Reaching out to solar power gurus

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lhoffm4

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231
Boise, Idaho
First Name
Lee
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Hoffman
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US Navy
YouTube is such a great and terrible place to learn and get ideas. I’ve been watching a bunch of off grid vids on solar power set ups for homes but the power requirements seem to be vastly different for campers and overlanding. I don’t yet have a electric cooler for my set up but do have use for electrical power for such things as CPAP, charging phones and tablets, auxiliary lighting, air compressor, etc.

What are most folks looking for in a solar set up for an over landing rig? Should we is there a thread on this on here? I didn’t see one.

I understand that everyone’s needs vary. An RV with a dometic kitchen and air conditioning and heat would have different power consumption needs than a truck or trailer rig needing a fridge, lights and some phone charging.

There seems to be a wide variety of 12v systems available to purchase or even build.

I like the idea of deep cycle batteries for power, but they are stupid heavy. I like the AGM batteries but they are crazy expensive and don’t last very long. I’ve been reading and watching vids on the LiFePO4 systems but unless you build them yourself they are cost prohibitive and delicate (meaning they seem to need constant care, maintenance, monitoring and climate control).
What I THINK I want is a strong, reliable, simple, highly portable 12vsystem that can charge from a solar panel(s)and possibly my truck charging system. Something I can use for my outdoor adventures that could be scalable/ reconfigurable to provide battery back up for my home or used on my boat for a trolling motor, bilge pump, live well and other boat accessories. I also want to be able to easily move it between my boat, camper or home. Oh, and I DONT want to spend $1000+ on it.

I know- keep dreaming! I think it should be able to be done tho.
So I am reaching out to all you Uber-smarties. Do you think it’s possible? Doing the work to create the wiring, source components, plan and configure an easily scalable yet portable solar battery set up that meets the needs we have as avid outdoors enthusiasts?
Let’s hear some ideas...

Here are some thoughts to get started:
1. LiFePO4 seems to be the battery cell component of choice. Cells are small, scalable for power and can be configured in series and /or parallel to meet the need of what you want to power.

2. LiFePO4cells do require a battery management system, and a learning curve to configure and maintain and they require a consistent environment to do well, although their operating temperature range does seem to be larger than many other batteries.

3. Solar panels and chargers vary so much it can be daunting to decide how much you need and how much to spend. Size matters as much as price or quality. I’m kind of guesstimating that while something is better than nothing, a 12v system rated for an RV should be sufficient for most of the uses I want from it.

4. components such as charge controllers, battery management systems, inverters, and wiring harnesses can make or break a system if not thoughtfully considered or properly utilized.

so that is where I am at. Trying to sort through ideas, components, designs and of course cost. Building something that will do what I want it to may be unrealistic to cost prohibitive, but as an intellectual exercise, I ask for your knowledge and input. I’m betting many of us would be interested in the possibility of an affordable, scalable, powerful 12v solar solution... where is Tesla when we need him? Lol

ready...go!
 
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Road

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YouTube is such a great and terrible place to learn and get ideas. I’ve been watching a bunch of off grid vids on solar power set ups for homes but the power requirements seem to be vastly different for campers and overlanding. I don’t yet have a electric cooler for my set up but do have use for electrical power for such things as CPAP, charging phones and tablets, auxiliary lighting, air compressor, etc.

What are most folks looking for in a solar set up for an over landing rig? Should we is there a thread on this on here? I didn’t see one.

I understand that everyone’s needs vary. An RV with a dometic kitchen and air conditioning and heat would have different power consumption needs than a truck or trailer rig needing a fridge, lights and some phone charging.

There seems to be a wide variety of 12v systems available to purchase or even build.

I like the idea of deep cycle batteries for power, but they are stupid heavy. I like the AGM batteries but they are crazy expensive and don’t last very long. I’ve been reading and watching vids on the LiFePO4 systems but unless you build them yourself they are cost prohibitive and delicate (meaning they seem to need constant care, maintenance, monitoring and climate control).
What I THINK I want is a strong, reliable, simple, highly portable 12vsystem that can charge from a solar panel(s)and possibly my truck charging system. Something I can use for my outdoor adventures that could be scalable/ reconfigurable to provide battery back up for my home or used on my boat for a trolling motor, bilge pump, live well and other boat accessories. I also want to be able to easily move it between my boat, camper or home. Oh, and I DONT want to spend $1000+ on it.

