Saturday, February 16, 2019

Day 39 - Getting Prepped for More Solar

Went up on the roof today to measure the spot I am planning to put the new solar panel. You can see the location of the existing junction box. I’m pretty sure that the brackets will allow the new panel to fit over it. In case it doesn’t, I have several backup options. The tape measure is set to the length of the new panel. It is about 6” wider than the other panels so there is plenty of space.

As a refresher, I pulled out the MC4 crimp tools and installed a connector on each end of the leftover cable from the original solar panel installation. Since I needed to make cables for the new panel anyway, this just helps the process get started. The cable itself is 10 AWG with UV-resistant insulation and is designed for use in solar installations. By “designed”, I mean the insulation is the proper size for the MC4 connectors. These are most of the tools needed for crimping and I have the two MC4 connectors shown below the crimp tool.

First, the pieces for mechanically securing the cable to the connector are put in place before crimping the cable. The insulation is stripped off enough so that just the tip of the bare copper wire goes into the body of the pin. This is just so that stray strands don't get caught in the connector.

The pin is crimped using the ratcheting crimp tool specifically made for these connectors. What I did not show was a little bit of the Ox-Gard anti-oxidation compound was put into the area of the crimp before going into the tool. I didn't include a picture of the crimping process as it takes at least two hands to make sure things stay in position during the crimping process. The crimped pin is inserted into the back of the plastic connector until you feel and hear it "click" into place.

The silicone ring, plastic teeth that grip the cable jacket and the knurled nut are put onto the back of the connector. These are plastic wrenches that are specifically designed for MC4 connectors to tighten the knurled nut. The two prongs at the end of the plastic tools are used to disconnect the connectors as the clips are recessed and almost impossible to reach without these tools.

Success. I did still remember how to install the MC4 connectors. I still have two more pairs of connectors and depending on how I end up connecting the new panel into the system, I either need one pair or none. UPS says that the panel and brackets will arrive on Tuesday. Another fun project and I can drill more holes in the roof...

I just made an RV park reservation for the middle of March in Orange County. Definitely no boondocking around there. I needed to send a picture of the RV before they would finalize the reservation. I hadn’t run into that in a while. BTW, they said the RV looked fine.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Day 38 -

63°F, partially sunny, no rain... What more can you ask for? This morning, we went back to Fort Mohave in AZ for fuel and some groceries. We noticed that even though there are a lot of people living in Needles, there really aren’t very many stores or large grocery stores. I’m sure you can guess why. The same reason most people just go across the river to fill up their car. At the Walmart gas station, a class A motorhome pulled in and started to fill up his 75 gallon gas tank. He said that he was sure glad that he made it into AZ to fill up. His savings from California to Arizona was over $150. If you look up river, there is almost no development on the CA side of the river while the AZ side is full of housing, farms and ranches.

This has been a pretty slow week. The video below was a test of time-lapse on the iPhone while I was enjoying the pool. Nothing exciting.


Thursday, February 14, 2019

Day 37 - Modest Solar Expansion

I guess Needles was the place to be. At least when this screen capture was done. Actually, it has been raining on and off since late last night. Enough for there to be puddles in the sand of the campsite. I think that Bridget may have here hands full dragging a couple of unwilling dogs around the campground. The National Weather Service has been putting out a flash flood warnings for the area.

I’ve made plans to return home for several days next month. This is to meet the State of Alaska retirement system requirement to not be out of state for more than either 89 or 90 days. I’m not sure which it is. Plus, I needed to get taxes done and a few other things. By late afternoon, the steady, light rain had ended but it was still kind of dreary.The cooler daytime temperatures meant the furnace ran more and not much solar. Though, surprisingly, we were still getting 5 amps around noon.

I’ve been looking at a solar web site called Continuous Resources, LLC, that was one of the exhibitors at the Quartzsite RV show. At the time, I was looking only at Renogy 100 watt panels to match the ones that we already have installed on the RV. But, it really doesn’t matter as long as the panel is 12 volts. This is their 180 watt, nominally 12-volt panels with an Isc of 9.87 amps and a voltage of Vmpp of 18.95 volts. The price for these panels is about $20 more than the 100-watt Renogy panels which have an Isc of 5.75 amps. That seems like a good deal to me. BTW, this is where they get their 180-watt rating. 9.87 x 18.95 = 187 watts. For our system, 14.8 x 9.87 = 146 watts. Still a good deal.

