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Truck Camper Systems

Installing a Solar Panel System – The Solar Controller

For one more system check, we pulled the battery disconnect.  If we had connected the system correctly, the solar panel system would continue to charge the battery bank.  It continued to read 13.5 amps, and was working well.

Two Dead Batteries

With the installation completed, we said good-bye to the Emericks, drove home, and put our truck and camper in the storage lot we use.  Before leaving the rig, we pulled the battery disconnect, and checked the solar controller.  Everything appeared to be fine.

With the battery disconnect pulled, the camper 12-volt system was disconnected from the batteries.  In turn, the solar panel and solar controller would keep the battery charged and healthy.  This is a primary advantage to having a solar panel system on a RV; the solar panel system maintains the battery while the camper is winterized.

The only other option is to plug-in the camper over the winter (not an option for us), or pull the batteries and keep them in the garage on a battery minder.  For years we have pulled the batteries and kept them on a battery minder.  Removing, monitoring, and reinstalling the batteries works fine, but it’s a pain in the butt.  Now that we had the solar panel system, we no longer needed to do that.  At least, that’s what we thought.

Fast forward about two cold winter months.  Angela and I return to the camper, bring the rig to our house, pack it up, and drive south to Florida.  To heck with this dark overcast Pennsylvania winter thing.  We can work from almost anywhere; we might as well be warm.

On our way south, we stopped at two friends’ houses, and plugged in.  In North Carolina we filled the camper with fresh water and de-winterized.  A day later, we pulled into a Walmart in Jacksonville, Florida.  After feeding the cat, and ourselves, we turned in for the night.

The next morning, Angela looked at the Zamp solar controller.  The battery voltage read 10.8.  Something was terribly wrong.  After driving over six hours the day before, mostly in sunshine conditions, the batteries were essentially dead.  What happened?

Two New Batteries

After checking the battery compartment and connections, which looked okay, we called the Interstate Battery store in Jacksonville, Florida and made an appointment.  Interstate Battery stores will check your batteries for free, an offer we were glad to accept.

Within minutes of our arrival, the technicians at Interstate were checking our batteries with a hydrometer.  A hydrometer tests the liquid in the battery cells and measures the state of charge in those cells.  The news was not good.  One battery had a dry cell, and the others were very weak.

Upon closer inspection, the Interstate technicians were able to determine that our batteries were a few years old.  Furthermore, the battery condition suggested they had possibly sat for an extended period of time before we took ownership.  We knew the camper itself had sat for an extended period prior to our purchase, so this information certainly made sense.

While they didn’t recommend it, the Interstate team said we could bring the batteries back, but they would never be anywhere near 100%.  Not wanting to take chances with our battery power – a vital part of our ability to work on the road – we asked for their advice.

After a quick inspection and measurement of our battery compartment, the Interstate team suggested two Group 31 AGM batteries.  In their pitch, they said the Interstate AGM batteries had a 36-month free replacement warranty.  We were excited about the prospect of Group 31 AGM batteries, and the warranty was too good to pass up.

Since Then: The Solar Story

Six months have passed since we bought the AGM batteries and everything has been working remarkably well.  Our daily power use barely puts a dent in the Group 31 AGM battery charge and the Zamp solar panel system keeps them topped off effortlessly.  While we still enjoy being plugged into shore power now and then, we really don’t need it.

That will likely change as we install an air conditioner and camp in hot summer temperatures.  We are still deciding about adding a Honda EU2000i generator, but our inclinations for now are to go without.  We already nixed a microwave as we have adapted our camper cooking and prefer the big kitchen cabinet it would consume.

Down the road, we will continue to study our Zamp 150-watt solar panel system, and our 12-volt truck camping lifestyle.  It’s not entirely out of the question that we’ll add a second 150-watt panel, but we’ll only do so only if we need it.  For now, we’re more than happy with the solar and battery system we have.

Bryan Appleby wrote an article called, RV Solar Systems Charged and Challenged.  His article goes into whether or not one even needs a solar system on their camper.  Please consider reading that article, and doing an energy audit, before determining whether or not a solar panel is right for your rig.

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