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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Solar kept the batteries topped off when not in use. Turns out working all day in the van really guzzles power. We can go about 3-4 days starting at 100%. This is about what I had planned, so I'm not surprised. However, it IS annoying. Living and working full time in the van, it's just not ideal to do a lot of midweek driving to charge the batteries.

Overnight, while sleeping, drains about 20Ah if the fan is off. Daytime use is significant. I think it's just all the little things add up.
Computers. Mine takes about 15Ah per day. Partner has a Mac so she likely uses less.
Fan. If it's hot out we have the fan on all day, plus a desk fan. While cooking we use the fan.
Water pump. Probably not much, about 4 gallons a day.
Lights are a big one. Can't have glare on the screen, so we often have lights on all day, at least a bit.
Music. Got a nice sound system in and gotta use it.
Router uses an amp continuously.

Woke up today at 57%, down to 44% as the sun was going down.

I've read a few tales of 400W being perfect for full time. But maybe it's a bit low. I'm not complaining, as apparently I got my calculations pretty accurate. Just thinking about it publicly.

I know most here don't live full time in their van, and others don't work while traveling. Wondering about the experience of anyone who actually uses their van most of the day, every day, for weeks at a time, as opposed to leaving the van and coming back for evening and sleep. I think real world use cases are more valuable than calculations for planning as well. When I was planning, sure I can add up estimated run times of a bunch of gadgets, but that doesn't tell me the whole experience.
 

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Interesting findings. I think you are right about all your daytime loads adding up, seems like they pretty much take up the 400 solar watts. Once we are done making coffee in the morning we are down by about 25% but typically by late morning back to about 100%. Maybe 200 more watts of solar might be good.

Sounds like you guys are adjusting to the van living and working. How is the dude adjusting?


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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Interesting findings. I think you are right about all your daytime loads adding up, seems like they pretty much take up the 400 solar watts. Once we are done making coffee in the morning we are down by about 25% but typically by late morning back to about 100%. Maybe 200 more watts of solar might be good.

Sounds like you guys are adjusting to the van living and working. How is the dude adjusting?


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
Do you also have 400W solar? And wondering if you tend to use power after coffee or just leave and let it recharge?

It is November, so even a sunny day only gives us 150 watts or so with how low the sun is. Plus the days are short. I am pondering getting another 200W panel while we are semi-stationary in AZ through the holidays. I was also considering a roof deck for the back half, but that seems like something we'd never use. I think my charge controller can handle up to 600W as long as they aren't angled toward the sun.

I'm also considering a portable panel with matching specs, so I can add it to the system facing the sun during the day. But, that's a hassle and takes interior space.

The Dude abides.
He's pretty chill, surprisingly. Even doesn't mind a visitor every now and then. We let him out and follow him around while he explores. He is very cautious and always looking back, but loves the secluded campsites. He likes to ride on the bed while I drive. I installed a bug screen and it's good for him to have a big open space to look out and feel safe. He feels like the screen protects him, so he doesn't try and push through unless I bring him outside.
 

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Hi,
If you plan to stay a few days at some locations, it might be worthwhile thinking about adding a solar panel you can place outside with the right tilt and direction.
PVWatts says that for Denver in January, a 100 watt PV panel flat on the roof gets you about 6 KWH per month, while a 100 watt panel with two access tracking gets 16 KWH per month. You could approximate two access tracking by adjusting the tilt and azimuth of your panel a few times a day - you need a break from work every couple hours anyway :)

Solar is going to vary a lot depending on how far North you plan to go in the winter.

3 to 4 days does not really sound so bad - we start getting the itch to move on after a couple days days, but I guess full timing changes your point of view (for the good).

Gary
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Hi,
If you plan to stay a few days at some locations, it might be worthwhile thinking about adding a solar panel you can place outside with the right tilt and direction.
PVWatts says that for Denver in January, a 100 watt PV panel flat on the roof gets you about 6 KWH per month, while a 100 watt panel with two access tracking gets 16 KWH per month. You could approximate two access tracking by adjusting the tilt and azimuth of your panel a few times a day - you need a break from work every couple hours anyway :)

Solar is going to vary a lot depending on how far North you plan to go in the winter.