Their mounting brackets are a bit more expensive than the Renogy brackets but they do tilt. The tilting feature is important as I plan to install this panel on the passenger side of the roof and it will be over the combiner box. With the ability to tilt the panel, I will still have access to the box. At least, I'm pretty sure that the panel will fit in that spot. I'll go up on the roof and take some measurements when it's not raining. I've ordered one panel and associated installation pieces. With this addition, our maximum charge current will be around 33 amps. I'm thinking that this will allow us to run the refrigerator off of the inverter while traveling, especially on sunny days.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Day 36 -

Not optimal weather for the pool but the temperature is fine. More sunshine would be nice. Not much going on today. I refilled another 30# propane tank and picked up some sweet bread at a Mexican bakery. Delicious. I had stopped to look for some locally made tamales but they didn’t carry them. I finished off the converter installation by replacing the sheet metal screws with machine screws and locknuts. And, since the unit is mounted on the metal chassis, a separate ground wire seemed to be redundant.

BTW, even with all the cloud cover, the solar was adequate to bring the batteries back up to 100% by the end of the day. This surprised me. I’m looking into picking up some panels from a vendor who was at Quartzsite.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Day 35 - Converter Test

This morning, I shut off the shore power before there was any significant solar charging. From the furnace and RV interior lights, the battery was at 93%. Not really down enough for testing. After two cups of coffee from the Keurig, breakfast made on the induction cooktop, an hour or so of YouTube RV videos, and two hours of running the refrigerator, the batteries were down to 86%. Oh well, good enough for an initial test. The first picture shows the little dongle on the new converter that could be run inside somewhere if you want to monitor its operation. The black button on the bottom is for manual override such as selecting boost mode.

I plugged the Kill-a-Watt meter in series with the power cord and plugged the converter into shore power. I then pressed the manual override button and selected “Boost” mode. This is what I would do if running off a generator. Initial current draw was 10.4 amps AC and it was pushing over 60 amps into the battery according the the Trimetric battery monitor though some of this was coming from the solar. After about 15 minutes, the current into the batteries had dropped to 35 amps and the batteries were at 91%, After 25 minutes, the current had dropped to 15 amps and maybe 5 amps were from the solar and the batteries were at 93%. At this point, I turned off the converter. Successful. This is what I was hoping for. After 25 minutes of charging the batteries, it was putting out more than the original converter did initially.

This looks to be a worthwhile addition to the RV. Much of the afternoon was spent at a campground free picnic. The RV park and golf course sponsored the picnic including complimentary champagne and beer. Bridget won a door prize though she’s not sure what to do with it...

Monday, February 11, 2019

Day 34 - New Converter

While we were in Quartzsite, I mentioned in at least one post that the built-in converter wasn't very efficient when you wanted to get a quick charge into the batteries. It would drop down to float mode as soon as the battery voltage reaches about 13.2 volts so it took forever to recharge the batteries. One of the solutions is the Progressive Dynamics Intelli-Power series of converters with their Charge Wizard module. I picked up the PD9270 with the module built in and included the manual override dongle. The dongle allows you to manually select Boost mode which gets the battery up to 14.4 volts quickly. For my battery bank, this will be about 90%. At this point, the generator could be shut down and just let the solar charge controller top off the batteries. Max output is 70 amps.

To install the new converter, I also ordered some 4 AWG fine-strand inverter cables with eyelets at both ends. I cut off the eyelets at one end and stripped the insulation to insert the cables into the new converter. Ox-Gard was applied to the bare copper to help prevent oxidation and inserted into the output connections on one end of the unit. Ferrules would be a better option but I didn't bring my hammer crimp tool on this trip. I ordered 18" cables and they were barely long enough to reach the ground bus and the catastrophic fuse.

