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A. Independent Power - Which one? A frequent and tricky question! None of the solutions are perfect with each having its own advantages and disadvantages. Solar and wind power are the greenest followed by fuel cells and LPG then petrol & diesel generators which have the biggest carbon footprints. None are completely green of course each having materials and manufacturing footprints so power conservation is important too LEDs e.g!
Solar panels are more or less fit and forget with a modest but long hours output that tops up your batteries unattended - whenever parked, out for the day, on a coffee or lunch stop, or even before you get up in the morning! In combination with multiple leisure batteries for storage they work really well and especially so if you don't go too far north! Wind generators produce more peak power but require more effort because for motorhome use you have to get then up on the roof or at least high up (they're heavy too) and then dismantle & stow them each time they are used so they are unlikely to be in use for as many hours as solar panels. They can also seem quite noisy in the camping environment. Both types can be inactive at times, in winter and when heavily overcast for solar, and on calm or even on very windy days for wind power, seems odd to have to stop using wind power because it's too windy but that's the way it is! Solar is very popular on motorhomes, wind power more so on boats where off-onshore breezes are common and permanent installation isn't a problem. Solar power is steadily increasing in popularity in the UK, and if France is anything to go by, is set to become even more popular on smaller motorhomes, perhaps with our space saving slim-line panel for crowded roofs (left). Mono? our biggest seller. Monocrystalline solar panels have the highest efficiency rates since they are made out of the highest-grade purest silicon. As a result they are also space-efficient and require the least amount of space compared to any other types. 'Monos' produce up to four times the amount of electricity as thin-film solar panels. Monor panels live the longest with most panel manufacturers putting a 25-year warranty on their monocrystalline solar panels. Also they tend to perform better than similarly rated 'poly' solar panels in low-light conditions.
In contrast fuel cells and 'gennies' are completely independent of the elements and can run at any time you feed them with fuel. These can be free standing for ad-hoc use or built in and automated for convenient low user input. Fuel cells are virtually silent and seen as very green with their very low emissions but are very expensive to buy while gennies are relatively cheap but with the petrol and diesel ones having a strong tendency to pollute the local environment with both fumes and noise! All generators require fuel so you've got to carry and manage this of course, the lpg and diesel types can be installed to take fuel from the motorhome's on-board tank/s. Portable LPG 'suitcase' (as pictured) and built-in generators are fairly quiet in use especially if running on an 'eco' setting but the others tend to be noisier and may be very unpopular on some campsites. Increasingly their use is time restricted - we found they were restricted to 10-12am and 2-4pm on one site we visited recently, even so that's 4 hours at 8A so a very welcome ~30AHrs of charge going unto the batteries.
Beginners Guide to Solar Power: Out of the great mass of information I've waded through recently there seem to be a few solid and useful guidelines for the less technically inclined ...
1. Don't worry about different cell technologies, the 'mono-crystalline' type are the most common for motorhomers because they give more 'bang for your buck' in most circumstances and so suit most people most of the time. With bigger sales volumes they tend to be competitively priced too. They are also said to be longer lived. But - if you want polycrystalline we offer some of those too. Manufacturers of each claim various benefits for different types but it makes little difference to most of us. Often the most important choice relates to size and shape - to fit onto increasingly crowded roofs! Flexible panels are great for novel applications but output and life is again inferior to mono panels.
2. Whatever size you think you'll need it may not always seem enough in practice! This is especially true out of season and further north. You can make all sorts of calculations but all have to assume some sort of balance between good and bad weather so in practice you should go for the biggest you can sensibly fit and afford. For general holidaying that will be between 50-100W and probably 80-140W or more in the UK. That said do remember that their fairly modest output is available all the time and the many hours of steady but modest solar charging will usually be adequate for ordinary electrical use. It is also worth remembering that you always benefit from solar to some degree so even if your panel/s aren't big enough to satisfy all your needs they will always extend the time before you have to add some extra charging. Also with most of our controllers you can start with one panel and easily add a second if and when you wish to. For example it may be a better idea to start with say a 200W MPPT controller and one 100W panel, adding a second 100W panel later - to make up to the max wattage the controller can handle; in this case starting with a 120W would make the later upgrade more difficult.
