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Old 06-19-2017, 10:29 AM   #1
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MB Solera Solar System Installation

I studied the feasibility of a solar system for my RV and discovered that due to the size of the RV and therefore the roof area, there was simply not enough free space up there for panels of any size, at least not where the panels would see the sun unobstructed from shadows. So, I opted for portable panels that Iíd place on the ground wherever they were needed based upon where I parked the RV. As you see in the attached photos, I can place them almost anywhere and at almost any angle. Iíve had them nearly vertical and also flat on the ground depending on the height of the sun. If you look carefully at the above photo you can see the power cord running along the ground from the panels to the plug just rear of the entrance door.
This 8 AWG four wire cable was sized to eliminate voltage drop along its 23 foot length. I wired it to a 30 amp connector which then had its mate next to the step. This allowed easily connecting the solar panels to the charge controller. On the solar panel end, I cut in half the wires 3 foot connecting cables purchased with the solar panels. I then wired those ends to the other end of the 8 AWG cable. Now I can easily plug the solar panels to the cable and also to the charge controller, which is mounted under the drawer under the sink.

You can see the black wires coming up into the space through the gray insulating material. I managed to carve out an opening large enough to pass the two wires through - one to the cable connection from the solar panels, the other connecting the charge controller output to the batteries. Once in place, I sealed around the cables with new foam to return the space to tight integrity against varmints and weather.

Connection to the battery bank under the entrance step was made directly and monitoring wire was connected to the shunt to monitor the current flowing into and out of the battery bank. The controller does the work of controlling current flow from the panels into the batteries so that they charge in the most effective and efficient way possible. It has different charging voltages and currents to fully charge the batteries using algorithms based upon the battery condition and it previous usage.
I should mention here that the converter installed in the RV to charge the batteries when connected to shore power does a barely adequate job, charging the batteries to about 95% of their capacity. This solar system charges to 115% of the previous dayís use. Thus you get more to use the following day
The controller is also connected to the Battery Monitor for communications between them, via an ethernet cable. This connection allows the monitor to increase the smarts of the controller to include abundant information gathering about historical data, and added functions such as equalizing the batteries raising their capacity. I note that the batteries I have are far shy of what Iíd like in terms of capacity, but this solar system has increased their capabilities by many percent allowing me to use much more power per day.

The solar panels are rated to provide 18 volts at 9 amps. Two panels should therefore provide 18 amps of current if the panels are ideally turned toward the sun. On such a day, I measured on the battery monitor 20.3 amps flowing into my batteries. I suppose that is a flow converted to 12 volts, but it does show that I am getting full bang for my buck. I read much on line during my design studies suggesting to not scrimp on wire size. Voltage drop in a 12 volt system is death to a solar installation. Apparently that was good advice well-heeded.
I give high praise to the Bogart Engineering company for design and build quality on the charge controller and battery monitor combination. These devices are not only economical for my budget, but also are well designed and effective. I recommend them highly.
The solar panels themselves are Renogy 150 watt, 40Ē by 40Ē panels. They are all that they are advertised to be. After a winter with them in the desert, Iíd probably go a little smaller and lighter sacrificing cloudy day capacity. I designed-in quite a bit of extra capacity beyond what I needed on a sunny day. I still get a full charge on a cloudy day, but it takes all day. When it is sunny I have spare capacity to use lots of available power in the afternoon after the batteries have had their fill.
There are many devices and many systems available for purchase. Most are considerably higher cost. I am totally happy with what I have installed and recommend them highly.

Total cost of this system was less than $800 for all parts and pieces. Installation time was more than seven hours over a period of about three weeks. Seems like a lot, but given that I had no experience and had to create all along the way, not so bad (especially as I look back on it).
I really enjoy boon-docking (dry camping). Prior to adding this solar system I had to recharge my coach batteries daily in order to enjoy all the power items that I like to use. When we were driving daily it was easy enough to keep the coach batteries charged adequately (engine alternator did a superior job over the on-board converter/charger.) But when we parked for a couple days (not connected to shore power) I would have to run the generator to bring the coach batteries back to a decent level to use through the evening. I say decent because the converter never brought the batteries back to previous days use. After 2 or 3 days parked, batteries were of little use. So, the length of my stay in any one place was limited by what my batteries could provide. With the solar systemís superior performance my same batteries are fully charged and provide their complete capacity each day. Now my only limitation is fresh water. I donít think I can overcome that limitation, so five days is the ultimate stay time now. Thatís better than 1 to 2.

I hope this gives you some confidence to enhance your boon-docking experiences by adding solar to your Solera.

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Old 06-19-2017, 10:49 AM   #2
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Nice job , do you have a big dog or a heavy chain , or stow them at night?
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Old 06-19-2017, 12:10 PM   #3
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400 watts can go on the roof if you use the smaller 100 watt eclipse panels or 100 watt flexible . The flexible are lighter but subject to cell fractures causing a fire risk. I've had both and after going thru a hail storm in Colorado, I prefer the conventional panels.
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Old 06-20-2017, 08:40 AM   #4
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I have 500 watts on top of my Solera with 4 AGM batteries. They fit just fine and allow me to go off the grid with no issues.Click image for larger version

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Old 06-20-2017, 09:27 AM   #5
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Thanks Charlene, That layout is very similar to what I wanted to do but agonized over the shadowing of the AC and etc. I may have given too much credence to that aspect, but decided it more valuable to honor it.
Curious - do all four batteries fit under the step where the two that came with the Solera are located?? If so, do you have any pictures of them to share? I'd love to put golf cart batteries there but most I know of are an inch or so too tall. Ideas?
Does anyone else have a battery replacement alteration to that compartment?

Rich
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Old 06-20-2017, 09:39 AM   #6
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Hi Ffred, Thanks for your question. Prior to the solar system I was limited by battery capacity. Now my limit boon-docking is water tank capacity. So, I can now stay in one place for 3 to 5 days depending. If so, the panels stay out where I want them for sun exposure. When moving sites, they slide into the space between the drivers seat and the couch frame. It is a very nicely snug fit while driving.
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Old 06-20-2017, 09:40 AM   #7
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I too prefer conventional panels despite the benefits of the flexible ones.
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Old 06-20-2017, 10:15 AM   #8
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Rich, two AGM 6 volts under the step with the top of the step modified about 3/4" to accommodate them. The other two batteries in the storage compartment directly behind the steps (mine is a 24S, 2014 Solera). The Progressive monitor is also in the compartment next to the stairs. All the monitors for the system are on the side of the kitchen cabinet next to the stairs (Progressive monitor is lower on that wall next to the awning button).. Click image for larger version

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Old 06-20-2017, 10:39 AM   #9
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My panels are just like the pic in CharSolera's post. Same panels and mounting system. Mounted on the end like that allows them to be propped up at 45 degrees for maximum efficiency when stationary.
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Old 08-05-2017, 06:57 AM   #10
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Curious, CharSolera, what was done to modify the top step to accommodate the taller batteries. Do you have a picture of that mod?
Very neat installation of the panels at the steps. Well done.
Did you have any concern for the weight of the batteries in the bin next to the stairs? I wondered how much weight the bin could hold with some jostling about while driving. Maybe too much concern since yours are traveling well.
Thanks for sharing, and for the conversation.
Rich
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Old 08-29-2017, 03:04 PM   #11
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Sorry for the late reply, richhop25. The top step was raised a little less than one inch to accommodate the battery height. I don't notice the difference.

Weight is always a concern, but the single slide out on the driver side balances out the battery weight on the other side. The installer built a box around the batteries in the storage compartment.Click image for larger version

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