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Replacing an inefficient Zamp solar kit with a Overland kit

Zamp solar kit Overland solar kit 6 volt batteries

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#1 Rogue Juan

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 06:49 PM

Sorry for the rant.
I have a 2018 Fleet with the 160
Zamp solar & ZS-30A 30Amp controller & (2) 12 volt batteries running an Iotherm fridge on a low setting. I took delivery almost a year ago. I go off grid sometimes for 6 days straight.
I too am having issues keeping a charge. Full charge when I arrived at camp site. 3 overcast days & I never get above 12.5 volts. After day 3, I go to bed after a warm indoor shower. Voltage is now down to 12.1 volts & I've been using a rechargeable flashlight, instead of the camper's LED lights. Thermostat set at 60°. Wake up at dawn & furnace won't run because I'm below 12volts. Freezing my ass off as I get dressed because the furnace hasn't run for a while & it's 50° in the camper.
FWC is a half hour from my home. They tell me everything is running to spec. As adding a portable panel is not a good option for me, I asked about permanently installing a 2nd 160 panel. They tell me pigtailing a 2nd permanent Zamp solar panel is going to be costly as it would be complicated. Service guy informs me that they have switched to Overland panels & controller since I took delivery, as it's 40% more efficient in overcast conditions. They want $1155 to "upgrade" my solar that I've had less than a year. I go & talk to my sales guy about cutting me a break, since it's been less than a year. He suggests getting (2) 6 volt batteries instead, as they will hold more amp hours than my (2) 12s. But, that they will require more clearance in the cabinet & since they will have to make modifications, installed it will run me $700. I'm considering the cheaper option. But, I want to run my situation past their engineer. Engineer suggests upgrading to Overland solar & says that FWCs were never intended for going off grid more than a few days.
SIDENOTE: I've had my rig less than a year and they had to replace the seals, as the roof was leaking & I started to develop black mold in the camper. The indoor shower had to be fixed, as it was leaking into one of the seat cabinets. One of the vents never opened properly without me pushing up on it & now 2 screen tabs have broken from removing the screen so much. The 2nd one was starting to do the same. Since they were replacing the 1st one anyway, I asked to replace it with a powered one & I'd pay the difference between the 2. They still charged me an additional $115 for labor, even though they were already replacing the non powered one anyway.
BACK TO SOLAR ISSUE: I asked Sales guy about cutting me a deal on the solar "upgrade", since I paid 28 grand for my rig & just had to give them another $325 on my 4th trip back for repairs in less than a year. Sales guy talks to CEO about cutting me a deal. He says CEO said they can't give everyone that comes in to upgrade a deal.
Really pissed at FWC right now. Today, I told Sales guy to cancel my appointment to upgrade the solar, if they won't give me a break on replacing an inefficient solar kit. I also informed him that I will be going elsewhere to "upgrade" the solar & replace the less than year old batteries. I'm considering doing the work myself. I have a Fluke multimeter & sometimes do electrical at my job as a stagehand. Does anyone on this forum, know which Overland panel & controller and which 6 volt batteries, I should get?
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#2 rando

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 07:42 PM

It is important to have reasonable expectations.  There are limits to the output of solar, particularly when it is overcast and there is limited sun, this is not FWC or Zamps fault, it is just how it works.    If you are going to rely on solar to keep you charged without moving for days at a time, you need to asses your power needs and then size the solar system for those needs and the conditions you expect.   What are your loads, how much current do they draw and how long do you run them each day? 

 

That being said, switching from 2 12v batteries to 2 6v batteries is not really going to help,  you may get a small increase in storage capacity, but if you are already using more power than the solar is producing, this will only delay the inevitable.   It sounds like you need more solar capacity, the question is how much more solar?     Adding a second 160W solar panel and wiring it in parallel with the first shouldn't be a big deal if there is enough space on the roof - have you measured this to see if you have space?   You can also add smaller panels in parallel, as long as their voltage is similar. 

 

Finally I would not buy the 'Overland Solar' setup - it appears to be a crippled version of the Victron charge controller - buy it direct from Victron. 

 

There are lots of people here who can help you, but you need to be realistic in your expectations. 


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#3 pvstoy

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 08:09 PM

Rando gives sound advice.  It comes down to how much you use 12 volt and how efficient your solar is able to return the voltage usage plus 10 percent.  Different batteries will allow you to go a bit longer but your solar and usage still will not get to back to 100 percent charged.

 

You can supplement the solar with more panels, different battery isolator and heavier wires from the alternator or tote along a small generator. 

 

Either way you need to design a system that will work for your usage demands.  Plan for the worst multiply bad weather days as winter months are harder to get batteries charged by solar.

 

By the way I went with the Victron charge controller and 3 Overland 160 watt panels as the Dometic refrigerator is a power hog.  Victron battery monitor has been a great help on providing information on the battery system status.


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#4 Vic Harder

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 08:31 PM

Well said rando.  I suggest starting with metering.  The Victron BMV712 is a sweet monitor.  That way you can find out what you are using, and by turning things off/on or pulling fuses, you can guestimate what the current draw is, and the AH capacity you need.

