Airstream's new Trade Wind trailer—how much power is enough?

Airstream's recent announcement of the 2024 Trade Wind travel trailer has created a stir in the RV industry, because of its big battery bank and promise of boondocking independence. It's likely to be the first of many travel trailers that takes advantage of the lithium battery revolution to provide seemingly endless electrical power.

But does this amount of battery power make sense for you? Let's take a look at what the Trade Wind's battery can realistically do—and what it can't do.

What's In The Package?

The Trade Wind comes with three big LiFePO4 (Lithium Iron Phosphate, also called LFP) batteries, each with a capacity of 270 Amp-hours. That's a total of 810 Amp-hours, which is a lot. It's about four times more the power that you'd get from a new Airstream with the standard pair of LFP batteries, and nearly eight times as much usable power as an Airstream with older lead-acid batteries (including AGM batteries).

What Can You Do With It?

The key question is, "What are the batteries good for?" Well, those big batteries certainly can run all the usual devices in the Airstream, such as the electric refrigerator, water pump, lights, TV, etc. There's so much power that you could easily run all of those devices in normal usage (and charge your laptops) for weeks without plugging in—even before taking into account the extra energy you'd get from the solar panels.

That's pretty impressive. A battery bank this size eliminates the need for a generator for most Airstream travelers. If you're a tech-nomad who loves to camp off-grid with a bunch of electronics that you use 40 hours a week, the Trade Wind is just the ticket. For example, using a Starlink router alone can kill a standard set of batteries in a day or two if you're not careful to unplug it when not in use. But with an 810 Amp-hour battery bank you can run your Starlink router for weeks.

The 600-watt solar array on the roof is also impressive. While most people don't need that much solar capacity, it's a good hedge against cloudy days when the panels might be producing only a fraction of their rated capacity. You won't need to break out a backup generator with this combination of big batteries and lots of solar capacity. That's a nice package for those who live the "connected" life.

What About Air Conditioning and Microwave?

Airstream took the Trade Wind's power delivery even further. Their marketing says: "Trade Wind's powerful electrical system can even handle running the air conditioner and microwave simultaneously off the battery – no shore power required!"  [Italics are mine.]

Is it true? Let's look at the numbers:

When you're boondocking, both of those devices would be powered by an inverter that is connected to the batteries. The inverter is rated at 3,000 watts, so I didn't believe it was possible to run both at the same time. However, Airstream's engineers say that the GE air conditioner nominally pulls only 1,210 watts when running (which is astonishingly efficient). The Contoure microwave is rated at 1,000 watts when it's not in "convection" mode. That's easy math: 2,200 watts total, and well below the limit of the inverter.

Moreover, the engineers say the inverter can actually handle a peak of 5,500 watts, which is important when the air conditioner needs a burst of power at start-up. The 3,000 watt limit refers to continuous load.

So yes, you can run the microwave and air conditioner at the same time, but I wouldn't recommend doing it very often, because you'll run out of battery pretty quickly. 

It's hard to say how long you would be able to run the air conditioner off battery power alone, because it depends on the exterior temperature, humidity, shading, and many other factors. But let's consider a hypothetical situation, where the air conditioner is cycling on every fifteen minutes, to run for 6 minutes each cycle. Let's also assume this happens from 10:00 a.m. until 6 p.m. (8 hours) of the day. 

Under those circumstances, the air conditioner would use about 320 Amp-hours of battery capacity per day. Taking into account the needs of the refrigerator and other devices, you might get through a hot weekend, but not much more.

So, while you can run the air conditioner off the batteries, it's clearly not going to last long. It would probably be best in circumstances where you only need air conditioning for a short time, like when you're stopped for lunch on a roadtrip.

Will The Solar Keep Up With The Air Conditioning?

There's 600 watts of solar on the roof. Perhaps that would be enough to recharge the batteries?

Alas, no. At least not in any reasonable scenario involving air conditioning use.

Airstream has provided a formidable array of solar panels, but even 600 watts is a poor match for a depleted battery bank of that size.

To compare apples to apples, the battery bank has 9,720 watt-hours of capacity. Let's say you had a couple of hot days and ran the air conditioning most of each day, and the batteries were low at the end of that. Even with incredibly good sunshine (full sun at noon in the desert southwest) the 600-watt solar array would need several days to restore the majority of that power—assuming you weren't doing anything else during that time that needed power.

In reality, taking into account normal cloudiness, normal sun angles, and normal power consumption while camping, if you completely drained the on-board batteries by running the air conditioner too much, your best option might be to hitch up and tow back to a power plug. 

So my advice would be to consider the claim that you can run your air conditioner from the batteries as a "nice to know" fact, while realizing it's not something that you'll be doing much. The ability to run less power-hungry appliances like the microwave oven, electric coffee pot, and hair dryer will be what most Trade Wind owners will find they take advantage of most.

