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Part of the furniture around here
nissan
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Discussion Starter #1
This Christmas, we camped on the Goulburn River south of Jamieson for nearly three weeks, at a spot different to our usual place (which had been closed off by the DSE bastards). It was the first time also that I had with me a 120W solar panel to charge my two campervan batteries (these panels are able to put in up to about 7.5A in full sun). Now the debate about solar vs genny runs hot and strong with almost no grey in the middle, so this is a short tale on my experience using solar panels in the Vic High Country.

First off, the arsenal consisted of two 140Ah lead acid batteries, a Honda E10 genny, a Ctek 15A charger and a cheap Chinese 120W folding solar panel. The enemy was two Waeco fridges (one was the old set a light type, the other, set your temp), one was running as a fridge and the other running as a freezer (the older one). The mission was to run both fridges on solar power for the entire camping trip. When both were running, the current draw was about 7.5A.

However, Murphy hit almost from day one and a problem was encountered at the very beginning where one of the lead acid batteries was completely stuffed and wouldn't hold charge over 11.5V and the other was going down at a rapid rate. The problem was identified when it became evident that the two batteries were not in fact sealed lead acid, but the usual check and fill (which I hadn't done for some time). Because the batteries had none of the usual filler caps, I had assumed that they were fully sealed and that mistake cost me a trip back to Melbourne and two new batteries, or a cancelled camping trip.

The new batteries were AC Delco sealed deep cycle 110A, which I've now found out to be lead calcium batteries, rather than lead acid. I know that there's been a lot of debate about lead calcium over the other types, but that's another discussion altogether. So, upon installing the new batteries, things looked OK, but the charge wasn't holding up to the draw of the fridges and rather than risk destroying another two batteries, I fired up the Honda and Ctek and proceeded to bring the AC Delcos up to full charge. I never actually managed to get the batteries to the float stage, but I did eventually, after about 8 hours of running, get them to the start of the full level.

So, back to the debate of solar vs genny. The aim was to run two fridges continuously using only solar power. Was it achievable? Where we were camped, we were lucky to get maybe 4 hours of full sun that provided maybe 5-6A of charge, with perhaps a few spurts of up to 7.3A. And that depended on your location and length of cable. Stu from the forum perhaps got a bit more, but he was running a 200A AGM and one fridge, so the demand wasn't as great as mine. We ended up doing what I called the Solar Panel Shuffle for three weeks, trying to get every last Amp out of the panels, and with the way the sun moved, we were shuffle champions.

So does solar work? Yes and no. There is no way that you can expect to keep up with power demands in many areas of the Vic High Country, relying just on solar power, you'd be just as well off using an esky and ice. There are areas where you can definitely do well, but that usually means large camping areas where every man and dog resides alongside your camp. With large trees, cloud, time of year etc, solar power in Vic can be a hit or miss affair, if you plan to stay in one spot for a reasonably long time.

Does that mean I dismiss solar power? Not at all. I'll have my panel along with me on all camping trips and use it when the conditions are right, but one cannot rely on just solar in this neck of the woods. For travellers who go where a tree is rarely seen, solar is an ideal solution. But even then, given that even paradise is prone to lack of sun, maybe a genny isn't such a bad idea.

As a final note, if I really had my choice, I'd have the genny running as much as possible; doing the solar panel shuffle for almost three weeks really became tiring after a while. It became as absessive as being a Prious owner and constantly trying to achieve the absolute minimum fuel economy. I actually think the wives would have preferred the gennys running, rather than watch and listen to all of us constantly checking and moving the panels. ;)

Cheers

Ray
 

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120W FOLDING SOLAR PANEL MONOCRYSTALLINE COMPLETE SET (eBay item 360328083149 end time 12-Jan-11 16:32:42 AEDST) : Electronics

Just bought one of these babies. At midday-2pm in Kal it was throwing out 8amps continuous.

The missus got me two of these for xmas :D

120 A/H 12V AGM DEEP CYCLE BATTERY BATTERIES (eBay item 280514728783 end time 26-Jan-11 20:03:52 AEDST) : Cars, Bikes, Boats

This was my final decision when I posted up awhile ago about whether or not to run a genny for camping.

Haven't used the setup yet other than to check the setup at home.
 

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Part of the furniture around here
nissan
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19,131 Posts
Discussion Starter #3
In melbourne 120W panel would only produce 25-30Amp per day.

You generator and CTek 15amp would produce the same in 2 hours.

For camping best to get Ctek 25amp and generator so you have guaranteed power in a small easy to use setup.

For fixed location more panels/batteries plus generator.
Yep, we worked out pretty much the same. But Christmas is the longest we usually go camping in the same spot and have the two fridges working as a fridge and freezer, and this year was extra long. For shorter trips (maybe a week), the solar panel has the potential to do OK; but the genny is always in the camper, just in case.

Cheers

Ray
 

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nissan
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We tend to stay a maximum of 2 nights in any one place, and the battery gets a half decent charge on the alternator when moving. We run 1 60L fridge only and have a 105Ah battery. By the end of 1 week the battery is only able to run the fridge for about 12hours.

We're touring in the top end, sunshine in the dry season is not in short supply.

Would solar panels be worthwhile? I'm planning a 3 week trip and would rather not go flat after 2...
 

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The nutty professor
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8,299 Posts
i take two 120 watt panels with me when camping and i have two 120 a/h agm batteries , more power than i can use , last time i was out the batteries were fully charged by 8am, i do find that i need 1 panel per battery to bring the charge up in reasonable time , when i only had 1 panel and 2 batteries the voltage would only get to 13.2 ish but with 1 battery it went to float easily
 

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Part of the furniture around here
nissan
Joined
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19,131 Posts
Discussion Starter #6
We tend to stay a maximum of 2 nights in any one place, and the battery gets a half decent charge on the alternator when moving. We run 1 60L fridge only and have a 105Ah battery. By the end of 1 week the battery is only able to run the fridge for about 12hours.

We're touring in the top end, sunshine in the dry season is not in short supply.

Would solar panels be worthwhile? I'm planning a 3 week trip and would rather not go flat after 2...
If you're in the top end, then a 120W solar panel would be a great addition. The ones available now are bleeding cheap and work well. I bought mine from here: eBay Australia Shop - Ozterrain Camping: Solar LED Sensor Light, Solar Rope Light, Solar Spot Light. There's another one that sells much the same a bit cheaper, but you're likely to get an 80W panel first off and have to argue for what you actually paid for (if you know what to look for). I e-mailed that lot twice seeking the specifications, and never got a response. My panel has the specs on the panel, the other lot doesn't.

Cheers

Ray
 

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Premium Member
nissan patrol
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334 Posts
the problem with solar is what happens if its cloudy for a week. The constant moving of the panels and the fact that you have to put them away if you go out during the day and therefore you recieve no charge. Bottom line is you still need a genny and charger even if you have solar.
 

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The nutty professor
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8,299 Posts
the problem with solar is what happens if its cloudy for a week. The constant moving of the panels and the fact that you have to put them away if you go out during the day and therefore you recieve no charge. Bottom line is you still need a genny and charger even if you have solar.
not if you over state your solar requirements, one of my solar panels will still put out about 3 amps under cloud unless the cloud is pitch black and storming
 
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