Putting together system

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Oopslala

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Well I've got a job locked up at a campground in Colorado that starts in May or June, pending on weather.  Which means I need to get my solar system in ASAP.

I've made a couple previous solar threads but reading through them all gave me a headache because of my lack of knowledge and having to decipher all the comments that didn't make much since, so here I return.

All I know set in stone is that I'm buying 4 100watt renogy panels  PWM.  

I'll have to figure out all the details again with the batteries/wiring and all that jazz which is why I'm here.  I had a notebook with everything written down for my 600watt plan but some family members proceeded to use the notebook to start the wood stove.

Anyways, here's the panels I'm getting:
http://www.amazon.com/Renogy-Solar-...=1-1&keywords=renogy+400+watt+solar+panel+kit

Hopefully you guys can help fill in the gaps in what I'll be needing.
 

TMG51

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That kit should be everything you need for panels/controller... just add batteries. Two golf cart batteries? T-105s? With 400 watts maybe 4 golf cart batteries in series-parallel.

The only other bits you'll need will depend on your install method. Possibly sealant for where you run the wires.... cleats depending on how the panels are going on the roof... battery terminals if you have none.
 

WheelEstate USA

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Gotta agree with TMG...I'd go with the 4 GCs. Great system for a fridge and a few 12V toys, plus being covered for a couple bad days by conserving a little.
 

29chico

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That kit is a great starting point.  I would recommend a pair of the Trojan T105- RE (renewable energy) g/c's: heavier, more lead, more sophisticated plate design, more deep cycles and double the warranty of the standard T105.  That is if you are going to perform the tasks required to keep them in their prime as long as possible.  If not, get two of the Costco 6v golf cart batteries.  They cost about $85 W/O the core charge.  About half the cost of the T105's.  Plan on killing them in a shorter period of time than you were expecting.

It is very normal for those starting out on the solar electric path to kill their first battery bank quickly.  By the time they have done that and gotten so-so life from their second bank they will often get very diligent in caring for their third battery bank.  

With those panels mounted flat on a roof in good sun conditions, that kit should deliver around 24 amps into your battery bank.  That is right around 10% of the amp hour rating of the T105's and Trojan suggests around a 13% charge rate max for most users.  Remember that is only for the peak sun hours in the middle of a sunny day.

You could go with four of the t-105's for double the capacity. However, there is a good chance that you will fall short of fully recharging that big of a bank on solar alone in less than good sun conditions on a regular basis.  Especially if you get a few cloudy days in a row & the lifespan of the battery bank will suffer.  If you have access to even a small generator to use as a backup charge source in low sun conditions I would say go for four of the T105-RE's.

i suggest that you consider getting a hydrometer and use it often.  The link below is a primer on the importance of temp compensation of hydrometer readings.

http://all-about-lead-acid-batteries.cap...ion-chart/

That included charge controller is temperature compensated, but only for ambient temps as delivered in the kit.   Renogy sells a remote temp sensor for that controller for $10. PRODUCT CODE: CTRL-VS-TS  Very well worth it to allow the controller to sense the actual battery temp instead of the ambient air temp which will vary much faster than the battery due to the thermal mass of the battery.

Reading up on Trojan's website about equalization charges would be a good idea.

Mount the controller close, but not above the battery bank and run the biggest wires that you can between them.

If you can afford it, a shunt based battery monitor would be of help in keeping the battery bank happy.  If not check the specific gravity of the cells more often with a hydrometer.
 

SternWake

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The additional temp sensor for the battery bank is great for extending battery life and minimizing water loss.  Most 'recommended' charging voltages are for 77F, and higher temps require lower voltages, lower temps require higher voltages, and compensating manually for this is just another thing to forget, and will compromise battery longevity to some degree.


That said I do not have one, as I was a fool who decided to save 30$ in 2007 by buying the controller that did not have that option.  Find foot, aim, shoot.

I use cord grips as waterproof wire pass throughs on my fiberglasss roof:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_n...field-keywords=cord+grip&rh=i:aps,k:cord+grip

On the 12vDC Distribution side, you will need a fuse block and a Bussbar.  I will link BlueSeas products as they are pretty much top notch, but similar can be had for less.

