in and out of fridges, running all sorts of lights and electrical items then I need to top up the batteries in the afternoon with the generator every second day.

I love the quietness of solar but there are some problems. If it clouds over you get little or no power. I find with solar I am always checking on charge rates, battery condition etc. One panel is mounted on the car but the other is mobile so I can chase the sun. This means constantly moving the solar panel and leaving it out in the open for any light fingered opportunist to take. (You can run a steel cable down the power line so it can't be taken)

Of course having a generator destroys that peacefulness of being out in the bush. And a generator has to sit a distance away for noise and this leaves it vunerable to light findered opportunists as well.

If there is only the two of you, and you only camp for a week at most - solar is the go.

If you have kids, and want to camp for longer in one place - you will probably need a generator. I would go along with the honda or yamaha gen sets.

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Reply By: Member - Ed C (QLD) - Wednesday, Jan 27, 2010 at 23:43

Wednesday, Jan 27, 2010 at 23:43
I have 'gone solar' over the last couple of years, and as long as the sun is shining, it's all good:)

However, after 3-4 days in one place w/- overcast/drizzly weather, you'll be glad you brought the genny ;-)

brands? Honda or Yamaha (not necessarily in that order)

solar? Have a talk to Mandrake, or plenty of good deals on ebay at the moment with _most_ sellers being of good repute.. stay away from any who do not display the panel dimensions in their listings....

solar regulators/charge controllers ?.. MPPT all the way (these are becoming more affordable by the day, with something to suit every budget) >> What the heck is a MPPT ?

:)

Confucius say.....
"He who lie underneath automobile with tool in hand,
....Not necessarily mechanic!!"

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Reply By: Maîneÿ . . .- Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 00:33

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 00:33
Easy decision, if your prepared to spend what a Honda/Yammi will cost you (remember the fuel, servicing etc) go -> SOLAR

Stick to *proven* technology and stay away from the copy/lookalike elcheapo panels, UNLESS your positive they are quality products and some are !!

You will need a GOOD battery system with both systems (AGM Deep Cycle)

Quality solar panels will work in cloudy and also low light conditions too.

As with most things in life if it's too cheap to believe then often it is :(

Maîneÿ . . .
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 07:28

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 07:28
Mainey,

Have to disagree with you when you say that quality panels will work in cloudy and low light conditions. Yes they will work, but produce very little current. With only (say) 10% of full sunlight available, they'll produce 10% of full-sunlight current, which isn't much help to the battery. I don't want to start a fight but quality isn't the issue in this regard.

An option that hasn't been mentioned is running the vehicle engine on fast idle for half an hour a couple of times a day to charge the battery. Doesn't sound particularly green, but then running a generator isn't either. Depends on usage patterns, but if you just need a top up on the odd occasion when camped for more than a couple of days, it makes good use of quiet available technology and there's no capital outlay. For frequent use, I'd go for solar rather than a generator because of the generator's noise, weight and smelly fuel. They also brand you as one who doesn't mind disturbing the peace and quiet of the bush and isn't reluctant to share the intrusive noise with your neighbours.

John
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Follow Up By: Maîneÿ . . .- Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:31

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:31
May I politely suggest you watch your solar systems Amp meter on a cloudy day, as an example, when the sun is shining direct on the panel it will be producing "x" Amps, however on any reasonable day when the *white cumulous clouds* pass overhead the panel output will actually go up, so you will get "x" plus a bit, only with the *grey rain clouds* will the Amperage fall.

Try it and you will be amazed at the results,.
Maybe your panels don’t perform in *low light* ??
There are many that don’t and some are expensive too.

