Solar install – day 4

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Day 4 started out with Mugs of coffee and Mustangs walking by.

To recap where we left off yesterday :  Combiner box is complete and attached to the camper.  The wiring is in place to connect the combiner box to the solar controller, but that connection has not been made yet.

Still to go on day 4 :

  • rewire all four panels : re-wiring the MC4 connectors on all panels in favor of hardwire connections (more permanent, more reliable)
  • connect each panel to the combiner box
  • secure all cables from each panel with Eternabond tape and more Dicor as needed (so they dont move around and flap in the breeze)
  • connect the panels (from the combiner box wire) to the Solar Controller
  • Start “making” power !
  • connect the “house” system into the new system setup
  • re-position 1 A/C outlet (from a CPAP position up by the head of the bead) to a more usable location
  • add a new high-speed charging USB outlet on the driver’s side of the bed cabinet
  • add a soft-start to the A/C unit so that we can hopefully start the A/C off of our 2000 watt inverter
  • test all systems : final run-through
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Eddie chopping out the MC4 connectors, making new more permanent connections for all panels
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All 4 panels wired into the bus bar inside the combiner box
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Securing all panel wires with tape sections, sealed on all sides with Dicor

Now that the all panels were connected sealed and complete, we could connect the incoming Solar Power into the Solar Controller and start charging the batteries.  this was a big deal !  as expected, we were pulling good power from each panel.  By the way, BEFORE screwing each panel down to the camper :  Eddie checked each panel to be sure it was functioning properly to specs (proper volts and amps coming in when exposed to full sun)

This next part was a bit messy : the final connection of the house circuits (original 12v system) to the new system.

First : Eddie disconnected the original batteries (the 2 x 6volt batteries.  I had been using them for the last 4 days during the install)

Then, Eddie started taking a look at the original wiring setup and the original master disconnect switch.  Lets just say Eddie was not impressed and certainly not amused with the original wiring job.  The messy part : this should have been “easy” but because of the way it was wired at the Rockwood factory, it would have take a few extra hours for Eddie to rip out the dubious portions of the original install.  Most suspect was a fuse (just out in the open, exposed to the elements) as well as a bit of a janky wiring on the disconnect switch.

Since we still had many tasks remaining, and a deadline to finish:  I had to get down near Casper, WY for the eclipse, and Eddie had other clients waiting and scheduled for his time… it was decided that we’d leave the original wiring “as-is” temporarily and essentially not use the original disconnect switch.  This would allow it to function just fine for a years or more (safely, but a potential future point of failure).

The plan was to connect with Eddie in October some time when he is passing through or near Colorado on his way from Wyoming to warmer parts of the western US.  At this time, we’d re-wire this section of the trailer (and by then I’d probly have another few small jobs for him anyways)

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Eddie inspecting the original wiring and coming up with a game plan as to how to safely connect the house circuit to the new system

Next Eddie re-positioned an oddly placed outlet that was essentially right by your head when sleeping in the Murphy Bed.  We assume this was for a CPAP machine ? but… dont they have extension cords?  It was in a goofy spot, so we requested to move it to a more usable location.  If you are following along from the older posts, that location is below :

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here Eddie is moving that CPAP A/C outlet to the front of the cabinet so its in a more usable spot

 

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here is that re-positioned outlet in a more usable spot, plus a new high output USB charging plug

At this point, the install was basically done!  everything is in place and all components are working properly.  Eddie gave me a thorough run through (more than once) so that I fully understood all of the components of the new system, and how to operate all the new control panels.

Of course, I had asked him to tack a few extra things on “at the end” if time allowed.  One of these was to install a custom mount for a new Cell Booster that I was expected to have delivered by the time I got back to Denver.  A bit of a long story, but I will write up a post specifically about that in the near future as it is really a “feel good” story about good-old GREAT customer service from the folks at WeBoost.

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Eddie screwing down a custom mount arm that will allow us to permanently install our cell booster
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here is an example of Eddies custom mount on top of John & Brenda’s class A.  Note their monster setup many more panels than we have

In addition to this nifty custom mount for the WeBoost antenna, I asked Eddie to install another custom item : A Soft Start for our air conditioner.

The A/C unit we have on our Rockwood Mini Lite 2104S is :

compressor manufacturer :  Rechi
What is a soft start you ask ? how is it different than a hard start ? Well, essentially what these devices do is dramatically lower the starting power needed to “fire” your a/c unit and get the compressor to start.
I got this crazy idea in the first place from seeing the Wynns (of Gone with the Wynns) do an “experiment” to see if they could fire their A/C unit from their solar power only (from their batteries).  I was thinking with my fancy new Lithium batteries, perhaps I could try this ?
If it didn’t work… no biggie… the Easy Start actually takes a lot of wear and tear off of the A/C unit, so it will actually last longer even if we only ever run it off of “shore power” or 110v electric service.
Here is a great video by a third party comparing the start wattages before and after installing the Micro Air EasyStart™.  Another great video on the actual install by Micro Air here.
The model we chose was : Micro Air EasyStart™ 364 (3-ton) Soft Starter check with Micro Air to find out what model is appropriate for you.  Their customer service is stellar.
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The easy start installed.  Turns out : Eddie used to be a HVAC installer, so this was easy peasy for him

Let me state this : Eddie thinks this whole idea is just kind silly and unnecessary, and of course, he is right.  He has a few valid reasons for this :

  • Eddie is a full-time RV guy that lives off the grid.  The idea of firing up his A/C on solar power is just all-around wasteful and basically impractical
  • Running a 15k BTU A/C unit on a 2000watt inverter (or any inverter) for any length of time puts ALOT of strain on the inverter, and its really just a super inefficient way of cooling down a camper long term
  • If you are going to blast your A/C… why not just turn on a generator ?  you wont even hear the noise ?
  • Install another high-efficiency roof vent ?
  • Just drag your camper somewhere that is either Cooler OR has Electric service

All of these points are, of course, totally valid… but did I care ?  Sure, I value Eddies opinions and insights… but… “what if ? ”  We are thinking it might be nice to blast the camper for say 30 min or so to bring it down to a livable temp before bed sometimes.  And… if it wont hurt the A/C or our solar system (and we have enough stored power) why not?

well… one of the “last tasks” of our system tests was …. fire the A/C from solar in our camper… did it work ??

yessss !   The A/C fired up without any issue or strain.  We had cool air coming from the A/C unit indeed.  (as you can see, Eddie is not really as excited about this as I am)

Well, with that goofy little experiment completed, we were officially DONE with the install.

In brief, for now, I will wrap up my overall experience up on Solar Hill by saying :

Eddie Glonek did one helluva job for us.  The system is solid, safe, well thought out and logical as well as clean, neat and tidy.  Being a part of this process was a wonderful experience for me and I learned a ton.   Eddie is a solid guy with a great depth of experience and… on top of that, just plain fun to hang out with !

Over the next few days I hope to post a few more videos with a full system overview / walkthrough.

I have a few more technical things to add namely the custom settings and special hardware that were required to reprogram the Solar Controller to work with the Battle Born Batteries.  Unfortunately, that process was not smooth at all.

Between the folks at Battle Born Batteries, Morningstar (solar controller) and Northern Arizona Wind and Sun, we got it working “properly” for now.  I will detail this process (since it is not currently published anywhere on the web) so that others might be able to learn from our struggles on the settings front.

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