3. A good size battery or battery bank is pretty much essential because we use power in bursts and generally more of it in bad weather and at night - and rather less in good weather. As a result you will need at least two leisure batteries or one big one (>160Ahrs) to make the best of your solar power by storing all that good-weather energy for use when the light deteriorates.
4. Flat panels are the most convenient being 'fit and forget' apart from an occasional wash. On some curved roofs the corner mounts may be preferred to long flat aluminium extrusions.
5. Quite apart from overall capacity, there is some extra advantage in having two panels rather than one. The sheer size and weight of the bigger panels makes them more difficult to install, applies high point loading to the roof and may be vulnerable to longer term damage from normal motorhome body flexing or branch strikes. Roof layout can be a bigger problem with big panels too, I've gone for twin panels myself. There are some clever tricks that can be played with twin panels in winter too but those are for the techies amongst you,
6. You can get four or five or more times the normal output from a panel by making it constantly face the sun. Auto-elevating and tracking units claim to provide up to 5x the daily charge of flat mounted panels. They show much greater gains in winter when the panel elevates to face the low sun. These units can be very expensive, often more than the cost of installing substantial twin panels, so are usually only for the heavier user with a big payload. NB: Although helpful you can't get this much extra from a 'DIY move it now and then', you do need constant tracking to get 5x! You need a lot of roof space to allow the unit to elevate and rotate at will. Although technically very interesting this is not a popular option. Smaller panels fitted to the back of a satellite dish are interesting, popularity as yet unknown.
7. To complete a kit you need a regulator & wiring and some high-bond Sikaflex sealant and a waterproof cable entry box. Regulators may be fairly simple and cheap one-unit affairs or sophisticated digital units for twin panels, for wet & gel batteries, and for a secondary 'overspill' connection to the starter battery. Our own unit offers all these facilities at an economic price. NB: Don't under-size the wiring it can limit charge rates, we recommend 6mm².
Newer premium controllers may offer 'MPPT', these use electronic wizardry that sacrifices a little charge in bright light to get more charge in lower light conditions. They are getting cheaper so increasingly popular for winter use. There's no magic wand though - do remember that basic charge rates can be very low at that time of year so that impressive sounding 20-30% gain is on very little charge and so still amounts to not a lot of extra charge - as ever miracles are still in short supply! Nevertheless this is good technology and now affordable, our Victron versions are top notch..
8. Do try to balance your solar capacity with suitable leisure batteries, preferably 2x80/120Ahr leisure batteries with an 80/100W panel e.g. and maybe 3 or 4 batteries with twin 100/120W panels. Watch your payload though because four x 120Ahr might weigh 150Kgs or more! You can of course add solar to a single 75Ahr battery - you just won't see as much benefit. 110/120Ahrs is probably a sensible minimum battery capacity for many people - a good bit bigger that the more usual 75/85AHr usually supplied,
9. Comparison with wind power is inevitable. Wind generators have quite high output when the wind is blowing, but generally have to be set up and then stored away for each use. Some can be both heavy to manipulate and quite noisy in use, sometimes irritatingly so for both you and your neighbours. This inconvenience means they haven't really been adopted by the motorhome community, often seen on boats though. Combining Solar with a lightweight reputable wind turbine like the Rutland 504 can be a very versatile solution for those determined to be fully 'off grid' an green at all times - despite the inconvenience.
10. Fuel Cells & Generators are both worth considering. Their relatively high output and full independence from the vagaries of the weather are the main attractions. Generators are notoriously noisy but are very good at providing bursts of quite high powered mains electricity. Unfortunately they may be relatively poor choices for charging batteries because a genny provides more power than can be readily absorbed by most lead-acid batteries, the waste being given off as noise, heat, and pollution. Another downside is that leisure batteries often have shorter lives if maintained by short bursts on the genny. The best choice is maybe an LPG powered genny with a 12v charging output plus an eco-throttle, these are much lower in pollution don't hammer the battery and the right ones start and run on pure LPG so can be carried in a motorhome without that petrol smell, there are quiet versions too; in an emergency the mains side of maybe 1KW can be used via a high power charger to give a battery an occasional quick boost (see our Hyundai Generator range and our CTEK Smart Chargers for example). Brilliant when combined with our refillable LPG bottles. The Self-energy / Eco-energy LPG underslung generator is a good if expensive charging solution for many especially if you have refillable LPG tanks or our Gaslow refillable bottles. Fuel cells are much greener and very quiet albeit much more expensive to buy and to run, Efoy Cells run on a very pure methanol so there is a significant cost and storage issue there too. For all gennies you must buy and manage fuel to gain that independence, albeit easily with LPG Refillables but do compare that to completely free solar power.
