Customers frequently ask “What do you think of flexible panels?” "Can I get them on my rig?"
We think they are fine for some applications, but permanently mounting them on an RV isn't one of those applications. After about two years of use, most people will want to have them ripped off their roofs and replaced with conventional aluminum framed, glass laminated, solar panels.
Flexible panels are great for portable applications, where the panels aren't being used and exposed to the weather all year, but they tend to degrade when exposed to continuous sunlight and temperature fluctuations.
Over time, with heat, the plastic encasing the cells becomes soft, allowing the cells to cup. These cups form pools for dust and debris. Eventually, each cell will have a brown circle in the middle, which will need to be cleaned for continued use. The panels that were once flat and smooth will soon become permanently warped and wavy.
When you clean the surface of the panels it's almost impossible not to scratch them. The plastic just doesn't hold up with prolonged exposure to UV light and eventually becomes opaque with a yellowish brown tint. This obviously reduces the production of the panels and it also makes your rig look terrible.
Even when new, the index of refraction for the plastic lamination is different than that of glass and it doesn't conduct off-angle light as well. This means that the flexible panels won't produce as much energy in the mornings and evenings.
Flexible panels cost much more than conventional solar panels. Why pay more for something that only lasts two years, looks terrible, and doesn't perform as well as a lower cost alternative?
There are many concerns over quality controls with the various manufacturers of flexible panels. All flexible panels (other than thinfilm) are made using special back contact monocrystalline cells. They are the only cells that can tolerate being bent slightly. Back contact monocrystalline cells are made by one manufacturer that specializes in high-end, large, grid-tied, solar modules. The cells used in flexible panels come from the B and C grade stock that was deemed unfit for grid-tied solar panels and is sold to Asian manufacturers. As far as we know, there are no US companies (other than a few low volume batches from the cell manufacturer) that laminate flexible panels. The cell manufacturer has also indicated that they no longer plan to distribute their B and C grade cells to Asian manufacturers for fear that what is going on with the flexible panels is hurting their brand image. There has also been at least one major recall with one flexible panel distributor due to the panels causing fires. Learn more here
With the threat of (and actual implementation of) import duties on Asian solar products, along with the cell manufacturer stopping their distribution, the supply will be drying up shortly. With no supply, it's going to be hard for distributors to stand by their warranties, which means it will be very hard for end-users to find replacements or add-on panels.
Flexible panels mounted directly to the roof of an RV conduct a lot of heat. There is a reason RV roofs are almost always white, and that is to keep the RV from getting too hot. When you mount flexible panels directly to your roof, you essentially make your roof black, which makes your roof, and your RV, very hot. In many cases, the flexible panels even burn the roof.
We recently removed 2000W of flexible panels (after the very telling 2 year warranty period had expired) from this motorhome. This amount of solar was a substantial investment, and a substantial loss. Only after the panels were removed, due to poor performance and poor aesthetics, were the burn marks noticed.
You're welcome. There is a reason AM Solar has been in business so long. It's because we don't work with garbage.
This is the first solar power system we have installed in a horse trailer. This client is an avid outdoor enthusiast who spends a lot of his time on horseback riding trails throughout the United States. His website is devoted to providing accurate, detailed information about the trails he rides, so that other riders know what to expect when tackling a new trail. He came to us to have solar power installed so that he could charge the equipment he uses to document his journeys without draining his batteries. The solar power system we installed will allow him to record and share his adventures without having to worry about his batteries dying at an inopportune moment. Check out his website at www.trailmeister.com
This client came to us equipped with a Goal Zero Yeti 400 Portable Power Station, a Zamp 100W solar panel, and a 30A Zamp charge controller. Her primary use for the Yeti 400 Power Station was to power her CPAP machine, which she was able to do for about 2 nights before it needed to be recharged. She used the Zamp solar system to power her refrigerator, but 100W wasn’t enough to keep up with the refrigerator’s power needs. We upgraded her solar system to 260W using a Zamp 170W panel, and a Zamp 90W panel, which we bolted together using two angle aluminum bars. We installed a conveniently placed outlet for her CPAP machine, which is now powered directly from her house batteries, along with her refrigerator. Now she has a solar power system that meets her energy usage needs without the worry of charging the Yeti 400, or her food getting warm.
