Making a Decision to Go Solar

[one_fourth][/one_fourth]Over a two years ago I made the leap and purchased a “suitcase” solar panel. It wasn’t an easy decision for me due to the cost and my lack of knowledge. As it turned out, with solar I can now camp at less expensive alternatives like dry camping and boondocking. I saved what I spent on my solar suitcase in no time.

Personal Review: I’ve now been using my Zamp 120 watt Portable Solar Package for over two years for many hours. I’m a happy camper and glad I made this purchase. It has lived up to the reviews and information I was able to find at the time of my purchase. It was fairly easy to install, taking only a couple of hours at the most even though I was a novice.

My Choice

You can find less expensive alternatives, but I chose Zamp 120 watt “suitcase” solar package for the following reasons:

  1. The panels are made in Germany – Not China
  2. It’s Assembled in Oregon USA
  3. Support is available by phone and you speak directly to a knowledgeable person in Oregon.
  4. The three stage controller is part of the package.
  5. 120 watts is the minimum I need for my useage.
  6. The package is sturdy, weighing at about thirty pounds.
  7. The only negatives are the legs could be stronger and the clips that keep the unit closed in storage have rusted a little, but everything is still functioning okay to date.

LED Making Solar Work

[one_fourth][/one_fourth]At the same time I was making my solar purchase I converted all the lights in my fifth wheel to LED. There were over thirty-five lights that I needed to buy to accomplish this. I searched around and found a pretty good price at Amazon. It’s been two years since I purchased them and they are still performing as I expected.

When I originally bought my fifth wheel, I negotiated for an extra 12 volt deep cycle battery. That gave me a total of two 12 volt deep cycle batteries on board. This would now be critical so I have enough power stored during the day, to get me by the long nights while dry camping or boondocking.

Installing The Zamp Solar Portable Suitcase

I researched a lot since I’m not an electrician and knew nothing about battery charging and usage requirements. The solar package was easier to install than I thought once understanding the principle.

  • Basically all I needed to do, was drill a hole through my fifth wheel wall near the batteries. In my case this was at the front of my fifth wheel. Then I installed a Zamp sidewall/roof port that I bought separately at the same time and ran the wires to the positive of one battery and the negative of the other. It’s best to put an inline fuse here too.
  • The Zamp Solar 120 watt Portable Suitcase comes with a fuse between the controller and the end of the cable provided.
  • I also bought an optional fifteen foot Zamp extension cable with the package. That gives me a reach of thirty feet if I’m parked in the trees. Note: the longer the cable the less efficient the solar panel will be.

Important Note: Your setup maybe different than mine. Calling Zamp support to get confirmation for the wiring method was the only support I needed. They were very helpful.

Daily Use

If I am dry camping or boondocking  and need solar power. I just bring the package out of storage and open it up, then I plug the cable into the inlet on the front of my fifth wheel. I can move it several times a day if needed as the Sun moves.

The 120 watt output on a sunny day is able to produce enough energy to charge my phone, laptop, sensors, refrigerator fan (on propane), lights, fans and water pump.

I have had numerous cloudy or rainy days over the last two years and camped in a number of tree covered campsites. I found that my solar suitcase was just barely able to keep up during that time, even when I watching the electricity I was using very closely. Being careful on rainy or cloudy days still wasn’t enough to fully charge my batteries at times.

[one_fourth][/one_fourth]This past year I ended up saving enough cash to buy a Honda 2000i generator to supplement my power. It’s not ideal since my onboard battery controller isn’t a three stage, but it works for the days I can’t get enough sunshine. Also when using the generator, I can splurge and run my vacuum, microwave oven or watch a movie.

My next purchase will be a  Three stage controller/inverter so I can fully deep charge my batteries with the generator and use some of the appliances. I’m still researching this, but it’s in my future.

What My 120 Watt Portable Won’t Do

It will not run my Air Conditioner, Television, Coffee Maker, Vacuum or a host of small appliances. I could run these, but I would need to purchase better batteries and an inverter, as I mentioned above.

Also the Atwood furnace cannot be ran for any length of time when it’s not sunny.

Another Note: I have made this post into a permanent page found on my Menu under RV Tips – Solar

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