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New: Bargain 75W Panel Kit for just £185 - click here to go there now
New: Victron Ultra-fast MPPT Blue Solar Charge Controllers: MPPT technology at a remarkable price. MPPT stands for Maximum Power Point Tracking and this class of controllers are renowned for giving extra charge under more difficult conditions including lower light levels and cooler temperatures. In the better ones clever electronics can also adjust charge levels to optimise the relationship between panels, controller and battery. This ultra-fast version will respond rapidly and intelligently to changing light intensity, as in a cloudy sky, yielding up to 30% more power than a standard PWM controller and even 10% more than slower MPPT chargers. Once costing several hundred pounds this leading edge technology is now available to all for less that £100, amazing! Can be just fit and forget but has configurable features for the more technically minded too. Operates on 12v and 24v and up to 200W** on 12v, secondary 'load' output with auto disconnect e.g. inverter at 15A, now accepts up to 75V in, (including twin 12v panels in series for optimum low light charging of the 12v batteries in parallel!), reverse & short circuit proof and can power inductive loads like inverters. ** if more than 200W is connected power is simply limited to 200W, (100V & 440W for the new 100/30), very handy maybe if big panels are desired to gain more charge in low light especially in winter. Click for datasheet.
PWM-Pro Regulator/Controllers also available, click here for pwm datasheet in new window.
How to choose between conventional PWM and MPPT controllers? It is a bit tricky. Victron make both types of regulator and say: about PWM "a good lower cost solution for small systems and when solar cell temperature is moderate to high 45C to 75C" : and about MPPT "To exploit the full potential of the MPPT controller the array voltage should be substantially higher than the battery voltage ... it is the system of choice for higher power systems ... will also harvest substantially more power when the cell temperature is below 45C or when irradiance is very low", i.e. a larger system in winter. Buy Below >>>
Victron BlueSolar Monocrystalline Panels: Data Sheet Here • Low voltage-temperature coefficient enhances high-temperature operation. • Exceptional low-light performance and high sensitivity to light across the entire solar spectrum. • 25-year limited warranty on power output and performance. • 2-year Limited warranty on materials and workmanship. • Sealed, waterproof, multi-functional junction box gives high level of safety. • High performance bypass diodes minimize the power drop caused by shade. • Advanced EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) encapsulation system with triple-layer back sheet meets the most stringent safety requirements for high-voltage operation. • A sturdy, anodized aluminium frame allows modules to be easily roof-mounted with a variety of standard mounting systems. • Highest quality, high-transmission tempered glass provides enhanced stiffness and impact resistance. • Pre wired quick-connect system with MC4 (PV-ST01) connectors. (But NOT on 30W panel). Buy Below >>>
New: Sunshine Portable Solar Kits: No installation needed! Portable Solar Panel Kits in 80W, 100W and 120W at 12V. These Compact Solar Power Kits fold in two and come complete with everything needed for quick easy setup and safe charging of 12 volt batteries of all types. Perfect for Caravans & Motorhomes when running off-grid. Each kit comprises of two robust solar panels linked together by cables and hinges, attached to each panel is a foldable adjustable stand. The charge regulator supplied insures the battery is protected from overcharge and over-discharge at all times. Unpack, unfold, point at sunshine, clip to battery, job done. Easy tilt and turn enables maximum charge capture at any time of day and is especially effective at catching max charge in the shoulder seasons, and even winter. Can of course be used with built-in controllers such as Sargent, Electroblok. etc, in which case it may be best to run a pair of insulated connecting leads out to a convenient point to connect - ideally via a 12v socket.
