We go green! 290 watts of Zamp solar panels installed
For years I've thought about installing solar panels on the roof of the Horizon but the math never did work out very well. We only boondock (no hookups) a couple of times a year and running the diesel gen set for 8-12 hours a day only costs about $1.25-1.50 per hour or up to about $18 for a typical day. We can buy a lot of diesel for the initial solar panel investment. So why the about face you ask?
The catalyst for 'going green' (we actually went green a few years earlier - story here) was the replacement of the Norcold fridge (which could run on 12V or 110V) with a residential type of fridge which of course only operates on 110V. Stay with me here.
Yes, the new fridge will run quite nicely on the gen set. The issue is not being able to run your generator whenever needed. We have been in non-commercial RV parks (typically national parks) boondocking where there are restrictions limiting when you can run the generator. One example we are personally familiar with is the Teklanika River campground in Denali NP, Alaska. Generator hours were 8-10am and 4-6pm as I recall. Four hours of generator time out of 24 hours would not be enough run time for the fridge and while we can run the fridge off the inverter/batteries, the boondock scenario wasn't looking good with our new setup.
So the little wheels in John's head were spinning. Hmmm, maybe this is the time to reconsider solar panels. Then another event in this journey happened. We like to attend the Winnebago Grand National Rally every other year, it's a bunch of fun with many educational seminars and entertainment and Winnebago typically showcases their suppliers in Friendship Hall. One of their newer vendors with a booth is Zamp Solar who is apparently going to be supplying solar panels for select Winnebago units.
Honestly I've never heard of Zamp, but then again I wasn't panel shopping. I stopped by their booth and chatted at some length with their rep and carefully looked over their 145 watt panel. Wow! First class! The fit, finish, quality was top-shelf in my opinion. 145 watts in one panel - YES! (Soon to be 150 watts in one panel.) Knowing that Winnebago already vetted Zamp was a huge comfort factor for me in deciding to pull the trigger and buy.
How many watts do I need?
How many can you afford ;-) Seriously this is a situation where you want as many panels as your roof and pocketbook can stand if you store your coach with no power or boondock. We went with the 290 watt kit (included the wiring, solderless terminals, 30 amp charge controller, panel mounting brackets) but the 435 watt kit would have been great - three panels instead of two. I can always add another panel in the future since the wiring is sized for the full 30 amp capacity of the charge controller, so that's a great feature.
Can I install the panels myself?
I have no idea. If you are asking the question, probably not. As DIY coach projects go, this one was was not real complicated for me but it was quite a bit of work. Part of day one was spent on the roof (maybe 5-6 hours) installing the panels, hooking up the wiring and figuring out how to bring the eight gauge cable into our Winnebago OnePlace center ("wiring central".)
5-6 hours of day two was spent running the cable from the OnePlace center to the main 12V breaker panel buss bar, installing the circuit breakers, charge controller and then watching the amps flow! Whoo-hoo!
But I don't boondock!
So I don't boondock very often, stay in generator-restricted parks, or store my RV without power - why should I install panels? Great question.
With the panels installed I'm using less wattage from commercial campground electricity to power the 12V stuff in the house part of the coach. Usually our Xantrex charger is pulling 3-5 amps of 110V to power the 12V things (lights, basement air needs 12V, furnace, vent fans, cigar lighter outlets, etc.) so if you are staying monthly/seasonally and paying for electricity by the kilowatt hour, you will for a fact reduce that power bill.
Another situation. While on the road, your engine alternator is using power from the engine (which means fuel $$) to power all of that 12V stuff previously mentioned. Our solar panels are going to reduce the load on the engine and reduce our fuel expense, probably not very much, but pennies and nickels add up over the long run.
Let's get on with the install!
Page 1 - This page
Page 2 - Planning
Page 3 - Tools, supplies required, job start
Page 4 - Installation - on the roof
Page 5 - Installation - inside the coach
Page 6 - Project wrap-up, final thoughts, panel performance