3 to 4 days does not really sound so bad - we start getting the itch to move on after a couple days days, but I guess full timing changes your point of view (for the good).

Gary
Yeah that's what I was thinking - a few days is perfect. But as it turns out, a workweek is 5 days, and it's hard to get longer drives in. It's not bad, I've idled the van a few times. But if rather not ruin the engine or anything after reading that idling doesn't provide enough oil pressure. I think a portable panel would need the same specs to work well with the roof panels.
 

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I wonder how much tilting the panels would help in the winter, and perhaps even wiring them in series to be able to start charging earlier in the day, and longer in the evening. Isn’t that advantageous for lithiums since voltage is increased?
 

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I have 420 watts. The way we use the van means we are pretty much away most of the day so all our solar goes into the batteries. Much different than your situation. I’ll bet you would use 200 more watts a lot more often than a roof deck.

How is your awning working out? Do you use it often? I’m still trying to figure out which way to go.

Glad the dude is loving life.


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I run my shop largely off of solar.

This time of year, the panels that are mounted vertically collect almost as much power as those mounted horizontally. Right now I have 450 watts of panels to run the shop and it is marginal when overcast like this. I am getting from 75 to 200 watts, depending on the clouds, time of day, etc.

Poly tends to be slightly better in the overcast conditions vs mono - at least from what I observe.

400 watts for full time use like you are doing - at least in this area - would not be enough in the winter.

Having a larger battery pack might be helpful in that perhaps sometimes you could find a place to plug in to help boost up the pack.

Sometimes it makes sense to own a generator and run it for an hour or so.

A friend of mine full times in a PM / does his work there like you are - and he has 400 watts on the PM, another 400 watts on his trailer (that is nearly always attached) and in the winter it is still not always enough.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I have 420 watts. The way we use the van means we are pretty much away most of the day so all our solar goes into the batteries. Much different than your situation. I’ll bet you would use 200 more watts a lot more often than a roof deck.

How is your awning working out? Do you use it often? I’m still trying to figure out which way to go.

Glad the dude is loving life.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
Yeah an extra 200W is probably more useful.
I haven't even used the awning yet. Between driving, work, and just going out, we haven't done much sitting outside during the day.
 

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Have you converted all of your AC/DC loads to straight DC? Newer laptops use USB-C charging, which makes it easier to charge without your inverter, but it’s still possible to do it with older laptops.

Reclaiming wasted energy is just as useful as adding more capacity and sometimes cheaper too.
 

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Solar kept the batteries topped off when not in use. Turns out working all day in the van really guzzles power. We can go about 3-4 days starting at 100%. This is about what I had planned, so I'm not surprised. However, it IS annoying. Living and working full time in the van, it's just not ideal to do a lot of midweek driving to charge the batteries.

Overnight, while sleeping, drains about 20Ah if the fan is off. Daytime use is significant. I think it's just all the little things add up.
Computers. Mine takes about 15Ah per day. Partner has a Mac so she likely uses less.
Fan. If it's hot out we have the fan on all day, plus a desk fan. While cooking we use the fan.
Water pump. Probably not much, about 4 gallons a day.
Lights are a big one. Can't have glare on the screen, so we often have lights on all day, at least a bit.
Music. Got a nice sound system in and gotta use it.
Router uses an amp continuously.

Woke up today at 57%, down to 44% as the sun was going down.

I've read a few tales of 400W being perfect for full time. But maybe it's a bit low. I'm not complaining, as apparently I got my calculations pretty accurate. Just thinking about it publicly.

I know most here don't live full time in their van, and others don't work while traveling. Wondering about the experience of anyone who actually uses their van most of the day, every day, for weeks at a time, as opposed to leaving the van and coming back for evening and sleep. I think real world use cases are more valuable than calculations for planning as well. When I was planning, sure I can add up estimated run times of a bunch of gadgets, but that doesn't tell me the whole experience.
I have been messing with solar since 2017 (@ my remote cabin). I feel I am stumbling thru learning about solar like I do anything else. I do feel I have experimented & learned a lot. I credit @HarryN for his multiple posts on The Forum for his knowledge experience and perspectives (I feel I picked up a few gems from him).

@aaronmcd You are a Science Guy, & you know the answers to your questions is all about breaking it down. In my mind this comes down to 3 basic 12v electrical systems; Charging / Energy Storage / Energy Use. The next important thing I will state is “you can’t analyze what you do not record”.



