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Discussion Starter #1
Hello all
Getting to the point in our build to attack the solar aspect. Would like to run some kind of chest fridge almost without end, on two panels & not spend a million bucks doing it.
Possible? Or am I dreaming??
Have not bought a fridge yet. Thinking Iceco VL46. Daily load would be the fridge, a few led lights in the evenings & charge a few small devices once every other day or so. Thats about it.
Most of our stomping grounds are the SW US & NW Mexico (in better times) so sunlight to power panels not hard to come by.
Have about 53" of PM roof length to work with for panels, see pic.
Anybody here have a system like this up & running? What items did you use?
Hoping to take advantage of year-end specials & get this built and done. 20201114_090841.jpg .
Cheers!
 

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two 170w panels running TruckFridge 130 - no problem (2 - 6v flooded golf cart batteries)
 

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We have two 175w panels charging two 200Ah gel batteries running an ICECO VL60. In warmer weather it uses about 30Ah overnight when set to dual zone fridge/freezer. While camping our deepest discharge was 43Ah, so we could get away with just one of the batteries right now. On a sunny Colorado morning, it's fully charged by 10am. Unless we know we won't use it for a couple of weeks, we just leave the fridge and solar on even when its just parked in the driveway.

For your stated usage you likely could get by with 80-100Ah battery, a 150-175w solar panel, and a charge controller.
 

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I have a 2.7 cf front-opening fridge by Engel, and my single 100W panel (temporary, I have a second not yet installed) seems to keep up just fine, even w/ my MaxxAir fan running on low all day too. I can stay parked all day and come back to batteries that are still well over 12.5V. That said, I do have 440Ah of capacity and 40A of charging while driving.
 

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I do mine with four 100 watt panels. Two larger than 100 watt panels would probably be fine. In my case it was what I could afford at the time. I've let it all run up to two months at a time with no problems. On multiple cloudy/rainy days it won't get the cells up to 14.2vdc. But it gets them up to 13.4 and that is enough to run the fridge all night. May get down to 12.7 by morning. But then even a bit of daylight starts it all up again.
 

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I did @ my cabin

  • ARB 50QT fridge. (20 to 40 Ahrs/day depends upon conditions)
  • 130 Ahr FLA
  • 1 - 100W panel (spring, summer, early fall) & north of the 49th parallel
  • PWM Controller (not MPPT)

But the fridge was the only big draw. Really depends upon the quality & hours of the Sun.
 

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Do you know what your battery bank will be yet? Our truck fridge 130 has been great. We have 3 100w panels and 4 golf cart batteries but think it could have easily been done w 2 panels (or two batteries) especially given your location. I was glad we had the extra batteries this summer after some continuous PNW days covered in smoke, rain, and tall trees. But never came close to running out of power. We’ve only run off the sun the whole time and I love it.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Andrew S. Battery bank yet not chosen, have not bought anything for this solar project actually. So still flexible on every thing.
 

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Where you are you could do this on one (1) 100 watt panel and a couple of 6 volt golf cart batteries (215Ah). If there are 5 or 6 days of rain/overcast you will need backup NO MATTER how much solar you have. I’m running a slightly smaller refrigerator on 100 Watts of solar and 50 Ah of LiFePO battery. It is fine for up to three days of no sun.
 
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We have a Truck Fridge TF-130, 300w solar, 180Ahr lion, if we get some sun we're good. In Virginia during the summer the fridge has to work. We can go 3 days of no sun. The chest types are more efficient
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Where you are you could do this on one (1) 100 watt panel and a couple of 6 volt golf cart batteries (215Ah). If there are 5 or 6 days of rain/overcast you will need backup NO MATTER how much solar you have. I’m running a slightly smaller refrigerator on 100 Watts of solar and 50 Ah of LiFePO battery. It is fine for up to three days of no sun.
Sounds good RD. Gonna have to find something else than a golf cart battery though. The off gassing just makes me too nervous. That probably means more money laid out, but thats ok. Many many moons ago I had a golf cart battery explode about two feet from me. A wrench fell off a shelf and across the terminals for just a sec. Blew the whole top off the battery. We never found the top. Pure luck I was standing facing away from the battery when it went up. A trip to the emergency room to get checked out/cleaned up & my hair looked pretty bad for a while. But ok in the end. One of my nine lives went right there!
Always respect lead acid batteries, or any battery for that matter. Great if used with care. But, stuff CAN happen.
What kind of controller are you you using with those LifePo batteries RD?
 

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Buy one deep cycle 12 volt 100 amp hour AGM?
If you want to run much more get two 6 volt AGM golf cart batteries.
BTW that battery story would have been much worse with a Lithium Ion battery!
 

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Here's a data point from a couple of weeks ago: 200 watts of solar on a roof rack, 1400 watt hour (~100 amp) GoalZero (lithium) battery. Engel 40 ltr fridge, mild (50s/60s) weather and rain for days = 30% battery. This was the first time ever that it got that low just running the fridge.

