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Old 02-09-2024, 08:03 PM   #1
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Plug In Solar Panels on a Mini Lite

We purchased a Rockwood Mini Lite in 2021. It came with a 12v refrigerator and 2 12v batteries. It was powered with a single "Go Power" 190 watt roof mount solar panel.
The first time we went boondocking at the very overcast coast, we were out of power by noon.

We exchanged the batteries for 2 6v batteries. The next time we went boondocking in a heavily forested campground, we ran out of power by 4pm. We did everything we could to conserve power, no lights, no tv. It was very frustrating.

On the side of the trailer is a solar port. I was wondering if and how portable panels would work using this port? Can I just plug them in or do I need anything special? I'm thinking I need at least a 200w panel.
I talked to our dealer and they said it would cost $1000 to add a 200w rooftop mounted panel.

Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
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Old 02-09-2024, 08:18 PM   #2
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That port is nothing more than an extension cable to the battery. It assumes you have a portable solar panel kit that includes its own controller.

An advantage of the portable panel approach is that you can move it around to keep it in the sun. A disadvantage is that it requires it, and you have to find a place to store it.

The $1000 price quoted by your dealer is insane. A 190W panel can be had on Amazon for $180. Add a little for attachment hardware and connect it to the existing panel.

If you're not a DIY person, I suggest you contact a mobile RV tech to inquire what they would charge for the installation.
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Old 02-09-2024, 08:36 PM   #3
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Moved thread from the Modifications and Updates section to the Rockwood sub-forum since the OP is asking for model-specific information and for better help from other Rockwood owners.
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Old 02-09-2024, 08:44 PM   #4
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If you favour shaded sites or have to deal with areas with less than ideal weather consistently, consider a small inverting generator. It might be your best budget friendly way to get reliable power.
I'm not a huge fan of running it anytime but a couple of hours should get you through the day.
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Old 02-09-2024, 09:28 PM   #5
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Many (most) portable solar panel kits include a controller. Renogy is the standard for comparison. Ours works great. We generaly camp in the trees so a portable panel was best for us. Buy an extension wire of 20' or so to chase the sun during the day, plug and play.

https://www.amazon.com/Renogy-200-Wa...71&sr=8-3&th=1
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Old 02-10-2024, 11:34 AM   #6
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Thank you, I'll check it out
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Old 02-10-2024, 11:40 AM   #7
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I was looking at this recommendation. I like the idea of a 20' extension cable. I saw that there is a "battery clip". What is that and does that connect even with the extension?
Sorry, I am not very tech savvy or much of a diy'er when it comes to electricity or drilling holes in my trailer.
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Old 02-10-2024, 12:09 PM   #8
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I was looking at this recommendation. I like the idea of a 20' extension cable. I saw that there is a "battery clip". What is that and does that connect even with the extension?
Sorry, I am not very tech savvy or much of a diy'er when it comes to electricity or drilling holes in my trailer.
A battery clip is the kind of clamp you find on jumper cables. In this case it will be smaller. You'd have to uncover your battery to use it.

The other end of the cable appears to be what is called an SAE connector. You can buy a different one that has an SAE connector on both ends. The other end would plug into the port on your trailer. Eg: https://a.co/d/bA6kyb8 (Amazon)

WARNING: The port on your trailer MAY be wired in reverse. That's so the vendor can force you to buy their proprietary equipment. The only difference is it's reversed, which can be reversed (again) at the battery. Just disconnect the ring connectors at the battery and attach them to the opposite pole. If you do, label them with colored tape accordingly.

Check polarity before connecting anything. Hire a mobile RV tech to do this if you're not comfortable. They will be.