Batteries (How Long Before You Can Charge);
Without all the data I can only assume here. IMO you need a bigger battery bank (maybe double). With that idea I also wonder if there would be an advantage to a split switch (2 battery banks).




Energy Use;
Climate & Weather is a huge factor; Heater or Cooler opperations use 12v & that usage can swing wildly (so can the build & the way the van is used - how you deal with windows (thermal gain loss & how many - colour of the van exterior)
Do you have a way to record your 12v consumption & do you know what you appliances use when running (ie @afox knows his Propex heater uses 1.9amps when running).
I agree the water pumps (if they pump 3gal/min can not run very long to pump 4gals
LED lights are “usually” minimal, but not if used all day. Further there is a huge difference in their consumption (the LED 4’ light bar that came in my 2018 PM uses almost 4amps 😱 that is more than twice the Propex heater - I am replacing it)

“My repurposed 2018 PM LED light bar 4amps”
Cloud Sky Fire extinguisher Wood Lighting


Router on all day would use as much as my ARB Fridge.

So if you know what your “things” use & you can cut down or eliminate their use




Charging (Solar);

Solar charging is heavily reliant on the weather. Also reliant on the system & how it is set up (type of controller, series, parallel, etc). I have 600W max or 60volts @ 10amps & I have hit that limit North of the 49th. You may be able to tweak your existing system to harvest better - If you post you components & setup you might get some ideas on how to better harvest

Azure Font Screenshot Technology Electric blue


Mid October Panel Tilt is Important as is keeping clear the snow off the panels (dirt or bird poop can degrade harvest also);
Solar power Solar panel Light Green Solar energy
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Have you converted all of your AC/DC loads to straight DC? Newer laptops use USB-C charging, which makes it easier to charge without your inverter, but it’s still possible to do it with older laptops.

Reclaiming wasted energy is just as useful as adding more capacity and sometimes cheaper too.
AC: kettle, Kairee's curling iron, my laptop.
I turn on the inverter for 90 minutes 2 or 3 times a day to charge up. Maybe an extra 2Ah there for inverter efficiency. Laptop is 180W at 19.5V, so there are no off the shelf DC chargers for it. Best I could do is 19V converter and hardwire a dedicated laptop plug. Didn't bother attempting.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I have been messing with solar since 2017 (@ my remote cabin). I feel I am stumbling thru learning about solar like I do anything else. I do feel I have experimented & learned a lot. I credit @HarryN for his multiple posts on The Forum for his knowledge experience and perspectives (I feel I picked up a few gems from him).

@aaronmcd You are a Science Guy, & you know the answers to your questions is all about breaking it down. In my mind this comes down to 3 basic 12v electrical systems; Charging / Energy Storage / Energy Use. The next important thing I will state is “you can’t analyze what you do not record”.



Batteries (How Long Before You Can Charge);
Without all the data I can only assume here. IMO you need a bigger battery bank (maybe double). With that idea I also wonder if there would be an advantage to a split switch (2 battery banks).




Energy Use;
Climate & Weather is a huge factor; Heater or Cooler opperations use 12v & that usage can swing wildly (so can the build & the way the van is used - how you deal with windows (thermal gain loss & how many - colour of the van exterior)
Do you have a way to record your 12v consumption & do you know what you appliances use when running (ie @afox knows his Propex heater uses 1.9amps when running).
I agree the water pumps (if they pump 3gal/min can not run very long to pump 4gals
LED lights are “usually” minimal, but not if used all day. Further there is a huge difference in their consumption (the LED 4’ light bar that came in my 2018 PM uses almost 4amps 😱 that is more than twice the Propex heater - I am replacing it)

“My repurposed 2018 PM LED light bar 4amps”
View attachment 80127

Router on all day would use as much as my ARB Fridge.

So if you know what your “things” use & you can cut down or eliminate their use




Charging (Solar);

Solar charging is heavily reliant on the weather. Also reliant on the system & how it is set up (type of controller, series, parallel, etc). I have 600W max or 60volts @ 10amps & I have hit that limit North of the 49th. You may be able to tweak your existing system to harvest better - If you post you components & setup you might get some ideas on how to better harvest

View attachment 80128

Mid October Panel Tilt is Important as is keeping clear the snow off the panels (dirt or bird poop can degrade harvest also);
View attachment 80129
Solar dependent on weather: current use has been low angle but mostly sunny. A cloudy day here and there. No / not much heater use. In colder weather I'd use the propex more, but the fan and fridge less.