This is actually pretty revolutionary. Until recently, propane and other petroleum products have ruled the RV world, as they have been the only practical fuels with enough energy density to make hot water and hot air. With the arrival of better batteries and the subsequent rapid decline in cost, we're finally seeing the potential for all-electric travel trailers with no compromise.

That's part of what the Trade Wind represents: a step toward the future of RV'ing. You can't power your laptop, your satellite TV receiver, or your Starlink with propane, so it's a pretty exciting development. 

15 comments

Rick

Rick

Sounds pretty doggone good! Glad for the improvement to run more and longer. Only issue I have is the A/C unit now being a GE product…. If anyone out there has GE appliances they will concur that the reliability of their equipment has declined drastically over the years and especially after the buy out. Hopefully these units will stand up to the usage and abuse they take while being of service to our rigs!

Nancy M

Nancy M

Thank you much for doing the math!!!!!!!!

Brian Lewis

Brian Lewis

Rich – great article on the Trade Wind, we have recently sold our 30’ Flying Cloud and have ordered a Trade Wind for spring pick up. One of the things you didn’t mention, and most people don’t know, the Trade Wind also incorporates a REDARC DC-DC converter that is powered by the tow vehicle. It’s only a 12amp but it’s a 2 stage charge that will provide some restorative power to the batteries along with the solar array while underway. I would have liked a larger one but it is limited because of the 7-pin connection and current ratings on that wire.
Looks like I will have to be ordering another set of chrome latches and locks for my water, battery (tool) box, and shower!
Take care – Brian

Marc Beauchemin

Marc Beauchemin

Very useful and timely blog. The Trade Wind is an exciting new trailer and I’ll be keeping my eyes on it as a potential and natural upgrade from our Basecamp. One thing I’m curious about that isn’t specific to the Trade Wind but your blog got me thinking on again. The issue of air conditioning and capacity to run it. It is always approached with a view to ensure that the power source has enough capacity to handle it, i.e., receiving 30A or 50A depending on having one or two AC units. Never I’ve seen discussed the use of a soft start device to give you more options in the power source. The need for 30 or 50A is really only for when the AC compressor starts and draws this huge amount of power, but it only last a few seconds and then settles to below 15A (for one AC unit). The soft start device will smartly control this surge and dramatically reduce the start-up amps needed. I use what is aptly named the SoftStartRV device on our Basecamp’s AC unit it and it works beautifully on a 15A service or a small generator that only provides 15A (ours is a Honda 2200). When starting the AC unit the amps peak at about 14 and quickly settles much lower. Anyhow, just curious as to why I don’t see it mentioned.

Thanks

Marc

Jeff Kimbel

Jeff Kimbel

Thanks for the interesting analysis. I’m not so sure 810Ah will keep Starlink going for weeks. Starlink uses something like 40W once it’s up and running (including inverter loss). So, by my math that’s a 3.33Ah drain and with 810Ah in the battery bank if you only run Starlink constantly that’s 243 hrs or 11 days. Practically speaking, allocating 1/2 all battery amps to Starlink (and the rest to frig, etc.) and running it 12 hrs/day then still 11 days, which is pretty good (and with the solar even longer). Anyways, just sayin.

Larry McAllister

Larry McAllister

Rich
I really appreciate this article about the electrical potential of the new Trade Winds (which I hadn’t heard of!). We have a 2015 Serenity and will be updating to LFP batteries this winter – maybe 400ah, not 810ah! My challenge is our inverter and the limited outlets served by the inverter. I agree the Trade Winds setup really moves the needle regarding an all-
electric coach for Airstream. I know other RV manufacturers are moving in this direction as well. Thanks for this info.
Larry McAllister
Portland, OR

Mike Lake

Mike Lake

It’s nice to see the leaps and bounds being made. How much extra cost does that add to the model? The air conditioner really sounds nice and efficient. I can’t wait till solar panels can keep up with the demand, I hear many cities do no have the infrastructure to keep up with charging so many big batteries used in electric trucks and cars. This is definitely a step toward some freedom but I’m wondering if the extra cost makes it worth it.

Rich Luhr

Rich Luhr

MY REPLIES
Brian Lewis: Good point about the DC-to-DC charger. For those who don’t know, it’s a higher power charging line from the truck’s alternator to the trailer, so it will charge faster when your towing compared to the regular 7-way connection. However, at 12 amps DC, that’s only a 144 watt charge, so it’s pretty undersized relative to the size of the battery bank.