I know- keep dreaming! I think it should be able to be done tho.
So I am reaching out to all you Uber-smarties. Do you think it’s possible? Doing the work to create the wiring, source components, plan and configure an easily scalable yet portable solar battery set up that meets the needs we have as avid outdoors enthusiasts?
Let’s hear some ideas...

Here are some thoughts to get started:
1. LiFePO4 seems to be the battery cell component of choice. Cells are small, scalable for power and can be configured in series and /or parallel to meet the need of what you want to power.

2. LiFePO4cells do require a battery management system, and a learning curve to configure and maintain and they require a consistent environment to do well, although their operating temperature range does seem to be larger than many other batteries.

3. Solar panels and chargers vary so much it can be daunting to decide how much you need and how much to spend. Size matters as much as price or quality. I’m kind of guesstimating that while something is better than nothing, a 12v system rated for an RV should be sufficient for most of the uses I want from it.

4. components such as charge controllers, battery management systems, inverters, and wiring harnesses can make or break a system if not thoughtfully considered or properly utilized.

so that is where I am at. Trying to sort through ideas, components, designs and of course cost. Building something that will do what I want it to may be unrealistic to cost prohibitive, but as an intellectual exercise, I ask for your knowledge and input. I’m betting many of us would be interested in the possibility of an affordable, scalable, powerful 12v solar solution... where is Tesla when we need him? Lol

ready...go!
.

Hey, Lee,

Once you get into it, you realize it really does not have the be that complicated.

What you have not mentioned is the daily draw, how long you plan to be out on any given adventure, and how many people are going to depend on your stored power from whatever you decide you need for solar power and battery storage.

Deep cycle batteries, value&weight-wise for what they afford you, are not at all stupid-heavy compared to other gear; not in my experience. Good AGMs like Odyssey batteries are not as short-lived as you seem to think. I love mine. They have been in regular use for about four years, now with solar hooked up 24/7 under shaded canopy when parked, and stay charged and ready.

I'm primarily a solo adventurer that goes out on multi-month adventures around North America. I'm far from a simple camper, though, and carry a lot of tech gear and 12v needs. I have found that for my needs--supplying off-grid power for a multitude of draws from my 12v fridge, e-bike and camera batteries to torches to laptop and mobile devices and water pump (for on-demand water), 12v lighting for trailer, etc, that a 120w portable panel and 100ah of deep cycle battery has been sufficient.

It takes some judicious movement of the panel throughout the day when camping, and some consideration of usage; but it has not been overly cumbersome over more than 600 nights out in varied terrain and a wide array of environments.

With increased usage from a larger group, needs and consumption of power will increase, of course.

I am thinking, however, of duplicating in my van the same exact 120w solar/100ah deep cycle setup I have in my trailer for dual-but-separate setups, so I can more freely take just my van on shorter photography adventures and not have to depend on my trailer for power.

I have a simple 15w solar charge controller, no battery management system (it is independent of the vehicle battery system), though do have a 1000w inverter (which is rarely used), no complicated wiring harnesses (I suppose this is more about one's experience and capability) and have overall found it to be more than satisfactory.

I do have to say though, I've found that I'm willing to put up with less as far as power needs than most other folks, especially if they are out adventuring with family and/or friends or out mostly on weekend adventures as opposed to longer adventures. Those aspects can make a dramatic difference in power needs and the ability to produce needed power.

.
 
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M Rose

US Northwest Region Director
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La Grande, Oregon, USA
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Here are some thoughts to get started:
1. LiFePO4 seems to be the battery cell component of choice. Cells are small, scalable for power and can be configured in series and /or parallel to meet the need of what you want to power.

2. LiFePO4cells do require a battery management system, and a learning curve to configure and maintain and they require a consistent environment to do well, although their operating temperature range does seem to be larger than many other batteries.

