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Solar Tracker

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At the 2019 Oliver Travel Trailer Owner’s Rally, JBC Technologies, one of several sponsors of the Rally, will be showcasing an exciting brand new product for the RV Industry.

This solar tool is a unique high-tech solar framework designed to significantly improve the efficiency of your solar panels by:

1.     Automatically raising and positioning your solar panels to maximize your solar capability all day.  As the sun moves, the system tracks the sun’s movements as it moves up, down and sideways automatically to maintain maximum battery charging efficiency.

2.     With the push of a button, the system will deploy, move with the sun and fold down when the sun sets.

3.     It is built to automatically fold down when the outdoor wind rises above an unsafe windspeed.  It will not re-deploy without an electronic signal.

4.     All day long the tracker will automatically move to position your panels to gain the most energy efficient position possible.

5.     At the end of the day, it will automatically fold down when sunlight is not available.

6.     If the system senses movement of the vehicle, such as possibly being stolen or relocated, it will automatically shut down.  It will not re-deploy without an electronic signal from your smartphone or trailer control panel.

7.     The ”wash” mode will move the panel into an easy access upright position to allow cleaning or servicing of the system.

8.     The system can be operated by a control switch in your RV or an electronic app on your smart phone.

9.  The system has an app that offers many additional services such as:

a.     The turn“On and Off” mode is standard with the app.  This includes the“Safe”mode that locks down the system

b.     GPS monitoring for safety and theft detection *

c.      Others as available

 

FULL DISCLOSURE- I am co-owner with an energy engineer and an electrical engineer that designed this system.  We will have the prototype available at the rally.    I will post more information as we develop this exceptional camping tool.

 

Coy Gayle

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Cool, is the system heavy? That would be my primary concern, after cost and maintenance issues.

 

John Davies

 

Spokane WA


"Mouse":  2017 Legacy Elite II NARV (Not An RV) Two Beds, Hull Number 218, See my HOW TO threads: https://olivertraveltrailers.com/topic/john-e-davies-how-to-threads-and-tech-articles-links/

 

Tow Vehicle: 2013 Land Cruiser 200, 33" LT tires, airbags.

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The prototype framework is welded aluminum tubing.  There are 3 layers.  The first is bolted to the rooftop using the same configuration as the current solar panels. The second framework turns the solar panels left and right.  The third framework lifts the panels up and down.  The unit is expected to weigh between 40-45 pounds.

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Coy, I’m really interested to see what you’ve come up with, and I have quite a few questions -

 

It sounds similar to a ‘goto’ mount for a telescope; i.e., there’s a GPS receiver that gives the mount location, date, and time, and a compass to determine orientation. Then an internal map of where the sun will be relative to that position. Is that correct?

 

I’m curious about the structural integrity of the mount and how securely it holds the panels at highway speeds.  Have you done any real world testing yet?

 

How flexible is the mount for different configurations of panels?  Can it hold more than Oliver’s standard two 160 watt panels?  Can it accommodate smaller or larger individual panels?

 

Do you have to manually start the system every morning or will it automatically reset for the next day, provided it hasn’t detected movement?

 

How does the mount communicate with your phone. Bluetooth? WiFi?  Would it be possible to control the mount remotely?

 

Are the panels held in position by the motor(s) or it there a separate mechanism that locks them in place, say for travel?

 

Is there a manual override that would allow you to lower the panels in case of failure?

 

What would happen if someone accidentally started it up in their garage?  Would the unit sense an obstruction and reset?

 

Do you have any photos?

 

And of course, how much will it cost?

 

Finally, congratulations!  Sounds like  you’ve been working on this for a while - there’s definitely a lot of potential for something like this.


