Filed under: Comfort at Camp, Preparation & Readiness, Uncategorized
Campsite Power – Chapter 3 – A Nice Solar System for under $200!!!
I hope you have been following along by reading both Chapters 1 and 2 of this series. Also, my RV Batteries 099 posting from March 8, 2010.
I am trying to keep things simple while at the same time making them clear and understandable so that anyone wishing to explore alternative campsite power will have a good idea about what is needed and even where the bargains are.
The two questions that I am frequently asked:
How much wattage will I need?
How much will it cost?
My usual answer is, “It depends”.
It all depends on how much power you want to use from your battery and how much sunlight you have each day.
OK – I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest a minimum system for anyone wanting to try solar power for their camper.
Batteries – Go for two 6-volt golf cart batteries wired in series to give 12 volts. Purchase the best grade of golf cart batteries you can afford. I strongly suggest Trojan brand batteries. Remember these batteries MUST be installed in a well-ventilated space away from ignition sources.
Solar Panels – 45 watts should keep you up and running if you are a conservative user of power and have at least 8 hours of unobstructed sunlight each day.
Controller – For a 45 watt system you will need at least a 7 amp charge controller.
Currently, I see the best buy for the money as a 45 watt solar kit from Harbor Freight Tools. This kit includes three 15 watt panels and a 7 amp controller for under $200. Harbor Freight currently has this item on sale for $149.95 with the super saver coupon. My December/January issue of Field and Stream contained the coupon. Many other popular magazines, including Highways, which is sent to all Good Sam Club members, often have the coupons as well. The super saver coupon is good for both retail stores and on-line orders.
Be advised that this is not the best system out there, but it is one that you can get started with for an affordable price that should work well on your camper.
Keep in mind this system is not adequate for maintaining the current drawn from a battery for a large inverter, which changes the 12-volt battery current to 120 volt household current. Two or more of these kits will come closer to meeting the power demands of an inverter.
Additionally, if you are camping in a cold location where you need to run the camper’s gas furnace, a 45 watt system will not provide enough power to maintain the blower motor. For this situation, I suggest investing in a much larger solar array or purchasing two or more of the Harbor Freight kits and additional storage batteries.
To conserve battery power an alternative to using the camper’s gas furnace are propane fueled infrared heaters that are certified for indoor use. We carry two infrared heaters when we camp in the near-by mountains in the early spring or fall. They keep the large fifth wheel camper toasty warm even when nighttime temperatures fall below freezing without draining the storage batteries.
Once you have the solar kit you must decide where and how you are going to mount it.
The best solution is to pack the panels in the camper so that they will travel safely. Placing them on a bed while in route is a popular storage spot. Once at your camping site the panels are placed outside, on the ground, so that they are facing true south or directly toward the sun. As our planet moves, the angle, and direction of the sun will change. Repositioning the panels to follow the sun will provide the greatest amount of power to your storage batteries. Keeping the panels portable will also eliminate the problem of how to run the wire from the panels. The charge controller is mounted in a protected area near the batteries. When you set-up, the wires from the panels are routed through an access door or power cable hatch and plugged into the controller.
While I really like a portable system that can be realigned, I elected to mount my panels on the trailer’s roof. This eliminates the need to unpack, set-up and repack the panels. The down side is I am unable to capture as much sunlight due to the angle of the panels and shading from the front air conditioner.
I have six 25-watt panels that can provide up to 150 watts, or 11 amps of charge current. When camped in a sunny spot this set-up will maintain our camper batteries and even allow a couple of hours of power from a 300 watt inverter to operate the LCD television and satellite receiver. The solar panels can easily eliminate or reduce the amount of time we must run a gasoline generator. This is extremely convenient as some camping facilities either have specific generator hours or completely restrict their use.
While sunlight is a free and abundant resource for RV power needs, the equipment needed to capture and store that power can easily run into thousands of dollars for a professionally installed system. For some readers, this may be the preferred route. But, if you are handy with tools, enjoy making or adapting accessories for your RV yourself and want to be as green as possible when camping off the grid, an inexpensive starter system like the one from Harbor Freight Tools is hard to pass up.
Next week I will cover the basics of inverters that convert 12-volt battery power to 120-volt household power.