Solar power camping HELP!!

Ok so I have been looking into putting together a solar powered set up for camping to power a 12v fridge, but I'm seriously starting to get overwhelmed and I'm really not sure if I'm missing something.

So the plan is to use the solar panel to charge an agm battery which will be in a battery box with the fridge running off the battery. I have seen on ebay the solar kits and am most likely going to purchase one of these (100-120w). My question is, aside from the solar kit, the battery, and the fridge, is there any else at all that I will need?

I know that I can upgrade the regulator and the cabling later and I will do this down the track, but at the moment I'm just hoping for something ready to use.

From my research I have heard a lot of talk about using anderson plugs but I have no idea what role these would play? Also is there any need for the use of a fuse and again where would this go? I think that the battery box may already include a fuse, does that sound about right?

Sorry for all the questions but until recently I had no idea about solar and have sought of been trying to have a crash course in it so please feel free to dumb down your answers cause the tech electronic stuff is still a bit over my head :)

Thanks for any assistance

Simon
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Reply By: nowimnumberone - Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 21:03

Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 21:03
gday simon
im by no way an expert on solar
but i do have a similar set up but with bigger panels i went 240watt folding as i wanted bigger than just enough.
i now use anderson plugs on all my stuff its quicker than standard ciggy lighter plugs allows more power through being bigger conecters(so ive read)
if your battery is in a camper or something conected to the car while towing anderson plug is the way to go because you can fit bigger wire to it compared to a trailer plug so more power to charge. if you put anderson plug on your solar panel its easy to conect to your battery via the plug you use to the car.
1 thing to think about its better to have bigger watt panel so on bad days you can get more charge into battery.240 kits around $500 now on ebay.plenty of people will bag them(probly never used them)and plenty will praise you just have to use a decent reg and wire as you are going to
cheers
AnswerID: 478867

Follow Up By: Simon H1 - Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 21:21

Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 21:21
Hey thanks for your reply. I can def see the benefits of going for a larger panel, but unfortunately space atm dictates otherwise. Should have probably mentioned we will be tent camping with just a 4wd, no trailer no roof racks, so don't have heaps of space to play with. Also I do not plan to charge the battery off anything except the solar, ie it will not be charging from the car at all, so all I require is to arrive at the campsite, plug the panel to the battery and plug the fridge into the battery box. I'm not sure if that changes the advices at :S
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Follow Up By: nowimnumberone - Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 21:25

Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 21:25
what do you plan to do on days where theres no or not much sun
cheers
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Follow Up By: Simon H1 - Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 21:29

Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 21:29
Take my chances. We dont generally camp for more then 3-4 nights at a time. The fridge will be switched off most nights (not using it as a freezer), will be using a 110ah battery, and will take the fridge with us and run off the car cig lighter on the days we head out, so providing I get at least one day of sun im confident that I will be fine for 3-4 days.
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Follow Up By: nowimnumberone - Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 21:33

Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 21:33
even if you have a simple set up to charge the batery in the car while driving
some really simple set ups around then worst case you can still charge it from the car
cheers
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Follow Up By: Member Andys Adventures - Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 22:16

Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 22:16
Image Could Not Be FoundImage Could Not Be FoundThis is a Anderson plug so you know what they are talking about. I would also use a PV controller so it will charge the battery properly. The fuse should be put close to the battery on the lead going to the fridge, no need for one to the solar panel
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Follow Up By: Ross M - Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 22:24

Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 22:24
If you are carrying the fridge in the car then of course it uses some space.
The panel/s, maybe folding type, will use more space.
Will you carry the panels with you when on excursions or theave it at the tent site. Not recommended.
I would suggest you use a lowline roof rack with the solar panel bolted to it.
The battery may be possible to have fitted under the bonnet in its own cradle, however, you haven't said what type of vehicle you have so recommendations are hard to get accurate/close to the mark, for you.

Here is some questions/suggestions/comments.

Will the fridge live in the vehicle?

Where do you propose the battery to be?

Panels can be on roof rack would this suit or definitely no?

Why do you say you will upgrade wiring later, because getting it right first time is far cheaper.

If panels are only used periodically then you will need to use an MPPT regulator to get the most out of the panels with minimum sun time. "Maximum powerpoint tracking."

Using cigarette lighter plugs and sockets are not a reliable way to supply power to a fridge. Cig plugs get dirty and heat up and burn out. Then what do you do?
Hard wiring and fused eg direct to battery or via small anderson plug or similar will give a trouble free performance.
Battery can be in vehicle but must be restrained if it is.
LED voltmeter from Jaycar is good to use to monitor voltage level of battery.

