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Fulltime RV Solar Setup for a Family of 6

Fulltime RV Solar Setup for a Family of 6

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SolarPic2

We started full-time Rving 6 years ago from South Florida.  We had not know what to expect other then we would be living in our 5th wheel RV full-time driving from campgrounds to campgrounds and touring the most beautiful places on the planet.  Electricity was never a concern or a thought at this point.  I just assumed that we would always be plugged into shore power just as if we were living in our house.  Once I realized that sometimes campgrounds are not always an option when traveling, we started overnighting in Walmart parking lots, as we would travel from one place to another.  Our (2) 12-volt DC batteries would do fine until the one night we camped in a Walmart in Northern Florida where we had to run our furnace to keep warm.  Our batteries down to about 50% at 11:00 PM, we went to sleep.  At around 3:30 AM I was woken from the camper shaking violently back and forth.  I naturally got up to see what was happening and discovered that it was 40 degrees in the RV.  My wife and kids being so cold caused the shaking of the RV from their teeth chattering and shivering!  I attempted to turn on the furnace when I discovered that our batteries were dead!  None of the lights, refrigerator, or furnace would run.  I covered everyone up nice and tight and we made it through the night.

The next day, I went to our local hardware store and purchased a generator.  I thought this would ultimately solve our problems with our batteries being dead when not being plugged into shore power.  This did help, but we were lacking on battery amp hours.  I could charge those batteries to 90%, turn off the generator and by 4:00 AM, the batteries were dead again.  At this point, I went out and purchased (4) 6-volt golf cart batteries and wired them in series parallel.  This setup would last us through the night and we were satisfied with that.

After using the system this way for about 1 year, we got the idea to spend 5 nights dry camping in Quartzsite Arizona attending the RV show they do every year.   We were going to be off grid and for the first time for so many nights.  At this point, I was introduced to solar power.  I purchased my first 2 Kyocera 80 Watt solar panels, a cheap solar charge controller, wiring, and a small inverter.   I had planned on powering our 110-volt residential refrigerator with that system and charge our batteries.  I remember telling a solar expert what I was going to do with the system and him telling me, “That is not enough solar power to run what you are trying to accomplish.”  Being on a budget and not totally believing the experts, I purchased the system anyway.  This system did work great but would not keep my batteries charged enough to make it through the night.  I would have to run the generator for 4 hours every night and wake up to batteries that were about 25% full.  We lived with this system for about 3 years where decided as a family that we wanted to do lots more boondocking and less campground camping.  We wanted to save money and park in the most amazing places on the planet.

Boondocking opens up so many opportunities as you can get the best views, places for the kids to run and be loud without campgrounds getting upset, being remote and alone so you have time to enjoy the landscape around you.  In order to accomplish this, I knew that we needed a much larger solar setup.  I started researching the best hardware options and configurations available for RV’ers.

Hardware list:

(4) 260 Watt Canadian Solar Panels wired in series parallel

Midnight Solar breaker box and breakers

2 Gauge wire from roof to batteries and solar controller

Morningstar TriStar MPPT 60 solar controller

(6) Full-River 105 Amp Hour 12-volt AGM batteries

Xantrex PROsign 2.0 2000-Watt Inverter wired with 2/0 Wire

Sirus Solar DS-201 Network Enabled Monitor

With this system, we are able to run (2) residential refrigerators, all the electrical outlets in the RV, charge our batteries, and make it through the night in any environment.  The item’s we cannot run is our air conditioners, electric heaters, and central vacuum.   These items have too much of a load and either our batteries would drain to quickly or the inverter would overload and shut off to prevent damage.  If we need to run these items, we can run our generator.  We also substitute the solar with the generator on cloudy days where the sun is not producing enough electricity to charge our batteries.

