Solar vs Generator

I boon docked this last weekend for the first time in my [email protected] and largely it was pretty good.  However the battery didn't last as long as I had hoped and I had to hook my car up to the trailer and recharged the batter so the items in my fridge would not go bad.  I started thinking about purchasing a solar solution but they are just so darn expensive and are subject to the availability of the sun.

My friend Eddie was going off about how great his Honda generator was.  It's small and quiet and costs around $1,000 but he loves it.  He then said he found, in his words, "the exact generator" at harbor freight for $500.  About the price of Zamp 100W solar panels.  Mostly I was just nodding by head uh hug uh huh not giving ii a serious consideration. Until now.

There are obvious pros and cons to each but does anyone have any thoughts?

ps.  I did not scour the board for answers.  If you don't want to participate in this conversation just pass it on by.

Comments

  • d0bhrand0bhran Posts: 42Member
    I go solar.  I don't like generators.  I prefer to go out in the middle of nowhere and the last thing I want to hear or smell is a generator.  Even the super quiet Hondas aren't that quiet to me.  Solar charges the battery, the battery runs everything I need.  It's not like I'm using much power overnight (or ever for that matter), I'm using a Rough Rider 6Wide though, not a [email protected]  

    If you aren't aware, there is no solar setup that you can put on your trailer that will run an AC.  If AC is a requirement for you, generator is the only way to go.  If you don't need AC, I would suggest going solar.  No need to refuel, no noise, minimal set up.  You can hard mount the panel (then there is no setup), but I would suggest you don't so that you can put the trailer in the shade and the panel in the sun.  Then you just rotate the panel a few times during the day to better face the sun.  Zamp and Renogy are both highly spoken of, Renogy is usually less expensive, but the quality is just as good I think.  I paid less than $200 for a 100 watt panel, PWM charge controller, and 20 feet of PV cable on Amazon.  Don't pay the extra for a MPPT controller unless you are going to install more than 400 watts or so.  3 1/2 years later, I'm still using the same parts, although I have added a second panel (queue Tim Allen More Power grunt...) and moved it all to the roof rack of my truck bed topper.  That's where my Dometic 65 qt. dual zone rides, and I can reconfigure a few things when needed to run fridge, recharge trailer (haven't needed to yet though), and recharge a Goal Zero Yeti 400 battery pack, which is what is used to recharge phone, tablet, drone, electric toothbrush...  

    That's my opinion.  There will be folks who land on either side of this debate.  Everyone is correct, in their own use case.
  • Gypsy222Gypsy222 Posts: 101Member ✭✭

    As you are in Arizona, at least that is my recollection, then Solar is a great choice. Unless, as d0bhran states, you want to run AC. When I'm camping I prefer the quiet, so solar was the choice. Also, I tend to chase the cooler weather when camping (desert in winter, beach in the summer) so a generator is not as big of a concern

    I prefer to boondock, but need my Zamp 80 watt to make that a reality. Nonetheless, I have to be careful with power consumption.  I (still) need to upgrade my battery as the stock group 24 in my opinion is too small for a [email protected] Max. Think of it like a cup of water. Your cup (battery) is very small, the zamp fills the cup with water (power) very quickly. The real issue is the cup is too small and doesn't hold enough and therefore easy to drain quickly. Eventually, I will upgrade to either a group 27 or two 6 volt batteries. I like the idea of 2-6volts, but the group 27, or 29 would be a cheaper option (at least short term). I think my 80 watt zamp would be fine for group 27 or 29, but may start being on the small side if I had 225 amp hours available (i.e. 2-6 volt batteries)

    Anyhow, hope the feedback is helpful.