Type of fridge? The amp draw is important factor when calculating battery size and panel size required.

Ambient temp where you camp will vastly affect/vary battery charge life.

If you fit an Anderson plug on a lead to the vehicle battery, have Anderson plug x 2, extension lead and Anderson on battery you can connect direct to battery and charge it in emergencies. PS AGM 100ah don't like near or more than 20amp charge rate especially in hot weather.

I think it is not a great idea to just take your chances if battery goes flat and it is best to have a backup plan or just do a bit extra than what you require to make all run well and no stress.
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Follow Up By: Simon H1 - Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 22:40

Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 22:40
Hey Ross,

Ok so the vehicle is a Suzuki Grand Virtara 2010 model. Hmm roof racks at this stage are not an option, would like to avoid it if possible. Whether or not to take the panels with me I have not yet decided. I'm thinking I could chain them up at the campsite?? Has anyone actually ever had their panels stolen?

The fridge will only be in the vehicle for transportation, will be removed and placed at the camp site when we arrive. The battery I was hoping to have in a portable power pack like the Ark Power Pack, so again the battery will be in the rear of the car for transportation and will be removed and placed at camp site on arrival.

Yea I had a feeling that MPPT was the way to go.

The fridge will be a 40-50ltr either primus or waeco (have not yet decided) so I'm estimating about 30amps per day if kept on at night and maybe about 20 if switched off.

Given that you've all made me very nervous about not having sun light, would perhaps a raps 12 wiring kit put these issues at bay? I am not TOO familiar with this product but from what I gather this will allow me too hook the fridge strait to the battery AND to charge the aux battery off the main battery? Or am I missing something here?
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Follow Up By: Member Andys Adventures - Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 22:51

Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 22:51
You can buy a toy lock for the panels. I would not leave the camp without locking them upImage Could Not Be Found
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Reply By: Mick O - Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 22:10

Monday, Feb 27, 2012 at 22:10
Simon,

have a read of John and Vals Blog;

Electricity for Camping.

It will be a good place to start getting a handle on solar and DC electrics.

Cheers Mick



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Reply By: Battery Value Pty Ltd - Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012 at 00:01

Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012 at 00:01
Hi Simon,

for simplicity don't bother with solar right now. This can be added in future very easily.

What you need is a battery which can supply 20 odd amphours (Ah) per day.

By now you know what an Anderson plug looks like.
You need three (or better four) such plugs.
One plug goes on the starter battery, one (or two) on the auxiliary battery, and one on the fridge wires.

The fridge usually is plugged in at the aux battery.

Charging:
every second day put the aux battery close to the starting battery and connect them together.
If you installed a second plug at the aux, you can leave the fridge plugged in during charging.
Now run the motor in fast idle for one hour.
If you made the wire pair long enough, you could put the battery inside the cab and take it on a drive instead.
But for a longer wire, it's important to install a fuse at both ends of the positive wire. This prevents the wire causing a fire in case of a short circuit.
Recommended fuse rating to protect the #6 size wire is 80 amps.

Battery:
select one which offers rapid chargeability by the alternator, such as a start/stop AGM battery.

Aftercare:
when you come home from your trip, put the battery on a quality multistage charger with a 14.8V setting. This will equalise all cells (important when battery was run under partial state of charge conditions for a while).
This will also re-charge it to 100% before you put it in storage.
Never store batteries in a partially discharged state.

Any questions, just ask away.

cheers, Peter
AnswerID: 478881

Follow Up By: Member - nick b - Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 07:57

Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 07:57
Peter : you recommend 80 amp fuse & #6 .
I have got a 3rd battery in camper , no dc charger about 9m of 150 amp cable from 2nd battery to it . But was recommended only need 50 amp.?....would you like to comment on that ...to how well this set up will work !!...I'd like a dc charger but $$$$

re battery ....20 odd amp hour ....what do you recommend ..type / size battery !!!!

cheers nick
Cheers Nick b
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Follow Up By: Battery Value Pty Ltd - Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 10:48

Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 10:48
Hello Nick,

the current through the fuses between the two batteries (one near each positive wire end) may exceed the fuse rating if:

the auxiliary battery is substantially discharged
low wire resistance (heavy gauge wire)
higher rated alternator
if part of the cranking current is allowed through the aux battery (isolation solenoid switch not breaking the circuit in time)

So you may find that the 50A fuse may blow at some stage - just replace it with a higher rated one when this happens.