Snowball • LE2 256 • 2018 Ford Raptor

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Coy, this sounds like a promising product and I’m glad we’ll be able to see and learn more at the rally.  Mike


Mike and Carol | Fair Oaks Ranch, TX | 2016 Elite II #135 | 2020 Ram Rebel 4X4 5.7L Hemi

ALAZARCACOFLGAIDILKSKYLAMDMSMOMTNENVNMNYNCNDOHOKSCSDTNTXUTVAWVWYsm.jpg

 

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Tracking systems have been around, for ground use, for a long time.  The problem with them has been that the cost was more than just adding another collector.  A larger array running at a lower efficiency, can produce just as much as a smaller array that tracts.  Then factor in reliability (which will be unknown for this new product), weight on the roof, the power it uses to do its tracking (which takes away from it's net delivery), more wind resistance, and possible maintenance.

 

Factor in that you still have to park in 100% sun, all day and the value becomes questionable.  When towing, the trailer is charging from the tow vehicle, so no solar is needed.  The only time it's needed is when parked where there is no shore power.

 

With a system on the ground, you can park in the shade, turn it occasionally during the day for semi-tracking if you wish (not really needed if the panels are pointing south and tilted to latitude), you don't have to clean the panels up on the roof, you have less wind resistance during storms or when towing, less vulnerability to hail damage and no weight on the roof.


John


"I only exaggerate enough to compensate for being taken with a grain of salt."


LE2 #92 (sold),   Black Series HQ19   

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Not clear on all the negativity on a product that has not yet on the market or even been viewed, but I’m pretty sure nobody will be required to buy it.


Steve, Tali and the dogs: Reacher, Lucy and Rocky plus our beloved Storm and Maggie (both waiting at the Rainbow Bridge) 2008 Legacy Elite I - Outlaw Oliver, HULL NUMBER: 0026 2014 Legacy Elite II - Outlaw Oliver, HULL NUMBER: 0050 2017 Silverado High Country 2500HD Diesel 4x4 

 

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Looking forward to photos after the rally debut!

Sounds very interesting.

Sherry


2008 Ram 1500 4 × 4

2008 Oliver Elite, Hull #12
 

 

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Not clear on all the negativity on a product that has not yet on the market or even been viewed, but I’m pretty sure nobody will be required to buy it.

 

Just pointing out the group of considerations it will have to address in order to be practical.   I'll be eager to see it at the rally.   It's not simple negativity, it's a group of problems or decisions that solar companies have had to address for a long time.    Issues that everyone should consider before putting an expensive solar system on their trailer.  Don't you agree?

 

Nobody said it would be a required purchase,  where did you see that?  If it's practical, it will sell, if it's not practical, it won't.


John


"I only exaggerate enough to compensate for being taken with a grain of salt."


LE2 #92 (sold),   Black Series HQ19   

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With a system on the ground, you can park in the shade, turn it occasionally during the day for semi-tracking if you wish (not really needed if the panels are pointing south and tilted to latitude), you don’t have to clean the panels up on the roof, you have less wind resistance during storms or when towing, less vulnerability to hail damage and no weight on the roof.

And you can come back after your hike and wonder who now owns them, put out your back trying to unpack and pack 200 watts of panels, spend your day babysitting panels, etc.

 

Every system has its pros and cons.  Sounds like Coy has found a way to take something most of us already have, and make it far more useful.  I'm all for it and super excited to see it at the rally.

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Snowball • LE2 256 • 2018 Ford Raptor

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Raspy, et al

 

You make some good points.  The idea was born from necessity.  My first time at Quartzite, I watched an Oliver owner going up and down a ladder several times  daily adjusting the height of the solar panel.  My trailer does not have solar on top.  I bought a large suitcase and spent much of the day adjusting the vertical and horizontal.  As soon as I did, I could see the watts spike , but after a while begin to diminish.  This year, I returned to Quartzite with a Elite II  with solar.  This year, it was windy, cold and occasionally rained.  There were only a few hours of sunlight and somedays the solar panels were far from fully charged.  By sensing the sun and turning the panels to the optimal direction, the solar tracker should be able to better optimize the battery charging.