  • WildcatWildcat Posts: 649Member ✭✭✭
    I use very little power, have no extras to need it, have solar, and haven't needed it.  I was determined to keep it simple. But if you need a generator, you need it.  I dislike hearing them.  But I don't go out and sit in one place for days, which some do.
  • Texas_DaveTexas_Dave Posts: 46Member
    I think it's all about if you're going to need the ac. 
  • WonitoWonito Posts: 48Member
    I tend to chase cooler weather as well.  Although the generator would be nice for the AC unit am I correct in thinking that when the trailer is on  shore power it also charges the battery? If so I would assume in a  considerably shorter time that solar.  At which point it could be powered down. I was thinking more along these lines.
  • jo11ymonjo11ymon Posts: 71Member ✭✭
    I use a motorcycle battery tender when at home and have a Renogy Solar suitcase 100-amp for out in the world.  This set up has kept us going, of course I don't have an AC.  I have also chosen to do a dual battery to have the extra capacity as my wife and I both use CPAP at night.  I have found that in a matter of an hour or two of good morning sun and my battery is back to full.  We do have a 12 volt refrigerator, but that lives in the back of my Jeep as we are usually out wheeling during the day and this lets lunch travel with us. So there is not much daytime draw boondocking other than the fan.
  • MahojinMahojin Posts: 96Member
    edited July 2017
    We upgraded to early to a 27, added a Zamp 120 (I'm a photographer, thus batteries). We thought about 2 six volts but had wt and space worries. If we need AC we find sites with power. Never power issues now. If we need to upgrade. We would now drop the propane tank to a 1/2 size (10lb ?) center, than add two 6v batteries - one one each side - just our thoughts. 
  • Texas_DaveTexas_Dave Posts: 46Member
    Yeah, if you are connected to shore power and your battery is connected it should be charging and I believe you are correct, it should be charging faster than with the solar...depending on what solar panel you have obviously. We ended up getting both a generator and a solar charger. Being in Texas, an ac is a must. Albeit, our primary reason for our [email protected] is to get into the rockies so we'll rely on our solar chargers for any extended boon docking while in the cooler climate. You can always invest in a generator if you plan to visit any warmer climates later. 
  • BairdskiBairdski Posts: 9Member
    Hello,

    I'm the owner of a [email protected] Max and have had it out three times. I love the camper. I'm a little dismayed, however, that the Norcold error light comes on so easily despite travelling and charging all day. It won't even last the night. The temp in the camp ground is around 18 to 24 at night.  The lights, TV and fan will last a few days but the fridge is a problem?

    Questions:

    1.  Is it normal for a Norcold to show error  so quickly on an almost full battery?
    2. How long does it take to recharge a group 24 battery when driving?
    3. Can any one recommend a easy to install metre that is easy to measure voltage drop? Where did other [email protected] owners install their metre
    4. What voltage will a Norcold switch to error?

    Thanks for your help.



  • Michigan_MikeMichigan_Mike Posts: 8,776Member ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited July 2017
    Bairdski said:

    Questions:

    1.  Is it normal for a Norcold to show error  so quickly on an almost full battery?
    2. How long does it take to recharge a group 24 battery when driving?
    3. Can any one recommend a easy to install metre that is easy to measure voltage drop? Where did other [email protected] owners install their metre
    4. What voltage will a Norcold switch to error?

    Thanks for your help.



    I'm told that a heavier gauge wire (e.g, 10 ga, etc.) run directly to the battery and solely used for the Norcold will help ease this problem.  In other words, you would need to cut the Norcold loose from the current circuit and run a dedicated/fused circuit for the Norcold and run it independent from the current line it is on.  So that is probably the reason you are getting the error code would be my best guess?

    I'm also told that the Norcold error code is dependent on the setting it is currently set to, so you should read the owner's manual and this will tell you how to accomplish this.  You also need to use the search function above as the forum is chuck full of information and the questions you pose here have already been posted and there is a wealth of info available if you take the time to look for it.   This isn't intended to be mean or anything like that, but it is a fact and once you start using the search function above you will be amazed at the sheer volume of valuable info that is only a few clicks away!

    As for charging, that depends on the amount of power left in the battery, the age of the battery, etc. so there is not one good answer that fits all in this case.  If a battery is healthy (don't let the voltage drop below 12 volts or cell damage occurs over time) it might take a good day of driving to really get the cells charged up fully, etc.  

    LED Voltage Checker -   This is available at Wally World.  Easy to use and will work fine in your vehicle or trailer.  

    Image result for 12 volt LED voltage checker Walmart


     Wonito said:
    I tend to chase cooler weather as well.  Although the generator would be nice for the AC unit am I correct in thinking that when the trailer is on  shore power it also charges the battery? If so I would assume in a  considerably shorter time that solar.  At which point it could be powered down. I was thinking more along these lines.
    I prefer solar as although they perform optimally on sunlight they still do take in any ambient light available and will charge on cloudy days too.  I've owned 4 teardrop trailers over the last 7 years and although air conditioning is nice, the times I've used it were not enough to even warrant having it.  But then again, if you live down south that might be a different story.  