Marc Beauchemin: I would presume that Airstream doesn’t talk much about the Soft Start because it’s not technology that they install or currently support. However, you are correct—it can be very helpful when running air conditioning off a generator or a lower-amperage circuit. But be very careful about not overloading the circuit you’ve connected to, and be SURE to keep the plug contacts clean). I’ve seen too many melted power plugs…

Jeff Kimbel: My example presumed that you wouldn’t leave the Starlink on for 24 hours a day. It uses 20 watts even in standby mode, so the better choice is to turn it off when not using it. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

Margaret

Margaret

Thank you for the Blog, Rich. Hopefully you will find/design/start carrying a heavier duty type clip of sorts in bulk size quantities that will securely hold the spaghetti bowl of PV panel wiring on the roof. What came on our new Bambi last year didn’t even make the trip from the dealership to our home, a several hour trip made in a snow storm. Living and traveling in snow country has proven that ice builds up on the wires and pulls on the connections as it slides off the roof. It’s a lot of maintenance to prevent damage.

Jeff

Jeff

The Trade Wind does have a soft start for the AC. The AC is also a heat pump. I think the real use scenario for the AC is cooling the trailer down in the evening for sleeping, or when you come in from and it is hot and other short uses. That way the solar panels have a better chance of keeping up. The trailer also has a continuous fresh water circulating system from Suburban that will not deliver water until it hits the set temperature, thus minimizing wasted water waiting for hot. Finally, the refrigerator has a night mode which slows power use and noise at night. We pick ours up in a week.

Jeffery Hammonds

Jeffery Hammonds

DC to DC charging is something I know very little about, but I did think that for such charging a gizmo needed to be installed in the truck and the Airstream, and that new wiring needed to be set up between the truck and trailer. How then does the DC to DC charger work in the Trade Wind? Does the dealership need to work on the truck, also?

Rich Luhr

Rich Luhr

Jeffery, you are correct. A DC-to-DC charger should be installed in the truck for maximum capacity, because it needs to connect directly to the truck’s alternator and have heavy-gauge wiring. If Airstream is installing a 12-amp DC-to-DC converter in the Trade Wind (which I haven’t been able to confirm), it will still require wiring on the truck to take full advantage. In any case, being limited to 12 amps it’s not a very impressive increase compared to the regular 7-way plug . My truck, for example, is a 2020 Ford Ranger and it provides about 7 amps through the 7-way plug, which is more than sufficient for our purposes.

Gregg Anderson

Gregg Anderson

Great article Rich.
After ordering our 2022 Classic 30, I had this same system installed by Airstream of Tampa before taking delivery. I discussed what our needs and wants were with the staff and we came up with the same batteries and solar panels as the Trade Wind is offered with. We included a Victron MultiPlus-II 2 x120V 3000 inverter/charger which has lots of great features. Our Classic has two air conditioner, both with soft starts, and we can run both off batteries at the same time though it will drain the batteries pretty fast. A couple things we do with the ability to run the A/C’s off batteries is when traveling in hot weather we will turn on one a/c when we are about 20 minutes from a campground, and by the time we check in and get on a site ready to plug into power the trailer is cool and comfortable. We can control the a/c and other things while driving, by phone app, through the C Zone system. Another thing we do on travel days is turn on one a/c about 20 minutes before we plan to stop at a rest area for lunch, and we leave the a/c running while we eat and take a break, Before we head down the road we turn the a/c off and the solar panels start doing their thing. We camp off grid and by being a little conservative (no a/c) on our electric use, usually by noon the next day the batteries are charged back up if we have decent sun exposure. But we’re still able to use the microwave, coffee maker, tv streaming and router as usual and the fridge is 12 volt compressor type. I plan to install a DC to DC charger for truck charging and I’m going to install a couple more panels on my truck rack with a cord to plug into the front access point on the trailer when I need a bit more power. It’s a good system, and I think it’s great that Airstream is offering it from the factory now. It makes living pretty easy, everything just keeps running as usual whether we’re plugged into power or not.

Arthur Cuelho

Arthur Cuelho

What I don’t understand is they could easily double the watts with better solar panels. So why at this price range are you trying so save about 600$? At least add the option to upgrade.

Rich Luhr

Rich Luhr

Arthur: I can only speculate on the possible answers to your question. Rigid glass solar panels would be more efficient (probably not double in real-world performance), but this would have several drawbacks.

First, rigid panels would be considerably more expensive, to purchase, warehouse, and install. A manufacturer’s wholesale costs get multiplied by the time they get to the retail consumer, so it would have a unpleasant impact on the overall cost of the trailer — far more than $600.

Second, rigid panels have to sit up above the roof. Since there are so many panels up there, they would be detrimental to aerodynamics and appearance.

Third, with the Trade Wind, solar performance is very secondary to the massive battery bank. Even if you could double the solar capacity, it probably wouldn’t change how you use the trailer.

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