The battery in this application needs to have the following properties:
light weight for good portability, rapid rechargeability (good charge acceptance up to a reasonably high state of charge, from the alternator), not being fussy about high alternator charging currents, non-spillable, robust design, good cyclic performance (many deep charge/discharge cycles before the capacity reaches 60%).

The one which fits the bill, is an AGM type which was designed for start/stop systems. It's only 21kg, has a cyclic capacity of 70Ah, and is powerful enough to crank big Diesel motors (720AEN/750CCA).
The dimensions are 278Lx175Wx190H, so it'll fit into any battery box.

Still, the alternator voltage needs to be above 13.6V for this to work.
This can be easily tested with a multimeter connected across the starting battery a few minutes after cranking, with the motor in fast idle.

I'm going to contact you with more information shortly.

cheers, Peter

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Follow Up By: Member - nick b - Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 12:31

Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 12:31
Thanks Peter , I have a agm 100 ah under bonnet of 100 series cruiser v8 petrol ,
was think of the camper , at present i have a used battery ( CASE tractor Part No RMF31GW ) would you have any idea of what sort of battery this may be ?

The AGM will run my 40L primus fridge for up to 3 day .. depending on ambient temp.

cheers nick
Cheers Nick b
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Follow Up By: Battery Value Pty Ltd - Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 13:22

Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 13:22
You're welcome Nick,

sorry, no idea what type this Case is, but if it's got the round lead posts, automotive style terminals, it's pretty likely a flooded/wet battery.
You can run the small fridge off it, but cycle life will be shortened a lot if you don't recharge it fully on a daily basis.

cheers, Peter
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Follow Up By: ltzgonow - Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 16:26

Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 16:26
Hi Simon, All this is good, Anderson plug YES, heavy lead & Fuse, ALWAYS disconnect fridge at night. Solar alone is not enough..( unlesss maybe Bi-fold big panels)& even then if no sun !! U R stuffed. Seriously consider a 3 way fridge with a 5 kg Gas bottle. Cool "packed fridge" at home on 240V overnight , plug into 12v car for travel... use gas over night. this will work well.. All these work great on gas get really cold... The cheap little Jackeroo from K mart ( a bit small) ls about $200 when I last looked is smallish but might just suit you & will give more than 4 days in camp on gas, ps my 2 lge solar panels running a lge Waeco FF oftn need top-up if sun is poor..cheers.
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Reply By: Brian Purdue - Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012 at 09:15

Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012 at 09:15
Buy a generator. Just dont use it after dark.
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Reply By: Mad Habits - Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012 at 18:28

Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012 at 18:28
Amazing no one has mentioned the most important part
"The Panels"
Make sure you get Mono Crystaline panels.

Re comment "get a geni" what a waste of time that is if you get the right panels etc. Even on overcast days they charge the batteries no problems (not to good if the skies are black though) Been on the road in a 5th wheeler since October, 180w of solar (3x60w) 2 x agm 120ah deep cycle and a good regulator (same as seen in pic one in other post from Dick Smiths about $140) NOT even used the geni yet, just lug it (35kg with fuel) around everywhere we go.

Solar rules it's FREE just get the right type of panels!
AnswerID: 478934

Reply By: Simon H1 - Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012 at 19:27

Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012 at 19:27
Thanks everyone for the responses and advice. Must say i am slightly more confused I think now lol.

I Originally had my heart set on solar but now I'm getting the impression that charging off the car daily would be more practical. Thing is I'm not the Best with electricals so anything above basic soldering is going to be a challenge for me!

So I've been looking at the Flyer Power Pack as I think this will cover most of my needs and allow me to charge off the car battery pretty easily. My question is does this battery box come with everything I need to just plug in to the car and go? The other thing is that it's kind of expensive at $400, is it worth it? Or is there a cheaper option available?

Sorry I know I'm sought of jumping all over the place here but the responses so far have made me very nervous about relying on solar :s
AnswerID: 478940

Follow Up By: Bushranger1 - Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012 at 19:43

Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012 at 19:43
G'day Simon,
Yes it is a little confusing. Basically you have to decide your style of camping before deciding on a system that is suitable.

1. If you are like me & are not into sitting around camp all day or you move camp every few days then a battery system that charges off the car is perfect.

2. If you like to plot in one spot & not start the car for days then it's solar or a gennie for charging the batteries. I might add I have a real dislike of gennies though!

I travelled for 2 years & my car charging system worked perfect for my style of camping. I had 2x120AH batteries which charged off the car. Now I have a bush property that I spend time on, solar is the go because I go for days without running the car engine.
So it all depends?

