One thing I sorely miss by storing my Airstream in an RV lot is no shore power to keep the house batteries charged. The solution of course is solar panels and I finally got around to installing them. They were not expensive. I got them as a kits from Harbor Freight. Some on-line experts belittle the kit. Usually, the biggest criticism is the included wiring is too thin a gauge. But most reviews are very positive. With the 45 watt kit on sale for about $190 (with coupons) I felt it was a reasonable gamble. So, I bought two kits.
What I like about the panels themselves is that they are fairly streamlined and mount within about a half inch from the surface. In other words, they don’t have the house hold aluminum sized frame. Of course that’s the other criticism leveled at the kit – that the frame is plastic and isn’t as substantial as the more expensive panels. I also liked the dimensions. Each panel is about 13″ in width, and 36″ in length. So, they ride in the draft of the air conditioner in addition to having a low silhouette.
Each kit came with three panels, so there are six altogether, but I’ve only installed four. That produces 60 watts. So far, that seems quite adequate for my two AGM house batteries. At some point, I’ll install the remaining two panels in front of the air conditioner. But maybe I’ll just keep them in reserve in case one or two of the four I installed gets damaged.
Another thing I like about the kit is the regulators. They are unlike anything else I’ve seen. Each is designed to handle three panels or 45 watts. To handle more than that I had to either use both or buy a higher rated regulator. I read that they could be wired in parallel though. That is what I did and it is working well. The way I have them wired each regulator handles one battery and gives me a digital readout on just that battery. What makes these regulators different though is the various outlets they have: two 12 volt cigarette lighter style sockets, two 12 volt charging ports, small 6 and 3 volt charging ports and a USB charging port.
Although the kits came with most of the wiring, I did replace some of the run with 10 gauge low voltage wire. I did that mostly because the run was over 20 feet.
The kits also came with four 12 volt 5 watt CFL bulbs. I rewired a couple of 110 volt clamp on desk lamps with cigarette lighter style plugs to run the 12 volt bulbs. I’m pleased with that. The big problem in the long run is that I can’t find out where to order replacement bulbs. I wrote Harbor Freight asking about it, but have not gotten a response. That shouldn’t be a big concern though, since I have two spares.
I’m happy with the results. My house batteries are staying charged even though I’m running ceiling fans all summer to keep the heat down in the interior.