Edit: the SAE extension linked above is only 16 AWG. I think you'd want 10 AWG, e.g., https://a.co/d/27lOuSK
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Old 02-10-2024, 02:00 PM   #9
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Yeah, your dealer is on crack to say adding a solar panels costs $1000, even if they are installing a grossly overpriced GoPower solar panel.
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Old 02-10-2024, 02:34 PM   #10
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Thanks Chris but this is where I start to panic. How would I know if the polarity is reversed? The system was factory installed and the plug on the side appears to be a standard SAE solar plug. I don't want to damage my batteries or the system.
I guess I will take your advice and hire someone to check it. I was hoping to do this inexpensively.
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Old 02-10-2024, 02:47 PM   #11
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Thanks Chris but this is where I start to panic. How would I know if the polarity is reversed? The system was factory installed and the plug on the side appears to be a standard SAE solar plug. I don't want to damage my batteries or the system.
I guess I will take your advice and hire someone to check it. I was hoping to do this inexpensively.
Get yourself a multimeter. Test the voltage at the side port. If the voltage reads a negative voltage, then you have the probes reversed. The probes are red for positive and black for negative. Amazon will sell you a cheap plug-in that will reverse the polarity if you have an issue..
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Old 02-10-2024, 03:13 PM   #12
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Thanks Chris but this is where I start to panic. How would I know if the polarity is reversed? The system was factory installed and the plug on the side appears to be a standard SAE solar plug. I don't want to damage my batteries or the system.
I guess I will take your advice and hire someone to check it. I was hoping to do this inexpensively.
It may not be expensive. Ask friends. They may have a VOM (volt-ohm-meter) and the knowledge to use it. Have them show you how.

This task is not complicated and having your own multimeter is useful, as PhilFromMaine suggests.
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Old 02-10-2024, 03:22 PM   #13
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... Amazon will sell you a cheap plug-in that will reverse the polarity if you have an issue..
If the polarity is reversed a plug isn't required. The wire from the side port almost certainly goes directly to the battery. Just swap the ring connectors at the posts. As I stated earlier, label them with the proper color.

AlmostBlind, whatever charge indicator came with the trailer is pretty much useless. Do you have a shunt-type state of charge (SOC) battery monitor? They provide VERY valuable information.

SOC monitors aren't cheap but I (and probably everybody else reading this) strongly recommend you have one. You can buy a high-quality easy-to-install Victron shunt that uses a phone app for $117.

If you buy one, make sure it is the only thing connected to the negative pole of your battery. ALL current must pass through it for it to be accurate.
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Old 02-10-2024, 03:37 PM   #14
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If the polarity is reversed a plug isn't required. The wire from the side port almost certainly goes directly to the battery. Just swap the ring connectors at the posts. As I stated earlier, label them with the proper color.

AlmostBlind, whatever charge indicator came with the trailer is pretty much useless. Do you have a shunt-type state of charge (SOC) battery monitor? They provide VERY valuable information.

SOC monitors aren't cheap but I (and probably everybody else reading this) strongly recommend you have one. You can buy a high-quality easy-to-install Victron shunt that uses a phone app for $117.

If you buy one, make sure it is the only thing connected to the negative pole of your battery. ALL current must pass through it for it to be accurate.
Sorry Chris, I missed where you said that. That is an easy solution in most cases. However, on my TT it would probably take the inexperienced half a day to even find where those wires attach to the electrical system or the busbars that may have many unidentified wires connected to it.

The polarity changer is a 5 dollar item that plugs into the SAE solar panel wire and stays there permanently.
https://www.amazon.com/Sunway-Solar-...17&sr=8-1&th=1
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Old 02-10-2024, 03:58 PM   #15
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I agree that a $5 SAE polarity reversal plug is easy. AlmostBlind should take the easiest approach, whatever that is.
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Old 02-10-2024, 04:36 PM   #16
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Thanks everyone for these great suggestions. All are very helpful.
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Old 02-10-2024, 05:23 PM   #17
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I'm a huge fan of solar. See photo.
You confess being a bit new at this and not that technically inclined. I've drafted that with this in mind. You may need to Google some terms, but this stuff isn't hard...and to truly enjoy your RV, upping your skill level will help a lot.

Yes, the dealer quote to add a second panel was a rip off. And if you have a 190 watt panel on the roof, you can add a 200 watt, but it will perform like a 190 watt.
Yes, the "solar on the side" or "Zamp" connection on your rig will accept a portable solar array. As others mentioned, you need a complete kit that includes its own solar charge controller. That connector is likely (no guarantees) wired with #10 AWG, so you could add another 400 watts of portable solar...which on its best day can push 30 amps at the battery bank.

Reversed polarity on the solar on the side connector? Use a multimeter to test which side of the socket shows 12 volts when you hold the black test lead to the trailer frame (not the other side of the socket). You can easily learn to master a multimeter. A cheap one will do. When you wire up your portable panels to the matching connector, just be sure to wire the positive from the kit to the side of the socket that reads 12 volts on the meter.

What I didn't see mentioned is your generator. If you don't have one, you absolutely need one to backup your solar. In crappy weather and/or shade, that 12 volt compressor fridge will eat your batteries alive. The rule of thumb for a 12 volt compressor fridge is that it will consume 35 amp hours (AH) per day relentlessly, and many times it will use more.