Not sure how many circuits you need, but better to have too many available and not need them than start combining circuits if one has too few:

http://www.amazon.com/Blue-Sea-5029...280&sr=8-4-spell&keywords=blueseas+fuse+block

You will need ring terminals to hook circuits upto this fuse block.:
http://www.amazon.com/Gardner-Bende...2030486&sr=8-1&keywords=10+awg+ring+terminals

Some other fuse blocks use push on quick connect type wire terminations like this:
http://www.amazon.com/Pico-Insulate...2030602&sr=8-16&keywords=10+awg+quick+connect

Some fuseblocks come with a (-) buss, but one can use an external one, which also accepts large ring terminals for large wires

Such as this one:
http://www.amazon.com/Blue-Sea-Syst...1452030680&sr=8-1&keywords=blue+seas+buss+bar

The wire/cable terminations are important, not only for safety but performance too, especially when they will be passing higher currents.

One should have a good crimper for wires upto 10awg, and something else for thicker wires.  Some choose to solder instead, but one needs to be good at soldering and protect the wires more from vibration.

Large battery cable terminations are of extreme importance.  A hammer crimp or simply squishing a ring terminal in a vice might yield a visually acceptable mechanical connection to a Newb, but it will be a poor electrical one prone to oxidation corrosion and increased resistance, and failure of large cable connections might equal a fire.

Those who do not want to get a hydraulic crimper, or similar, can have top quality cables made by this outfit for a very good price with free shipping, one just needs to know the lengths required before ordering.  I buy all my 8awg or thicker wire here.  Fast service, top quality tinned copper wire, good prices.  Beware of inexpensive wire on Amazon or Ebay. It will likely be aluminum wire, or copper clad aluminum, which must be significantly thicker to have the same resistance as pure copper or tinned copper.

http://www.genuinedealz.com/custom-cables

Those with Skills likely want to do it themselves.  Here are some adequate hydraulic crimpers and a leverage type as well:
http://www.amazon.com/Hydraulic-Bat...=1452031053&sr=8-5&keywords=hydraulic+crimper

http://www.amazon.com/Crimper-Crimp..._UL160_SR160,160_&refRID=0B546ZW75BT0GH9DVDDG

One will need to place a fuse or circuit breaker between solar charge controller and battery bank:
https://www.bluesea.com/products/5006/MAXI_Fuse_Block_-_30_to_80A

These are nice because one can push a button to open the circuit and move the lever to close it:
 http://www.amazon.com/Blue-Sea-Syst...031234&sr=8-5&keywords=40+amp+circuit+breaker

Beware of economical fuses and circuit breakers, they will likely not open at their rating and the circuit breakers will have significant voltage drop across them, which will waste some solar electrons. The charge controller will likely say what size fuse to use, regardless of wire size.  I use a 30 amp circuit breaker on 4awg between controller and (+) buss stud on my manual battery switch.

The prospect of Alternator charging the house bank often frightens newbies, but the alternator is a very capable charging source when thickly wired.  It can do in half an hour what might take a solar panel all day.  Returning a battery bank to 80% charged via a capable thickly wired alternatorcan be done fairly quickly, but that last 20% always takes about 4 hours no matter what.

One thing to keep in mind is that a depleted battery bank can ask for everything an Alternator can make, which can cause it to heat up faster and heat up more than the engine turning it. 220F seems to be the tipping point, and a thickly wired alternator, that can output high amps at idle speed, will wear out much faster when idled to recharge.  Thinner cabling will limit what the batteries can ask for and help prolong the alternator's life.

Idling to recharge can be very hard on an high amp at low rpm alternator as it is not spinning its internal fan fast enough to dissipate the heat, and without moving underhood air temps exacerbate the overheating issue.  Some alternators do very poorly at idle speeds in the output department and just waste gas to do very little recharging. Highly platform specific.

If the alternator is 400$ and requires 4 hours of labor to replace, well it makes no sense to wire it thickly in an attempt to prolong the lifespan of a 200$ battery bank.  I'd recommend 8awg at ~12 feet(one way) for those in this situation, but 4 or 2awg  or thicker for those who can do it themselves and really need all the alternator contribution they can get.  With thick cabling, short drives to town and back for resupply can accomplish a lot, and can get a battery out of the danger zone, when it is 50% or under, which is very hard on lead acid batteries. 

