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Old 12-30-2021, 04:05 PM   #1
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Noob question-batteries and solar panel on smaller travel trailer

Hi All. Got a travel trailer this past summer and got to use it a couple times before it went back in the shop (but that is a different story!). I was wondering if you all had experience with running only one 12v battery for short boondocking trips. Is it enough? Me, two kids and my wife. I have a generator but would prefer not to run it all of the time. I was looking into 2 6v but haven't decided yet. And a follow up, I disconnected my battery for the winter and forgot about the damn solar panels lol. I'm hoping I didn't screw anything up by just disconnecting the battery. It has a cover on it btw. Any suggestions? Should I do anything in the meantime? Thanks so much. -p
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Old 12-30-2021, 04:57 PM   #2
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Best idea is to add your make, model and year of your RV to your signature for accurate advice.
You can't leave batteries all winter without either a battery tender or connected to a solar array to keep them charged. Since your solar is covered I would suggest you take them inside and add a battery tender (not a regular charger). If the battery goes dead, it will freeze and possible burst. Or it will be dead and no longer able to take a charge.

Try watching a few youtubes on battery care, solar, etc.

As to one night overnights on a single battery, I do it while traveling. Only bad thing would be very cold weather would use a lot of furnace fan time which is a big draw on a single battery. 2 sixes should be more than enough if you don't have a lot of other draws.
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Old 12-30-2021, 05:07 PM   #3
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Hi thanks. I thought I had my signature set. It should be up now. I guess my question about the solar panel was-did I need to do anything with the solar panels or connection before removing the battery for winter storage? or should I do anything now? I have a battery tender that I am using-and will work with 6v if I decide to go that route.
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Old 12-30-2021, 06:00 PM   #4
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did I need to do anything with the solar panels or connection before removing the battery for winter storage?

I have a Renogy solar system, the manual specifically says my Renogy Wanderer (PWM) controller should not be connected to the panels unless a battery is connected to the controller. I guess it depends on your controller. You say "it" is covered. What is covered? The battery or the solar panel(s)? If the solar is covered and dark I suppose there wouldn't be any input voltage to the controller and there may be no harm. What does your manual say?


As far as how long the battery will last - besides the obvious variable of demand, it will also depend on solar input (how much and how direct is there sunlight, the capacity o your panel(s), the efficiency of your controller and the type and condition of your battery. I presently have one Renogy 12 volt Smart Lithium Iron Phosphate battery with 2-200 watt panels. As a recent test while boondocking I left a 110 volt flat screen TV running off the 1000 watt inverter for 8 hours - that took the battery from 100% to 30%. The next day was full sun but due to trees at my location I moved the panels around throughout the day to get maximum sun (a pain). After 8 hours or so the battery was fully charged.



I've read many accounts touting the advantage of 2 - 6 volt batteries connected in series as a better option than a single 12 volt. I can't say for sure, but I'm stuck with what I have and plan to add another 200 watt panel, another 12 volt LiFePO4 battery and to replace the PWM controller with a more efficient (and more expensive) MTTP controller.
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Old 12-30-2021, 08:49 PM   #5
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We do it all the time. The furnace sucks down the battery within a day or so. If anyone uses a CPAP, it can drain a battery quickly too, especially if you have the heated hose and humidification on.

Before we had a generator, we learned how to go for 4-5 days on a single charge, with the cheap battery. The key, turn off any thing you do not need. For example, I open the slideout and awning while still connected to the TV. We turn on the wall switch for the ceiling lights, then turn them off at each light fixture. When we need light, we turn on the one or two lights that we need. If we are not in the TT, all the lights and stuff are turned off.

I now have a CPAP, we are not as power conservative, as i need to charge more frequently, I think I might charge 2 - 3 hours a day.
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Old 12-30-2021, 10:53 PM   #6
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@Shmipshmop another key piece of information on this is what type of refrigerator does the trailer have is it the 12v or the Propane/120v? The 12v will eat through the battery much quicker making a larger solar/battery setup more important.

As for the battery removal and storage etc.. a couple things, as long as you didnt touch/cross the polarity and are sure that they cannot move/touch then you will be fine. The best way to do a disconnect is to switch off the array first, then switch off the charge controller to the battery then remove battery. However on Jayco installed Solar none of these switches exist so its a mute point. The switches are not needed/required however do make it much easier to do maintenance etc..
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Old 12-31-2021, 07:30 AM   #7
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I have a Renogy solar system, the manual specifically says my Renogy Wanderer (PWM) controller should not be connected to the panels unless a battery is connected to the controller. I guess it depends on your controller. You say "it" is covered. What is covered? The battery or the solar panel(s)? If the solar is covered and dark I suppose there wouldn't be any input voltage to the controller and there may be no harm. What does your manual say?