Features: • Twin Folding Sunshine Solar Panels Monocrystalline each at ½ panel kit rating • Sunshine Charge Regulator 12V - 7AMP • 5M Extension Cable - Croc Clips to SS Connector • Pre wired inline fuse holder & fuse • Adjustable integrated stand • Padded Bag.
Specification: • High Performance Bosch Monocrystalline
Cells • Peak power (Pmax): 80/100/120Wp
Very convenient and so much more powerful and useful than those little 13-18W jobs! Buy Below >>>
Add our Votronic Standby Charger (automatic overspill charger or battery master) to your 'van too and get convenient automatic starter battery maintenance too. Easy install, no extra wires to fiddle about with when setting up the portable solar, no greasy bonnet opening, a perfect companion to the Sunshine Portable Kits. Even works if there's power from a hook-up or genny or whatever! Fit & forget. Buy Below >>>
NB: 100W Narrow Veetech panel for crowded roofs just 410mm wide x 1600mm long
Veetech & CS Evolution Solar Panels Kits and Accessories: Veetech Solar & CS Evolution from Italy. Big names smaller price! Plus 25 year Warranty! These efficient 60W to 140W Solar Panels have high efficiency mono-crystalline or poly-crystalline solar cells with anti-reflective coating, thick cells, reinforced reflective backing, and high quality inter-connecting ribbons for maximum performance and durability. The very popular monocrystalline panels come in 90W, 100W & 120W sizes while 60W, 80W & 140W versions are available as polycrystalline panels. Thanks to the newer technology all of the these Solar modules have higher output and guarantee very good performances even in lower sunlight conditions. On our own 80W we've regularly seen ½-1 amp under really dismal conditions and around 7 amps in northern sunlight - excellent performance. These top quality modules are made by using only guaranteed and certified materials: solar cells encapsulated between sheets of ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), highly transparent, anti-shock, tempered glass which protects the module against mechanical and climatic effects. The white 'Tedlar' backing sheet provides further protection of the module as does the anodised aluminium frame. Both panels come complete with 2 x PG7 cable glands and connecting terminals but you need to order the mounts separately. For most people a regulator and wiring will also be needed and both feed gland / cable entry box and a test/readout panel might also be handy. 20 year full warranty and 25 years for 80% output. As fitted to our own motorhome. See our complete range of accessories and fitting kits below too. Buy Below >>>
Now replaced by the two newer 'CS Evolution' models below. The standard 'Powermaster' unit regulates the charge put in to your batteries from the Solar Panels. It can be used in conjunction with one or two panels and also has an 'overspill' charging output to the engine battery if desired.
CS Evolution MOSFET Solar Controllers / Regulators: The voltage from a panel in sunshine is a lot higher than the ~14v used to charge our batteries so you must have a regulator in circuit, we call these things regs or regulators and controllers but they are all the same thing! The new CSE Regulators will each control one or two solar panels totalling 230/240W max. The latest technology ensures maximum efficiency with the mechanical part being replaced by a MOSFET controlled by a microprocessor. With intelligent software this regulator uses only 0.05 Amp in operation. LEDs indicate system status: charging, end of charge (battery ok), fuse failure alarm (fuse), connection alarm (rev. polarity). The charge LED lights to indicate voltage on the the panels/s. Once maximum battery voltage is reached the led 'battery ok' lights after one hour for an Acid battery and after 4 hours for a Gel battery. The CSE22 2x2 version includes a starter battery overspill circuit. The extra panels and extra battery bank are optional, you can install with just one of each leaving the spare terminals for future expansion. Also optional a Display unit offering extra charge and history info as under. Buy Below >>>
Veetech/CS Digital Test/Display Panel: Optional Extra. Push button sequential display of voltage, charge current, hours of charge and Amp-hours. For Recessed or surface mounting, comes with a black surface frame. Display: 3 figures at 7 segments, Voltage, charge current, AHrs, hours of 'solar,' are displayed sequentially with illumination by pressing button. Low consumption with auto switch-off. 11.5cm x 8cm approx. Equipped with a 2.5M RJ11 plug-in data cable for really easy connection to the regulators above. Buy Below >>>
Complete Kits: We're now offering a complete kit based on the popular 90W, 120W & 100W slim-line panels. This includes everything you need to mount and seal your panel onto quality alloy extrusions and to take its output into the 'van and regulate it. You may need additional connectors, fuses, clips etc to connect to your battery or other input, this will vary from vehicle to vehicle and applies to all panels of course not just ours. It applies to most kits too, I see one high profile supplier doesn't even include the Sikaflex - and a top grade sealant like this is essential for a watertight roof installation & cable entry! Upgrades to the latest hi-tech mosfet & mppt regulator technology is also possible. Other kit configurations could be provided so if interested please for help and/or a quote. We have the previous 80W Mono panel and a CS Powermaster installed on our own 'van and I have to say it works superbly well. If installing today I'd have one of the bigger panels or the slim 100W, and a mofset regulator or an mppt for >150W. Buy Below >>>
Overall length installed: The alloy mounts at the ends increase base length by approx 125mm.