 Do not worry about overcharging via alternator in most situations.  The battery accepts only what it wants at the voltage allowed. Most vehicles voltage regulators are way too timid to approach this danger zone.  SOME AGMS, the lesser$ ones are limited as to what they can accept.  30 amps per 100AH of capacity.  These will likely vent, and be degraded if provided 40 amps from the alternator when depleted to 50% and forced upto 14.5+ volts.  Higher $$ AGM like Lifeline, odyssey and Northstar will laugh at 100 amps per 100AH of capacity, but these AGMS need significantly higher charging currents applied regularly to remain happy, making them not so good for a low and slow solar only application, ut hit these batteries with high alternator amperage and top them off via adequate solar before sundown, and they are a great power source which will behave well for a long time.

My alternator has a lifetime warranty and I can replace it myself in 15 minutes, so I hammer the poor thing maxing it out often.  My previous one lasted 7 years in such extreme duty, but again how well any given alternator withstands extreme duty is highly variable among vehicle platforms

There are various methods for allowing alternator recharging and having the engine starting battery removed from all house loads with the engine off.

The continuous duty solenoid is the least expensive method:
http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_n...s=aps&field-keywords=continuous+duty+solenoid

One should seek 100 amps continuous or higher rating and not totally bargain hunt in this area.  These are simple to wire.  the two big terminals, one wire goes to Alternator(+) stud or engine battery(+) stud, and the other goes to the house bank.

The smaller 2 terminals are for activating the magnet inside the solenoid which closes the contacts.  this requires 12 volts to be switched, automatically with the ignition, or manually by a switch, or even both.  This means finding a vehicle circuit which is only live with the engine running of one wants automatic.

There are voltage sensing solenoids that only have two large connections and will combine the battery banks only when there is battery charging voltages present and will disconnect them once voltage drops to a certain level.  With Solar, i recommend a single sense solenoid, not a dual sense which will try and charge the engine battery, which likely does not need it and is just diverting juice from the batteries which need all they can get.

http://www.allbatterysalesandservice.com/browse.cfm/4,2705.html

There are several different products/methods for automatic operation.  I personally choose a fully manual option and use a 1/2/BOTH/OFF switch.

http://www.amazon.com/Blue-Sea-Syst...id=1452031824&sr=8-1&keywords=blue+seas+6007m

With this one must NOT turn the switch to off with the engine running or POOF go the diodes in the alternator.

USB devices can be charged via dedicated USB sources, rather than using an inefficient inverter to power the wall warts that came with devices:
 http://www.amazon.com/Blue-Sea-Syst...&qid=1452031936&sr=8-1&keywords=blue+seas+usb

Most laptops have DC to DC 'car adapters' which are also more efficient than using an inverter.  Their issue is the ciggy plug/12v power port connection when asked to pass 60+ watts continuously.  A quality 12v receptacle wired with 10awg can help alleviate this issue:

This one claims to be good for 20 amps, the highest rating I've ever seen, so perhaps it can handle 1/3 of that without issue continuously:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00G4RYWF2/ref=s9_hps_bw_g263_i9



I recommend putting 2 voltmeters on the dashboard so one can see the voltage of both battery banks when driving.  Mostly this is a learning tool to watch voltage of the house bank slowly rise to meet that of the engine battery as it charges up, but also it can notify the driver if something is wrong with the charging system, or if the solenoid has failed and not separating the batteries as it should with the engine off.  Also one can see when their engine battery is getting weak, by voltage drop during engine cranking, and that preemptive replacement is wise.

Such a voltmeter should have a separate voltage sense wire that goes right to the battery(+) terminal.  The Ciggy plug style voltmeters are often not that accurate and their voltage reading can be quite different from the voltage at the battery terminal.

http://www.amazon.com/KEEDOX®-Digit...d=1452033868&sr=1-1&keywords=3+wire+voltmeter

These can be calibrated after installation, which leads to what might be the most important electrical tool necessary for the Van dweller.

The Digital Multimeter.  