We installed a Blue Sky system for this client several years ago, and they recently came back to have a new solar power system installed in their new coach. Their primary need for a solar power system is to offset the energy used by their residential refrigerator. We installed 680W of solar power on their roof, about three-fourths of which will go towards powering their refrigerator. In ideal conditions (lots of sun) the excess solar power can be used to charge their batteries faster. Sometimes conditions are less than ideal though (not enough sun), which is why no one complains about having too much solar power.
These clients like to travel around the country with the goal of avoiding hot weather. They are headed for Alaska for the next several months, and on their way, they stopped by to have solar power installed to offset some of their electrical usage. We installed 400W of solar power on their roof, and the majority of their system control components were installed under their bed. This Airstream came with a Zamp portable solar panel plug, which they wanted to be integrated into the solar system we installed. We set up this system with expansion in mind, so if they find that 400W isn’t enough to offset their light DC loads, they have the option of using a portable panel, and/or they could choose to install up to another 200W on their roof.
This client asked us to install as much solar power as possible on the roof of their Winnebago View. The space was pretty limited, but we managed to install three Zamp Solar 170W solar panels, providing a total of 510W of solar power. Ideally, we would recommend a 400Ah battery bank with this system to provide enough power to manage their frequent microwave and hair dryer use. Due to space constraints there was only enough room for a 300Ah battery bank, which we placed underneath their top step. Due to the height of the LifeLine AGM batteries we had to modify the lid to the compartment housing the batteries so that the battery terminals were not going to be touching a metal lid. With this accomplished, they are able to use their microwave and hair dryer, they will just want to monitor their power usage to ensure they are not draining their batteries more quickly than they would like.
This client has had solar power installed on many rigs in the past. Some of the solar systems he installed himself, but he had us do the installation on his last rig, and he recently came back to us to install solar power on his brand-new Bay Star. In addition to installing a MS2012 Magnum inverter to invert solar generated power from DC to AC, he asked us to separately install his Iota 45A converter. When necessary, he plans to plug this converter into a small, relatively quiet 2000W portable generator to charge his batteries when his power usage exceeds the power available from solar. This way he won’t have to run his larger, much noisier generator. He says the reduction in noise will go a long way towards keeping his wife happy.
If you Own / Operate an RV with a 30 Amp Service plug -
do NOT try to plug it into a “Dryer Socket”
DAMAGE will most likely occur. WHY?
Clothes Dryers (I assume it’s clothes we’re talking about and not money laundering), anyway, dryers are powered by Household Electricity. ALL houses, apartments and dwellings with electricity from the Power Company have 240 Volts at the MAIN Electric Panel (with the circuit breakers, etc). This “box” is where the 240 volts is divided into 3 circuit feeds -
Most household electrical consumption involves 120 volts AC - things like lights, toasters, wall chargers, etc. NOT the Electric Range or the Clothes Dryer - these each require 240 volts. To keep “us” mere mortals from accidentally plugging a toaster into a 240 volt outlet, the power people designed a LARGE Plug and Socket that ONLY a dryer or electric range can “use”. Fixed it.
These 240 volt plugs and receptacles are WAY bigger than a regular plug-in end - there is NO mistake as to what it will and WON’T work with. So, 240 volt electrical stuff CAN’T get mixed up with 120 volt things. Great THEORY…
RV rigs, that are equipped with 30 Amp Service use 120 volts at a relatively high 30 Amp Rating. In order to keep the RV from plugging into a receptacle that is unable to provide 120 volts at such a hight Amp Rating - a LARGE Plug and Socket that ONLY an RV can “use” is installed. Fixed it.
TWO Special, Oversized Plugs and Receptacles? But one is for 240 volts - the other is 120 volts?
Just because two things are roughly the same size and have the same number of wires does NOT mean they are the same - Mastiff dog is about the same size as a Panther, both black, must be the same. Ridiculous? Well, if you know electricity (or have paid any attention to this stuff), then the TWO different uses for similarly large electrical plugs are NOT THE SAME.
P.S. Class A (50 Amp) “rigs” are 240 volt, 50 Amp electrical systems. So they COULD be plugged into a dryer receptacle - COULD, not should… Your House Panel may not provide that much draw.
This article is a summation presented by the most senior Ray, of the Senior staff.
