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Old 05-08-2016, 11:57 PM   #1
Real Nice Clark
 
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Boondocking-how much power?

So with the new TT I'd like to be able to camp off-grid for weekends, sometimes a 3-4 day weekend. My initial thought is to buy an extra battery (for 2 12V total), and possibly a solar panel. It's a Grey Wolf 19RR FWIW, and is pre wired for the Zamp solar kit. I'm thinking the 120w at the moment. Questions for any who have experience in this area:

-I know I can't run the A/C and microwave without ac power, and that's fine. Any other systems that would be huge power drains to stay away from while boondocking?

-Would 2 12V batteries be sufficient to last a weekend with a 120w solar panel (I realize there is no concrete answer here due to variances of sunlight from time of year, weather, etc, just looking for rough ideas)? What about without solar, what can you expect from a 2 battery bank? I think our power needs would be average or below, no appliances would be plugged in but may want to play music periodically and charge a phone.

I'm sure I'm leaving out some criteria needed for a helpful response, please let me know if so. Just trying to figure out a starting point to plan for boondocking.


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Old 05-09-2016, 12:46 AM   #2
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Well it seems you're well aware that there's a lot of variables to take into consideration regarding power consumption. Nevertheless in an effort to be helpful without getting bogged down in minutia this is my experience...

Prior to my motorhome I had a pop-up trailer for several years. The two are likely the antithesis of power consumption. The pop-up was equipped with a stereo, LED lighting, USB charge ports, water pump and furnace. To the best of my recollection that was the extent of the powered items. Granted the furnace used LP for heat, but still required power for the blower. The OEM equipment was a group 24 12v battery which had about 75Ah of capacity which seemed like it would be easy to blow through in a few days, so I never pushed it much. Eventually I switched to two Trojan 6v batteries in series (result = 12v) along with a roof mounted (non-tilting) 100w Zamp solar panel and 10A PWM solar controller. This system catapulted the amp-hours well beyond what I could consume in a given day and with the solar panel the system was quickly replenished during the day. I had this system for a year or two before going an entirely different direction by buying a motorhome. In that time I monitored the battery voltage with a volt meter and was consistently impressed with the battery capacity and support I received from the solar panel. I could run the stereo, charge phones and tablets and never think twice about it.

When I bought the motorhome (10/2015), there were two certainties in my mind. I would immediately install a solar panel (or multiple) and given the fact that there are a number of additional items requiring power I would need a more robust system. I ended up with two 160w monocrystalline panels (very similar to Zamp, which is a local company here) and a 30A MPPT controller. I plan to upgrade the OEM batteries as they are basic 12v batteries with a combined total capacity of about 190Ah. Many would argue that the ability of my solar panels to produce power exceeds the capacity of my batteries to store the power. And I would tend to agree. Eventually I'll likely switch over to twin 6v batteries, but at some point when buying a new motorhome and new solar panels the wallet needs to stop bleeding for a while.

Personally I like the panels affixed to the roof. For me the advantage of having them secured to the rig and not having to set them up is greater than the ability to position portable panels for optimum performance. I'm also a proponent of rigid panels over flexible ones, based upon my experience with rigid panels and the mixed reviews I've read about flexible ones.

If you want to have a reasonably robust system and not break the bank Zamp has a lot of really good options for both portable units and roof mounted ones. Their panels are all monocrystalline, which is reportedly some of the most efficient you can get. I believe all of their controllers are PWM, or Power Wave Modulation and they are very good. From what I've read MPPT controllers, or Maximum Power Point Technology are superior in that they can boost the incoming voltage from the panels and deliver a higher voltage to the battery bank. Nevertheless they are typically more expensive.

I believe I spent about $1000 on the pop-up, inclusive of the batteries. That system included:
100w Panel (Zamp)
10A Controller (Zamp)
2 Trojan 6v Batteries
Professional Installation

The system on the motorhome was considerably more, just over double and I didn't upgrade the batteries (yet). That system includes:
2x 160w Panels
30A BlueSky 2512ix Controller
BlueSky ProRemote
Shunt
Battery Temp Lead
Professional Installation

Anyway, hope this helps. Best of luck.
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Old 05-09-2016, 12:58 AM   #3
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I mostly dry camp. The first 4 trips this year I have used my forced air furnace every night. I have (2) 12 volt batteries. The furnace runs off and on all night set at 60 degrees. I use my Bluetooth audio system when in camp after returning from the day's riding. All of my lights are LED. My batteries are always charged back to 100% ready for the next night from my portable plug and play 120 watt solar panel. I don't watch much TV (12 volt) while camping and all of my accessories are 12 volt. I only have used the generator for the microwave to heat up pre cooked dinners that my wife sent along with me. Other nights I use the propane grille. I have never worried about power when camping.
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Old 05-09-2016, 01:00 AM   #4
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Thanks dukeboone, very helpful! You mention going from the group 24 12v to (2) 6v batteries. I've read about and understand the benefits of dual 6v batteries vs dual 12v....but I guess I'm hesitant to replace the almost brand new 12v battery that came with the camper and buy two new batteries. But, in your opinion, am I better off just sucking it up and buying the 2 6v's rather than buying one more matching 12v and dealing with the decreased capacity? And, if I went ahead and converted to a dual 6v system, would it be possible to make it through a weekend (2 nights) without any solar or other power? (Primarily running lights, maybe radio, and lp furnace at night)
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Old 05-09-2016, 01:04 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bob dirt View Post
I mostly dry camp. The first 4 trips this year I have used my forced air furnace every night. I have (2) 12 volt batteries. The furnace runs off and on all night set at 60 degrees. I use my Bluetooth audio system when in camp after returning from the day's riding. All of my lights are LED. My batteries are always charged back to 100% ready for the next night from my portable plug and play 120 watt solar panel. I don't watch much TV (12 volt) while camping and all of my accessories are 12 volt. I only have used the generator for the microwave to heat up pre cooked dinners that my wife sent along with me. Other nights I use the propane grille. I have never worried about power when camping.