As far as how long the battery will last - besides the obvious variable of demand, it will also depend on solar input (how much and how direct is there sunlight, the capacity o your panel(s), the efficiency of your controller and the type and condition of your battery. I presently have one Renogy 12 volt Smart Lithium Iron Phosphate battery with 2-200 watt panels. As a recent test while boondocking I left a 110 volt flat screen TV running off the 1000 watt inverter for 8 hours - that took the battery from 100% to 30%. The next day was full sun but due to trees at my location I moved the panels around throughout the day to get maximum sun (a pain). After 8 hours or so the battery was fully charged.



I've read many accounts touting the advantage of 2 - 6 volt batteries connected in series as a better option than a single 12 volt. I can't say for sure, but I'm stuck with what I have and plan to add another 200 watt panel, another 12 volt LiFePO4 battery and to replace the PWM controller with a more efficient (and more expensive) MTTP controller.
Haha yes. The solar panel is covered. But mine is basically a useless 100w system that came with the tt. I suppose it is better than nothing. Iíll have to read the manual at some point. Iím just not motivated right now. Itís single digits here and the tt is covered by 2 ft of snow lol. Thanks so much for the reply.
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Old 12-31-2021, 07:38 AM   #8
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We do it all the time. The furnace sucks down the battery within a day or so. If anyone uses a CPAP, it can drain a battery quickly too, especially if you have the heated hose and humidification on.

Before we had a generator, we learned how to go for 4-5 days on a single charge, with the cheap battery. The key, turn off any thing you do not need. For example, I open the slideout and awning while still connected to the TV. We turn on the wall switch for the ceiling lights, then turn them off at each light fixture. When we need light, we turn on the one or two lights that we need. If we are not in the TT, all the lights and stuff are turned off.

I now have a CPAP, we are not as power conservative, as i need to charge more frequently, I think I might charge 2 - 3 hours a day.
Thanks for the input, if it were only me, I would have no problem making the battery last for days. But on our first trip, as you can imagine, the boys were turning everything off and on, and playing with everything lol. Especially the water and toilet haha. We stayed in one spot for three days. That battery didnít stand a chance lol. But the solar helped give it a fighting chance when we did side trips during the day.
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Old 12-31-2021, 07:43 AM   #9
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@Shmipshmop another key piece of information on this is what type of refrigerator does the trailer have is it the 12v or the Propane/120v? The 12v will eat through the battery much quicker making a larger solar/battery setup more important.

As for the battery removal and storage etc.. a couple things, as long as you didnt touch/cross the polarity and are sure that they cannot move/touch then you will be fine. The best way to do a disconnect is to switch off the array first, then switch off the charge controller to the battery then remove battery. However on Jayco installed Solar none of these switches exist so its a mute point. The switches are not needed/required however do make it much easier to do maintenance etc..
Hi thanks! My refer can run on propane, so that helps. And yes, the Jayco system does not give me any options for disconnect. I did not know what to try to do! I guess Iíll find out in the spring? Have a great new year.
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Old 12-31-2021, 07:53 AM   #10
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When the spring comes and the TT has thawed out to where you feel it safe, just cut some cardboard and put it on top of the solar panel. Then hook up your battery. That will ensure that there is either no or VERY low current going through the system when you re-hook up the battery. If you have an AGM/Lead Acid type battery make sure to keep it maintained with water and on a trickle charger during the winter months. If you switch to a Lithium (LiFePO4) just make sure to fully charge it before putting on the trailer.
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Old 12-31-2021, 09:06 AM   #11
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When the spring comes and the TT has thawed out to where you feel it safe, just cut some cardboard and put it on top of the solar panel. Then hook up your battery. That will ensure that there is either no or VERY low current going through the system when you re-hook up the battery. If you have an AGM/Lead Acid type battery make sure to keep it maintained with water and on a trickle charger during the winter months. If you switch to a Lithium (LiFePO4) just make sure to fully charge it before putting on the trailer.
Thanks. I plan on checking the battery every month. Thanks for the tips. Btw, you think I should be removing snow from the roof occasionally?
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Old 12-31-2021, 09:10 AM   #12
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I live in the Phoenix AZ area and do not have the snow problem so do not know the answer for that, I bet there is someone else who knows the right answer there. Here in AZ we have a sun rot/drying problem.
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Old 12-31-2021, 09:28 AM   #13
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Correction: My brain's memory shorted out. My solar array is really 2-100 watt Renogy panels, not 2-200 watt panels as my poor brain's memory recalled and I posted. So I only really have 200 watts of solar array. The 200 watt panel I'm looking to add is significantly longer and more expensive than the 100 watt panels I have now.
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Old 01-19-2022, 03:02 PM   #14
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The 100 watt panel will do a decent job of charging your battery. In full sun that's about 6amps/hour. your battery is the weak spot. Remember, you can only draw it down around 50% before damage to battery starts.
The panels should be fine disconnected as long as the leads are not shorted.
Read the manual before you reconnect as some controllers will not turn on until connected in proper sequence.