Cheers
Stu
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Follow Up By: Simon H1 - Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012 at 19:54

Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012 at 19:54
Hey stu,

Thanks for your reply mate.

We tend to stay put for 3-4 days which is why I was keen on solar. I'm happy to run the car a little bit if this is necessary but obviously I was trying to avoid it which now does not seem possible.

Ps I hate gennies too! Too noisy, too mechanical, inconsiderate to fellow campers etc etc etc.

How often have people actually run out power by relying on solar (ie from cloudy days)?

I think I have found a perfect all in one solution, the thumper getaway 90 with built in inverter! Has literally EVERYTHING except an actual solar panel built into it! Only problem is at $1500 it is wayyy more then I was prepared to spend lol!

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Follow Up By: Member - nick b - Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 11:45

Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 11:45
Hi Simon : so what is a thumper : just a battery with leads & looks pretty in a box .
Cheers Nick b
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Follow Up By: eighty matey - Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 13:12

Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 13:12
Hi Stu,

we have a 100 watt fold up solar panel that we use when we're in the one spot for a few days.

About all we run is our 70 litre Waeco and the solar panel is connected to the battery and replaces the charge the fridge takes out. Our lights are LEDs and draw very little, whilst giving out heaps of light.

We also have an Engel battery pack we use for overnight stops to keep the fridge going. That then charges up when we're driving.

We bought the solar panel at a 4x4 show for $370.00, with a bag and everthing we need. I lock it to the front of the vehicle when I set it up to be sure.

We got the solar panel and LED lights from a Solar Energy Shop in Seven Hills, Sydney. They've been good quality products and haven't cost us a fortune.

I hope this helps you a bit,

Steve
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Reply By: Grinner - Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 12:06

Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 12:06
Hi Simon,

My 2 cents worth.

I think what you proposed in you first post is spot on.

Buy a fold up panel set from eBay 120w minimum, this should come with a basic regulator and aligator clips to clip on to the battery for charging. Don't worry about MPPT and fancy regulators at this stage.

Buy a Deep cycle battery. AGM would be best, but a normal flooded cell will work for 3-4 days camping.

Buy a battery box, such as the ARK, or this one from Supercheap
Supercheap battery boxthese should have the connections you need to clip on the solar panel and run the fridge.

Buy a quality 240v multi stage battery charger. Use this on the battery before you leave and after you come back from camping to keep the battery in good shape.

This will work for your 3 - 4 days

Another option, you could also buy an inverter, to run the 240v battery charger from the "running" car to give the battery a top up if the sun isn't shining.

Jason
AnswerID: 478967

Follow Up By: Simon H1 - Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 13:31

Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 13:31
Thanks Jason,

It's nice to have a couple of responses which don't point too many holes into my idea lol!

I'm now thinking 120w solar kit of eBay just left as standard, combined with 110ah agm battery which will be sitting inside a super cheap battery box. I will purchase a 240v battery charger for when at home or when I have access to a power point. And all this will power a 40-50ltr fridge which should consume about 30amps per day. I appreciate the effectiveness of hooking the system up to the car alternator for fast effective charging but at this stage it is just not a route I'm prepared to go down. Later down the track I can always replace the super cheap box with a Flyer box and use this to connect to the car battery, but at this stage I can't justify the additional $330 expense (I could buy a second 110ah battery for less then this which would give me more power then I would ever need!).

When travelling the fridge will run off the car, and on cools nights the fridge will be switched off.

Once we arrive at camp everything will be unloaded from the car so the fridge and battery will really only ever be in there for transportation purposes.

Really appreciate everyone's help and advice so far.
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Follow Up By: Simon H1 - Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 13:32

Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012 at 13:32
Thanks Jason,

It's nice to have a couple of responses which don't point too many holes into my idea lol!

I'm now thinking 120w solar kit of eBay just left as standard, combined with 110ah agm battery which will be sitting inside a super cheap battery box. I will purchase a 240v battery charger for when at home or when I have access to a power point. And all this will power a 40-50ltr fridge which should consume about 30amps per day. I appreciate the effectiveness of hooking the system up to the car alternator for fast effective charging but at this stage it is just not a route I'm prepared to go down. Later down the track I can always replace the super cheap box with a Flyer box and use this to connect to the car battery, but at this stage I can't justify the additional $330 expense (I could buy a second 110ah battery for less then this which would give me more power then I would ever need!).

When travelling the fridge will run off the car, and on cools nights the fridge will be switched off.

Once we arrive at camp everything will be unloaded from the car so the fridge and battery will really only ever be in there for transportation purposes.

Really appreciate everyone's help and advice so far.
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