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Thread: Solar panels on RV in Alaska

  1. #1
    Member trochilids's Avatar
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    Default Solar panels on RV in Alaska

    I've read quite a bit about solar panels and RVs, but despite the assurances of many websites that a novice could put them together, I still feel I have an inadequate understanding to get it done.

    Do any of you in Alaska have solar panels on your RVs or travel trailers? Are there any special considerations that pertain to their use in this state? What are your setups? And are you using it for just trickle charge, or to actually power your outlets during the day?

    Thanks. I look forward to hearing how solar panels could work here.

    Cheers,
    Palmer, Alaska
    "There are some things money can buy. For everything else, there's ALASKA!"

  2. #2
    Member trochilids's Avatar
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    Really? No one uses solar panels on RVs in Alaska? With our long summer days, I would imagine that we'd get some response. Are we concerned that we have too much vegetation / shade for solar panels to be useful? Maybe campers in the Mat-Su valley consider wind turbines as alternative energy generators instead?

    Curious...!
    Palmer, Alaska
    "There are some things money can buy. For everything else, there's ALASKA!"

  3. #3
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    I love solar power. It's my primary source of electricity at my cabin during summer. I use solar charging in a small boat to charge the battery for the bilge pump. I also have a solar panel on a trailer to keep the battery charged. You ask about outlets. I presume you mean 120vac, so that means you'll need an inverter. Batteries store power and the inverter converts the 12vdc to 120vac. The solar panels would contribute to the battery charging, but contribute is all they'd do. You'd still need a generator to keep up with the average daily load. A 75w solar panel is approx 2' x 3' and will produce about 6a @ 12v in perfect conditions. That won't do the whole job but it would help. Mostly the small trickle charge will help prevent the battery's plates from sulphating. To use solar as the primary input to the battery bank would require an inconveniently large panel array and ideal exposure to the sun's angle. That's easier to accomplish at a cabin than on an RV, and nearly impossible to do on a moving RV. You'd also need more and bigger batteries than most RVs are equipped with. Still, every little bit helps.

  4. #4
    Member trochilids's Avatar
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    Thank you for the reply, Mr. Pid. We were camping this weekend (again!) and I couldn't help but notice that all the camping sites we love to use in Alaska are in fairly wooded areas. I can't imagine that solar power in those places would be very beneficial. And then you have the orientation issue that you mentioned. If the panels are not mobile, then you're stuck with whatever orientation you get when you back into the campsite... I can see solar being much more useful for folks boondocking where they have total control over where and how they park the trailer or RV...

    But I'm still intrigued with the possibilities and will continue to look into it!

    You mentioned using solar for your cabin as well as charging your boat bilge pump battery. What other "common" batteries would we charge with solar to save on electricity? Are there some common "gee whiz" things that we could be hooking up to solar that would help?

    Curious...
    Palmer, Alaska
    "There are some things money can buy. For everything else, there's ALASKA!"

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    I see two different roles for solar panels. One is to replace or supplement generated power. To do so requires adequate storage and current conversion hardware for both input and output. Alaskan summers provide good solar energy but winters do not, so solar as a primary or even supplemental power source is seasonal at best. Whether talking about my cabin or my boat, and there's a tremendous difference in the capability and complexity of those two systems, they both achieve what I've described. On the other hand, small solar panels are very helpful for battery maintenance. You've heard of guys using small battery tenders, right? A small solar panel does the same thing. It will keep your battery charged and sulfate free but in this case the battery's storage capacity is probably not large enough to be a full-time source for power. My trailer's solar panel fits this scheme. My battery has stayed healthy for far longer than it would have without the solar maintenance charge. Coincidentally, a cabin's battery bank benefits from the solar maintenance charging, too. A system that only charges as needed using a generator will have shorter battery life than that same system with solar panels added.

  6. #6
    Member trochilids's Avatar
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    Excellent info.

    What are your thoughts on solar panels one can move around to orient to the sun, versus ones that are permanently mounted on the top of a trailer? While out camping, they could be periodically positioned to hit the sun, or moved to a sunny location at least if one is camping in the shade. I suspect we would be limited by length of the wires between the panel and the controller and battery (and resulting power loss over increased wire length) -- as well as risk of theft if the panels are left unattended during the day...

    Thanks again.
    Palmer, Alaska
    "There are some things money can buy. For everything else, there's ALASKA!"

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    Its easier and cheaper to just add more panels. The panels will operate at less than peak efficiency but the net result is more total power with less complexity and maintenance. For a typical camp trailer or motorhome I don't envision much of a battery bank. 50 or 75 watts of total panel output would be more than a small storage bank could handle, or at least make good use of. When solar panels are doing their best work is usually at a low demand time of day for most people. Solar power is all about the batteries and storing the power for later use.

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