3. Solar panels and chargers vary so much it can be daunting to decide how much you need and how much to spend. Size matters as much as price or quality. I’m kind of guesstimating that while something is better than nothing, a 12v system rated for an RV should be sufficient for most of the uses I want from it.

4. components such as charge controllers, battery management systems, inverters, and wiring harnesses can make or break a system if not thoughtfully considered or properly utilized.
1: You are halfway correct, LiFePO4 batteries are smaller and lighter and can use about 90% of their rates AMP hours. However where you are wrong… any battery can be wired in Parallel, in series, or in parallel-series configuration to change amp hours and voltages depending upon your needs.

2: All batteries require some kind of battery management system to make sure the batteries are charged properly at the oppropiate times for optimal battery life. Some of the more expensive BMS can be selected for Flooded, AGM, and LiFePO4 batteries.

3: Solar Panels- it doesn’t matter if the solar panel is a “suit case”, panel mount, or home brewed. It also doesn’t matter how many volts or watts the panel is. All solar panels are made up of smaller 0.5-0.6 cells wired up in series and parallel to make the required voltage and wattage of the advertised specifications. Selecting the Solar controller is actually quite easy… it has to match the type and amp/hour of the battery bank in use, along with battery voltage. It also needs to match your maximum power consumption. Typically an RV with factory 200w solar panels runs a 60amp solar controller, while a 50-100 watt solar stay consists of a 30 amp controller.

4: Component selection and a based upon load demands. Inverters are inefficient and for most overlanders unnecessary. About the hardest thing I know of to adapt to DC current is a CPAP machine, but they do make those in 12/24 volt.

Since you want to build a budget modular system. Get a BMS that can handle all three types of batteries discussed along with a charge controller that also can handle all three types of batteries. Some Charge controllers offered in marine and RV applications offer shore power charging as well as solar charging. Make the system easily to upgrade in both capacity (amp/hours) and in solar input. If you think you need 75 amp/hours build it for 100 amp/hours and 100 watts of solar panels. Since you want to use it with your boat as well as a house back up… unless you have a huge boat, this isn’t going to be realistic… even running LiFePO4 batteries you’re going to exceed the maximum weight of a typical 20’ aluminum fishing boat with just batteries. Also LiFePO4 batteries aren’t designed to work with the harsh demands of a trolling motor, so you are going to need a deep cycle AGM battery bank for your boat.

Building a system for boat/house/and camping isn’t feasible. The demands of a house are way more than that of the boat and camping combined. A solar backup generator for a house normally consists of 24-48 batteries wired up for 24 or 36 volts where as you can get by with a single 12 volt battery for your boat and camping battery bank.

If I were building a system, I would focus on the needs of the boat, and make it easily swapped to the truck. Then build a separate system for your house at a later time.
 

lhoffm4

Rank I

Enthusiast I

231
Boise, Idaho
First Name
Lee
Last Name
Hoffman
Service Branch
US Navy
.

Hey, Lee,

Once you get into it, you realize it really does not have the be that complicated.

What you have not mentioned is the daily draw, how long you plan to be out on any given adventure, and how many people are going to depend on your stored power from whatever you decide you need for solar power and battery storage.

Deep cycle batteries, value&weight-wise for what they afford you, are not at all stupid-heavy compared to other gear; not in my experience. Good AGMs like Odyssey batteries are not as short-lived as you seem to think. I love mine. They have been in regular use for about four years, now with solar hooked up 24/7 under shaded canopy when parked, and stay charged and ready.

I'm primarily a solo adventurer that goes out on multi-month adventures around North America. I'm far from a simple camper, though, and carry a lot of tech gear and 12v needs. I have found that for my needs--supplying off-grid power for a multitude of draws from my 12v fridge, e-bike and camera batteries to torches to laptop and mobile devices and water pump (for on-demand water), 12v lighting for trailer, etc, that a 120w portable panel and 100ah of deep cycle battery has been sufficient.

It takes some judicious movement of the panel throughout the day when camping, and some consideration of usage; but it has not been overly cumbersome over more than 600 nights out in varied terrain and a wide array of environments.