A bigger battery bank would only be helpful if I can charge it up on the weekends. I'm not sure yet of our "normal" driving habits. The first couple weeks were a lot of driving just to see as much as possible on our way from north SF Bay Area to Phoenix area. Here in AZ, the weekend only put back ~100Ah. After the holidays, we might drive more on the weekends, but maybe not 300Ah of driving.

Also a solar panel is easier and cheaper to add. I don't have space for another battery, don't have my hammer crimper with me, would have to move stuff around and make new cables.

I currently have 2x200 monocrystaline Renogy panels in parallel, and a 40A Renogy MPPT charge controller. Since it's physically impossible to get all the power out of horizontal panels north of the tropics, I figure I can put up to 600W up there with the 40A controller.
 

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2017 136” HR
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I have been messing with solar since 2017 (@ my remote cabin). I feel I am stumbling thru learning about solar like I do anything else. I do feel I have experimented & learned a lot. I credit @HarryN for his multiple posts on The Forum for his knowledge experience and perspectives (I feel I picked up a few gems from him).

@aaronmcd You are a Science Guy, & you know the answers to your questions is all about breaking it down. In my mind this comes down to 3 basic 12v electrical systems; Charging / Energy Storage / Energy Use. The next important thing I will state is “you can’t analyze what you do not record”.



Batteries (How Long Before You Can Charge);
Without all the data I can only assume here. IMO you need a bigger battery bank (maybe double). With that idea I also wonder if there would be an advantage to a split switch (2 battery banks).




Energy Use;
Climate & Weather is a huge factor; Heater or Cooler opperations use 12v & that usage can swing wildly (so can the build & the way the van is used - how you deal with windows (thermal gain loss & how many - colour of the van exterior)
Do you have a way to record your 12v consumption & do you know what you appliances use when running (ie @afox knows his Propex heater uses 1.9amps when running).
I agree the water pumps (if they pump 3gal/min can not run very long to pump 4gals
LED lights are “usually” minimal, but not if used all day. Further there is a huge difference in their consumption (the LED 4’ light bar that came in my 2018 PM uses almost 4amps 😱 that is more than twice the Propex heater - I am replacing it)

“My repurposed 2018 PM LED light bar 4amps”
View attachment 80127

Router on all day would use as much as my ARB Fridge.

So if you know what your “things” use & you can cut down or eliminate their use




Charging (Solar);

Solar charging is heavily reliant on the weather. Also reliant on the system & how it is set up (type of controller, series, parallel, etc). I have 600W max or 60volts @ 10amps & I have hit that limit North of the 49th. You may be able to tweak your existing system to harvest better - If you post you components & setup you might get some ideas on how to better harvest

View attachment 80128

Mid October Panel Tilt is Important as is keeping clear the snow off the panels (dirt or bird poop can degrade harvest also);
View attachment 80129
Since your solar produces almost 60V at less than 8Amps may I assume you wired your panels in Series? To my previous comment I wonder if series is more advantageous than parallel in the winter since lithiums need Volts more than Amps? Is that correct?

Edit: it probably should say that a MPPT needs a certain amount of Volts before it starts charging?
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Since your solar produces almost 60V at less than 8Amps may I assume you wired your panels in Series? To my previous comment I wonder if series is more advantageous than parallel in the winter since lithiums need a Volts more than Amps? Is that correct?
How does a charge controller work? If I wire in series, they could potentially produce up to ~38 volts. Does a charge controller convert the power to lower voltage or does it waste excess power?
Also wondering, if each panel is 18.xx volts, shouldn't that be more than enough most of the time? Or does the voltage drop off quickly at lower power?
 

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I’m still learning myself, but learned a lot from “The Explorist”. My understanding is that in Series you charge earlier in the day in low light. The MPPT will make sure nothing his wasted.