A very rough way to calculate a deep cycle type battery's available amps is to take the MCA or CCA figure on the battery and divide by 12. Then remember, you can only use about half that safely.

A true deep cycle battery ( like 2 golf cart 6volts) are rated at x amps@ 20amp hour rate. Meaning...the battery can provide x amps while drawing 20 amps continuous...so...a 100 amp GC2 battery will last 5 hrs....20 into 100 = 5.

Recommend you change out your lights for led bulbs. And then develop a fun program for kids on saving energy. Might work!
Also, suggest you develop a list of all devices in trailer that use power and how much.
Remember, fridge runs on propane, but the fridge control board runs on 12 volts.
Add the devices up.

Just sitting quietly with fridge running, tv amp off, wireless remote for awning, etc., on and propane detector on... My trailer is drawing about 1.6 amps. So in 10 hours that's 16 amps used. It adds up fast. I'm running 2 6 volt GC2 batteries in series. 100 amps.
Have Renogy 100 watt panel. Need generator after 2 days if sun isn't 100%!

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Old 01-19-2022, 03:41 PM   #15
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The thread has wandered a bit. I'll respond to the OP.

If you have space on the tongue, definitely add two GC-2s...6 volt golf cart batteries. You'll spend about $400 all told including one core charge (you have only one battery to surrender), two appropriately sized battery boxes, a little extra connecting wire and crimp connectors, and misc hardware to anchor the battery boxes to the battery tray on the tongue. I have these. Here's the full list of options from Batteries Plus.
I chose mine based on my estimate of cost/performance (usable amp hours) at the time. Today I might go for this one for another $20 for the pair.

There's nothing special about Duracell or Batteries Plus, but it was a good option for me. You can get good GC-2s at Costco, Walmart, and so on. Trojan is the gold standard brand, but you pay a premium.

Why more battery? Simple. You get to go from being EXTREMELY frugal with 12 volt power to having enough so you can relax. I'm still careful, but we use our lights, stereo, furnace, pump, and all the other ammenities as needed...including ceiling vent fans, range hood fan, run the awning in and out several times a day, and so on. My previous rig had 100 watts of solar and a group 24, and we only used the necessities...NO LIGHTS (as in we used a propane mantle lantern and battery LED lanterns), no stereo, and so on, and we had a manual bag awning. I should also note that the PUP's slide and tongue jack were both manual. Sure, we got by. But, it's a huge difference in comfort and convenience for a relatively small investment. My old PUP wouldn't readily support 400 watts of solar and two GC-2s, but my new Jayco (and yours) will do so easily.

Why golf cart batteries rather than LiFePo4 (Lithium)? Mostly because you'd need to upgrade your charging systems - the converter/charger and the solar PWM charge controller to make them compatible with Lithium. But there are some big advantages to Lithium...along with some risks. Risks? They like to be warm and dry. They don't do well in very cold temps. FCLA (flooded cell lead acid batteries ... conventional old lead acid batteries) don't mind the cold. It's unlikely that they can live on the battery tray on the tongue of your rig without some investment in a box to coddle them. They are somewhat more expensive per USABLE amp hour, but there are plenty on Amazon for cheap.

Advantages of Lithium? Lighter by a lot - at about 85 pounds per GC-2, that 175 pounds (including boxes, wire) is a significant increase in tongue weight if your TV (tow vehicle) is marginal; you get to use about 80% of their rated capacity instead of the 50% you can use with FCLAs; the same amount of USABLE amp hours (AH) in a smaller package. And a huge advantage is that they can be charged/discharged through about 5 times or more the charge cycles...a significant difference. If you are REALLY serious about boondocking, you would be well advised to investigate LiFePo4s...but make sure your wallet is up to the task.

Now, on to winter. If you have shore power available and you're using GC-2s, plug in your rig and leave the batteries in place. The converter/charger in your rig is about as sophisticated a charger as you can buy for reasonable bucks...as good or better than a battery tender. Set your calendar to check the electolyte about every two months, and that's all you need to do. Bonus, the solar charge controller remains connected to a load, which keeps it happy.

As for disconnecting batteries, you can vastly simplify that process by adding an on/off switch "before" the PWM charge controller. How? A single on/off switch on the "red" wire would be fine, but you can buy what's called a double pole, single throw switch that will switch both wires. Use the term, double pole, single throw 30 amp switch, and search your options. The standard looking household toggle appeals to me, but there are rocker and automotive toggle versions of this. You'll have to do some work to install it in the wires coming from the solar panels (roof) before the PWM controller. Do that, and you can "turn off" the panels at will. (Cover your panels before performing this task, so their output is negligible. In bright sun, 100 watts of solar can push about 18 volts at 7.5 amps at you...a bit sparky when making connections, and a risk to the charge controller.)