With increased usage from a larger group, needs and consumption of power will increase, of course.

I am thinking, however, of duplicating in my van the same exact 120w solar/100ah deep cycle setup I have in my trailer for dual-but-separate setups, so I can more freely take just my van on shorter photography adventures and not have to depend on my trailer for power.

I have a simple 15w solar charge controller, no battery management system (it is independent of the vehicle battery system), though do have a 1000w inverter (which is rarely used), no complicated wiring harnesses (I suppose this is more about one's experience and capability) and have overall found it to be more than satisfactory.

I do have to say though, I've found that I'm willing to put up with less as far as power needs than most other folks, especially if they are out adventuring with family and/or friends or out mostly on weekend adventures as opposed to longer adventures. Those aspects can make a dramatic difference in power needs and the ability to produce needed power.

.
That is indeed encouraging. Based upon your post, I would posit you to be quite experienced and comfortable with your set up and power needs. That is what I am looking to do, sharpen my learning curve and save time, energy and money on setting up my own system.

I guess I need to nail down what exactly I need vs what I think I want. It sounds like you mostly travel solo? Do you ever travel in a group or with someone(s) and does that drastically or noticeably change your power consumption/needs? I’m just old school enough to have learned concepts like “hope for the best but plan for the worst”, and “better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it”. I guess my post here is to help me determine what I am not considering while designing my set up. While I may not need all the power my system will be capable of providing, I’m trying to figure out if I will evolve to needing/wanting more power and trying to tentatively build scalability into my system.

would love to know more details on your setup, like with your panels, how long does it take to charge your battery(ies)? How quickly does it discharge when being used? Do you charge while driving or just when camped? Does your fridge only run off the battery or do you switch itover to the truck charging system when on the road? Thanks for indulging my curiosity/learning curve.
 

smritte

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Everything @M Rose is pretty much spot on.
I've been running solar for years camping. I tend to go on the more simple side. My batteries are AGM or normal lead acid. I don't run a battery management system but run a good solar controller.
My rig has AGM and a small panel to keep the battery topped off while its parked. My trailers run 200 watt panels fixed to them and run lead acid batteries because I really don't have a need to run anything better. Most of my camping is desert. When I go to the forest, I have a portable 150 watt panel I tie into my trailer because I tend to park in the shade.
I've been running solar on my trailers for about 15 years and on my rig for about 5. The solar controllers have evolved several times since their origin and I've replaced them a couple of times now. The last generation does a great job of sensing what battery type you have and properly charging it.
My new controllers, I buy the 100 volt type. What this means is I can run 100 volts into it and it will regulate the voltage to suit my battery. I do this because, if I need to tie in a second panel, I tie it in series raising the voltage. This is because the higher voltage looses less power in the wiring. My "extension cord" for my extra panel is 50 foot. Even though its a 10 gauge, I have measured a bit off loss.
 
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4x4tripping

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I am needing power for two compressor fridges (Freezer / Fridge), my Notebook, Camera, Smartphone, Tablet, Drone

I did it 9 years ago as a DYI Project for beeing able to staying self sufficent some days offgrid with my travelling car.

$1500 not a cheapie, very capable, 95 AH AGM Battery, B2B Booster, Inverter, Solarcharger, Batterymonitor: Writeup classic powersetup (35kg AGM)

Then I did try the same at 2021, with LiFePO4 and new components. I wasnt able to beat this ecoflow device in weight, size or price. Here is my updated Setup from 2021:

710$ LiFePO4 576Wh Battery solution with 8.5kg: Writeup mobile offgrid solar solution with LiFePO4 It is still strong enough, and I did save a lot of weight and get new space inside of my car.

You cant get it smaller and more lightweigt even with using double of the cash as a DYI Project, without dropping some requirements. It is perfect for my Power consuments named above.