I really recommend that one get a Multimeter with a AC/DC clamp on Ammeter.  These are full function multimeters, but one can open the clamp around any single wire, (+) or (-) and read the current flowing through it.  One could see that their fuse block is pulling 6.73 amps, or that their alternator is providing 72.7 amps into the house battery at idle.

The following is an Example, not a recommendation:
http://www.amazon.com/Extech-MA120-...452034183&sr=8-1&keywords=dc+clamp+on+ammeter

Do note that any clamp on meter less than ~35$ is likely only going to measure AC current, not both AC and  DC.

A solar wattage vs AH capacity of the battery bank is important.  The depth of average discharge of the battery bank and the availability of other charging sources and how often they are employed change the ratio too.

400 watts on 464 AH of GC batteries is too little, unless one never really discharges below 85% state of charge
400 watts on 232 AH of GC batteries, well one could do discharges to 50% each night as long as the next day was sunny and have happy batteries.

Combine 400 watts with alternator recharging, and a plug in charging source for if one has a generator, or the ability to plug in, and their t-105s will give excellent service for a long time.

If one will have the ability to plug in and recharge, the big three converter makers are Progressive dynamics, Iota, and powermax.  none of these are ideal for perfect battery recharging in minimum time, but nothing is ideal in this department other than an informed human with an adjustable voltage power supply/charger, armed with a hydrometer and the desire to achieve ideal.
 

Oopslala

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I'm hoping to keep the total cost of solar around $1000-$1200 so Trojan's are a little out of my price range I think. What's a good mid-range battery?

I was also planning on the battery bank being 4, just finding a place for them will be the issue.

I do intend on maintaining the batteries the best that I can, no way I can afford to spend 400+ every year or two on batteries.

I'll be using all the obvious things, lights, water, occasional microwave use, probably 2-4 hours of movie watching on a laptop, phone charging, possibly a speaker to hook up for music. I'm still debating whether I want to take a monitor along with the smaller laptop for a big screen. Depends on usage.

I remember reading that I'd need an invert er if i was going to use a microwave. A few of the other ones i recall were amp shunt, bogart trimetric battery monitor(that was suggested on someone elses blog, don't recall who's), and 8gauge wiring. Seems i remember reading that there was no wiring in the renogy kits.
 

Oopslala

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Thank you for all your posts. They're helping quite a bit.

Most of them (especially Stern's) are going way over my head so I find myself re-reading over and over.

It seems most of you think that 4 batteries will not be charged enough to maintain the longevity of my batteries life. If I bought 4 batteries and 5 panels, would that make up the difference, or would i need more panels?

I like the idea of 2 batteries with 4 panels to be charged fully with almost a guarantee, but I don't think an available 100w a day will be enough for me, especially on the rainy days in a row.

I plan on ordering the kit within the next couple days. Are there any upgrades with the charge controller or anything I should consider?
 

ccbreder

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I bought my GC batteries from Batteries plus Bulbs, a national franchise, for $109, 235 amp hour rating, Duracell label, made by East Penn, (Deka)
 

BradKW

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I have trouble deciphering the difference in battery types even within the same manufacturer. For example, unless you already know what you want, trying to wade through the Trojan website (and assoc. pdf's) is enough to confuse most people I think. Well, then again perhaps I'm more easily confused.

But seriously, they don't even give a total Amp hour rating on their own batteries...instead giving a discharge-over-time plot. While I might imagine that the 100hour discharge should equal the total Ah, that doesn't actually seem to be the case. :/

How might I go about comparing say (4) T105-RE to (2) L16H-AC Deep-Cycle Flooded ? http://www.amazon.com/Trojan-L16H-AC-Flooded-Cycle-Battery/dp/B00NY7MSBK
 

SternWake

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From many reports all over the web, you will need 4 GC batteries to power a microwave for any length of time, especially at lower states of battery charge.  2 GC batts will not cut it in microwave duty, unless duration times are short and batteries are more than 80% charged.  Otherwise the low voltage alarm on the inverter will kick in, and soon after it will turn off.

EastPenn/Deka make a great GC-2 6v golf cart battery.