 

Being self-sufficient, power wise, is expensive.  I paid more for my batteries/solar than I did for my (used) Hawk!  I did all the work myself, and have been very happy with the power delivery.  We are planning several months of camping for 2019 and 2020, including many 8+ days away from civilization.  

 

Take a look at http://www.wanderthe...e-power-scotty/ for some ideas.


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#5 smlobx

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 09:26 PM

The above responses are from some very knowledgeable folks when it comes to solar systems and what to expect from them.

I will however disagree with the benefits of going to 2, 6 volt 230 AH batteries over two 12 volt batteries as the 6 volt batteries, which are commonly found in golf carts are designed for deep discharge... the 2 six volt batteries do have significant advantages.

On the other hand, since you may be looking at upgrading your charging system and you have a fwc which means that you are probably weight sensitive let me suggest that you consider a Lithium Ion battery from someone like Battleborn. These batteries are more expensive BUT they weigh considerably less, last much longer and in the long run are actually more economical, although some may debate this. They are actually designed to be run down to almost zero and can come back faster than the above mentioned other options.

All in all it’s a somewhat complicated system (at least to me!) but one that benefits from proper application of the various components.

A couple of questions:

Do you have any capability to charge your camper batteries from your truck?
What kind of fridge do you have?
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#6 Bwht4x4

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 10:45 PM

I did my own solar system back when I bought my camper for less than $700.  I have a 160 watt grape solar panel, a Sunsaver MPPT charger, a Trimetric monitor and dual 12 volt AGM batteries (stock batteries that are now 5 years old).  I also run an Isotherm 85 liter compressor refrig.  I never have any problems with my system charging my batteries or my batteries holding a charge.  The Trimetric is critical IMO to see how the system charges the batteries and how each and every item draws power.

 

Overcast days will drastically diminish your solar input.  To deal with that I bought a second portable 100 watt panel that I deploy and sit on my camp chair and it takes my system to another level of charging!!

 

If you want to chat about my system let me know.


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#7 Rogue Juan

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 11:56 PM

Thank you all for your prompt input.
As I stated before, I am using a Zamp ZS-30 solar charge controller with 1-160 watt Zamp solar panel with 2-12 volt AGM batteries (stock at the time from FWC). The only power draws are the Isotherm 85 fridge on a 2 setting (drawing 0.8 amps according to the controller during the day), the water pump for a 5 minute shower(turning it off while I lather) and the furnace set to 60° with a insulation kit from FWC. Daytime temperatures are in the low 60° with night time temps of around 35°. I've resorted to using a rechargeable camp light for lighting & a power brick to charge my phone that I charge at work. FWC stated that they have switched to the Overland kit because they found it to be more efficient in overcast conditions. Their customer service sucks. The system they installed when I took delivery a little less than a year ago is inefficient in overcast conditions by their own admission. They are switching to the Overland kit on all new campers. Now they want to charge me $1155 to "upgrade" the solar kit & $700 to "upgrade" the batteries. When the warranty runs out in less than 2 weeks, I plan to upgrade on my own.

When I state that I go off grid for 6 days at time, I mean I am traveling 2&1/2 hours to the Silicon Valley to work for 17 hour days (sometimes), where I can't afford to live. Because I have to park my FWC in public parking lots that homeless people sometimes frequent while I work, a portable solar panel is likely to be stolen. While I sleep, I park at Park & Rides, so nowhere is show power an option. Once I am in San Jose, most drives consist of 5 to 10 minutes charging the batteries via my Tacoma.

From the valuable input that all of you have given me, I am trying to put together the most efficient solar system that I can. The more input the better. Thanks again, Juan
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#8 ckent323

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Posted 11 February 2019 - 11:59 PM

Rando's comments and advice are spot on.  The other comments are good too. 

 

I like Vic's suggestion of using a Victron BVM-712 or equivalent device to figure out your consumption.

 

Craig


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#9 rando

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Posted 12 February 2019 - 12:15 AM

All solar panels are 'inefficient' in overcast conditions - a 160W panel will only produce  20 - 30W of power in heavy overcast, regardless of the manufacturer.   Solar panels need sun to work. 

 

I don't see how any of this is FWCs fault, you chose these options and they delivered these options.  They do offer a newer solar system on the newer models, but you wouldn't expect Toyota to give you a steep discount because you bought a 2015 Tacoma and the 2016 Tacoma was a redesign would you?   Same deal here.  

 

Spend a lot of time reading up and learning about solar and then build your own system.   You don't necessarily need a more efficient system, just a system with with more capacity that is appropriate to your usage and solar exposure.


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#10 Rogue Juan

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Posted 12 February 2019 - 01:48 AM

BTW, I have enough room on my Fleet FWC for 2 panels. I've looked at the Overland 160 watt panels online & at Battle Born 100ah 12v gc2 lifepo4 deep cycle batteries and Victron charge controller on Amazon. If I go that route, which model charge controller should I get? Also, Camping World is offering 2 Nature power 160 watt panels for $1259 installed. Should I go that route & upgrade the controller & monitor to Victron along with the Battleborn batteries?
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