I`m currently on a detailed writeup about a DYI Project for a bigger LiFePO4 project, still struggeling to get a USB-C 100W Port for 12v as example.

trippin

 
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DMS1

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Enthusiast II

336
San Dimas
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Dave
Last Name
Schmitz
I live in a Travel Trailer and can power everything in it except for the AC and the electric side of my water heater with my solar setup. I also have a Vitamix, NAS, 2 Laptops, Router, POE Switch, 40 inch TV , Engle MT45 used as a Freezer and a AlpicoolT60 Fridge Freezer used 50/50.

My Solar is fairly basic, 4 - 200 watt Solar Panels, 2 Victron Energy SmartSolar MPPT 150V 35 amp Solar Charge Controllers with Bluetooth, Victron BMV712 BMS, Go Power Transfer Switch, 4 - 6 Volt GGC2 Golf Cart Batteries and a cheap 2000 W Inverter. The longest I ever went without needing to run my generator was 8 weeks in the summer of 2019. I added the AlpicoolT60 Fridge Freezer about 8 months ago and I am at my solar maximum now. I will be adding 2 more solar panels and upgrading the batteries to SOK Lithium batteries very soon.

You could easily do half of my system and spend about $1200, right around the price of any of the leading solar generator battery packs and have endless solar energy. Also there are plenty of decent Lithium batteries on the market now, Chinns, TalentCell, AmpreTime and Zooms that are decent but don't have a low temp shutoff, but that can be fixed buy buying Victron products. I have personally used TalentCell and Ampre Time batteries for my DIY solar generators and so far they work fine.

I recommend watching Will Prowse on You Tube to learn how to setup a good solar system, make your own Solar Generator and see which products are good and what is crap. ExploristLife and Victron are also recomended.
 

M Rose

US Northwest Region Director
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Explorer I

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La Grande, Oregon, USA
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Rose
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I live in a Travel Trailer and can power everything in it except for the AC and the electric side of my water heater with my solar setup. I also have a Vitamix, NAS, 2 Laptops, Router, POE Switch, 40 inch TV , Engle MT45 used as a Freezer and a AlpicoolT60 Fridge Freezer used 50/50.

My Solar is fairly basic, 4 - 200 watt Solar Panels, 2 Victron Energy SmartSolar MPPT 150V 35 amp Solar Charge Controllers with Bluetooth, Victron BMV712 BMS, Go Power Transfer Switch, 4 - 6 Volt GGC2 Golf Cart Batteries and a cheap 2000 W Inverter. The longest I ever went without needing to run my generator was 8 weeks in the summer of 2019. I added the AlpicoolT60 Fridge Freezer about 8 months ago and I am at my solar maximum now. I will be adding 2 more solar panels and upgrading the batteries to SOK Lithium batteries very soon.

You could easily do half of my system and spend about $1200, right around the price of any of the leading solar generator battery packs and have endless solar energy. Also there are plenty of decent Lithium batteries on the market now, Chinns, TalentCell, AmpreTime and Zooms that are decent but don't have a low temp shutoff, but that can be fixed buy buying Victron products. I have personally used TalentCell and Ampre Time batteries for my DIY solar generators and so far they work fine.

I recommend watching Will Prowse on You Tube to learn how to setup a good solar system, make your own Solar Generator and see which products are good and what is crap. ExploristLife and Victron are also recomended.
I second everything you said… and Will Prowse has an amazing story to tell. I have not found a better YouTuber for breaking down solar DIY than Will. And his reviews of products are spot on.
 

DMS1

Rank II

Enthusiast II

336
San Dimas
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Dave
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Schmitz
I second everything you said… and Will Prowse has an amazing story to tell. I have not found a better YouTuber for breaking down solar DIY than Will. And his reviews of products are spot on.
Yep, he was the original Solar Channel who actually disassembled charge controllers, Inverters and cut open batteries to see what was inside. He is also not afraid to tell you what is wrong with commercial products like EcoFlow, Jackery and Renogy etc.
 
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lhoffm4

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231
Boise, Idaho
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Lee
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Hoffman
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US Navy
Well I am glad to read I am on the right track. I have been watching the Prowse vids on YouTube. I appreciate all the input and validation. I hope to soon pull the trigger on some components for my set up. Much appreciate the insight.