If one really only wants 2 batteries, then AGM batteries will hold higher voltages for longer under higher loads(1000+ watts of microwave), 6 or 12v.
If one really wants only 2  flooded/wet  12v batteries in parallel and still be able to power a microwave, 2 group 27 or 29 or 31's will outperform 2 6v GCs inverting 1000+ watts of microwave, but they will not last as many  deep cycles, and are harder to fully charge which also detracts from their lifespan

Locating/properly securing a large battery bank and dealing with their offgassing are always prime considerations.

Get as much solar as you can afford after you decide on the number and type of batteries.  Allow room for possible solar expansion in the future.

Keep in mind all those little expenses of products I linked in previous post, to complete your 12vDC electrical system.  They add up quick.
 

WheelEstate USA

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Oops...Just to give you an idea of rain days. Yesterday sucked, cloudy and rain on and off. Clouds and all, we still saw 14.9V by early afternoon, up from 12.6 before sunrise. Watched 2 DVDs on the laptop on 80W inverter, played with some pics and stuff for an hour, plus charging cells & tablet and lights. Bedtime, 12.4.
Today, partly sunny this moning, turned to crap about lunch...still hit 15.1 for a few hours.
We wouldn't do as well with a fridge on this system without full sun daily.
This is on 200W, and 122ah marine 12V.
I'll wait on a fridge till I can add couple more panels and 2 pair of GCs. Then I'll feel more confident when we go up to visit in Oregon.
Maybe this is helpful... :)
 

SternWake

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Today at solar Noon in a good steady rain, my solar controller was doing absolutely nothing. Input 0.1amps, 0.0amps out. Panel voltage was just below battery voltage = No charging amp flow

Later on after the heart of the rain moved on I was getting upto 0.5 amps from my 200 watts of MPPT solar.

Good thing I was not relying on solar alone, as I'm only playing with 90AH total for both for house and Engine starting duties.

I saw 87 amps from my alternator at idle 1 minute after starting the engine at 55AH from full. Single V Belt on the edge of squealing at 1100 rpm, I waited a few minutes before driving, amps were down to 72 by then. Belt squeal over 1900 rpm.

Life on the edge........................... ;)

I did a fair amount of driving with idling, parked next to the ocean all afternoon, and only got to within 15AH of full and was still accepting 12.2 amps at 14.5v. It needed another 2 hours, at least, at 14.50 volts before it could be considered a fully charged battery.

I'll have to use less juice tonight and hope it is sunny at least somewhat tomorrow, and I have reason to drive, as 2 days in a row without reaching a full charge is the possibly shameful beginning of battery abuse.

Or I have to plug in.
 

Oopslala

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Alright here's an updated post on what I'll be buying and what I think I need to buy:

Panels http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...=ox_sc_act_title_4&smid=A05654602L3XUQ70M87BV
Batteries x4 https://www.batteriesplus.com/battery/rv/deep-cycle/6/sligc115
Battery Monitor- previously was going to buy the trimetric but that's $130 in itself. Suggestions to cheaper ones that have a similar performance?
Inverter-if i recall correctly it's required to run a microwave and some other things. i had pure sine in my previous list but not sure the difference

Is there a temp sensor that you can purchase on amazon that'll go with the charge controller?
Amp shunt- not sure exactly what it's needed for but it was on my previous list of things to purchase
 

Oopslala

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A couple more things im curious about...

I know many of you are in vans, so use your inverter for microwaves and things like that. I am in a fifth wheel and my microwave is built in. Does that mean I already have an inverter? I'm still a little confused on how it'll all work.

I also have a fridge/freezer built in but don't plan on using that apart for storage because it will use too much electric. I may get another less energy consuming fridge that some of you have if I have enough spare power.

I have a battery that can with the camper that'll be seperate from my battery bank. Will that battery still be required? Or will I only need that for when I hook up to electric?

Sorry for so many posts with many different topics and comments...I keep thinking of more things and need to get all of this done asap so I can make sure I've got a working system when I leave.
 

SternWake

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Your fridge/freezer is likely an absorption fridge, meant to run on propane, but many can also run on 120v when plugged in or 12v when driving only.

There is no way for any of us to know whether you already have an inverter or not in your fifth wheel.

