It's a Team's Life

The Solar Advantage

By Bob Caffee
Posted Jun 20th 2022 4:00AM

The panels are very durable and maintenance-free. After running under low tree branches for two years, and scraping across the surface of the panels there is no visible damage to them. The system we have is three 330-watt panels keeping 12 Northstar AGM31 batteries charged.

If we don't have to run the A/C, we don’t need to run the generator for a weekend of cooking and other power-consuming functions. This has resulted in the generator needing to run only 58 hours in five months. A tremendous fuel and maintenance savings when most operations like ours service at 150 hours, sometimes twice a month. That will save $40-$50 on each service not to mention the fuel not burned.

The panels are on top of the cargo body being only 2.5mm thick, we don’t worry about being over height with this addition. We did add 8 extra batteries for power storage to use while the truck is turned off. This added about 900 lbs with battery boxes, but that isn’t usually a concern for us.

I have often been asked about how much cleaning is needed. Since the panels are on the roof, it could be dangerous to get up there and scrub, not necessary. When we get a truck wash I just ask for a trailer rinse, the rinse from above cleans the panels as good as they need. Snow removal? Well, that is fairly simple, as soon as the sun starts shining on the roof, the panels will gather small amounts of sunshine and start creating heat thus melting the snow and ice. Even a small amount of sunshine will generate power, we have even recorded power generation under parking lot lights, very few amps, but power just the same.

For our next truck, we are looking at more panels for more power that could run the rooftop A/C. With that, there will be LiFePO batteries for a stronger and longer-lasting power storage bank. These batteries are much lighter, almost 75%, than standard lead-acid or AGM, absorbed glass mat, batteries. We are also working on implementing a 24v system for better utilization of power. There are some concerns about mixing the 24v system with a 12v system. Merlin Solar engineers assure me that it has been done before and will not be a problem.

I have been doing research on 24v vs 12v, running thru an inverter. It is interesting that the higher the voltage the less power it takes to do the same job. For example, a blower motor that draws 10 amps on 12v will only need 5amps on 24v. To top that off, all wiring can be less than half the size. To power a 12v 3000w inverter you would need a cable as big as your thumb. The same 3000w inverter is 24v, the cable should be the size of a pencil, large cost savings on wiring.

For those looking at solar, I would say go for it. I wouldn’t recommend putting a system together yourself, contact a professional that has done it before.

Bob & Linda Caffee
Saint Louis MO
Expediters since January 2005
[email protected]

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