Terminals are provided for charging two batteries independently but I am treating the four golf cart flooded batteries as a single battery. I still need to install a ground wire on the ground lug (on the opposite end of the unit) and just tested the unit for polarity and basic function. The AC cord is not being wired into the RV at this point as it is my intent to use this converter when running on the generator. At some point, I may run an outlet from the electrical panel converter breaker into the front compartment and completely disconnect the stock converter. According to the specs, this converter could draw as much as 1250 watts so it really does need to be on its own circuit. I installed the unit in the front compartment battery to keep the DC cables as short as possible. There aren't separate "sense" wires so it must monitor battery voltage at its output terminals. Large, short cables would minimize the voltage drop.

Space is somewhat at a premium in the front compartment so the PD9270 is mounted to the steel divider between this compartment and the adjacent propane compartment. For now, I'm using sheet metal screws but I will probably pick up some machine screws with lock nuts tomorrow so there won't be sharp screws sticking into the propane compartment. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Day 33 - More Needles Exploring

This morning, we wandered around Needles a bit including the mostly residential area west of I-40. Bridget wanted to check out the park with boat ramp down river about a mile and a half for a kayaking trip. Not today, but once it warms up. By the end of the week, the forecasted high is in the low 70s but may be accompanied with 16 mph winds.

There are quite a few references to Route 66 including signs, murals, museums and even advertisements for the local shops. This former train station seems to house city government offices and is very nicely restored. Yesterday, we had dinner at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant here in Needles and the decor was all Historic Route 66. The restaurant, BTW, was pretty good.

This wagon was used in the filming of the movie 20 Mule Team back the late 30s. The sign mentions that only one of the four wheels an original from its borax hauling days the other three are from a Conestoga wagon. The wagon is at the southern end of the town itself. There are a couple of gas stations near the on-ramp to the interstate further south.


It was another “pool worthy” day in spite of the breeze. Only a couple of fluffy clouds and none blocking the sun. At least in mid-afternoon. The month-long stay still seems fine. I feel no need to keep moving. We are still scheduling parts of  next month. There is a mini-reunion on my mom’s side of the family in Murrieta, CA, and I managed to reserve a TT spot in Menifee which is about ten miles north of Murrieta. My mom is flying down for the reunion and our reservation brackets her visit so we would be able to provide transportation. 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Day 32 -

This afternoon I filled the water tank up with the little meter. It said that I put in 28.5 gallons before water started flowing out the fill tube. The “gauge” on the inside of the RV said 2/3 of a tank. The same thing it said practically the entire time we were at Quartzsite. But, a few days ago, I pulled 44 gallons out of the tank after adding filling it with 27.5 gallons. Before filling it back then, the “gauge” read 2/3 of a tank. I can understand the little meter being horribly inaccurate especially since the flow rate is low. The meter is only a plastic housing with a small propeller in the water flow designed for sprinkler systems. So we are back to not really knowing how much water we used while boondocking for nine days. The only way to know is to run out of water. How annoying...

In January, the most current that we’ve been able to get out of the solar panels was about 14.5 amps. Today, we got almost 19 amps.  A website shows the amount of energy striking a surface given the angle of the panel and the city you are in. The graphic below is an example for Phoenix, AZ.

Between January and February, there is about a 25% increase in solar radiation on a flat surface such as my untiltable solar panels. By March, it's over 50% higher than January.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Day 31 - Historic Route 66

Nothing exciting today. I zipped around town on the bike following the historic Route 66 signs. And also found the low bridge I had heard about on one of the campground reviews. It really is pretty low. A railroad bridge only 8’ of clearance and a single lane with a curve. Not the best design for traffic flow. It is another clear day without a cloud in sight and no wind.

It’s 60°F. Time to head for the pool!

Later - The pool was very relaxing. Another couple was at the pool from Alberta and they are starting to work their way north. It seems a bit early but they aren’t fully retired yet and one of them needed to get back to work. I asked about road conditions through the Rockies and in Alberta and they said if a storm is coming, they just wait it out. If it snows, the road crews get it cleared up pretty fast. Again, just wait and not be in a hurry. They have a four-season fifth wheel. It has double pane windows and probably more insulation. Our’s just claims to be but all it means is that it has silicone heat pads on the tanks. There isn’t a lot of insulation and the windows are all single pane.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Day 30 - Almost a Month

Last night it got down into the mid-30s so we are using a bit more propane. The last 30# tank lasted nine days which seems about right given the temperatures. In Bend when it was getting below freezing every night, one tank was only lasting about four days. Yesterday, I had filled up the fresh water tank and, in order to measure its actual capacity, I drained the fresh water tank one gallon at a time into the kitchen sink and the shower. This filled up the galley tank and grey tank so we know what their capacities are. The only label anywhere on the RV was that the fresh water capacity was 50 gallons including the 6 gallon hot water heater. So I needed to do this sometime.