 

We will have the prototype at the rally.  It would be foolish to develop the solar tracker without a plethora of input from the end user.  We have developed the panels for the Elite II.   This is the majority of the Oliver solar panels.  If the panels are smaller, no problem on the fitting.  If larger, the solar sensors, GPS, cell phone and other electronics may be blocked.  We have designed the framework, the electronics and beginning to develop the software.

 

When everyone comes  to the rally, we will have the prototype there.  We want to hear from everyone as a potential customer.  We value everyone’s opinion in the development of this new product.  We will have the two engineers that have developed the design.  We want to hear fro you

 

thanks

 

coy

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Some of the questions about this system are valid.  I agree that a bigger array of panels would do the same job as a smart, GPS tracking smaller set of panels.  My thought is that I don’t have the real estate on top for much more solar capability.  I’m also not interested in carrying and deploying portable panels that have to be watched or secured.  I wouldn’t want to have to put away a portable array each time I go hiking or decide to take a nap.  The ability to sense movement and then track a moving trailer is also a benefit.  So, it will be interesting to see and hear the details about this at the rally.  Mike

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Mike and Carol | Fair Oaks Ranch, TX | 2016 Elite II #135 | 2020 Ram Rebel 4X4 5.7L Hemi

ALAZARCACOFLGAIDILKSKYLAMDMSMOMTNENVNMNYNCNDOHOKSCSDTNTXUTVAWVWYsm.jpg

 

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Well I hope no one takes my questions as criticism.  After all, I haven't even seen it.  I'm just impatient to know more!

 

 

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Snowball • LE2 256 • 2018 Ford Raptor

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Well I hope no one takes my questions as criticism. After all, I haven’t even seen it. I’m just impatient to know more!

 

I don't think anyone really took it as negativity. Curiosity. really.

 

I'm sorry I won't be there for the debut. Most people know our total commitment to solar--home, and camping. I'm all for anything that can make my solar powered life better.

 

Side note. This year, and last, I've seen a tremendous increase in the number of highly technical contributors amongst our group. For whom, I'm really grateful. We don't all have the same expertise, experience, or imagination. But, we sure can appreciate new ideas.

 

Sherry

 

 


2008 Ram 1500 4 × 4

2008 Oliver Elite, Hull #12
 

 

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Some of the questions about this system are valid. I agree that a bigger array of panels would do the same job as a smart, GPS tracking smaller set of panels. My thought is that I don’t have the real estate on top for much more solar capability. I’m also not interested in carrying and deploying portable panels that have to be watched or secured.  Mike

 

 

Mike,

 

I think you just identified the perfect customer for the new tracking system:   No room left on top and not wanting a portable system.   The tracker would solve both of those problems.

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John


"I only exaggerate enough to compensate for being taken with a grain of salt."


LE2 #92 (sold),   Black Series HQ19   

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Another question to ponder while we wait:  the placement of the panels is right next to the maxx fan, so if you rotate them as they are, they'll swing over the fan.  So I'm guessing this mount either moves the panels forward or raises them enough to clear an open fan?


Snowball • LE2 256 • 2018 Ford Raptor

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In addition to the Solar Tracker we are designing for the Elite II and the smaller Elite, we are designing a suitcase model.

 

Last year, when parking in a national park on a cold but sunny day, we pulled our rigs off of the pad into the sun to be able to charge our batteries with solar. The campground host came by soon thereafter to tell us to move back to the pad  under the trees and in the shade.   This summer, I stayed several days in a campground that I only wished we had shade to put Ollie under.  However, there in the shade, we would have been unable to charge our batteries.