I carry another 100 watt panel and used that in addition to the roof panels when the sun finally came out, and it charged up pretty quickly. A separate panel and a cord lets you position it at a better angle for ideal sun -- which, in the late Fall/Winter/early Spring is important, since the roof panels won't have the sun beating down on them directly. Also it lets you park in the shade and still charge up. Something to consider.
 

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Since I use only one 100 watt panel I am using a Renogy Voyager 10 amp PWM controller. It has a setting that will properly charge LiFePO4 and will “wake up” a BMS if needed. $30. I actually own a second portable panel as well and it could also be used as the panels reach 5 amps (@17+volts) under most situations.
If anyone wants a spare panel I have a new SunPower flex panel that I want to sell. They are the best flex panels and woud work great as a panel to set out like wnybiker speaks of. I am in NH and shipping is too much so we could meet in MA, NH, ME, VT for the sale. I’d sell this $190 panel for $140. It’s still in the box and hasn’t been used.

 
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I did @ my cabin

  • ARB 50QT fridge. (20 to 40 Ahrs/day depends upon conditions)
  • 130 Ahr FLA
  • 1 - 100W panel (spring, summer, early fall) & north of the 49th parallel
  • PWM Controller (not MPPT)

But the fridge was the only big draw. Really depends upon the quality & hours of the Sun.
Exactly. In the SF Bay area, there are several months that make it very challenging to pull off.

  • August / Sept - smoke from fires
  • Jan / Feb - heavy overcast

For this area, it really takes 400+ watts of solar and at least a 400 amp-hr AGM or equivalent bank to keep a refrigerator and a few other items going continuously.

In NM where the sun feels like laser beams coming in from the sky, less solar power is required.

At my shop I have a test stand that is used for comparing / qualifying items for van electrical use. One of the tests is with panels mounted vertically. (similar to the side of a van). You would be surprised at how well this works.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Exactly. In the SF Bay area, there are several months that make it very challenging to pull off.

  • August / Sept - smoke from fires
  • Jan / Feb - heavy overcast

For this area, it really takes 400+ watts of solar and at least a 400 amp-hr AGM or equivalent bank to keep a refrigerator and a few other items going continuously.

In NM where the sun feels like laser beams coming in from the sky, less solar power is required.

At my shop I have a test stand that is used for comparing / qualifying items for van electrical use. One of the tests is with panels mounted vertically. (similar to the side of a van). You would be surprised at how well this works.
So Harry N. You are running vanlife solar panels both horizontally & vertically & comparing the results?
If I am understanding you correctly. Do tell, what are you finding?
 

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So Harry N. You are running vanlife solar panels both horizontally & vertically & comparing the results?
If I am understanding you correctly. Do tell, what are you finding?
I'd be interested as well, since I live and roam in NW Washington - a bit of a boost to solar yield might be handy here.

Been thinking about a hinge/strut contraption for mounting panels to the roof for those times you find the perfect spot and don't want to mive the van for a few days...
 

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Nick H have you calculated your TOTAL energy use?
Adding up charging laptops, cells, electric fan for composting terlet, induction cook plate, maxxair fans, barking diesel heater, electric blanket (don't laugh, got one as a present, 12v) and lights in addition to fridge?
Bought a 300w panel, 280ah LiFePo4 and charging from coach battery when running. Should do me.
 

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Another stunt is to insulate the fridge. --Heavily. This could cut down its cooling requirements by 1/2(*) and can dramatically alter power calculations.

(*) hard to tell exactly because I suspect there's a huge variation on how well fridges are insulated. Maybe nip heat transfer in the bud.

How you use it is also a big factor. Some people want their beverages cold and drink lots of it. Two people like that could be taxing on refrigeration.

The OP says the van will be used in SW US and NW Mexico. So, yes, lots of sun for solar, but also lots of heat in the van too. So again, consider extra insulation for the fridge.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Nick H have you calculated your TOTAL energy use?
Adding up charging laptops, cells, electric fan for composting terlet, induction cook plate, maxxair fans, barking diesel heater, electric blanket (don't laugh, got one as a present, 12v) and lights in addition to fridge?
Bought a 300w panel, 280ah LiFePo4 and charging from coach battery when running. Should do me.
RobPromaster, boy that's some fancy stuff yer talkin about there..I'm a keep it simple kinda guy. Fridge, tiny fart box fan. A few led lights in the evenings and charge some small devices now & then. Thats really about it.
Actually those small devices we can just charge while we are driving most of the time. Heater? Pm's already got a very robust heater. Start the van let it warm a few minutes, and crank the heat, you you would be suprised. With the heat on high and on dash vent. I cannot even sit in the front seats for more than 30 seconds, get baked right out of there.
Nightime heat, two hot water bottles & a compact wife.
Stove, propane. Fan? Got a large roof vent over the galley instead.
Its so easy to go crazy with tech building a van these days. But in the end, we are going camping guys. And camping really has been about keeping it simple all these years anyway.
 
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