    If you have two 6-volt batteries in your trailer it is a huge improvement and nearly triples the amount of power you have available.  I had previously owned an 80 watt Zamp solar panel and upgraded to a 200 watt Zamp the first of the year.  I absolutely love these panels, they make life much easier and I can stay off grid indefinitely and without a generator.  Generators are okay, but you will find in the majority of places you camp that people loath them because of their noise, whether a Honda or what have you.  When I am out in the great outdoors a generator is the last freakin' thing I want nearby and to listen to.  And in many instances some of these folks using generators (no offense to you people who have them) are just plain rude, could care less whether you are nearby and some even try running them at night and beyond the allotted run times posted in the park or campground.  Tom English and I were camped in Mid-Florida a few years back and some donkey in a HUGE motor coach was running his generator into the evening and after the designated time.  Tom knocked on their door and the wife came to the door.  Tom asked her when they planned to shut it down as it was waking up the dead and she politely responded that they were planning to shut it down after they watched the 11 o'clock news!!!  This, when the shut down time was 8 PM!!!  LOL

    Another guy nearby was running a generator that sounded like an old Ford pick-up that had all rods knocking on all 8 cylinders!  It emulated one of them CAT Scan machines and was knocking and belching so bad that both of us even felt bad for the family inside the RV and who would NOT answer the door when we knocked.  

    As for the long and short of it, solar is best for me personally, the portable panels are convenient, no gasoline necessary, they take up minimal space and I can use them on the next trailer and as needed.  True, solar can be costly as are generators, but this is more an investment for me as I have two trailers and can utilize solar anytime I need it.  It is definitely not for everyone and you should think through the process before  deciding upon either.  




  • BairdskiBairdski Posts: 9Member
    Thanks Mike. I'm new to the search function and t seems plenty of people have issues with the  Norcold. Norcolds are battery hogs for sure. It seems that two six volts, a 10 pound tank and 10 guage  wire  will help.
  • MahojinMahojin Posts: 96Member
    edited July 2017
    We love our Zamp solar 120. Norcold and all. After a upgrade of our battery (27) we've never seen a message on it. Dry or powered camping. We use it as cooler not a freezer. Solar. Yay. Gen's are nice but the extra hassle, weight and noise just isn't what we need. 
  • lightningdonlightningdon Posts: 119Member ✭✭✭
    I plan to upgrade to flexible solar panel as a couple folks on here have done. I echo Mike about the genny. When I camp, I want peace and quiet of nature, not listening to the 747 on the approach. Camped over the Independence Day Holiday and was great until day 4 when a camper pulled in the next spot and set up their budget model genny, and proceeded to run it all day. So much for relaxing with the forest and all.

