Oliver Travel Trailers

Sustainable Power: Harness the Sun’s Energy to Charge Your Travel Trailer!

solar charging batteries
July 12, 2015
solar panel

After reading Larry Harmon’s preliminary announcement of this upcoming entry on solar, I only hope I can come close to delivering what he deemed it to be worth. As I stated in my introductory post, “…most of the ideas and information I will present will be taken from sources other than myself…” Let me state here and now that I don’t purport or profess to be any solar savant. I’ve read much about solar and “think” I get it. If you find me in error, feel free to point that out. That said, let’s talk about SOLAR.

So, do you even need a solar panel? Well, that depends. Solar panels are nothing more than battery chargers, and your new Oliver will have (or has) one of the finest 3-stage chargers being manufactured today, the PD 4045, with the handy dandy charge wizard built right in. All you have to do is plug your trailer up and (depending on the type of batteries you choose) let the charger do its thing. Are you the camper who always goes to campsites with electrical hookups? If that be the case, then the answer to “Do I need a solar battery charging system?” is probably a resounding “Non” (French), “Nein” (German), “Bu shi zhe yang” (Chinese), “Nyet” (Russian) or “Naw” (Texan or most anyplace in the South!!!) For everybody else…..

First, here are a few basics. How does the sun go about charging a battery? , the solar panels on the roof grab the sunlight from above. At this point, some magic is performed, and the light is converted into volts of electricity, which are sent down into the trailer along some humongous wires through some breakers and switches to a contraption called a charge controller. Inside the charge controller, chants are said to be over the volts and sent to the batteries to be stored there for you to use later. This may differ from how everything works, but hopefully, you get the picture. We don’t have to understand all there is to know about this stuff to benefit from it.

OK, if you’ve decided you’re the type of camper that can benefit from having the sun recharge your batteries for whatever personal reasons, now what do you need? If you are planning the build of your new Oliver, it’s pretty simple. Just let them know you want the solar option, and Oliver will equip your rig with everything you need to drive merrily into the sunset and get your batteries charged for free.

The Oliver folks have made wise decisions about the equipment provided in the optional solar battery charging system. Everything you need is there, and it is all top-quality stuff. Up on the roof are two 36-cell mono-crystalline panels with 320 watts. The electricity they generate is linked in a roof-mounted combiner box and sent inside two 6 gauge wires through a 30 amp cut-off switch and onto the Blue Sky Solar Boost 2512iX-HV MPPT Charge Controller. From there, it is passed through a 30 amp circuit breaker and a 50mv/500amp Shunt, monitored by the Blue Sky IPN PRO Remote Meter inside your coach. All this is assisted by a Temperature Compensation Sensor in the batteries. Now you have to choose… “which battery should I choose?”

Batteries are needed to store all this free electricity. So which ones and how many do I need? First off, the more, the better. More batteries mean more available energy to run all your accessories and charge up all your toys. Luckily, Oliver has the largest battery compartment of any molded fiberglass trailer being manufactured today, so you can have up to four 6-volt batteries and easily access them from the massive pull-out tray (your batteries may weigh up to 275 pounds per set!!!).

For our purposes, electricity storage in a battery is measured in amp-hours. This is a unit of measurement for battery capacity, obtained by multiplying a current flow in amps by the time in hours of discharge. (Example: A battery that can deliver 5 amps per hour for 20 hours delivers 5 amps times 20 hours, or 100 amp-hours.) The more significant the amount of amp-hour storage your chosen set of batteries has, the more you will have to work with during your travels.

Most experts agree that two 6-volt batteries are better than a single 12-volt battery because the combined 6-volt batteries have more amp-hour capacity and generally have a longer life span. Also, many prefer the AGM battery over its less expensive counterpart, the wet cell battery. AGMs are more costly and maintenance-free (no checking and adding water); they don’t have to be vented and resist shock better. Most folks don’t buy AGMs mainly because of the price. Both are equally acceptable in a solar setup. I chose the AGMs because I want to avoid having to check the specific gravity of the wet cells (to determine the charge state), replace the water that has boiled away, and any other nitpicking associated with battery maintenance. I want them to work without any intervention from me. This is nothing more than pure laziness on my part. Since storage batteries are the single most expensive part of the solar battery charging system, if you see yourself here, I strongly recommend spending the money once on a set of AGMs rather than twice on two sets of wet cells, one of which you ruined by not properly taking care of them.

Four Trojan 6-volt T-105 batteries will provide you with 450 amp-hours.
Four Trojan 6-volt AGM batteries will provide you with 400 amp-hours.

Remember, you should only deplete your battery bank by 50%. The above amp-hour numbers should be cut in half to determine the amount you can safely use before recharging.

And so until next time (when we’ll look at how to set up your system using the Blue Sky IPN PRO Remote Meter), may your road go ever on…

Steve and Tali
Dogs: Reacher, Maggie, Lucy, and our Beloved Storm (waiting at the Rainbow Bridge)

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