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Solar-Powered Energy Independence in an RV

| Updated Feb 6, 2015

Ever since I left Kitchener late last fall in my new CS Adventurous XL with the *cough* unique features that I am prototype testing, I have been anxious to find out how it works in real life – camping somewhere unconnected to the usual utilities regular RVs need.

We had to pretty much head straight south because it was getting darn cold in Canada by October. We spent a week or so at Assateague National Seashore, and everything worked fine, but before you knew it we had to head on down to Florida and house/dogsit for my sister, which is pretty much where we have been for the last three months, housesitting. I have to park under a tree, so I get no solar while driveway camping here. I charge up every few days with shore power, but I have had this unit for months now and still don't know how it performs in the wild.

Energy Independence in an RV
Y'all remember the solar panels on my old Roadtrek. Everyone within half a mile could see that I had a lot of solar up there.

I was doing OK with my old unit, but it required a bit of juggling to keep the batteries charged up. I had 555 watts of solar panels, but the weak link in the chain was storage. I had three wet cell lead-acid deep cycle batteries to store this power, and on sunny days it would go into float soon after lunchtime, which means the batteries were full. Almost all the sun beating down on the panels from that point on went to waste because there was no place to put it. By 9 or 10 p.m. the battery levels would be so low that it was time to either go to sleep or run the engine to recharge them with the engine generator. I had maybe four or five hours worth of electricity storage capacity with our usage pattern, which was the usual lights and fan plus 110-volt power for the TV, TV receiver, Internet modem, and laptops, maybe 200-300 watts all the time if you factor in the inverter loss.

Solar-Powered Energy Independence in an RV 1
And here are the panels on my new Roadtrek. They are mounted flat on the roof, which makes them much less visible from just about all viewing angles.

With the new Roadtrek, I have significantly more solar panels, and waaay more storage. How much more storage is still kind of classified, and actually is unknown because we are still in the process of working out the parameters to set in the software that controls the new battery, but it's massively more than I had in the old unit. This means I have a place to put all that solar power that used to go to waste, plus I have more solar power coming in from the larger panels.

Here's what's going on up top that you can't see from the ground. This is was taken last September, right before we finished my new unit up. It's a little dusty. Hey, is that a Zion in the background?

I just finished up four days at the beach, and left with more electricity stored in the batteries than I had when I arrived.

And I didn't bother to plug in, nor did I have to idle the motor to charge up. I pretty much just sat here. I ran all my usual stuff, TV and Internet, and I'm not running around turning things off and on like I used to back when I was worried about saving energy.

The TV receiver and Internet modem are always on, we just turn off the TV and computers when we're not using them.  I'm running my huge 7-cubic foot compressor refrigerator all the time, plus lights, fan, water pump, all that stuff. Without using high-wattage things like the microwave convection oven, air conditioning, or instant hot water, there's more than enough solar to keep the batteries charged.

I don't have to monitor electricity usage anymore. Actually, I did use the microwave a bit, just to reheat some things. Still no problem. And two of the four days were cloudy.

The sun angle here now (early February) is 45 degrees – that's how high the sun is in the sky at solar noon. You get 70.7 percent of full power at that angle, so things will only get better as the year progresses and the sun climbs in the sky.

Even up on the tundra in Kitchener, the sun angle will be up to 45 degrees by mid-March, which is much, much earlier than I venture that far north, so basically, except in the dead of winter, this new solar setup will provide me with all the power I need, wherever I am.

I like that.

RV Lifestyle

Published on 2015-02-06

6 Responses to “Solar-Powered Energy Independence in an RV”

February 12, 2015at10:36 am, John Siegel said:

I can’t wait to see what your magic battery is!

February 06, 2015at9:55 pm, Ken Lecomte said:

That’s a lot of solar on that roof. Do you have an air conditioner somewhere?

February 08, 2015at8:45 am, RT Campskunk said:

somewhere 😉

February 08, 2015at9:21 am, Ken Lecomte said:

I was hoping for more details

February 08, 2015at9:25 am, RT Campskunk said:

we need more details too – right now the air conditioning is something Roadtrek is trying out. maybe it will work great as installed, maybe it needs tweaking. until the weather warms up it’s going to be hard to tell.

February 06, 2015at12:54 pm, Rico Muscatel said:

I know they replaced my sump battery backup with a gel type battery that holds much more power and lasts up to 16 hours during outages. Maybe something like that in use here, but a great advance, because if you can get by without a noisy generator, it would be a huge leap for the RV industry.

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