This is a link where he explains the pros and cons on parallel vs series.
Excerpt: “To charge a 12v battery bank, you’ll need closer to 14 volts (depending on battery chemistry. 14.4 for Lithium) to actually start charging. Most single solar panels in the 100 – 200 watt range have voltages in the 18-20 volt range.
If you wire in parallel, this means you’ll only have a range of 6 volts to work with where your solar panel can make power. Basically, this means that your solar panel needs to be operating at 75% capacity before it will even charge your batteries at all.

If you wire the same solar panels in series, using the same panels as above, you’ll have about 57 volts to work with. This means that, through the power of the MPPT controller, each panel only needs to be able to muster up 25% of its voltage capacity before it can start making amps in a 3 panel series.”

Panels will start charging earlier in the day and later into the evening as the sun angles are low. There’s just a bigger range of voltage for our charge controller to work with.

 
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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
I’m still learning myself, but learned a lot from “The Explorist”. My understanding is that in Series you charge earlier in the day in low light. The MPPT will make sure nothing his wasted.

This is a link where he explains the pros and cons on parallel vs series.
Excerpt: “To charge a 12v battery bank, you’ll need closer to 14 volts (depending on battery chemistry. 14.4 for Lithium) to actually start charging. Most single solar panels in the 100 – 200 watt range have voltages in the 18-20 volt range.
If you wire in parallel, this means you’ll only have a range of 6 volts to work with where your solar panel can make power. Basically, this means that your solar panel needs to be operating at 75% capacity before it will even charge your batteries at all.

If you wire the same solar panels in series, using the same panels as above, you’ll have about 57 volts to work with. This means that, through the power of the MPPT controller, each panel only needs to be able to muster up 25% of its voltage capacity before it can start making amps in a 3 panel series.”

Panels will start charging earlier in the day and later into the evening as the sun angles are low. There’s just a bigger range of voltage for our charge controller to work with.

I guess I wonder how low the power output would have to be before voltage drops below 14 volts. I've seen as low as single digit watts coming in.
 

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With my lash-up (2x200wt panels in parallel ~19v max power, 21v open circuit) even before the sunlight hits the panels, I can get an amp of charge going into the batteries (as reported by the batteries and the controller). Either the controller is boosting the voltage, or, the panels provide the same voltage, just lower current with weak sunlight.

BTW, I too have 200ah of battery and typically between cooking, overnight heat (I like it warm) and the refer, I typically use 40-60% of the battery. I rarely have daytime loads except for the occasional espresso or grilled cheese sandwich. have not stayed in one spot long enough to see if the panels can recharge the pack (1200 wh) in one day but I think not as I rarely see more than 20A from the solar panels and that is midday. Not too many hours of that in the fall/winter/spring.

FWIW, just a reminder Renogy controllers are limited to 24v maximum on the input.
 

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AC: kettle, Kairee's curling iron, my laptop.
I turn on the inverter for 90 minutes 2 or 3 times a day to charge up. Maybe an extra 2Ah there for inverter efficiency. Laptop is 180W at 19.5V, so there are no off the shelf DC chargers for it. Best I could do is 19V converter and hardwire a dedicated laptop plug. Didn't bother attempting.
You could try that.

As Garry mentioned, tilting your solar panels will give you some more gains. What I would do is buy one of the flexible panels that you can roll up and store away. Pair it with a cheap pwm controller so you don’t have to mess with your permanent setup. You can reposition that panel several times a day for maximum power generation, and that might be enough.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
With my lash-up (2x200wt panels in parallel ~19v max power, 21v open circuit) even before the sunlight hits the panels, I can get an amp of charge going into the batteries (as reported by the batteries and the controller). Either the controller is boosting the voltage, or, the panels provide the same voltage, just lower current with weak sunlight.

BTW, I too have 200ah of battery and typically between cooking, overnight heat (I like it warm) and the refer, I typically use 40-60% of the battery. I rarely have daytime loads except for the occasional espresso or grilled cheese sandwich. have not stayed in one spot long enough to see if the panels can recharge the pack (1200 wh) in one day but I think not as I rarely see more than 20A from the solar panels and that is midday. Not too many hours of that in the fall/winter/spring.

FWIW, just a reminder Renogy controllers are limited to 24v maximum on the input.
The specs for the Renogy 40A MPPT charge controller says up to 100V input, 32V output..
 
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