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Old 09-12-2016, 03:47 PM   #1
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Solars / lithium batteries - first experience

Hi All,

First of all, thank you all for your recommendations in relation to the solar setup. Big thanks to Don (Mustang) and Seann for their patience with explaining the stuff for newbie! I followed Seann recommendation and had Solar Mike (in beautiful Slab City) to install the whole system. Great job and reasonable price!

We spent last couple of days in a campground having a chance to test the solar panels (4 x 160W), the lithium batteries (4 x 100Ah) and Magnum 2812 inverter. Need to say that I did not have time to get into details how the things are working… So, we just wanted to confirm how long we would be able to survive in a dry camping. We were using microwave, electric kettle, toaster, milk warmer, etc. I did not pay too much attention how many amps were being pumped into the batteries during the day… until the last day

It turned out that our camping site was prefect… but not for the solar. It was in the shade, tall trees around us. The trailer was cool and pleasant for kids to have naps without any fans, air con, etc. However, around noon, about 2 amps were being pumped into the system – the panels were in total shade. In the afternoon, for 2-4 hours I could get up to 8 amps. With tilting I could get probably twice as much, but I did not take the hardware for tilting from home.

The batteries died by the end of the last day (day 3). Unfortunately, the heater does not work without electricity, so the night was not that pleasant.
Once we took off from the campground and the panels were facing the sun, 30 amps were being pumped.

Take aways:

- We could survive probably twice as much (or more) without heavy using the batteries, even without the solar panels working (which is not that bad)
- I need to consider adding portable panel(s)
- I need to consider adding a small generator to the setup for emergency situations – as much as I love the idea of the solar energy and silence when camping, I need to make sure that e.g. we have the heater operating, so the kids are not cold.

Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

Thanks!
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Old 09-12-2016, 03:58 PM   #2
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Sounds like a good first test. With a little conservation of power you would probably fair a bit better.

Do your batteries have a BMS attached? What were they run down to? Running down lithium batteries beyond 20% remaining is not good for their lifespan.

Solar is great while you have sun. Trees and shade certainly don't help. We had a nice site with tall trees all around us for 5 nights this summer. The most I saw going into our batteries was 0.9 amps for the 5 days we were there. We were conserving more than usual those days!

Cheers
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Old 09-12-2016, 04:05 PM   #3
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I think I have BMS They went down to 11.60 Vdc. I do not know the capacity they went down, because the monitor showed 100%, which is strange on my list to discuss with elite power (the distributor).

Re lifespan - I understand this is one of approx. 2,000 cycles, so I do not worry that much.
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Old 09-12-2016, 04:27 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bono View Post
Hi All,

First of all, thank you all for your recommendations in relation to the solar setup. Big thanks to Don (Mustang) and Seann for their patience with explaining the stuff for newbie! I followed Seann recommendation and had Solar Mike (in beautiful Slab City) to install the whole system. Great job and reasonable price!

We spent last couple of days in a campground having a chance to test the solar panels (4 x 160W), the lithium batteries (4 x 100Ah) and Magnum 2812 inverter.
Seems like a nice system!
Need to say that I did not have time to get into details how the things are working… So, we just wanted to confirm how long we would be able to survive in a dry camping. We were using microwave, electric kettle, toaster, milk warmer, etc. I did not pay too much attention how many amps were being pumped into the batteries during the day… until the last day
You have to always be aware of what is going on with your system, if you are, you will soon realize how much power the various devices will draw.
To me you are attempting to use a lot of high current items to recreate a home experience. Do you really need an electric kettle, milk warmer, microwave? Try a percolator, saucepan and thermometer, and skillet. You will find your power demands drop dramatically.


It turned out that our camping site was prefect… but not for the solar. It was in the shade, tall trees around us. The trailer was cool and pleasant for kids to have naps without any fans, air con, etc. However, around noon, about 2 amps were being pumped into the system – the panels were in total shade. In the afternoon, for 2-4 hours I could get up to 8 amps. With tilting I could get probably twice as much, but I did not take the hardware for tilting from home.
Being able to relocate the panels to maximize sunlight is critical if you are in areas that contain any trees. Doing so can add several hours of good charging to your day, as well as more apps for the time you have. Having portable panels also allows you to park the trailer in the shade (conserves on AC) while placing the panels in the sun.
The batteries died by the end of the last day (day 3). Unfortunately, the heater does not work without electricity, so the night was not that pleasant.
For comparision, my wife and I can go almost indefinitely if the sun is out with 200Watts and 2-12V deep cycles. Admitted, we run everything possible off of propane, have LED lights everywhere, panels are portable, and we never use the AC. Your idea for a generator backup is a good one. You never know when you might get multiple days with no sun at all. I noticed Costco has the champion 2800/3100 watt generator for $699 again. That would allow you to even run the AC if needed.
Once we took off from the campground and the panels were facing the sun, 30 amps were being pumped.

Take aways:

- We could survive probably twice as much (or more) without heavy using the batteries, even without the solar panels working (which is not that bad)
- I need to consider adding portable panel(s)
- I need to consider adding a small generator to the setup for emergency situations – as much as I love the idea of the solar energy and silence when camping, I need to make sure that e.g. we have the heater operating, so the kids are not cold.

Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

Thanks!
Keep up the good work!
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Old 09-12-2016, 04:37 PM   #5
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Using the microwave with solar, I'm surprised you made it 3 days. You would need a massive array to power everything you are running. Just to echo what DanNJanice said...