We rarely work on boats because we are so busy with RVs, but a friend needed some power before a fishing trip and we were able to squeeze him in last week. Prior to coming to AM Solar we had directed him to a 30W panel on Amazon.com since we didn’t have anything small enough in our inventory at the time. The client also supplied the rings to attach the bar across the top of his boat. After connecting the panel we notice that the voltage differential between the panel and the battery was too low for conventional charge controllers and the system would only have worked on very cold days when the battery was extremely low. To solve this, we used a Genasun GV-Boost charge controller that can take any input from 5V-63V and feed current onto a 12V battery bank. The controller worked perfectly and quickly brought his battery bank up to a full charge.
This is one of the coolest campers we have worked on. The client used to live in a Tiny Home. Now he has moved into a camper that is about the same size. We installed 540 Watts of solar power and substantially upgraded his battery bank. This camper is designed to be very energy (and space) efficient, so the solar power we installed should go a long way towards powering his light DC loads.
This is another client of ours that made the decision to move out of their traditional home and live the RV lifestyle full-time. This client actually had their brand-new Escape trailer delivered to our facility by the manufacturer. They are planning on working full-time out of their trailer while traveling around the country. The 360W solar power system we installed will help keep their batteries charged, and allow them to run some light DC loads while they journey throughout the country.
This client’s rig came to us equipped with both a residential fridge, and an AC/DC freezer. They also had a 3000W Xantrex inverter (previously installed), and a battery bank consisting of eight 6V Discover AGM batteries providing 414Ah of usable battery capacity. We installed 1400W of solar power on their roof, mixing five SF180W solar power kits with 5 SP100W solar power kits. On average, the solar power generated by this system will restore about 350Ah a day to their batteries. We also installed a Victron 150/100 charge controller with built-in Bluetooth capability, a Victron BMV-702 battery monitor, and a VE.Direct Bluetooth Smart Dongle so they can easily and accurately monitor their battery bank’s state of charge.
This premium system contains some of the best components money can buy. These clients had us install a 960W solar charging system with a 600Ah lithium battery bank, and a 3000VA inverter. They live full time in their RV, and now they can enjoy some of the same comforts of a grid connected home while on the road. Living off-grid is much easier with a powerful system like this.
This client was looking for something small and relatively inexpensive to keep his batteries charged and in good health. To accomplish his goal, we installed 360W of solar charging power along with a 25A Blue Sky charge controller. He’ll also be able to use the added solar power to help run some light DC loads.
One decision our clients have to make when setting up their RVs with solar power is what kind of battery bank they want. Lifeline AGM batteries are very popular for this type of application, but we also offer Lithium batteries, which are the latest and greatest battery technology. For this client we installed an 800Ah 12V Lifeline AGM battery bank. A comparable lithium system would have cost over $6000, while this client paid around $2200 for their AGMs. This is a very powerful system for someone who doesn’t want to spend the additional money on a Lithium system.
This client was already familiar with BlueSky solar products, so he chose to go with a BlueSky 3024iL charge controller. Along with the BlueSky charge controller we installed a 2000VA Victron Inverter kit, and a 300Ah AGM battery bank to complete the system. The mid-sized solar power kits provide enough power to keep his batteries healthy, and run some electronic devices when disconnected from shore power.
This client elected to go with a Refrigerator Vent Combiner Box instead of our usual Roof Combiner Box because they didn’t want to have another hole drilled into their roof. The Refer Vent Box utilizes the existing hole that is used to vent the refrigerator, but it can only accommodate up to four solar inputs. It’s not a bad option if you’re definitely not going to expand, but it is obviously limited. The Roof Combiner Box we manufacture allows for eight solar inputs, doubling the possible capacity.
Some clients bring us rigs with very little work done in terms of making the van a viable place to live. An empty rig gives us plenty of options when it comes to strategizing the placement of our equipment, but we also want to make sure that our clients have some flexibility as they make changes. We completed this installation knowing that when the client ultimately builds out their rig they may need to move our equipment. This van was set up so that the client can relocate the components we installed (if needed) without much of a headache.
This client originally requested to have three SF180 Solar Power Kits installed, along with a 40A charge controller. After about a month he realized that he didn’t have enough solar power to meet his needs and he came back to upgrade his system. We added three more SF180 Solar Panel Kits, and replaced the 40A charge controller with an 85A Victron charge controller to accommodate the additional solar charging current. We always recommend that our clients have us install a system that is easily expandable to avoid duplicate costs. It is much more cost effective to install a larger system core that allows for expansion than it is to install a smaller system core that has to be completely replaced in order to add additional power.