The battery monitors are wonderful tools, but they need to be wired correctly, programmed correctly and occassionally re-zeroed. Given your above questions and budget restrictions I would recommend forgetting the addition of a battery monitor at least until your understanding of the electrical system improves.

One can always be added later.

I believe the battery that comes with a fifth wheel is solely for the trailer brakes, but am not that familiar with factory made RV's
 

TMG51

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If your microwave works without being plugged into shore power, it's pretty safe to say you have an inverter... but it sounds unlikely as it also seems you don't have a battery bank adequate to support that. More likely, the microwave would only work off shore power (that's how my class B was wired, and the microwave went on the free pile).
 

Great White

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Most RV's use a battery set up, dual or single, that utilize a converter and small charger to maintain the battery and convert your 110 to 12 volt. That is the fan noise you hear when using lights or 12 volt items when plugged in. Your solar charging system and battery bank will be separate. Most RV's come with a cheap dual purpose 12 volt battery that is the bare minimum the manufactures can get away with. Good for a few things but not a long life. They are usually a group 24,27,or 31 sized interstate battery. I wouldn't try to mix it into the 6 volt set up. 

As far as setting up solar in an RV that is not pre-wired you can contact Camping world for information. They might answer your questions. I know of a couple of great You Tube channels on the subject of adding solar to an RV. The best is "Love Your RV". He has a fifth wheel and will take you through the steps and installation of his solar set up and inverter and the ways to connect it to the on-board system. He boondocks full time so he may be a good source. With a van it is pretty straight forward but when mixing or adding to an existing RV you want to get it right. Is it a new RV? Is it pre-wired for solar? If new is it still under warranty? Get as much info as you can. It will save you grief in the long run. There is a lot of great info on this site. I hope this helps you.
 

Oopslala

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Well I've just watched all of the solar related videos on Love Your RV's channel.

I just became so overwhelmed by all of the things they were doing with wiring etc.

I'm wondering if I figuring out everything that I need and what I'll get, if you guys could help me with a diagram? All of the wiring just overwhelmed the hell out of me. In the videos they used 2 and 4 wire. Will that be what I need to use for all the battery/inverter/charge controller wiring?

I remember seeing a diagram of a rough-sketch that could be applied to most systems where breakers/fuses and all of that would be required between certain things in the system.

My camper is a 1996 and this will be the first solar installed onto it.
 

BradKW

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Oopslala said:
I just became so overwhelmed by all of the things they were doing with wiring etc.

Oopslala, how much time do you have before you must install the system?

Reason I ask is because most people start out exactly where you are right now...overwhelmed and confused. When I first started asking solar questions a few months ago, I couldn't decipher most of the answers. I have no background in electric and even the wire sizes didn't mean much to me. I couldn't have told you the difference between an Amp, volt, or what a watt was. I was becoming frustrated too, because its been a long, long time since I really tried to learn something new like this and my mind is nowhere near as nimble as it once was and I don't remember concepts like I once could.

I found though that re-reading old threads, picking one part/idea/or component, googling it and spending an hour even if just sorting through search results and product descriptions, I slowly managed to get a handle on it. It just took some patience and accepting that I can't "cram" for a test like I used to. Just re0watch the same video tomorrow and I bet you take something new away from it...same goes for the next time too.

Now when reading posts like Sternwake's I add the products to my Amazon shopping lists...you can make as many lists as you want, I have one titled Mobile Electric. Now when I look at a product like the little fuse box, I have more intelligent wonderings...like why pick one without a neg. bus bar build in, instead of with it for same price.

Oh, and be careful what you ask for...wiring diagrams can be a real confidence killer ;)
 

Oopslala

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My job in Colorado starts in May, weather depending. So I've got 3-4 months. I want to get it done in a month or so, just so I can do some trial runs while still at home and get everything in order here.

I like your idea of googling everything. I think I'll just work my way from the panels all the way down to the batteries until I understand it all.

My dad owns a farm and an employee is very good with carpentry, so he's going to help me install it initially. That won't do me much good once I'm in Colorado and he's still in Michigan. Which leads me to wanting to learn everything so I can do it myself when I have to.

For the diagram topic, I'm a visual learner. Diagrams are much easier to understand for me.
 

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