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The value of solar and dry camping/boondocking


Al F

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A few days ago, 9/11/16, we arrived back in the Portland, OR area, to visit with family again. Completing a 139 day trip to Canada and Alaska. 11 weeks in Alaska and the remainder in Canada.

 

We paid for camping 72 days with 67 days of free camping, for an average daily cost of $7.53 a day. Total camping costs for the trip of $1046.26.

 

In the 139 days, we connected to electric a total of 2 nights, when we stayed in an RV Park in Skagway, AK.

 

I did need to run the generator for 1.5 hours one day to charge our 400AH Lithium battery bank because of extremely cloudy weather for 3 days. I also ran the generator every month, for about 1 hour with the air conditioner and water heater on, to exercise the generator. However that was not needed for battery charging.

 

We have 650 watts of solar in two large panels, wired in parallel so if one panel has shade the other panel will still charge the batteries.

 

If we needed to stay in RV parks for $45 a day, for all 139 days, our camping costs would have been $6255 (or at $40 a day the costs would have been $5560) versus our actual cost of $1046.

 

If we didn't have lithium batteries and solar to recharge the batteries we would not have been able spend this much time w/o staying in a RV park and connecting to electric hookups. Well, if we had AGM batteries it would be possible. However the weight of 6 or 8 120AH AGM batteries would have exceeded what I would consider putting in the storage compartment I have the Lithium batteries in.

 

If we only had regular lead acid or AGM batteries and NO solar, only charging the batteries with the generator, we would have needed to go to an RV park about once a week or more to get the the batteries charged to 100%. It is possible to get the batteries to 100% with the generator, however it would require running the generator for 5 or 6 hours or more to fully top off the batteries. The last 4 or 5 hours of charging only puts in from about 10 amps, going down to about 2 amps per hour.

 

Our electric needs include charging or operating the following:

-- A large 4 wheel electric scooter

-- An electric power wheel chair. Sharon needs these to visit museums in the power chair, or on relatively smooth walking and hiking trails with the scooter.

-- An electric lift for Sharon to enter/exit the RV.

-- Daily use of a Dish Network DVR and TV. The DVR is a power hog using about 5-7 amps of 12V power inverted into 120V power.

-- Frequent use of the microwave.

-- Many hours a day of operation of 2 laptops. Each laptop consumes about 2-3 amps of 12V inverted to 120V.

-- Lights for a few hours a day. However all the bulbs we have on, for any length of time, have been changed to LED, so they don't use much power.

-- We don't use the furnace. We use a catalytic heater for warmth. We didn't use the catalytic heater at night, just blankets on our bed.

 

To us it was well worth the expense to install lithium and solar. The 30% tax credit we will take for this years taxes will help reduce the cost of the solar and batteries.

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This is exactly the reason I plan on installing solar before I move into my fiver next year. My electrical needs are far below yours (one person with two dogs) so I think a 400W system will be ideal for me, or maybe overkill. I can buy a recommended package but I will have to find someone to help me install everything. What kind of lithium batteries do you recommend? I have room for two in my propane/battery compartment.

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I purchased my battery components from Starlight Solar in Yuma. If you go this route, see if they won't package the batteries and all the controls in a package for you. It took quite a bit of thinking and some technical experience to put the components together. If you go to Yuma they will do the install.

 

Another place is AMSolar in Oregon.

 

A place I just heard of is Smart Batteries. However read this topic on this forum before buying there. The good thing about Smart Batteries is they are supposed to be fully self contained and just drop into your battery compartment.

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Saving money is nice, not having to put up with the noise and stink of a generator is nice, saving money is nice but the freedom to camp where you want for as long as you want and rarely having to worry about power is what sold me on solar.

 

With the new lithium batteries and cheaper solar panels this is an option that more folks should explore or revisit if they looked in the past and decides cost or weight were problems.

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CONGRATULATIONS, for the very same reasons we installed our relatively large Solar system so we can dry camp practically indefinitely on BLM and Natl Forest lands throughout the West and NEVER run out of energy. Like you we also may run the Generator now n then to exercise it but that's not often. Sure it was an initial investment but free versus $30 to $40 campsites sure racks up savings and ROI in a hurry.

 

I don't think you will find any arguments AGAINST Solar on this website lol

 

We love ours also and am glad we have it. I'm dry camping 6 nights here at Steam O Rama in Republic Missouri and getting by fine while others with $100,000 rigs with maybe NO Solar or perhaps 100 watts max (WOW) or only one battery or two max are whining and complaining about no power lol

 

John T

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Saving money is nice, not having to put up with the noise and stink of a generator is nice, saving money is nice but the freedom to camp where you want for as long as you want and rarely having to worry about power is what sold me on solar.