After owning a Morningstar TriStar MPPT 60 solar controller for about a year now, the one thing that the device is lacking frommpptcontroller the controller is reporting and monitoring.  Yes, the Morningstar has a built in webserver and does have reporting features but it is very hard to get any useable reports and graphs from the device.  The Morningstar has 2 ways to communicate with it.  You can connect to it by RS232 serial connection or you can use the built in LAN adapter.  Most computers today do not have RS232 serial ports on them, so you will need a serial to USB device to connect to the unit if you choose this method.  LAN is much easier but you will need a Windows computer with the MSView software you can download from Morningstar’s website.  The software is not supported on any other platform but Windows Operating Systems.  If you are not familiar with the software, you will find it very difficult to configure and run reports, graphs, and other data metrics that you may be wanting.

sirussolarIn order to combat this issue, I found a 3rd party add-on piece.  The Sirus Solar DS-201 Network Enabled Monitor.  Sirus Solar also has a DS-202 model for those using 2 Morningstar solar controllers.  This device connects to the RS232 serial port on the Morningstar solar controller, an AC adapter or DC hardwire connection for power, and an Ethernet cable for network communication.  Setup on the monitor is quick and simple.  After you have all the wires connected, you go to a computer or mobile device to access the webserver.  You will find the setup tab where you then can either choose DHCP or static IP addressing, serial port configuration, device user name and password setup, time and time zone / NTP configuration, and email setup for system reports and alerts to your inbox.

SetupSS

After your configuration is complete, you can start having fun with the DS-201.  As you can see from the image below, you have all your important views on the “Main” tab.  This included battery charge status, solar charging amps, AMP hours, kilowatt hours, and it even reports as to how much avoided CO2 emissions you did not generate due to using your solar system for charging batteries.  Also important elements are the status of your solar controller and a graph overview of kilowatt-hours and emissions avoided.  All this data is reported to you in real-time as well as the “monitor” tab discussed below.

mainSS

If you click on the “Monitor” tab, a small meter comes up with battery charge status, battery volts, battery temp, array volts, and charge amps.  This is the amp’s going into your batteries from your solar controller.  You also have total watt-hours for the day, amps hours, controller state, and if the controller has any faults going on.

monitorSS

In my opinion, the strongest feature that the Sirus DS-201 has is the graphing capabilities.  This was my biggest complaint with the Morningstar MSView software and Sirus Solar has nailed this!  As you can see from the screen capture below, you get a 7-day to 5-year overview all in one spot with an easy to understand output.  You get battery status, array current and avoided emissions on one simple page.

GraphSS

The one thing that the DS-201 I feel is missing that is important is how many watts your solar panels are generating.  I know that I have 1040 watt max solar array system and I would like to know how much watts are being sent down to the controller in real-time without having to do the math converting amps to watts.  I have contacted Sirus Solar on this and they are open to the possible of adding this feature in the future with a simple software upgrade.

Steps For Version Upgrade when available by Sirus Solar:

1 – Download and unzip Autoupdate program.
2 – Download and unzip file version Sirussolar_vX_X.zip
3 – Export graph data before upgrading. ALL DATA WILL BE RESET ON UPGRADE.
4 – Document all setup configuration data as THIS SETUP DATA WILL BE DEFAULTED.
5 – Run Autoupdate program. Click find to find your DS-201 on the network.
6 – Click browse to find the upgrade file you downloaded, SirusSolar_vX_X_APP.s19
7 – Click the checkbox  “Reboot when complete”
8 – Click the Update button. DO NOT TURN OFF POWER while uploading.
9 – Your web server will reboot after upgrading is complete.

SSDevice

I would recommend the DS-201 to anyone with the Morningstar solar controllers due to its robust features, the ability the view your solar system from a network device LAN or from the Internet.  The support team at Sirus Solar is top notch and if you feel an add-on to the software should be made, they are willing to listen and possible add this in their enhancements list.  At a price of $269.00 without a monthly subscription fee, this monitoring device is a solid investment and compliment to your solar monitoring system.

(Example of MSView Software and webserver)

MSViewEx1


MSViewEX2FtF Solar Setup Pictures:

SolarPic1

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