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Generator Selection

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

Q: We are owners of a 2004 Northern Lite 9-foot, 6-inch camper that we bought used. The camper has two 12-volt batteries and no generator. We are looking for generator recommendations on size and manufacturer. We assume an inverter generator is appropriate, and that 2,000 watts is sufficient, but 3,000 watts will allow the use of all receptacles, water pump, entertainment center and furnace motor while charging the batteries simultaneously and not tripping the generator’s breaker.

We also got a BatterySaver Pro solar panel with the camper (puts out about 13 volts without clouds) but no information as to how to use it properly. We assume we could connect in parallel to a camper battery on a sunny day, but the panel would not know when the battery(s) is/are fully charged. The camper has what appears to be a sophisticated electrical regulator that might know when to cut off charging power from the solar panel, but don’t know if they are meant to do that.
Dave Dix and Celeste Zimmerman, Evergreen, Colorado

A: The instruction manual for the solar panel, or the manufacturer’s phone tech helpline, would be your best source of information on the solar panel’s regulator. The regulator built into your camper might have been the one installed by the camper manufacturer specifically for use with the solar panel, or it could be something completely different. Without knowing the regulator’s manufacturer, part number and so on, we’re hesitant to comment if it’s used with the solar panel or not. In general, yes, a solar-panel regulator is designed to provide as much current as possible when charging the battery then cut back to a trickle charge when the battery is full to avoid damaging the battery. For the straight scoop on solar-panel matters it’s hard to beat the advice and hardware from AM Solar in Springfield, Oregon, (www.amsolar.com).

If you plan to run an air conditioner on the generator then the 3,000-watt generator would be a must. If it’s just the other 120-volt AC-powered accessories you have in mind, as long as you don’t overdo it with hair dryers, a microwave, toaster oven and other high-drain hardware on all at the same time, the 2,000-watt model should do the job nicely. The water pump and furnace motor are 12-volt DC powered so they don’t count as direct drains on the generator output. An inverter-style generator is a good idea as it produces the cleanest, most consistent electrical current and that’s important for some electronic devices.
— Jeff Johnston

Two men - Ken Freund and Jeff Johnston - standing near truck To send your questions to RV Clinic, write to 2575 Vista Del Mar, Ventura, Calif., 93001; or email [email protected]. Also, check out TrailerLife.TV for our expert RV how-to videos.

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