Wiring Note: We recommend the use of 6mm² cable - this is big enough to ensure very low loss even when charge rates are low but the cable is still just small enough to be able to use standard yellow crimp connectors which suit the panel and regulator 'spades' and this size also suits our cable entry box (as does larger cable too). You can of course go up in size but then you'll have to use solder terminals.
Going down in size may mean lower charge rates in lower light conditions so not so good. We think 3mm is too small but in practice the more readily available 4.5mm² may be fine for some people. If needed you can bind tape around it to give extra sealing through the cable entry box glands if required. Our own choice was 6mm² and we can highly recommend that, our cable entry box listed below is suitable for that size too.
Wiring exposed on the roof should be a UV resistant grade or simply in a sheath of some sort.
Please do for help and advice - it's this customer service that sets us apart!
New: PWR Solar Kits - amazing value! With a nominal output of 60-130W these PWR Poly-crystalline panel kits are suitable for use on boats, motorhomes, caravans and other vehicles. Its 3mm tempered glass and a precision aluminium frame keeps the PV cells dry and bypass diodes help to reduce the problem of power drop-off if shadows fall on the panel. High-precision connectors ensure quick, reliable installation of cables and the cable itself is of the highest quality available. These factors help the power created by the panel to get to your batteries in the most efficient way. All PWR have a 25-year warranty against power failure. These are complete kits and include the following items: ▪ Poly-crystalline solar panel ▪ 10A solar regulator ▪ 6 metre length of cable ▪ Waterproof cable box ▪ Mounting brackets. NB no glue/sealant included although shown in the earlier picture! Mono versions may be available too. Buy Below >>>
Please do for help and advice - it's this customer service that sets us apart!
Elektroblok? These units often provide for Solar connection so if utilising that you don't always need a one of our regulators. Many of these systems can be by-passed without problem though; our own Hymer has a Veetech regulator feeding direct to the batteries without problems - it works extremely well in fact. But the are three Elektrobloks known to object to this, EBLs 101, 220, 264. These have been known to shut down the 12v system when seeing an alternative charge voltage at the battery. In this case it is necessary to connect panels via a Schaudt regulator and Electroblock leads, these aren't much dearer than a standard regulator and of course also use the vehicle's display panel to show amps in. We can point you towards a source and can supply if ordering a system from us.
Kipor Sinemaster Generators: And if the Sun does fail you and in winter maybe you might need a truly independent source of power, a 1 / 2 / 2.6 kW Generator. The well known Kipors could be just what you need with their lightweight and compact low noise smart throttle design, reliable digital pure sine inverter technology and parallel running compatibility, plus overload and low oil protection. Amazing value for the performance offered. One year or 500 hours warranty and UK based parts & servicing. We offer three very useful models for motorhome and caravan use, the IG1000P, IG2000P (pictured) and the IG2600P, all offer direct 12v charging/power and vary in maximum 230v power output so choose any one for battery charging but choose the right size to run higher power appliances or tools. As with everything, running at maximum output is noisy and will lead to a shorter life, a bit of 'headroom' is always sensible. The suitcase design with sound attenuation structures and 4-stroke engine give quiet running as low as 54dBA at 7m. stabilised pure sine output powers sensitive electrical equipment like mobile phone & laptop chargers and of course your motorhome system via the hook-up point. Delivered dry. Buy Below >>>
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