The results are that the fresh water tank really is 44 gallons before the water pump would start pumping air. This was measured using the one gallon plastic jug. The galley tank, which is just for the kitchen sink, is 30 gallons. The grey tank, which is for the shower and bathroom sink is 26 gallons. The only surprise, to me, is that the galley tank is larger than the grey tank. I thought it would be the other way around. I’ve been meaning to do this ever since we picked up the RV.

I was going to refill the fresh water tank today using the little meter but decided to take advantage of the sunny day with no wind and sat in the jacuzzi. There’s always tomorrow. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Day 29 -

A clear, very sunny morning. Nice enough to sit outside but may be too sunny to view screens. Earlier this morning, I started to pull the dash apart on the truck to try and replace a burned out instrument panel bulb. The one for the fuel gauge. It turns out that I need to drop the steering column and remove the top of the dash. After some thought, I decided that this was an “at home in the garage” type of task. So put it all back together. I did check out how hard it would be to change out the radio. Pretty simple. I am planning on replacing it with a CarPlay compatible unit.

Of course, by afternoon it was cloudy, windy and cold.

Part of my Amazon order arrived today. Not the converter but everything else. I left the pressure regulator at the campsite in Benson so I needed to order a replacement. This is water pressure regulator number three. The first one had cracked when the temperature had dropped below freezing. I forgot to shut off the water and drain the hoses that night and the water inside of the regulator froze.

Another item I picked was this water volume meter. I think it's designed for use with sprinkler systems. I had not filled our freshwater tank since Quartzsite. The handy-dandy meter on the wall said that the tank was ⅔ full. We didn't really believe it since it said the same thing for most of the time that we were there. It did register "full" on the first day. According to this meter, we used 27.5 gallons of water. If this is true, we didn't use very much water but definitely more than a third of a tank. I now need to empty the freshwater tank and then refill it using this meter.

The last item in this order was 4AWG cables to use with the converter.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Day 28 -

Today, Bridget had some shopping to do in Bullhead City which is only twenty-some miles north in AZ. While we were there, I stopped by both a Harbor Freight and a Tractor Supply. I had seen many Harbor Freight flyers but had never stopped into one of their many stores. Did not find anything that I couldn't live without at either store.

After picking up some stuff at Walmart, we went to the Avi casino which is just across the Nevada border to check out their buffet for lunch. Pretty good though, like many other casinos, the cigarette smoke smell is pretty strong.

After lunch, Bridget wanted to find the point where the California, Nevada, and Arizona borders touch. It turns out that point is in the middle of the river. She did find a Nevada border sign. down the road a bit.

This is a nice high bank overlooking the Colorado River from the RV park. It's still windy and is about 20 minutes before sundown though the overcast probably means that it won't be a very colorful sunset. Right now, you can't even tell where the sun is.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Day 27 - Playing with Electricity

It’s only 9:30 in the morning and the equalization cycle has already started (control state in the red oval). Note that the battery sense voltage is higher today than the target voltage yesterday. That is due to the sensed battery voltage. As temperature drops, the voltage required goes up. When I ran an equalization cycle in Fairbanks, the target voltage was above 16 VDC due to the low battery temperature. When it this high, you really should disconnect anything in your RV that may be voltage sensitive. 15.5 VDC is borderline. The only thing running off of the 12 v system are the interior lights and the refrigerator controls.

In spite of the late morning overcast skies, we received enough sun to complete the equalization cycle by 12:20. I checked the water level in the batteries and all the cells were bubbling and only a few needed to be topped up with distilled water. I turned off the converter so the only battery charge will be from the solar charge controller.

