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Old 04-03-2019, 11:32 AM   #1
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I've been seeing a lot of "Solar On The Side" related questions. Here's some FAQs

SO! You bought a new trailer and are wanting to take advantage of the "Solar on the side" feature. That's fantastic, welcome to the world of solar... Kind of.

(THIS IS FOR SOLAR ON THE SIDE QUESTIONS. This is not meant for the more in depth permanent solar setups. We're basically scratching the surface here.)

What is Solar on the Side?
It literally is a plug on the side of your trailer that has wires that go straight to the battery. That's it. It's mostly a marketing gimmick. It can usually carry 10 amps, and it DOES have an inline fuse somewhere near the battery box.
Can I just plug a solar panel into the port?
Yes and no. It depends heavily on the solar panel. If the 'open circuit' output of the solar panel is 16-18 volts, you certainly can. BUT you have to make sure it has a built-in diode to prevent it from draining the battery at night. Or just unplug it. In most circumstances, you will want a device called a 'solar controller.'
What is a solar controller?
A solar controller is a device that senses your current battery voltage, and the voltage being generated by your solar panel. If the panel is producing more than your battery, it will flip a switch and allow the battery to be charged. If the solar panel is producing less voltage, it will break the circuit and your battery will stop charging. I HIGHLY recommend NOT buying the cheap solar controllers from amazon. They have the knack for failing and completely toasting your batteries. There are many quality controllers for small setups that cost around $100-$200 that are VERY good. I like Victron.
Does actually charge my battery?
YES! but if you only have one or two panels, you'll need to make sure the angle is correct in the sun and monitor it. You'll also find that it's good if you're only using your electricity sparingly. It's NOT meant for folks that use inverters to power TVs, CPAPs, residential refrigerators, etc... These are pretty much good for lights, and using the LP furnace at night. (There is SO much more to this including measuring how much energy you use, how many batteries you have, etc etc etc...)
Can I use more than one panel?
Maybe. When you get into the world of solar you need to make a lot of decisions. How much power do you need? Are you exceeding the rating of your wiring? Do you want more than one panel? Most setups that use Solar on the Side are made for one or two panels. If you want more, you need to calculate how much voltage your panels are generating when tying them together. If you wire them in series, you'll be generating the same amount of amps as a single panel but twice the voltage, so you need a controller to make the voltage usable. If you wire them in parallel, you'll be generating the same amount of voltage as a single panel, but twice the amperage.
What's the difference between a PWM controller and MPPT controller?
PWM stands for Pulse Width Modulation. This means that the controller chops up the power into pulses to regulate the output that is acceptable to your batteries. They are good for low voltage setups (1 or 2 panels) and are less efficient than a MPPT controller. MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) converts the power from a high voltage input and converts it to a lower voltage but higher amperage output acceptable to your batteries. It's more efficient and is used for setups that have 2 or more panels wired in series.
Is solar cheaper than a generator?
It CAN be. If you're boon-docking a lot and don't have creature comforts like TVs and whatnot, or don't have an inverter to power 120v devices, solar can be cheaper than a 1000 or 2000 watt inverter generator. I personally have a 400W solar setup permanently installed on my roof. I have a 2X2 series//parallel setup (two sets of two panels are wired in series, then come together in parallel) that feed into a Victron 75/15 MPPT controller that go to 2 deep cycle batteries. I camp with my wife and 2 daughters. We use the LP furnace at night, the water pump for dishes, showers, lights, music, and charging phones. We can camp indefinitely with this setup (Except for water) even in sub zero temperatures. This system cost me $550 in parts all purchased from Amazon.
Hope this helps, and I'll add more if more people have questions.
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Old 04-05-2019, 10:06 AM   #2
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Thanks for the above - hopefully you won't regret posting this (with more questions coming)

1. I don't yet have the panel(s) - should I get panels w/o a controller (if I use the Victron), or if panel already has a solar controller do I remove or by-pass it? What should I look for in a portable solar panel(s) to use with Victron?

2. Did you upgrade the pre-wiring or plug - or simply plug in to it?
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Old 04-09-2019, 11:18 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LorenzoP View Post
Thanks for the above - hopefully you won't regret posting this (with more questions coming)

1. I don't yet have the panel(s) - should I get panels w/o a controller (if I use the Victron), or if panel already has a solar controller do I remove or by-pass it? What should I look for in a portable solar panel(s) to use with Victron?

My default answer is to ALWAYS have a controller. Never bypass it. Buy a set of panels, and buy a quality controller.

2. Did you upgrade the pre-wiring or plug - or simply plug in to it?
I actually ran my own wiring for my setup. But I'm pulling in more electricity than the side port can handle.
..
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Old 04-09-2019, 09:47 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kfergiez View Post
..
How much energy/amps can the pre wired Zamp side plug take? Any idea on the limits?
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Old 04-09-2019, 09:51 PM   #5
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I believe it to be 10amps max.
Not entirely certain.
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Old 04-09-2019, 10:26 PM   #6
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Probably fused at 10 amps. Thatís 120 watts.
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Old 04-11-2019, 04:03 PM   #7
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My question is: if one already has a solar panel(s) with a controller like a kit like this https://www.amazon.com/WindyNation-O...kit&pldnSite=1
AND one is using a Victron or comparable high quality controller, THEN does one bypass the controller included with panel, or use both controllers?
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