 

With the new lithium batteries and cheaper solar panels this is an option that more folks should explore or revisit if they looked in the past and decides cost or weight were problems.

 

Amen, brother!

 

Great write up Al. If you consider the $ cost of solar... I'm not quite sure how that works into the yearly budget. For most.. it will pay for itself many times over, but to be real.. it's really about the lifestyle. There's really nothing quite like the first time you're sitting 20 miles from nowhere, look outside.. and decide it's okay to warm up your java in the nuker because there's enough sun to put it back before you need to run up the satellite to catch the next episode of the walking dead. LOL :P

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After using our 200W system that came with our RV, I will definitely be installing solar in our next rig. We currently only use our rig on the weekends, and it is nice to be able to drop it off in our storage spot on Sun night and know that when i pick it up the next week, the batteries are topped off and ready to go! I am also interested in the Lithium system, but still slightly concerned about battery volatility. I know the risk is low, due to the safeguards and chemistries (if not straight LIPO) but still, they are inherently less stable than AGM or SLA.....

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To us our Solar system 1000w 880ah installed 2 years ago (FWIW: AM SOLAR quoted over $12K, we did at under C$7K) has been absolutely PRICELESS. Not just the savings the convenience of going where we want, when we want and stopping serendipitously as we travel. Admittedly we even did so long before the solar install, but were limited on what we did after dark, back then had a propane fridge, now a residential one we love and never watched TV or had to run the generator for charging many things.

 

They say you never miss what you've never had but for us there is absolutely no turning back now. Solar by far is the best way to go in our book, and absolutely priceless for us.

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Where did you go to get it done? Thanks!

 

To us our Solar system 1000w 880ah installed 2 years ago (FWIW: AM SOLAR quoted over $12K, we did at under C$7K) has been absolutely PRICELESS. Not just the savings the convenience of going where we want, when we want and stopping serendipitously as we travel. Admittedly we even did so long before the solar install, but were limited on what we did after dark, back then had a propane fridge, now a residential one we love and never watched TV or had to run the generator for charging many things.

 

They say you never miss what you've never had but for us there is absolutely no turning back now. Solar by far is the best way to go in our book, and absolutely priceless for us.

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I did forget to mention,as reminded by some of the replies, the only reservations we made on this 4 1/2 month trip was at Denali NP. Even then we made the reservations about 2 weeks before we planed on arriving, not 3-6 months in advance. It is really nice not to have commitments or requirements to be somewhere or leave a place you wanted to spend a few more days. Or perhaps the weather is bad and you really don't want to go see something in the rain or cold. So you just wait until the bad weather passes and then do your sightseeing.

 

The flexibility to park most anywhere, most anytime is fantastic.

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This is the system I am looking at, with a TSW Inverter purchase separately : https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00BSZUHRC/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_9?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER

 

I don't think have the budget for anything much more than that, but will look at the places you suggest

The 400 watt solar package from Amazon sounds interesting. Some additional wiring from the panels to the controller or from the controller to the batteries will probably be needed. Heavier wire may be needed as well.

 

If you are interested in additional thoughts and comments from folks on this forum, opening a new topic with a request for comments on the solar package from Amazon would be the way to go.

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After using our 200W system that came with our RV, I will definitely be installing solar in our next rig. We currently only use our rig on the weekends, and it is nice to be able to drop it off in our storage spot on Sun night and know that when i pick it up the next week, the batteries are topped off and ready to go! I am also interested in the Lithium system, but still slightly concerned about battery volatility. I know the risk is low, due to the safeguards and chemistries (if not straight LIPO) but still, they are inherently less stable than AGM or SLA.....

You will find a lot of people, especially in the sailboat community who will take you on with this assertion. LiFePo4 chemistry is different than lithium Ion in phones and the ones with airliner fires. Lead acids can and do explode with the biggest concern is that they gas off and this can explode in enclosed space. Gassing off of lead acid batteries is especially a concern boats and RVs due to lack of air flow. If you do a search on you tube you will find videos of people throwing LiFePo4 in fires, putting a dead short on them and shooting with a .45. Yes they are ruined but no fire or explosion.

