Never in a million years did I think I would EVER have to understand SOLAR let alone be purchasing it.
Now, I’m not tech savvy so if I can figure this out, so can you and hopefully this blog post will help you out a bit if ever interested in doing what I’ve done.
Firstly, at times when I post in forums the information people provide can go straight over my head … at first.
I now make sure to communicate my non-techiness with everyone in my post right off the bat. I’m not an electrician or a plumber nor do I want to be so DIY projects with batteries etc. are high risk for this gal.
By last night I thought I had it all ordered and dialled. Wrongo bucko.
When I woke up this morning with answers to questions I had posted in a forum, I realized I require not 1, not 2 but possibly 3 more items than what I had originally ordered.
Here’s the low down on my research, what I got and a couple of resources that really helped.
(1) What is the difference is between monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels?
I didn’t get into this too much since what I was looking to buy and bought only comes with monocrystalline panels so that was that. From what I understand, monocrystalline is better quality. That works for me.
(2) What do I get? Flexible Solar Panels or a Folding Solar Suitcase?
My set up is a 2015 T@B 320 S. I’m small and mobile. My trailers name (as most of you know) is Foxy Cleopatra. Here she is!
Okay, now back to business.
Flexible Solar Panels - What I found out was that the flexible solar panels you can essentially lay on the ground and that it was not ideal. Alternatively, you can have them mounted to the top of the T@B.
You should have them professionally installed as they need to be raised so air can get underneath them for ventilation with the hot desert sun or you can run into problems. They were $299 per 100 watt panel and super light weighing in at around 5lbs.
Folding Solar Suitcase – These are meant to be on the ground or wherever you need them to be. You can move them around so you can get them right in the sun.
This was attractive to me since I won’t be in the hot desert sun for forever. I will be heading north where there are lots of trees so being able to move the panels where I need them to be is key versus having them fixed to the roof of Foxy Cleopatra and then trying to get her in the sun.
Since they are a portable unit there is no professional install required so that was one less thing to have to do.
For these reasons, I decided to get the Folding Solar Suitcase AND there was still a TON to learn and some more decisions to me made.
(3) Do I get a 100-Watt Folding Solar Suitcase or a 200 Watt?
This was my next question and the answers I received in the forum were that it depends on how much power you will use. Gah! I had no idea the answer to that. (More on power usage in another section.)
What was important comparing the two was that charging your battery with 200 watts of solar vs 100 watts of solar would take half the time. The time it would take depended on the size of your battery. The company I used calculated it and based on their calculation if I got 200 watts it would take around 2.5 hours depending on light and around 5 hours with 100 watts.
This information was of value to me since I’m riding bikes a lot and away from Foxy Cleopatra. My comfort level of leaving my solar sitting out while I’m gone is honestly not there. The least amount of time I could have them sitting out the better so that made my decision pretty easy.
A 200 Watt Folding Solar Suitcase it is.
I was super lucky and got them for a steal. I have ordered a Renogy 200 Watt Eclipse Monocrystalline Solar Suitcase refurbished for $250 less than the original price. Swing batter!
The only con that I can see is that they way 36lbs.
(4) What do I do when the solar panels have to be far away from Foxy Cleopatra to be in the sun?
The answer - MC4 Cable Extensions
What I ordered from Renogy comes with a 10-foot extension however it is not compatible somehow. I have to see about this when I get them. In any event, in the forum people recommended 30 foot MC4 cable extensions.
What you need to know about MC4 Cable Extensions?
The longer the cable the easier it is to be able to move them around to find sun and as the sun moves higher and lower in the sky.
NOW when you extend the distance from the panels to the battery with a longer cable, there is a drop in voltage, so less amps are delivered to the battery and it will take longer to charge fully, or may never charge fully depending on temperatures, cloud coverage and panel position.
So, the longer the cable the more volts you lose so it’s important that you get the correct gauge of cable to go with how many watts of solar you have.
If you have a 100-watt panel with 30 feet of extension and using 10 gauge extensions, you limit your loss to 3% (3-5% voltage loss is acceptable if you want to maximize charging).
A 200-watt system and 30 feet of extensions requires an 8-gauge extension to limit loss to 3%. You can use 10-gauge as well and you would have a higher voltage drop and not maximize your charging ability.
(5) How much power will I use per day?
Like I mentioned above, you have to figure out how much you and your unit uses.
Luckily for me there is this great woman in the T@B Forum community that has figured out which each item in the T@B uses and has a spreadsheet all ready to use.
Her name is Jenn Grover and she’s a Landscape and Nature Photographer.
Here is the blogpost she did in case you have or are planning to get a T@B and need it. https://jenngrover.com/2016/01/guilty-as-charged-rv-battery-use-management-part-ii/#prettyPhoto
It felt over my head at first and then I settled into it. I did a calculation of what I think I currently use based off of her spreadsheet. There are two items that run 24 hours per day that I have no control over. The rest I can play around with as needed.