The stock converters (built-in battery charger) that are installed in RVs are generally adequate for trickle charging the battery but don’t seem to put out a lot of current in spite of the manufactures claims. If you are charging the batteries using a generator, this results in a lot of run time as we experienced in Quartzsite. I ordered the Progressive Dynamics Intelli-Power 9270 converter with the little remote dongle that could be installed inside. It has four charging modes including a “boost” mode designed to get the battery up to 90% quickly. I wasn’t going to install it in place of the stock converter but in the same compartment as the batteries with a separate power connection. Then the cables could be a short as possible. According to Amazon, this won’t arrive until next week.

Even though the name of this RV park is Needles Marina, there isn’t a marina or boat ramp at this time. When I saw this place yesterday, it didn’t look like there was any work going on. I guess I was wrong. It looks like they are deepening the marina possibly to compensate for low water levels. From the markings on a pier (which is completely out of water) it looks like they are down ten or fifteen feet from high water. I don’t know what “normal” actually is.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Day 26 - Oatman, AZ

Sunny day so I thought about trying an equalization cycle on the RV batteries. It didn’t fully charge the batteries until around 12:30 so there is little chance that the cycle will complete today. If not, it will just continue tomorrow until it completes. You can see the reference voltage is 15.51 VDC which is the target voltage for equalization based on the current battery temperature.

Prompted by Dom and Martha's recent visit to Oatman, we headed there this afternoon. We knew that it was going to be a touristy location and it met expectations. This could be someone's yard back in Fairbanks.

There were quite a number of burros wandering the streets looking for a handout and burro food was being sold at most of the businesses. Though many of these same businesses had signs asking you not to feed the burros in front of their business.

What impressed me were the rock formations surrounding the town. They lined the road on the approach to Oatman and within the town itself, did a pretty good job of shielding the place from any cell phone signal. I think that it was emptier than usual due to it being Super Bowl Sunday. Several of the businesses had closed by 4:00pm which, or so I'm told, was the time for the coin toss.

Upon arriving back to the campground, the Internet was pretty bogged down probably by those watching the game. BTW, the equalization cycle didn't finish and will continue tomorrow. Maybe I'll turn on the converter tonight so the battery starts out fully charged. Then the system can go in equalization mode as soon as the panel voltage gets high enough.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Day 25 - Spike

Since we are going to be in Needles, CA, for the rest of the month, I won't put the location in the title of the post. For dinner yesterday, we went to visit Spike, the Peanuts character who called Needles home. The only reference to the cartoon character in town is at the Subway just off the northernmost exit in Needles. We never made it there back in October. Bridget is a fan of the Peanuts comics so this was a must stop. For me, it was an opportunity to get an Italian B.M.T. sandwich (my favorite). The last couple of years I was at the university, the bargain meal was the 6" sub at the Subway in the upper dorm complex. Only $3. I suspect that isn't the case anymore and was not the case here either.

This picture was just playing around with portrait mode on the iPhone. They call this “stage lighting”,

Today, we went into Fort Mojave to mail some stuff off. We are able to receive mail and packages at this RV park so I'm expecting some more RV related projects to arrive next week sometime. To prevent too many tasks from accumulating, today seemed like a good day to eliminate another one that I’ve been planning to do for a while which is to replace the shower faucet. Hmm. that's two plumbing projects this week. It was pretty easy except the RV manufacturer didn't allow any slack in the Pex plumbing. It would've been easy to just have a couple of inches that would pull into the storage bay. But there was none. No leaks.

It's been threatening to rain all day. But, not much more than a few sprinkles. It has been pretty windy for most of the afternoon but not much rain. This was a good rainy day project.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Day 24 - Needles, CA

We arrived at the Needles Marina Resort well before the check-in time but since the space we had reserved was empty, there was no problem moving in. We had selected the space back in October when we were last here. The space is huge, especially when compared to the last place. The trailer pretty much uses the whole depth of the site but it’s around 40’ wide. Other RV parks would’ve put two rigs in the space.

The Internet is $30/month for something much faster than campground WiFi as it’s provided by a local business. Since we are here for the month, electricity is metered and billed separately at 12¢/kWh. Something new for us. This will be the first time we are staying in one place for that long.

Yep, not complaining about this at all...