 

I purchased a portable unit my first trip to Quartzsite.  I had no solar panels on my trailer until recently.  I was able to charge my batteries at Quartzsite if I put my 160 watt Zamp double panel out from  8AM - 4 PM and adjusted it regularly, for a full charge.  This and seeing a fellow camper climbing on a ladder twice daily to raise/lower his panels were the inspirations to create a solar tracker. When designing the Solar Tracker, we saw the need for a small portable tracker that could be plugged into the Zamp connector, or use simple alligator clamps on the battery.  We are designing a small portable tracker that will have all of the electronic and technical capability as the larger units.  The design is not complete.  I solicit your input as the size of the solar panels.  What size wattage and physical size would be ideal?  We will be able to hinge two small panels together,  fold them up for storage and unfold to double the size/capacity.  Please provide me your input on the size/wattage while considering the tracker can double the energy collected in a day compared to the same size, lying flat, as demonstrated at the 2019 Oliver Travel Trailer Owners Rally.

 

Thanks for your opinion

 

Coy

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Just an update here:

 

I was in the thermal  solar business for 40 years or so.  I've been a solar advocate for a long time.  My house is heated with thermal solar and I love the results.

 

I made a couple of comments on this thread before the rally,  then I went to the rally and studied the prototype tracker, and the data.   I am impressed with the improvement that tracking makes.  Over 200% improvement over a full day.  For every issue I brought up, there was a very good answer that had already been thought of and worked out with the software.

 

Solar seems are a very popular option and I'm sure this will be popular too.  One thing though.  The systems are all sold with the stated output at it's theoretical maximum, and it needs to be pointed out to potential buyers, that those numbers are only obtainable with a tracking system.  It seems the current systems are being sold with misleading performance numbers, that were never achievable.  Now they will be,  But were customers informed of this?

 

Any thoughts on this?

 

I wasn't very interested in a permanent solar system on the roof, but now I'm coming around.  Even if it does less than I wish, it does something.  I don't want to always park in the sun, but I spend a lot of time in the sun anyway.  My new HQ19 comes with solar and I've already ordered a telescoping ladder so I can clean the collectors.  I won't be retrofitting a tracking system, but if purchased  new, with the trailer, it should very well prove to be quite practical if the electronics and the mechanisms are reliable.


John


"I only exaggerate enough to compensate for being taken with a grain of salt."


LE2 #92 (sold),   Black Series HQ19   

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IMO, the 100W suitcase is the best balance between portability and power.  I have a 200W set and don't carry it since it's too heavy to lug around and too difficult to store.


Snowball • LE2 256 • 2018 Ford Raptor

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I have a 100 watt suitcase too.  I let it go with my Oliver, so I had to get another one to supplement the 300 watt, flat mounted system on my HQ.


John


"I only exaggerate enough to compensate for being taken with a grain of salt."


LE2 #92 (sold),   Black Series HQ19   

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I'm with Overland. 100 watts/ 20 to thirty pounds is manageable. And, we can run minimal power off 100 watts, if we manage consumption, and get the panel into the sun during peak periods. Also, there was room on our Blue Sky controller for another 100 watts, so the size fit for us as added power to the 200 watts on the roof.

 

100 watts portable, maximized with a tracker, would be a huge boost, imo. I'm guessing the tracker would be a separate but easily linked frame for the suitcase solar?

Sherry


2008 Ram 1500 4 × 4

2008 Oliver Elite, Hull #12
 

 

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I have a 160 watt suitcase double panel and it is HEAVY !

 

We will build the portable tracker as a separate component.  The Solar panels can be stored in a lightweight case, the solar tracker stored in a lightweight case.  The tracker can be very easily set up, extension legs that adjust for height.  The solar panels can then be unfolded and quickly popped into the tracker. We had thought a set of panels that folds in half and when unfolded together are the same size as the tracker, saving on space.  We are investigating sizes in the 50-60 watt per panel range.

 

We are currently building the first production roof mounted solar tracker.  It will be mounted on my trailer.  Regarding placement, the way the tracker rotates, the Max Fan will not be a problem.  However, the Spaceship TV antenna will need to be removed/relocated.

 

We are putting in a clean cycle to clean the panels.  It will stand the panels straight up.  When I go to Quartzsite, I will take my grandson's Bazooka water gun and a squeegee to clean the panels daily from the ground.  No ladder for me.