Thanks! This sounds very similar to what we will do, without the microwave part. Have you tried to run this way without solar? If so, how did the two battery setup fair over a day or two?
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Old 05-09-2016, 01:18 AM   #6
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This is the first time I have had a solar panel. On my other motor homes and my last 5er, the furnace would draw the batteries down enough in one night to have to be charged by the generator for the second night. My last 5er toy hauler had (4) 6 volt batteries. I think a solar panel is the way to go. I went with portable because I'll be in the pine trees when it gets hot. Easier to pick up some sunlight with it if you park under a tree.
Just stick with the 12 volt batteries for now and maybe install 6 volt ones when these go bad...
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Old 05-09-2016, 01:31 AM   #7
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I think the best way to go is to pursue the solar now, keep the OEM battery (it won't last forever) and upgrade the battery later. Don't forget there's a lot of variables in power consumption. So while I might have been fine with no solar and twin 6v batteries on one occasion, it might not have worked well on another occasion. At least with solar you have something to replenish what you're using, and if you find you're using the power faster than you can replenish it you either need more solar and/or more amp hours on the batteries.

I camped at our local ski resort this winter (well late winter/early spring) and ran the furnace a lot over night. It drew the batteries down pretty good, but not too low and by the time I got back for a lunch break (fortunately it was a bluebird day) everything was at 100% again.

The one caveat about the twin 6v vs two 12v that some people comment about is if one battery craps out you're S.O.L. as you need both to reach 12v. With two 12v in parallel you only need one working battery. Nevertheless if I were buying batteries today I'd be looking at the twin 6v in series, my only issue is modifying the entry step to account for the added battery height. Oh and my motto... Buy nice or buy twice.

Cheers!
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Old 05-09-2016, 01:10 PM   #8
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If you purchase another 12v battery and 120 watt solar you should be able to breeze through 4 days of boon docking with no problem. Be sure to start with fully charged batteries before you leave home.
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Old 05-10-2016, 04:03 PM   #9
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You really need some idea of your AH draws/day.

In the A-frame section, there is a list of stuff and some pretty good figures for draws. For my A-frame, the heater fan is the critical item, which is 4 amps. Because the A-frame is better insulated than a PUP (what we used to have) and has smaller volume, 5 hours run time on the heater per night (30s or high 20s) will keep us at 50 degrees inside. So I have a max of 20AH/night from the heater.

The CO/propane detector probably takes another 6AH/24hr day. Occasional light and water pump use could add 4AH. The most I'm likely to see is 30AH per day, and usually down around 20AH.

We wanted to be able to dry camp for 4 nights without worrying about recharging. After 4 nights in the same spot, we are ready to move on. The very quick A-frame setup and take down makes it easy to move on. I didn't want to deal with carrying a generator and fuel. We like shaded sites, and the winds in Colorado and neighboring states are an issue for both awnings and portable solar panels. Besides, a bigger than standard battery bank is the best way to use solar or a generator efficiently, should we someday end up going down that road. We ended up with dual 232AH (116AH usable) golf cart 6V batteries. These were cheaper, and had more capacity for the same battery box compared to dual 12V size 24 deep cycle batteries.

My solution is based on my adherence to KISS. It may not work well for those staying in place for longer terms, or with bigger campers and more stuff.

The long term guys need to monitor their batteries. The most accurate appears to be Trimetric or similar - measures the AH gozintas and gozoutas.

Next best would be a voltmeter. If your load is pretty small (less than an amp or so), the voltage under load is a pretty good measure of state of charge. Right now, I use a multimeter to the battery posts. An installed voltmeter with switch to turn the meter off would also work well. The voltmeter also tells what mode your converter is using to charge the battery when plugged in.

The other way to guess your battery state of charge is the idiot lights on some TT panels. Won't tell you much if plugged in, and only an approximation when unplugged.

Fred W
2014 Rockwood A122 A-frame
2008 Hyundai Entourage minivan
camping Colorado and adjacent states one weekend at a time
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Old 05-10-2016, 04:43 PM   #10
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We predominantly dry camp in very remote locations and have a Flagstaff 832IKBS. We do have a Champion 3100 generator for the micro wave and AC unit but I try not to use this unless absolutely necessary. We use two deep cycle batteries with a full charge when we leave home. Keep in mind many people think that their vehicles trickle charge will charge their battery to 100%. This is not the case, you will be an unhappy camper if you don't start off 100%. We can make it through 2.5 to 3 days of camping with our two batteries depending on how much of a miser I want to be. In the past we could not make two days until we moved to a camper with LED lighting. I take a RAV Power bank 26,800 amp to charge our USB devices so we don't have to use the travel trailers power. This unit will charge five phones and a tablet. I have found that with our 100 watt Renology suitcase solar panel power is never an issue. Just plug it in point at the sun and never worry. When I use the solar panel I don't have to be a miser in any way as my batteries are always ready for the night even with an overcast day.
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