The reason is the available light is reflected from the *white cumulous clouds* and not the dark rain clouds.Image Could Not Be FoundMaîneÿ . . .
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Follow Up By: Member - Porl - Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 11:48

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 11:48
would I be correct in saying when the clouds cover the sun then the panels will work cooler and thus the higher output?
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Follow Up By: Member - mazcan - Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 11:59

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 11:59
hi
i use 2 - 80watt solar panels and use a twin charger that i have found to be highly efficient it boots the 105 amp/hr deep cycle battery back up very well in a short time frame
only needed to do this once so far while it was raining one day
and as it runs off the vehicle alternator saves carrying a generator around

i only have an engel 40ltr f/f and 1amp fluro camp lite/12 volt water pump for sink and shower
solar is great if the sun light is availuble but if not then the twin charger is a great standby power source the above system suits my application

but may not suit larger caravans or /camper /trls where the power requirements are much greater with all the appliances that some people have

there's only 2 adults so no kids constantly opening the fridge to get drinks and we are both none drinkers as well so apart from meal times fridge is closed for long periods
as mentioned there are so many varibles involved and there is no end to the amount of varied and valued opinions so one has to do your research from the imfo at hand and try to decide what best suits your own needs
so for what its worth
cheers
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Follow Up By: Maîneÿ . . .- Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 16:48

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 16:48
Porl,
"The reason is, the available light is reflected from the *white cumulous clouds* "

If you can get the chance to watch an Ammeter connected direct to the solar panel output you will see an instant increase of power becomes available as the white cumulous clouds go between the sun and the panel, the panel has not had even a second to cool down, this phenomenon has been done to death previously, either here, or on another forum dealing with solar power?

When the sun comes out from the other side of the passing cloud cover the power again drops just as instantly.

Obviously people who continuously make scurrilous claims that solar won’t work on overcast days obviously have been reading the wrong magazines, or they sure as hell don’t have the quality equipment available to them that will do the job correctly.
(no reference is made, or even implied, to any poster in this thread)

Maîneÿ . . .
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Follow Up By: Member - Mike DID - Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 18:39

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 18:39
When the sun is obstructed by cloud, I find I get one-quarter of the full-sun current.
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Follow Up By: Maîneÿ . . .- Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 23:24

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 23:24
Mike, What brand of panels do you use ?

Maîneÿ . . .
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Reply By: Neil & Pauline - Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 02:26

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 02:26
We are full time on the road and have been totally solar for 5 years. More expensive to set up but my thoughts were reduced gas usage (we have compressor fridge) , not having to carry petrol and the problem not being permitted to use generators in national parks.
The only time we have trouble with running out of power is when I have watched football all afternoon on a very heavy clouded day. If you install solar make sure that they are removable so that when or if you change vans you could shift the panels.
Bottom line both will work so it is what you decide for your situation.

Neil
AnswerID: 401412

Reply By: Sand Man (SA) - Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 07:10

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 07:10
I also have geared up to rely mainly on solar.
I haven't been anywhere yet where the solar panels do not put back as much as I'm drawing out.
With just the two of us, the 40 litre Engel on setting 1 keeps our food and a couple of bottles cold and doesn't unduely drain the battery pack. After four to five days stationary the Battery pack still shows a full charge, being supported by the 80 watt bi-fold solar panels.

I also use a generator, or more accurately, an alternator to recharge the battery banks if necessary.

With 100Ah AGM on board and a 75Ah Thumper to run the fridge when out of the vehicle, we're pretty well covered.

Both battery packs can be recharged simultaneously when driving as I have dual in-car charging systems.

Bill.

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Reply By: Robin Miller - Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 08:29

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 08:29
Hi Pug

You don't get either for practicality , they are purchased more for fun as you already have a generator in the car and the $1000 + cost will never be recovered over the fuel cost of running the car just to top up batteries.

Reasons for buying the generators include that they are optimized for 240vac appliances and you may wish to take some of them, in which case you need the quiet Yamaha/Honda types -check you appliances capacity though - you can get a range that use 1kw or less but your normal irons and electric chainsaws etc use 1.5kw typically.

If its for infrequent top up charging only then try a cheap $150 genny and battery charger, and while noisy its ok for odd use.

