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solar ‘streaming – new airstream solar panel

Airstream solar panel and inverter for dry camping


Confession: I don’t understand energy. At all. I know that after two miles on the treadmill I’ve only burned the caloric equivalent of one damn cookie, but apart from that, I got nothing. 


What’s a watt? What’s a volt? What does “at peak the inverter will pull 170 amps” mean? These and other concepts were no doubt covered during a science class I was absent from, or during shop, which was once For Boys Only.


Airstreamers toss around phrases I’ve heard a thousand times: 110 volt versus 12 volt, AC/DC, 220 heavy load capacity—while I nod, too embarrassed to admit I don’t understand. I’m admitting it now.


Given all that, here’s what I know about our new Zamp 95 watt solar panel with the 30 amp controller.


1. I love it.


2. It was hella expensive.


3. It eliminates the need for shore power, as long as we don’t run a heater or a hairdryer. (Thankfully, the inverter will power other essential glamp-pliances, like an espresso machine or blender.)


4. The new twenty-pound, four-foot long panel is bolted atop the Airstream alongside the factory issued solar panel that came with the DWR; we made room for it by removing the antiquated TV antenna (which, of course, is carefully stored away so it can be remounted in ten years as a hootworthy retro feature). The top of the tiny trailer now looks cramped with contraptions. (“Oh, if you want, I can fit another panel on there, totally,” boasted the solar installation tech.)


5. Energy from Mr. Sun is collected by the two panels, stored in two Trojan 6-volt unsealed batteries mounted on the hitch, and magically delivered to the Xantrex PROwatt SW 2000 Sine Wave Inverter bolted beneath the dinette table waiting for us to plug in whatever we see fit. (Primarily, it powers and recharges our various iDevices).


6. The charge controller is straightforward and simple to use for those who understand amps and volts but looks to me like Sulu’s helm control panel. I’m told that the operative data is the LED readout in the middle, which “should be kept on 14.4, at which point it will shut off.” I have no idea what this means—the scribbled notes I took during the hasty tutorial conducted by Beau at Jerry’s RV are now, upon review, hieroglyphics—but to date the panel has faithfully displayed 14.4ish, indicating a full charge. 


Though there’s lots to learn about the new system, there isn’t much to physically do; simply find a sunny place to park and the equipment does what it does, just as electricity pours reliably throughout your stationary home.



4 Responses to “solar ‘streaming – new airstream solar panel”

  • I don’t mean to confuse you more but you forgot one term: Resistance, measured in “ohms”. Think of it like a water hose. Volts refer to the water pressure. Amps refer to the flow (how much comes out in a second,a minute etc). Watts are easy. Multiply the volts times the amps. Resistance is how narrow the hose is.

    So if you have a 110 volt system and 30 amps then you will have 3300 watts of power at your disposal. A microwave might take 800 watts, an airconditioner 1300 watts, a 60 watt light bulb, well, 60 watts.

    Clear as mud?

  • rg coleman:

    Waahh…my brain hurts! Thanks Frank–that makes sense, actually. I’ll quiz myself later ; )

  • Jude:

    So have your removed the propane tanks entirely? It appears the new batteries are in that location…

  • rg coleman:

    Hi Jude! Good to hear from you! The batteries are right in front of the propane tanks (that aluminum pictured behind the batteries is the cover for the tanks).

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