    If all you ever do is boondock well away from others and don't mind the hassle of hauling a genny and gas can, then go for it. But for the sake of everyone else's sanity, please choose solar if you use campgrounds around others.
  • WildcatWildcat Posts: 649Member ✭✭✭
    edited March 2019
    Here's an old discussion about solar vs generator.  I've read numerous times that solar can charge with cloudy skies.  My Zamp does not charge with no sun.  Maybe my many, many trees are the problem.  It pains me to take an inverter generator, but it may be the best.  Maybe I'll take both until I figure out what works.  I don't  like noise either, but could live with a couple hours of running it.  I do not have electric appliances nor television or air conditioning. I also dislike leaving solar sitting out while off on a hike.
  • OJmartinOJmartin Posts: 36Member
    We often park the SS in unorganized locations and usually under tree cover. Have dual batteries that charge off the TV while on the road. Battery bank will keep the frig cool a couple days. We really wanted to have solar tend the batteries, after carefully looking at our options vs. generator - we went with a 1000 watt Honda generator. Since we usually park in the shade, we would have needed the suit case style solar panels to track the sun. These were fairly bulky to store and carry. We often cycle or canoe during the day away from our campsite, so we might not be able to track sun with panels. Small generator is easier to handle, it is quiet and runs for hrs on a tank fuel. Usually just a couple hrs of running keeps frig cool and batteries up.
  • WildcatWildcat Posts: 649Member ✭✭✭
    edited March 2019
    Thanks, @OJmartin .  Yes, I think that is the best idea.  I don't sit at the trailer to watch the solar panels for thievery or to move them around.  Probably will sell the suitcase 80 Zamp.  In Oregon, well, I'm going to be in the shade and would have to move it every 15 minutes.  I always grumbled about getting an inverter/generator, but I'm getting one, and it should be here tomorrow.  I think it will fit in the truck box on the front of the trailer.  I may not need it very often, but when I do...  I park at a few forest service campgrounds with no hookups and wherever else.  One state campground is a bummer, however, because when you are in a tent site, no generators allowed.  I haven't checked to see if all of Oregon state campgrounds are like that.  They let you park in the regular spaces when the tent sites are closed, for tent prices, but I bet they still aren't going to allow a generator even if I call it an inverter.  Anyway, with the 1000, it should work for anything I need. 
  • ValoValo Posts: 13Member
    edited January 11
    To answer your questions I would say with your current major appliances and usage the generator and alternator would financially be your best way to charge a battery system batteries.
    But I see two issues with what you propose.
    1) Wiring 4 x 12v 100Ah batteries in parallel will more than likely kill one of them quicker that the stated life span and cycle rate. That is due to uneven charging and discharging of a parallel battery system.
    2) The second issue is that most batteries will not last very long using 50% of their capacity and not charging them back up to 100% each time you use them. Letting them stay at a lower % SOC ends up sulfating the plates and again killing it off.
    If you decide to build a 400Ah 12v battery system then 500 watts of panels and an MPPT CC is the correct balance. That 500watt with an MPPT will provide 41 amps of charging at 12volts which is in the sweet spot of C/10 for that size battery system. Going with less wattage will certainly generate charging amps that are much too little to keep the battery happy.
  • WildcatWildcat Posts: 649Member ✭✭✭
    edited January 12
    Since my last thoughts on the subject, I have made a couple changes.  I did sell my Zamp 80 solar.  Too much shade in the Northwest for solar, and it seemed cumbersome.  A 2000 generator is too big and heavy for me, and I don't have room for it.  I have a 1000 generator which is lighter and smaller, but I also don't  want to listen to a generator if I don't have to.  I don't stay in one place long, so my battery gets charged on the road in most cases.  

    I have a 12 volt throw that turns off by itself in 30 or 45 minutes.  I have been known to turn it on three or four times in the night.  I got myself a Jackery 500 to power it.  It is a rechargeable power supply.  They now make a 1000 watt.  The 500 works for me because it fits back under the cabinets in a Five Wide so it won't tip over there.  It sits on a little cutting board so it doesn't sink into the bed.  It powers my 12 volt throw.  It also will charge my phone and camera batteries.  The Jackery can be charged by solar, by 12 volt, or by AC.  It takes quite a while to recharge.  No gas needed.  It has a display to tell you how much power is left.

    Having said all that, I do not have air conditioner,  refrigerator, coffee pots, ice makers, blenders, microwaves, hair dryers, waffle irons, or any other electrical appliances.  The Jackery works for me, but may not be what others need.  It has one 12 volt receptacle, one AC, and I think three USB ports.  They make smaller ones and also solar panels.

    I don't think I want the 1000 because (a) it is costly, and (b) it is bigger and wouldn't fit inside with me and the dog child very well for use with blanket.  The 1000 is new on the market.





  • bobshroyerbobshroyer Posts: 22Member
    I have 300 watts on the roof. Because they are curved and some are in the shadow of the AC unit, they do not produce 300 watts. I also have a 100 watt Rockpals foldable unit and this is great because I can aim it at the sun. If I had to do it again I would get 2 of the Rockpals and plug them into my battery box (I have 2 Lithium battys with a jack to connect external solar. The most important thing you need is a meter however. Without a meter you are flying blind relative to battery state of charge etc. I also hava Ryobu 2300 Watt Bluetooth Inverter Generator whcih I only use if the batteries are way down due to weather. I am a full timer and rarely connect to power. You need solar and a generator if you want to boondock fulltime. Go foldable and wire a connector to your battery. Get 2 batteries also, (and 2 propane tanks).  The small 10 watt trickle charger on the armored batty box isn't needed but this came with a jack that I use to plug the foldable panels into.  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07FH85FW9/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_image?ie=UTF8&psc=1



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