keeping the house batteries topped off…

We have had a few boondocking fails not keeping up with charging the batteries. After needing a jump to start the RV after several days in the woods, we decided to dip our toes into solar. I’d been shopping several portable options and my favorite was the Renogy Solar Suitcase but I didn’t want to spend almost $400 since I’m not sure if I want to mount permanent or use portable long term.

Along came a sale at Harbor Freight and I got a 100 watt portable solar kit for just over $150 after tax. We used it on two trips so far and I’m very happy about being able to get batteries topped off by noon each day while boondocking in the national forests. However, the Harbor Freight panels are very, very awkward to move around and I have to disassemble and reassemble with several brackets and wing nuts every time I go to use the panels on a trip.

I’m going to get some aluminum brackets and hinges at Homie’s or Lowes so I can keep them assembled with the glass sides facing inward during storage. If I can find a way to make a home made suitcase work out, I’ll also make a permanent setup for the charge controller so I get more juice into the batteries than I’m getting with the super cheap alligator clips that came with the charge controller.

I do like being able to park where I want with shade and then tote the panels to where ever the sun is shining. If I had panels on the roof I’m not sure how much sun we’d get with my love of shade for the RV. Since we don’t have a big residential fridge (for now) and we don’t go where we need A/C when boondocking, I’m definitely staying with a 100 watt portable setup. If I can make a good solar suitcase great, if not I might sell these panels and splurge on the Renogy setup later on.

Here’s some photos of the Harbor Freight setup, apologies for not showing the cheap brackets and wing nuts…

This is the kit, looks pretty cool until you go to assemble it and then realize you have to disassemble and put the panels back in the box to protect them. But it was a great deal and the panels and charge controller included does a great job.
There was only a could times a day I had full sun if I leaned the panels against the RV. Once I build my own suit case kit and get a longer cord, I should have access to full sun all day.
Didn’t look like much sun but the controller showed great progress on charging the batteries. The Pellet Grill/Smoker is the biggest battery hog when you cook after dark but so worth it! 🙂
Each morning the batteries were down to 12.4-12.7 after running accessories and grilling meals on the pellet smoker the night before. Once I put the panels on the sunny side, the charge controller went to work. I was up to 13.4 between 11:00am and noon each day and then stopped moving the panels around since I got a great float charge until sun down. Our house bank only holds 3 batteries so I went with 3 12 volts in parallel. Without running generator (as I should have) and “before solar” these lasted about 5 days. Yes, that wasn’t a good thing to do but I always had trouble keeping the generator going at 7500-8000 foot elevations where we boondock in the summer (generator carb set at maximum 6500 ft setting just didn’t cut it)

 

 

 

 

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