Budget Overland Solar Setup?

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Embark With Mark

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For the past few years I have been running my ARB Fridge off a single battery in my Jeep. Normally we can go for about two days comfortably before the Jeep needs to be started to recharge the battery. With a new long trip in the planning stages I decided it was time to add some solar power to my rig.

The first step was to cut apart my roof rack and weld it back together. I wanted a flat roof rack and while Garvin's adjustable bars are nice, they take away from the space of the rack and leave large gapes between each crossbar. My "redesign" places all the bars on the roof completely flat and changes the spacing of each bar from 9 inches to 3.5 inches. Giving me a lot more support for items on the roof and a lot more tie down points. Finally, no more balancing fire wood on one bar hopping the ratchet straps stop it from falling through the cracks.

Unlike other vehicles, I have to be very space and weight conscious. Being that my vehicle is a Jeep TJ we just do not have a lot of spare space to give up. So, with that in mind I had to build the system as compact as possible. A custom mount was built to mount both the solar controller and the 800 Watt Inverter. The solar panel is spaced on top of the rack with latches and hinges so that my 4 gallon Rotopax can be mounted underneath it.

This does two things, one it saves valuable roof rack space. Two Rotopax do not seem to like direct sunlight. So by placing the panel over them (with space for the Rotopax to expand) the fuel can is kept out of direct sunlight and somewhat protected.

What are your thoughts on this setup? Do you think a 100 watt solar panel is enough to power something like an ARB fridge?

Check out the final installation:
 
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For the past few years I have been running my ARB Fridge off a single battery in my Jeep. Normally we can go for about two days comfortably before the Jeep needs to be started to recharge the battery. With a new long trip in the planning stages I decided it was time to add some solar power to my rig.

What are your thoughts on this setup? Do you think a 100 watt solar panel is enough to power something like an ARB fridge?
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Is a 100w panel enough?

A lot depends on the efficiency of the panel and charge controller and how it's all set up. Gauge of wire and length of run, etc. AND if the panel can be angled or not, or even removed for optimum placement for maximum solar gain. If permanently mounted to your rack, a lot will depend on how often you are willing to camp in the sun as opposed to shade. It's a pain in the neck to keep moving your vehicle if camped for the day, especially if you have an awning and/or cook area, etc set up.

All panels are not equal, and a 100w panel from one vendor may be far different in efficiency than a 100w panel from another. In fact, may be far different within the same vendor from year to year as they source cells from different mfgs based on cost, not consistency of product.

Charge controllers are best mounted close to the battery.

Personally, I would not mount it directly ON the inverter. Thinking you will 'never' use the full power of the inverter usually doesn't end up that way, and at some point it will be fully taxed and most likely heat up more than you'd like.
If that is your only spot, I'd fab a bracket that creates space between inverter and charge controller to allow air movement. Even 1/2" will help prevent thermal transfer. It would not even have to be solid all the way across between the two, but two bars/bands, which would let the skin of both inverter and charge controller breathe even more and not be in direct contact with each other.

I've been using a 120w panel on the roof of my RTT and 100ah of deep cycles on my trailer for powering my fridge and other camp needs for several years. I won't depend on the starting batteries in my van for my fridge (unless under way) or depend on them for an inverter at all. Even though there are two, because it's diesel, I'm not going to deplete my starting batteries that far over and over.

My set up, completely independent of the starting system, has been plenty sufficient. Though depending on what else I might use the stored power for, like camera battery chargers and mobile device charging, etc, I find myself moving my panels about camp throughout the day, even in the desert with wide open skies. Even more, on up to 100' of 10awg cable extensions, if camping under forest canopy.

It's been successful enough I am replicating the same system; 120w folding panel which lives on the roof most of the time, with 100ah of deep cycle, on the van, so I can run the fridge and other items separately when away from the trailer and to also now have twice the capability of creating and storing power. Once you have solar and a good battery set up, you find more and more, like a good 12v fan, another 12v & USB outlet, a better inverter, etc that you want to have.

Hope you get yours worked out just the way you want and that it serves you well!

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Embark With Mark

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So I've done a lot of thinking about this already. Before the solar panel I would just use the fridge on my main battery. Now what I found out is that we can run like this for about two and a half days before the jeep needs to be ran to recharge the battery. The fridge has a low voltage cut off set at 12.4 volts which is pretty low, but not completely dead. At least not low enough to the point that the battery is being hurt. So, with the panel I thought if this even extends our one spot stays out by one day, it would be nice.

I agree, that the solar charge controller should be mounted as close to the battery as possible. It's just not feasible in my rig with what I have currently. Now if I was able to get my hands on a waterproof charge controller that could handle being mounted outside the rig, then that would be a different story.

So, the inverter is a funny thing. We camp pretty light, and always have. Honestly, besides phones/GPS devices, the only gear that goes with us that needs to be charged is camera gear. So, while you are right I should not be assuming that I will never use it to its full ability, the chance is extremely low. However, someone commented on the video with the same idea to add a spacer... I literally can't believe I didn't think of this idea while putting it together lol! So, ill cut some nice little steel or aluminum spacers to raise that solar control off the inverter.

Sounds like you have a really nice setup. I would love to add a second battery to my jeep as a "house" battery and keep it separated from the starting battery. However, it takes a lot to make a second battery fit in a TJ. Some day I will do this though.

Like everything though, I think ideas and camp setups really have to be tested to see if they preform to our own needs. Its funny how not one camp setup is exactly the same, not even close. Its kind of cool really.

Thank you for adding your thoughts on this, maybe we will see each other on the trails one day!
 
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