Solar - for most that I have designed systems for its more about fun and gettting into the spirit of going solar.

There are specific cases where solar can add practical benefits e.g. I am trying to come up with a system which will be intregrated into the cars roof and be used for recharging my cars battery should it go flat - in this case it will save finding room and adding weight inside the car.





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Reply By: Member - Beatit (QLD) - Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 08:47

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 08:47
G'day Pug8,

I have a foot in both camps so to speak. I like the solar in my van because I can house plenty of panels on the roof and batteries in the van this works exceptionally well for the basic needs like refrigeration, lighting and water pumps. In the camper I found that my genny provides the best power option and this has a lot to do with convenience. The genny allows me to top up the batteries (to run the friges) when I need that. I find the generator usefull for mobile power with the camper trailer when we do remote travels. It is surpising how many times I have used the welder and grinder on the road. The best of both worlds would be to travel with both.

Mine is a Honda BTW. Looks like this for travelling.

Image Could Not Be Found

Kind regards
AnswerID: 401424

Follow Up By: Member - Beatit (QLD) - Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 08:51

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 08:51
Usefull for repairs like this on the Tanami.

Image Could Not Be Found

Kind regards
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Follow Up By: Geoff (Newcastle, NSW) - Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 17:32

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 17:32
Hi Beatit,
That welder is running directly off your I assume EU20i ?

If so, what make and model is it.

I can't make out clearly enough the process, is it stick or MIG?

Thanks,

Geoff

Geoff,
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Follow Up By: Member - Beatit (QLD) - Friday, Jan 29, 2010 at 08:29

Friday, Jan 29, 2010 at 08:29
Hi Geoff,

Yes it is - we have used it like this several times to do welding repairs. I can't crank it up too high and the eco throttle is off BUT we have a second Honda in our group of travellers and have a connecting cable to obtain 4 KVA (never had to use this though).

My welder is a Eutectic inverter welder and their web address is

http://www.castolin.com/wCastolin_com/index.php

They are not cheap but they are light and don't take up much space. You could use any inverter welder really and I have seen cheaper copies.

It is a stick welder but the later models also now have TIG functionality as well - mine does not.

Kind regards
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Follow Up By: Geoff (Newcastle, NSW) - Friday, Jan 29, 2010 at 08:42

Friday, Jan 29, 2010 at 08:42
Hi Beatit,
I have a CIGWeld Inverter and wouldn't have even given trying what you are doing a thought let alone done it!

I'll have to give it a go one day! Worst that can happen is the Honda internal protection trips.

I assume you lay down multiple runs of say 2.5mm rods to get the weld strength you require. That way the welding and supply currents could be kept lower.

Thanks again,

Geoff



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Follow Up By: Member - Beatit (QLD) - Friday, Jan 29, 2010 at 08:47

Friday, Jan 29, 2010 at 08:47
Hi Geoff,

It is awfully tempting to crank it up sometimes but you are right it trips the Honda. This doesn't seem to cause it any lasting pain but it does require to start the process again.

I have tripped the Honda on numerous occasions and find that welding with 2.5 mm rods works if I take my time.

Kind regards
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Reply By: Mandrake's Solar Power- Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 09:32

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 09:32
Obviously I am for solar !! LOL

Jeep has a 140 watt panel flat mounted to roof rack .. This runs the waeco fridge in the back .. Tardis has a 50 watt panel which keeps an 85aH battery happy - this powers lights (LEDS ) in and around the camper .. Haven't run out of power with this setup yet - I did when I had an 80 watt on the roof - the extra 60 watts makes all the difference especially when its cloudy .. I now carry a 100 watt Kit - JUST IN CASE ..