Based on this, the total amp hours I will use in 24 hours are 23.37.
Now, my battery has 76 amp hours and I realize now why people always talk about AMP hours. The more you have the better off you are and the longer you can go without recharging.
Another important note is that you never want to let your battery get below 50% of it’s power so that means I have 38 amp hours to play with per day.
If my calculation of what I think I will use is correct then I can go a day and a half before my battery depletes to 50%.
This also bring me to getting yourself a 12 volt battery and charging monitor so you can monitor where your battery is at.
My advice for people starting out is to get as many amp hours on your battery as possible.
This is why people talk about getting 2 x 6 volt batteries so they can increase the amps and keep it at 12 volts using 2 x 6 volt batteries.
In any event, I decided to go with 200 watts of solar. I run an online business and will be going off-grid and I don’t want to worry about power per se and I want to be able to recharge fairly quickly. I will have to mindful as to how much I use however stressing over it is not worth it to me.
At the time I bought my battery, I didn’t understand any of this. I was lucky that I spent a lot on it and ended up with 76 amp hours.
I may upgrade my battery to 2 x 6 volts in the future. It was too overwhelming for me to grasp in the beginning so if that’s where you’re at, I feel for you and YOU can do this!
(6) How do I adapt my Zamp Solar ready T@B for Renogy Solar?
The answer - MC4 to SAE Adaptor and OptiMATE Adaptor
Firstly, Zamp Solar is the company that the T@Bs are partnered with for solar. I’d love to use them however they are very expensive. Zamp Solar has there own way of doing things differently to Renogy just like how Apple computers do to PCs. They’re not compatible however you can make them compatible with adaptors. Two things have to happen here.
OptiMATE Adaptor – this is the first thing that has to be plugged into the Zamp plugin on the box that has your propane and battery inside it.
Zamp Solar’s polarity is reversed in comparison to Renogy. I’m not an electrician nor do I want to be so I decided to make it simple and buy the OptiMATE Adaptor that will reverse the polarity for me. The OptiMATE Adaptor is SAE so it can work with the current Zamp Solar plugin.
People were talking about reversing the polarity themselves by switching the wires so then you don’t need the OptiMATE Adaptor and that was not something I was interested in at all. I ordered the adaptor.
MC4 to SAE Adaptor – This adaptor then plugs into the OptiMATE Adaptor. I’ll be plugging the SAE end into it so I have MC4 on the other end to make it compatible with my Renogy solar panels. Woohoo!
(7) How to hook it all up and in what order?
There was talk in the forum about getting a Renogy MC4 Waterproof In-Line Holder with a 30 Amp Fuse to protect the unit from power surges and shorts.
Renogy said it’s not necessary and it was confirmed in the forum that since my controller is at the panel, I already have a fused + line, which is why Renogy is saying that I do not need any further fuses.
If I had to get one, I would have gotten the 30 Amp Fuse as I have a 30 Amp Controller so whatever your controller is that is what you get. I also would have put it between the Panel/Controller and the MC4 Cable Extension.
(8) Controller is NOT waterproof?
The controller that is attached to the panel is NOT waterproof and mustn’t get wet.
I’m not worried about this now as I’m in the desert and the weather is fairly predictable. It will get tricky in Canada especially Ontario and up the Pacific Coast as there are so many pop up storms.
When I spoke with Renogy, I can replace my current controller with the waterproof one. They cost between $70-$80. He suggested I not replace it now, as it will affect my one-year warranty on what I bought.
They are coming out with 200W Folding Solar Suitcases in a couple months with the waterproof controller installed. If you can wait, I would.
I will decide what to do once I get closer to moving into places with unpredictable weather.
(9) What I bought and the cost?
Renogy 200 Watt Eclipse Monocrystalline Solar Suitcase (refurbished) - $399
Renogy MC4 to SAE Adaptor - $24.99
OptiMATE CABLE O-27, Adapter, polarity, SAE - $9.97
WindyNation One Pair 30 Feet Black + 30 Feet Red, 10 Gauge Solar Panel Extension Cable Wire MC4 Connector - $34.49
Total Cost – US$468.45
(10) Resources that helped?
T@B Forum - http://tab-rv.vanillaforums.com/
(Special thanks in the forum to @SAM, @pthomas745, @ericnliz and @Verna for always helping this lady out!)
Renogy Technical Support
Jenn Grover’s website
I hope this helps you if you’re thinking about doing what I’ve done by living on the road full time.
I’ve tried to put this is as plain language as possible so everyone can understand. I know how overwhelming it all can be. I’m learning as I go too!
Questions or Comments?