By: Mark Chekel
Making almost FREE ice in the desert!
That was the plan, and I’m happy to report a “complete success”.
For a while now I’ve wanted to add a solar system to my Toy Hauler. In the middle of the desert is the perfect place to capitalize on the benefits solar has to offer. The cost involved and thoughts of just charging the batteries during the day weren’t enough to push me over the edge. Newer high end rigs that some friends own came equipped with an ice maker built in. I remember thinking wow, I’d love to have one of those!
They weren’t using the ice maker at the time, worried the battery draw threw an inverter might be a bit much to keep up with. Bingo! I now had a dual use for a solar system that would simplify making a trip to the desert. There is one constant in life and that is change. Solar panel prices have never been lower, the cost of ice is going up and we all know the pain caused pulling up to the pump. Filling the truck, trailer and toys takes a huge bite out of the wallet and may be limiting how often we go out.
When designing my system I used the sage old advice given by my buddy Jeff.
“Cry once”! As I said, there is an upfront cost in doing this mod, but after that it stops some of the bleeding $$$ dead in its tracks.
Solar Panels: Shopping here is the key. There is some big money to be saved! I used Solarblvd.com for 2- 210 watt panels and Amazon for 2- DM solar 145 watt panels for a total of 710 watts. In hindsight, I would have just used 3- 200+ watt 24v panels from solar blvd and called it a day. You do need to work around things on the roof and panels come in all shapes and sizes. Care must be taken to avoid shadows and using like panels is always the best option if space permits.
Solar Charge Controller: This I consider to be the heart of the system. Get a good one and make sure it is large enough to expand the system at a latter date if needed. I chose the Xantrex (Schneider Electric) XW MPPT 60-150. I have been extremely pleased with its performance. It is a MPPT (maximum power point tracking) unit capable of charging the batteries at 60 amps and can take input voltage up to 150 volts. The 150v input is a nice feature, you can series wire the panels together which translates to smaller gauge wiring being used. No need for a combiner box and extra wiring runs. It all adds up cost wise. On the front panel there is an easy to use display. User programmable inputs, data logging, input and output voltage, amps and watts are all available at your fingertips in an easy to use format. It has been on the market for some time and proven itself to be a reliable easy to use unit.
Inverter: The inverter uses the battery capacity you’ve generated all day (free!) and converts it to 120v to run plug in devices without needing to run the generator. My favorite part! There are many makes, models and sizes of inverters out there. I knew after some research I wanted to use a pure sine wave inverter verse modified sine wave for running the compressor in the ice machine and sensitive electronics. I have several friends using the Xantrex SW pro watt 2000 and decided to go that route myself. I also included a pro watt transfer switch which plugs directly into the unit and provides switching of inverter and shore power. It’s a true sine wave inverter that gets the job done at a great price! If a higher end unit with more power and features are needed, I highly recommend the SW series inverter/charger installed by our staff member Kevin. The SW series can link solar, inverter, charger and power management systems all together using one control pad. Top shelf stuff!
Did I mention I’m able to stomach all those pesky side benefits of having an inverter with solar to charge it back up? Watch TV anytime, plug in cell phone and computer chargers, make a pot of coffee early in the am, plug in small fan at night, run the microwave for a few minutes to warm something up and free ice. Days on end without running the generator…. I’ll suffer threw it!
Ice Maker: Be prepared to have a lot of friends in the desert! The U-line B95 or B98 ice maker comes in some of the newer high end haulers. No reason I shouldn’t have one too! I plumbed the water line under the rig with a PEX ice maker valve, ran that threw a water filter then to a quick disconnect. I set it outside on a table, hook up takes less than a minute. I actually prefer to have it outside, no noise from compressor or when cubes drop in the bin. Power draw on this little gem is between 106-120 watts while running, 150 watts when harvesting ice and around 800 watts at start-up, very efficient. The big question was would it keep up with use? The answer was a big yes. When it’s up and running with a full head of steam it kicks a rack of cubes out every 15 to 20 minutes. I used it to cool drinks in the rhino ice chest, several friends came over to borrow some, made drinks all night and that little bugger just kept pumping it out! It will also hold ice overnight so if it’s full when you go to bed, you can shut it off and restart in the morning.
I’ve been on three extended trips so far and couldn’t be happier. I’m using a 400 amp hour battery bank. Best solar day so far read through the Xantrex charge controller was 202ah returned to the batteries with peak wattage of 645w. I ran the Xantrex inverter and ice machine 24/7 for for 5 days straight with NO generator usage.
Any time you can turn so many liabilities (things that cost you money) into assets (things that don’t cost you money) I’m all in. Not to mention better resale value with lower hours on the generator, added features other rigs don’t have and lower cost of use the entire time you own it.
I found a wealth of information, knowledge and advice in the Tech Issues section on the forum of RV.net Here is a link to see how others have installed and designed their solar systems. It was a great help.
My advice; jump in with both feet the (ice) water is fine!!!