You didn't identify your batteries, but you mentioned a jump to 2 x 6 volt golf cart batteries (GC-2s). I have 2 x GC-2 good for 115 USABLE AH before requiring a recharge. Conservatively, I'll estimate your GC-2s as being good for at least 100 AH before requiring a recharge.

So, let's do some simple math. What is eating your battery bank so quickly? The fridge, in moderate weather, should inhale about 35 to 40 AH/24 hour period. You report that your GC-2s are dead by 4 PM the day after arrival (if I read your OP correctly). You now have 100 AH on tap, yet you're dead in the water in less than 24 hours. WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?

Is something else eating your battery bank? Is the fridge set on something like auto defrost and with a door warmer on to help reduce condensation? Electric heaters (that's what those are) eat lots of power. Check your fridge settings. MANY TIMES, RVs are sent out the door of a dealership in anticipation of spending their lives on hookups in an RV park. If you boondock, you may need to make some tweaks.

Next, did you use your furnace? Figure at least a 10 amp draw while it's running. Let's say your furnace runs all night...from bedtime to wakeup...8 hours, at a 25% duty cycle...running 25% of the time. That's 8 hrs X 10 amps X 25% = 20 AH all by itself. Then there's the water pump (7.5 amps X however much time it runs), tongue jack, slide, and so on PLUS the relentless 3 AH per day for parasitic loads (CO/propane detector, various standby loads like the stereo, antenna amp, and so on), AND, AND, AND. Frugal or not, you are probably using more power than you think.

And then there might be a mystery load...something draining the battery that you don't know about. What could it be? Damned if I know...which is why it's a mystery. But a trickle of power shorting to ground is not unheard of. You'd be wise to get a sensitive current detector, shut off EVERYTHING, and see if you still have current flowing out of your battery. I linked to this Fluke, because it maxes out at 10 amps...and will be sensitive to small amperage. Many current detectors are rated up to 400 amps, and they are less likely to be sensitive to a 1 or 2 amp trickle that can eat your battery quickly but not be significant enought to show reliably on the meter. Consider renting one, because this is expensive.

My point is that your numbers don't add up. You presumably start fully charged with 100+AH on tap in your 2 X GC-2 battery bank. You have a fridge eating roughly 35 to 40 AH. You might inhale 5 to 10 AH at most by running the tongue jack and slide. You might use 20 with the furnace. There's no way you should be dead in the water after less than 24 hours...unless something is wrong. Unless your fridge has a problem and/or you are running auto defrost and the door heater, it should not draw down your battery to dead overnight.

Finally, there's battery abuse. With conventional lead-acid batteries, you get to use half, then you must recharge or risk damaging the battery bank. When you had two 12-volt marine batteries (combined usable capacity of about 70 AH) you PRESUMABLY ran them dead repeatedly. Now you report that your pair of GC-2s is going "dead" by 4 PM. Do you really mean DEAD? If so, you ruin those batteries in a big hurry. A couple of those episodes, and the lead-acid battery stops taking a full charge. Before long, the battery bank is ruined...as in it won't take and hold much of any charge.

If anything remotely like that has happened, you should park your rig plugged into shore power for a few days. Then pull the batteries and bring them to an auto parts store and ask them for a (usually free) load test. They will tell you in short order the condition of your GC-2s. If they are ruined, while connected to shore power, do your current testing and fix any problems. Assess your loads and behaviors and adjust your expectations.

Add solar or don't, but absolutely get and use a generator. If you're where it's cloudy and you like the shade, solar will help a lot, but it may not be enough. First thing in the morning (after quiet hours) fire up the genny and let it do the bulk charging on your battery bank. You'll know the battery is drawing lots of charge, because the cooling fan on your converter/charger will be screaming, and that fan isn't likely to stop until your battery bank is topped off and you aren't running any other loads in the rig. A few hours on the genny will dump lots of AH back into your battery, and it will allow you to make coffee, run the microwave, do dishes (water pump) and so on.

In sunny Colorado, I rely on solar most of the time, and I have an absorption fridge (runs on propane), but I use my genny in the morning to make lattes (we aren't savages!) and for other chores...running it for about 15 to 20 minutes. During the morning run, the converter fan screams as soon as I fire up the genny. Pumping lots of AH at my battery bank. We use the genny again in early evening for more lattes (we are spoiled), and, because the solar has topped off the battery bank, the converter fan only runs when the appliances are running. Altogether, we run our genny 30 to 40 minutes a day...unless it's raining cats and dogs, and then we run it to replace lost solar gain while we hang out and play cards and listen to music.

