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 is the most solar power we have ever installed on an Airstream. Our client will be able to run their residential refrigerator and even an air conditioner for a few hours at a time. This is the gold standard for an Airstream power system upgrade and the artistry and technical know-how demonstrated on this job are why AM Solar is typically booked out four months in advance.
Smaller RVs, like this Airstream Grand Tour, can provide some challenges when it comes to finding enough room to install all the necessary components without taking up too much of our client’s storage space. For this client, we were able to install the vast majority of their system underneath their couch (not the solar panels though), minimizing the footprint of the system. The Battery Management System we installed is removable, which can make upgrading much easier.
This client had us add onto an existing setup consisting of a 2512iXL charge controller core and a set of AGMS. He now has a much more powerful solar charger and a 3000VA inverter capable of running a wide range of loads including a microwave and a coffee maker. The Bluetooth smart dongle allows monitoring of the system to take place wirelessly, with a smart phone.
AM Solar installs a wide range of power equipment on RVs which gives us the flexibility to customize our systems to match a wide variety of customer preferences. For example, this customer was familiar with the Bogart Engineering PWM charge controller interface and wanted it on his Airstream. We were able to accommodate, and set him up with 400W of solar on an SC-2030 charge controller.
The narrow dimensions of our SP100 solar panels make them ideal for the curved roofs of Airstreams. Our adjustable mounting feet allow clients choose if they want the panels mounted level or following the contours of the roof. We replaced the Airstream factory charger with a Progressive Dynamics PD9260 for more gentle treatment of the batteries, which increases their lifespan. At 600W, this is one of the largest solar arrays we have installed on an Airstream.
This Airsteam owner had one of our Essential Lithium battery banks installed with a battery monitor, 2000W inverter and 500W of roof mounted solar panels. Because lithium batteries are damaged when charged at temperatures below freezing, we included one of our cold charge automatic disconnect kits. Along with the roof mounted solar, we included a 120W Zamp folding panel on its own Victron MPPT charge controller.
This client came to us with an existing 400W solar charging system using flexible panels (which we discourage due to reliability issues) and an additional 120W folding panel. We replaced the original roof wiring because one of the four panels had stopped functioning, added two SP100 solar panels and upgraded the charge controller. We also replaced the PWM charge controller on the folding panel and added a Victron MPPT charge controller with Bluetooth monitoring. Next, we added a 600Ah Signature lithium battery bank and a 3000W inverter, which all fit tightly under the bed. This is one of our most elaborate installs.
A client brought in his 2015 Airstream with the following request of AM Solar:
Design an off-the-grid power system (for dry camping and boon-docking) that “runs itself” and requires as little maintenance and oversight as possible both when the trailer is being used and when it is stored.
- Trailer is used for six weeks in the summer, often in shaded campgrounds, 95% of the time without electrical hookups. Stays range from 3-5 nights before moving to next location. Trailer is also used during the other three seasons typically for three-night stays.
- Client has monitored his power usage in the trailer for the last year and a half and concluded that 40-50amp hours is the typical 24 hour energy usage.
- Client doesn’t want to have to bring the batteries to a full charge after each use. Due to not utilizing campgrounds with electrical hook-ups, staying in shaded areas, and often driving short distances between destinations, there is often not enough time to fully recharge batteries via solar and vehicle alternator, especially in the off-season.
- When sun is available, the client wants to utilize every watt possible from their panels to recharge the batteries as they often only travel 2-4 hours before stopping at their next destination.
- Client wants an option to add additional battery capacity and/or solar panels if desired for future energy needs.
To accomplish the above client goals we spec’d one of our Lithium Battery Systems, solar panels, solar charger, and battery charger.
- Because the customer has light AC loads, we chose a 200Ah Essential Lithium Battery system. This will comfortably give them the five nights of camping desired with almost no solar panel input if they are camping under trees in the winter. If the client desires greater battery capacity in the future, this system can be expanded easily with an additional 200Ah bringing the total to 400Ah. Additionally, unlike lead-acid battery based systems, the lithium battery does not need to be recharged to 100% after each use.
- Due to the potential for tree cover, we chose 400W of solar panels to give the client ample solar charging capacity.
- We chose a 50A charger to maximize all available power (solar and vehicle alternator) to recharge the batteries as quickly as possible.
- We chose a three-stage battery charger so that the client can leave the trailer plugged in when stored without having to be concerned about the batteries being charged correctly.
Because the BMS on the Essential system acts on the negative side of the batteries (ground control), the negative (or chassis) from the tow vehicle with the alternator is at a slightly different voltage than the negative output of the lithium system. This creates a design challenge since shorting the negative output of the lithium system to the tow vehicle chassis would damage the BMS.
In a van conversion or coach, the issue of having two different negatives is easily resolved by routing the output of the lithium battery through the Orion 12/12 DC converter. The negative output of the Orion converter can then be tied to the chassis and all positives for the DC loads get re-routed to the positive output of the Orion. If the total DC load is more than 30A, multiple Orion converters can be connected in parallel. Inverters, or anything else that can have their negative isolated from the chassis will just connect directly to the output of the lithium battery system without going through the Orion converter.
In trailers, the issue of having two different negatives is solved differently. In this situation, the Orion converter goes on the input side of the lithium system, thus isolating the trailer from the tow vehicle’s chassis. When this is done, the Orion converter has to be modified so it’s output voltage is 14.2V instead of the factory 12.0V. This is accomplished by carefully tuning a potentiometer inside the converter that is accessible when the cooling fan is removed. This design will limit alternator charging current to 30A, but it will protect the BMS from having it’s input and output short circuited.
We installed a 300W solar panel system with an MPPT charge controller and a 300Ah AMS Generation 1 Lithium Battery System. In order to install the battery bank and access the existing inverter we had to very carefully remove the bed and then put it back once everything was connected.
This customer came to us with a price ceiling and asked that we give them the most power possible for their budget goal. Upon inspecting the trailer, we found that their batteries were completely dead. We replaced them with a pair of low cost Interstate Flooded batteries and added two 100W panels to the roof with a 25A SunRunner Signature MPPT core. The system can easily be expanded with the addition of two more 100W panels when the customer is ready.
This rig came to us with two functioning 65W panels and a low-end charge controller. They wanted more power. We added two of our 100W solar panels and combined them all in a roof mount c-box. Instead of penetrating the roof under the c-box, we routed the cables down the refrigerator vent. Because of the two different panel types, with different voltages, we went with a PWM replacement charge controller and added a battery monitor. (MPPT controllers don’t do well with mixed panels). We also added a USB outlet for portable device charging.