Cheers

Mandrake
AnswerID: 401431

Reply By: Member - Troll 81 (QLD) - Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:13

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:13
I have always been one for a generator but only because my Honda is whisper quite. About 2 weeks ago I got a 80w folding panel that’s going up to Fraser with me to help top up the battery and when I wanted to test it out but was cloudy for 3 days and I could not perform my test...it was still working but only at about 50%. Once the sun came out I was able to do my test and got around the 4.5amps out, I should get an extra 2 days before I have to run the gennie and the charger now
AnswerID: 401439

Reply By: Peter_n_Margaret - Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:27

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 10:27
We have a large solar system and inverter, live on the road for 8 months each year and we don't carry a generator.

For "emergencies" we have a 200A RedArc VSR with heavy cable connection that will give 70A of charge to the house batteries from the 85A alternator.
That back-up system cost less than $500, takes up no space, does not require smelly and dangerous fuel and has an output MUCH bigger than a generator into the batteries.

Cheers,
Peter
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AnswerID: 401444

Reply By: Mark Howlett - Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 12:47

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 12:47
We have a Honda 10i and we would get 2.5 to 3 days out of a 100amp/hr battery running one Evakool 47L and LED lights in the camper. I would like to get solar to hopefully increase that to 4 - 5 days which is usually the longest we would stay in a spot anyway.

Whichever way you go could I suggest if you go the gennie PLEASE run your gear off a battery and use the gennie for recharging. We camped next to a bloke who ran his honda genny from 7am till 10pm and although they are quiet, the constant 'thrum' spoils the peace. By simply having a battery in his van he and the rest of the campers could have enjoyed some days of peace.

Cheers,

Mark.
AnswerID: 401466

Reply By: Member - shane (SA) - Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 20:47

Thursday, Jan 28, 2010 at 20:47
I am a generator man myself, reason being I almost always take my break mid year. One break was a the Otter ways where it rained for nine days. The rain did not bother use but if we had solar we would of been in trouble.

As far as national parks are concerned, I was camping in one two years ago and had the geny running when the ranger came round. He commented about the geny (Yamaha 1KVA) and about the no generator rules, I said to him that the alternative was to Idol the patrol for an hour on fast idol. He agreed off the record, took my permit money for another three days and left. So its not black and white and some common sense prevails.

cheers shane.
AnswerID: 401525

Reply By: Bob of KAOS - Friday, Jan 29, 2010 at 06:40

Friday, Jan 29, 2010 at 06:40
I don't think anyone has mentioned the weight of the generator plus its own petrol tank vs solar panel plus regulator.

A lot depends on how long you will be in one spot. Lighting need not be a huge user of power unless you light up your camp like an oil refinery. LEDs, especially the head light type, use very little power and are more than adequate.

The small items you want to recharge can be recharged from the cars 12 V supply using a DC to DC converter - again very little power needed.

The electrical experts will probably tell you that at least an 80W panel is needed to run a 40 L fridge indefinitely, but if you can draw down some power from you car's system you can go several days with out the need to run the alternator.

I am an excess weight Nazi, so would never take a generator on a camping trip, let alone a jerry of petrol just to run it.

The cost of 80 W panel and regulator is probably less than the two brands of generator mentioned above. The weight saving would be close to 20 kg (gen plus 10L fuel), not to mention the space.

Bob
AnswerID: 401570

Follow Up By: Pug8 - Friday, Jan 29, 2010 at 10:20

Friday, Jan 29, 2010 at 10:20
Thanks Bob. "Weight Nazi" is us too - so that is particularly relevant. Also the comments about not being permitted to use gens in National parks is an issue as that is as off road as we would normally go. We are going to be towing using a Subaru Forester (unless I can convince hubby that an upgraded vehicle will solve my mid-life crisis!).

Saying this ... does anyone know how the Toyota Kluger performs off road - compared to the Subaru. It is permanent AWD and doesn't have the low gear range choice the Subaru has. The Mitsubishi Challenger is another option.

thanks again.
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Follow Up By: Mark Howlett - Saturday, Jan 30, 2010 at 13:56

Saturday, Jan 30, 2010 at 13:56
I'd start that question in a new thread - the people with the answers may not look at this one.

Cheers,

Mark.
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