Saturday, June 18, 2016

Denali ZAMP Solar Panel Evaluation June 13 - 16, 2016 Days 44 – 47

 Denali is Athabascan meaning “the high one.”
Denali in all of its grandeur
“Denali serves as a barometer for change.  As permafrost thaws, glaciers shrink, and tree lines rise, we feel humbled to care for this living laboratory that is so critical to understanding the effects of climate change on our global community.”
Don Striker, Superintendent, Denali National Park and Preserve

A serious challenge when visiting the upper reaches of British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska is that the most beautiful settings are in Provincial, State, and National Parks.  Traveling in May and June we have experienced cold night temperatures that have necessitated hard use of our 12 Volt Suburban Furnace.  Such use can drain the house batteries
Solar Panel in acation
quickly without the availability of shore power or using the generator.  Primitive provincial, territorial, state, and national campgrounds often do not have electrical hookups and severely limit the hours of generator use.  This can make for very cold nights unless there is a means to keep the house batteries charged.  This is where our ZAMP 160 Watt System has been a great addition to our charging system.

With use of the solar panel the challenges have been that many of the days have been cold, wet, and overcast limiting the solar panel’s efficiency.  On the plus side we have 20+ hour days with which to work.  Between generator use during permissible hours and solar power during off hours, we have not had to withstand a cold night without heat.  Before we had solar panels our house batteries limited our stay, in primitive campgrounds, to two days if we started out with fully charged house batteries.

One of the truly wondrous camping experiences, when visiting Alaska, is to stay at Teklanika River Campground which is located 29 miles inside Denali National Park & Preserve. Reservation, advised ahead of time, stipulate that to limit traffic within this wilderness, one must set up and remain for a minimum of 3 days.  If towing a dinghy, this is not allowed in the park and must be unhooked and stored outside the park as well.  Generator use is strictly controlled and minimized so without the means to keep the RV house batteries charged, central to the RV electrical system, very quickly there will be insufficient power to run the heater or anything else.    This can result in cold sleeping conditions, no lights nor other amenities.  We stayed at Teklanika River Campground for four days, never needed to employ our noisy generator in this pristine setting, and kept our batteries charged.  We hooked up our ZAMP 160 Watt Solar panel (procedure supplied earlier – ZAMP Setup), left it hooked up, and never had to
Voltage is an indication of the batteries 
worry about our batteries.  A nice feature of this unit is that the control panel has a “smart charging feature” that sends power to the battery as needed, prevents overcharging, and prevents back draining from the battery at night when there is no sunlight (not often in Alaska at this time of year).  Additionally, at the control panel there are display features that allow one to check the condition of their battery, solar power being generated, and power available in the battery.  This readout is pretty straight forward.  First, there is a button that allows for the selection of the battery type.  We have two Group 27M Deep Cycle, Absorbed Glass Mat batteries (AGM).  When depressing the “Battery Type” button for 3 seconds on the LCD display, one can scroll through and select the battery type.  If uncertain, just check the paperwork that came with your batteries or call ZAMP.  They are very helpful when going through the setup process.  Next, depress the “Volt/Amp” button to scroll through and readout battery voltage, charging current (amps), and charged capacity (Amp-Hour).  So what does this mean as you scroll through the readouts?
First Display Volts (V) – this is the condition of the battery charge.  Without going into the chemistry of the battery itself, let’s just stay with the 10,000-foot view.  As battery energy is employed, hydrogen present in the battery acid (H2S04) is combined with oxygen to form water.  This dilutes the acid, reduces the specific gravity and this correlates to battery voltage and therefore how much the battery is charged.
                                       Exact number may vary as they are temperature dependent
                 Voltage                                                 Charge                                  Battery Condition
                12.4 – 12.7 or higher                          ¾ to fully charged                Excellent Condition
                12.2 – 12.3                                            ½ to ¾ charged                     Good Condition
                12.0 – 12.1                                            ¼ to ½ charged                     charge getting low
                Below 12 volts                                      battery really getting low – needs charging
The less the voltage reading the lower the battery charge.  On the reverse side, as solar energy is fed into the battery, a reverse reaction takes place, lowing the water content, raising the acid content, increasing the specific gravity, and this results in a higher volt reading.  The higher the voltage reading the higher the battery charge.
Display when the batteries are fully charged
Second Display - AMPs (A) – the higher the reading, the more sunlight is being converted into energy for the battery and the faster the battery is charging.  This would be similar to how fast the pump is working when filling your fuel tank.

Third Display - AMP Hours (AH) – the higher the reading the more energy that is stored in the battery and the longer the battery will supply energy.  Again, this would be similar to how full your fuel tank is after filling it.

Continue to depress this button and it will again scroll back to volts and repeat the sequence.

When the battery is fully charged, the display will indicate “FUL” and the smart controller WILL NOT overcharge the battery which is detrimental to battery life.

Even in a site as beautiful as Denali National Park & Preserve, the ZAMP Solar Panel drew a LOT OF ATTENTION.  Generator noise is becoming a display of “poor taste” in primitive, pristine settings so quiet, efficient alternatives to generators is of interest to noise and energy conscience travelers.  Has the ZAMP Solar Panel worked for us?  Certainly, a resounding YES!  This has opened greater opportunities and longer durations of Boon-Docking in government operated campsites and with much less expense.  As an example, only primitive government campsites lay within Denali National Park & Preserve.  The cost per day for these BEAUTIFUL sites with plenty of space between sites is $15.  Private campsites just outside the park are jammed together parking lot style and the cost is $40 per night.  Boon-Docking may not be for everyone.  If you want cable TV, swimming pools, and all the amenities use the commercial sites…and some are indeed quite nice at other locations and they are very handy if you want to use the laundromat and WIFI.  For us, we prefer the government sites far and away from the crowds more often than not.  Our ZAMP Solar Panel helps us achieve that objective. 
What you see in Denali when taking the roads less traveled

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