 

Raspy- regarding the customers being told about actual versus potential output, I think Oliver passes on the figures as provided by Zamp.  One of the things I did notice was that shortly after Zamp was bought last year, every solar panel on the Zamp website suddenly had increased output numbers.  Did the new company increase the wattage that quickly??

 

I understand that portability and protection of the panels and tracker will be important.  We have been in contact with Phoenix Industries a local sheltered workshop hiring persons with disabilities.This organization does heavy duty sewing for the Federal Government.  Parachute harnesses, Lister water bags, Canvas and vinyl ballistic missile covers and large tents are just a small example of their products.  Phoenix Industries hopefully  will manufacture the carrying cases for the solar panels and a separate one for the tracker.  We will put hardboard within the case to protect the panels.  The cases may be purchased directly from Phoenix Industries and 100% of the purchase will go to providing jobs to persons with disabilities. Please check out their website     www.phoenixhsv.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

coy

 

 

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Coy,

 

When do you think the roof top model will be available to the general public?

 

Andrew


Andrew, Carianne and Buffy | San Diego, CA


2019 Legacy Elite II Hull #468 "California Burrito" | 2018 BMW x5 35d 

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Andrew

 

Our goal is to be selling all 3 models at the Quartzsite Rally in January.  If that is correct, I anticipate we will have all 3 for sale to the Oliver community before then.  We have made a number of modifications that will improve the functionality and efficency of the trackers.  Watch our website for updates.

 

coy

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Raspy- regarding the customers being told about actual versus potential output, I think Oliver passes on the figures as provided by Zamp. One of the things I did notice was that shortly after Zamp was bought last year, every solar panel on the Zamp website suddenly had increased output numbers. Did the new company increase the wattage that quickly??

 

coy

 

Without getting too far out in the weeds here, I want to mention, as I'm sure you know,  Oliver offers their solar option as a "340 watt solar package".  But with your side-by-side testing comparing tracking panels with flat panels, I think your results were that the tracking panels collect nearly 250% of what flat panels do, per day.

 

If Oliver is representing their system as being a 340 watt system, it must be a theoretical max, and not corrected for angle.  When a prospective buyer of your tracking system asks what the advantage is, they need to know the real world difference in performance, in order to justify the cost and see the advantage.  It seems to me that Oliver may be misrepresenting their system, as there is a big difference between theoretical max and actual performance when laid flat.  That is your advantage and why the tracker makes sense.

 

So, how will you guys work with Oliver to make this advantage obvious, while not entering into a conflict with them about their performance claim?  If they say it is a 340 watt system, and it only produces 140 watts, there is going to be a problem at some point, unless they make it clear that those numbers are theoretical and not actual. I think they need to attach a disclaimer that reveals the difference between theoretical and actual performance, based or orientation.   Then you can provide actual test data comparing tracking with flat.

 

And you can also point out how your system can be cleaned from the ground, while the stock setup requires a ladder.

 

I think the tracking option is going to be very popular.   I hope Oliver will work with you to provide customers with real data, even if it means they have to revise down their implied performance claims.  This will keep them out of trouble and provide you with an opportunity.  I understand that calling their system a 340 watt system, is not a performance guarantee, but if I didn't know anything about solar, and I bought their "340 watt" system, and then never saw more than 140 watts, I'd be asking them to fix it.  If they said up front that their system could be boosted by about 250%  with a tracker, and they offered that option, I'd buy it and be very happy.

 

The advantages are, as I see it:   Significantly improved solar performance.   An easy and safe way to clean the panels (which is part of normal maintenance and must be done).  A cool factor that is off the charts and fits with the high end character of the Oliver.

 

I wonder if you will be able to use the same mounting locations as Oliver is using now for their collectors?  This would help assure the loads are fairly accounted for and help with retrofits to trailers already out there with solar.

 

I hope you are very successful with this endeavor.


John


"I only exaggerate enough to compensate for being taken with a grain of salt."


LE2 #92 (sold),   Black Series HQ19   

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