As for your current (pun intended) situation, the RV cover will curtail enough solar gain at the panels to massively reduce their output, but, just like your handheld calculator, which works in the solar getto of your livingroom, they will put out measurable power even in the twilight under the RV cover. For now, leave your pathetic little group 24 marine battery in place as a load for the solar charge controller to "see." If you're plugged into shore power, that battery will be happy as can be so long as you don't let it dry out.

So, the "hot setup" on the cheap? A Renology 400 watt solar kit with an MPPT controller and 2 x 6 volt GC-2s. That's what we have, and we boondock exclusively...NEVER have shore power except at home. I have 12 volt power to spare...so much so that I have a 500 watt inverter that I can use to run a guest's CPAP overnight, and/or I can run an electric blanket for about 20 minutes to take the chill off the bed (about 10 AH all by itself). We, too, have a proper RV absorption fridge (120 volt or propane) - if you were saddled with a 12 volt compressor fridge, my system would be barely enough...if not inadequate. As it is, I don't have to think about 12 volt power.

Installation? You're in luck. Chances are that your wire from the roof and from the charge controller to the battery is at least #10. (The wire jacket will be impinted with "10AWG" or something like 12AWG which is too small for 30 amps. #10 is bigger than #12.) If it's #10, that's enough. If not, use the old wire to pull new wire, or install a new "gland" that will allow you to use adequate wire. That's another discussion, one I'd be happy to have with you offline.

We do have a generator to run the microwave and espresso machine...after all, we are not savages. But that's all we use if for. If it's pouring rain (bad for solar), we'll run the generator while we sit inside and play cards and such, and this is a time that nobody cares about the generator, because everyone's inside.

My two "solar" rigs are pictured. I was 71 when I installed the solar on the Jayco...so it ain't that hard. I could provide instructions offline.

You have one helluva great camper for boondocking, and with the kids, gearing up to make it comfortable and kid friendly is important. Do you want their memories of camping to be, "turn off that light!!" or carefree with lots of fun? Enough solar and battery will make it fun for all of you. Your current setup is really inadequate. And a hidden threat is that you only get to use about 50% of the battery's available amp hours before you start damaging it. In your case, that group 24 the dealer stuck you with can deliver about 35 USABLE AH. A group 27, from a generous dealer, can deliver all of about 40 usable AH. That is not nearly enough for a family of 4 to go into the boonies for a weekend...even with that puny solar. And if you upgrade your solar, it won't matter what happened over the winter. Just be sure to install a switch between the panels and charge controller, and you're good to go. While you're at it, be sure the charge controller is LiFePo4 compatible, and you can always go lithium when you win the lottery.
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Old 01-19-2022, 04:43 PM   #16
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thanks for all of the info. I have to admit that the dealer setup was pretty sweet-solar panel, charge controller that will accept all types of batteries, a larger group 27 battery, led lights and a propane/electric fridge-but there always seems like there's more to buy! It's endless lol. btw nice setups on your trailers!
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Old 01-19-2022, 06:40 PM   #17
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IMHO, you are better off putting your money into a quiet inverter-generator. For solar power to work, you need to park your camper in the sun. Unless you have a lot of solar power, you won't have enough power to run an air-conditioner. On a hot sunny day, your camper will be uncomfortable. On a hot cloudy day, even solar panels won't help.
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Old 01-19-2022, 07:00 PM   #18
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Yes I already have an inverter generator. Just not sure how much I want to use it or bring it everywhere! �� Actually I had to buy a larger one than I wanted because of the ridiculously large roof ac that came with the unit lol.
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Old 01-19-2022, 08:09 PM   #19
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Soft-Start, that is a simple inexpensive solution to the big AC and smaller generator issue. There are other threads on this subject on this forum that go into detail but it will easily solve that issue, for when its hot/humid out.
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Old 01-19-2022, 09:26 PM   #20
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You probably got one of those 3500W inverter-generators. They are bulky and heavy. If you load them up enough to run an AC, they are about as noisy as a regular generator. I don't run my AC off my smaller 2KW Honda. For just charging the batteries, it's very quiet. I tried a soft-start kit on it and it didn't work for me. Maybe I needed to get a more expensive kit. I wouldn't want to be that guy who runs his loud generator all day long so there was no point in spending a bunch of money on it.
There's a guy on Utube that claims he runs his AC using just power from his solar panels. I'm dubious. His whole roof is covered with panels and he has a huge bank of lithium batteries. Still, I find it hard to believe he gets enough power to run more than a few hours a day unless he supplements with a generator. Offhand, I'm guessing he spent north of $10k on the setup. That's a lot of campsite fees.
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