Your system sounds pretty awesome to me, but it isn't sized for that kind of demand. Do you know the power consumption of the devices you listed? They all sound like heavy hitters. For grins, if you wanted, you could find one of the numerous solar sizing calculators out there online and go through the fairly minimal effort with determining what your array and battery bank would really need to look like. You'll likely run out of roof space, but it's a good exercise for establishing expectations. Solar setups like your are hardly cheap. Going to have to use a lot more propane, and a lot fewer toasters and the like. You could probably run all of your lights for 5 hours for what that piece of toast drained out of your system.
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Old 09-12-2016, 07:09 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bono View Post
Hi All,



Take aways:

- We could survive probably twice as much (or more) without heavy using the batteries, even without the solar panels working (which is not that bad)
- I need to consider adding portable panel(s)
- I need to consider adding a small generator to the setup for emergency situations – as much as I love the idea of the solar energy and silence when camping, I need to make sure that e.g. we have the heater operating, so the kids are not cold.

Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

Thanks!
A couple things...
- You need to learn how to live A SOLAR LIFESTYLE
- You need to monitor your system CONSTANTLY

As you found out it is not anywhere like staying at a full service site. It is pretty much like driving your TV, you are always monitoring your fuel gauge to see how much farther you can go. If you neglect to constantly check the status of your batteries, well you already know the outcome.

As was mentioned in an earlier post, you need to convert from using electric power for everything. Coffee pots, microwave are both power hogs. A Mr Coffee pot 4 cup uses 800 watts on 110AC.. those 800 watts on a 12VDC system is 66.6 Amps. So that pot runs for 10 minutes of 66.6 Amps. After the 10 minutes it is about 6.6Ah, so if you crank that pot up 5 times in 3 days, you have used about 33Ah, baby bottle warmer about the same and you probably used that more than 5 times in 3 days..... Microwave is about the same load... Add a Tv load for probably 5 hrs a day, and maybe charging your laptop and phones and games... You can figure out how many Ah's you would have saved by using LP to heat up things. You need to monitor the batteries to see if you have enough for the most important item.. heating your TT over night.

When you look at your SOLAR panel output for the outing, you were probably about 30Ah a day (on the high side). So your usage was really up there.

IF you opt not to change to SOLAR LIFESTYLE, you will need to invest in a generator to run a little in the morning and at night... which in your case it may be a good investment. Adding portable panels may be questionable, unless you have access to full sun for them. Angling the panels in the shade will not increase their output very much, if any.

Don
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Old 09-12-2016, 10:26 PM   #7
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I will try to adjust to "SOLAR LIFESTYLE". I would like to avoid using a generator. In relation to the monitoring of the batteries, I really need to contact the distributor as the capacity percentage does not change that often - usually it shows 100%, even with the voltage below 12 Vdc. Can I somehow read the Ah left from the voltage?



Solar Mike told me that I would need to use two portable solar panels, not just one. I don't understand the technical issues behind this, but I believe that he knows what he is saying.

What portable panels you could recommend?
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Old 09-13-2016, 06:04 AM   #8
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If you plan on adding the 2 additional panels, Renogy has a some quality products. You need to remember that if you plan on using the same SOLAR charge controller, the panel voltages need to be within 1% of the current panel voltages... wattage does not matter . If the panels are not the same voltage, you will need to add a new SOLAR charge controller for the new panels.

You will need to talk to talk to the Mfr or Solar Mike regarding how to monitor your batteries as the batteries you installed have different discharge characteristics.

Another issues with lowering battery voltage, is that the inverters are designed for max output 110VAC at 12.6VDC, as the battery voltage hits 12VDC your inverter may only be producing around 100VAC. A lot of electronics do not like being used at a voltage lower than 100 VAC (Tv', Radio's, Laptops.... You will also need to monitor your AC voltage. I am ordering one of the AC voltage monitors below, and will mount it next to my DC voltage monitors.

Don
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ELECTRONICS - 110VAC Digital Voltage Display.jpg  
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EnGenius WI-FI extender, D-Link wireless (n) modem
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Old 09-13-2016, 06:30 AM   #9
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I wouldn't worry about extra panels until you get your current setup figured out and another trip or two under your belt. Portable panels would be a pain in the behind in my opinion and in a shady site they aren't going to do much unless you can get them completely out of the shade.

Get your monitor sorted out. If it always reads 100% capacity it is not setup properly and your installer needs to fix it not sell you more panels.

Good luck with the setup. It sounds like a nice one!

Cheers
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Old 09-13-2016, 07:13 AM   #10
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I've been "solar" for eight seasons now, and the above comments are right on the mark. I still fire up the generator in the morning, for the microwave and the Kuerig. (Wife likes her bacon microwaved.). Other than that, learn to make propane your best friend! I run the fridge and the water heater on propane. All cooking (other than microwave) is propane, and most is outside, so that vent fan use is minimized. I even have a propane-fired crock-pot that I picked up a few years ago.

Another way to be more efficient is in your 12v utilization. Turning 12v into 110v, so that you can plug-in cell phone and camera chargers wastes electricity. Install more 12v plugs in your unit, use 12v car chargers, and avoid the conversion loss. Change all of your switchable lights, inside and out, to LED, if they aren't already. Install an accumulator tank on your water system, so that the pump cycles less, turn the antenna booster off between uses.... Anything to minimize power use.

Finally, I've found that my batteries are often fully recharged by mid-day. That means that my charger is "floating" much of the afternoon, and that there is power that's available, but not fully utilize. Take advantage of this. Use your power during the daylight, when it can still be replenished before dark.

Finally, I find that a lot of campers like to camp in the shade. Shade is our enemy, when you have solar. When making reservations, call the CG by phone and ASK which sites have little or no shade. Few others want those sites, so the CG will be glad to get them rented sooner than later.

Happy Camping!
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