There are a few places you can conserve. Your stereo face may display a clock or radio frequency. Figure out how to truly turn it off. I push and hold the on/off button until the display goes dark. It still has some standby power, but much less. We don't use the outside light. I bought some solar rechargable motion sensor lights, and they frankly work better. I hang them with velcro and remove them for travel. They are good "scare" lights when a bear wanders through (yes, that's happened more than once). Do you happen to have an inverter? If you do, make sure it's OFF when boondocking. If you run a device that uses 5 amps at 120 volts, it draws 50+ amps at 12 volts. And, it sucks power while it's idling. Shut it off. Do you have 12 volt tank heaters? If so, they will kill your battery in no time. Electric heat is a HUGE draw, and these are really meant only for RV park hookup use. Maybe one got turned on by accident. Double check all your battery terminals and the CONNECTORS looking for corrosion. A high-resistance connection can cause poor performance. I'm out of ideas for now.

Long rant. I think I touched on a few things not mentioned by others. Good luck.

P.S. I was 71 when I installed that solar on my roof. Adding a panel is a DIY job. If you truly don't want to do it, however, it's about 3 hours of work, from getting the ladder and tools out of the garage, unpacking and organizing the panel, connectors, and cable, to actually performing the installation and putting everything away.

P.P.S. If you disconnect your battery from the current solar setup, IDEALLY you'll cover the panel on the roof. Solar charge controllers MUCH PREFER having a load (battery) to provide feedback on how to manage the power coming from the panel. It's rare but not unheard of to damage the existing solar charge controller by disconnecting the battery while the panel is getting appreciable solar exposure. Lots of people get away with that, but it IS a risk. Same with portable panels. It's best to connect to the battery before pointing them at the sun.

LAST P.S. Learn to conserve your power. I boondock exclusively. I make a habit of leaving the pigtail plugged into my Tow Vehicle (TV) when setting up...with the TV enging running. As I unhitch, using the tongue jack, I get the coupler off the ball, and I pull forward just slightly leaving the pigtail connected as I level the rig front to rear with the tongue jack, allowing the TV to help power the tongue jack. Then I drop the stab jacks, then I extend the slide...all the while still connected to the RUNNING TV which helps supply the power to run the tongue jack and the slide. Every AH counts. NEXT, as I continue setup, I start and run the generator, which allows me to ignore power consumption as I get everything ready, run the awing out, turn on and run the hot water heater, water pump, and yada yada yada. When I'm ready to dump my butt into a camp chair, I shut down the genny.
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Old 02-10-2024, 06:36 PM   #18
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Thanks Jim! That's a lot to digest but after reading your suggestions it makes sense.
I do have a good, quite Westinghouse generator, but some campgrounds don't allow them.
Looking back, our power has not completely shut off but the charge indicator shows we are at around 5 - 10 percent left. I think Chris Cowles suggestion about replacing our monitor with the SOC that he mentioned is where I should start. I need to find out if i really am out of power. Also I like the idea of a 200 watt portable that I can plug in.
I need to contact an electrical expert to see where our power usage and loss are coming from.
Once again, I so appreciate all the help everyone is giving. It's not going on deaf ears.
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Old 02-13-2024, 03:55 PM   #19
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Thanks for the information. I am going to start with your recommendation. There are 2 different ones for the $117 price. Which one do you suggest - the IP65 500 watt ot the 500 watt? From what I can tell is the one difference is the IP65 is weather proof.
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Old 02-13-2024, 05:58 PM   #20
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... I need to contact an electrical expert to see where our power usage and loss are coming from. ...
We're all a bunch of amateurs and we all can tell you it's probably the 12V refrigerator. Your furnace fan is also a big consumer of power. If your trailer came with an inverter, it's probably small (1KW?) but plugging things into it will eat power, too.

Pretty much everything else in your trailer is inconsequential, in comparison to those. Keeping most of your lights off used to be a strategy but everything's LED, now. They do consume power so shut them off if not needed, but those efforts are futile compared to what the refrigerator eats.

I don't have a 12V refrigerator but don't disparage them, as some do. That said, they require adequate batteries and generating power if not on lack shore power. You don't have that.
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Camping nights: 2021, 52; 2022, 99; 2023, 88; 2024, TBD (Est: 80+)

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