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This is the system I am looking at, with a TSW Inverter purchase separately : https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00BSZUHRC/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_9?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER

 

I don't think have the budget for anything much more than that, but will look at the places you suggest

I installed the 200 watt version of this Renogy solar kit last month. It's a great kit and installation was very quick and easy. I didn't like the screws supplied with the brackets and instead purchased well nuts from a local specialty store.

Also, the instructions with the Renogy kit recommend an inline fuse after the panels and another fuse between the controller and the battery which is not supplied with the kit. Plus, I wanted to have a method of turning OFF the panel power and added an on/off switch. And I didn't like the idiot indicator lights, so I added a volt meter.

Here's the stuff (excluding the fuses and well nuts) that I added:

On/off switch

Voltmeter (and I purchased a push button on/off latch switch at Radio Shack for under $3.00

Instead of that voltmeter I would now look at this: Volt Amp Meter which was only recently added by the vendor.

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Where did you go to get it done? Thanks!

 

 

In a nutshell had an immense amount of help to get the design etc done from generous souls on here like Chad, Jack, SolarBob, Stan etc who in all fairness had the patience of saints with us totally insane non techy people, then had some younger, stronger, fitter, more flexible guys locally help us bringing it all together. Didn't go without incident and some frustrations but amazed us how much we learnt about it. Boiled brand new batteries, midnight solar failure and other stuff aside.

 

Also besides wheelingit.us, check out the last solar discussions from Nikki and Jason Wynn. www.Gonewiththewynns.com just before they went into Sailing = seem to recall there was something good on their blog about readings, settings, drawdowns etc etc on the set up.

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Pretty much echo Al. We have 415 W of solar and 4 kW-hr of LFO on Roadtrek as compared with 1400 W and 9+kW-hr LFO on our 5th wheel. As Dune noted, smaller rigs require less power and energy storage. We have just finished nine week trip through Labrador and Newfoundland and this meant a lot of very rainy and heavily clouded days. SOC never went below 70%. We never plugged in and only ran generator for an hour once a month as manual recommends. Stayed in tenting areas of RV parks four or five nights. Every other night has been boondocking. Have used "Ioveelander.com" extensively (we are currently parked four miles north of Canso Causeway in Cape Breton at a beautiful spot on St George Bay). Stayed in a lot of picturesque fishing villages in Newfoundland. Just ask the fisherman if we might spend the night and they would suggest the best spot.

Reed and Elaine

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Does your solar controller hold a steady voltage for 'bulk' charge of these batteries,or does it ramp up from say 13.2 to over 14?

My Morningstar Corp. TriStar MPPT solar charge controller is set for a steady 13.7V in bulk mode. This will bring the individual cells to no more than 3.425V well under what would damage the cells.

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My Morningstar Corp. TriStar MPPT solar charge controller is set for a steady 13.7V in bulk mode. This will bring the individual cells to no more than 3.425V well under what would damage the cells.

 

Oldman,

I'm sorry. I gave you incorrect info. My Solar Controller in bulk stage is not settable, except by the battery type. I have my battery type set for "Custom". The bulk charging starts at ~13.2 and ramps up to about 13.7 or 13.8.

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I installed the 200 watt version of this Renogy solar kit last month. It's a great kit and installation was very quick and easy. I didn't like the screws supplied with the brackets and instead purchased well nuts from a local specialty store.

Also, the instructions with the Renogy kit recommend an inline fuse after the panels and another fuse between the controller and the battery which is not supplied with the kit. Plus, I wanted to have a method of turning OFF the panel power and added an on/off switch. And I didn't like the idiot indicator lights, so I added a volt meter.

Here's the stuff (excluding the fuses and well nuts) that I added:

On/off switch

Voltmeter (and I purchased a push button on/off latch switch at Radio Shack for under $3.00

Instead of that voltmeter I would now look at this: Volt Amp Meter which was only recently added by the vendor.

 

Thank you very much for the info. I will add those things to the list. Next summer is going to be a very full project year. Need to get the roof repainted too, before installing the solar.

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Hello Rich & Sylvia,

 

 

I installed the 200 watt version of this Renogy solar kit last month. It's a great kit and installation was very quick and easy. I didn't like the screws supplied with the brackets and instead purchased well nuts from a local specialty store. (...)

Thank you very much for the info. I will add those things to the list. Next summer is going to be a very full project year. Need to get the roof repainted too, before installing the solar.

+1. Thanks also for the reference to the "well nuts" thing, did you mean these ones?believe it or not, I'd never heard of them before.

 

Cheers,

--

Vall.

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