Hot Stuff

Posted April 7, 2019 – Narrated by Jim

To listen to the podcast, click the play button

Recently, we posted about water conservation. We’re following up with power – solar power.

Texas has some spectacular boondocking opportunities, which make our time here even better than we could have imagined. We get a kick out of being unleashed from grid dependence for weeks at a time with minimal conservation effort.

RV solar system
Dry camping at Amistad National Recreation Area, Del Rio, Texas

Yeah, sometimes we think we’re hot stuff – but not as hot as the supercharged seasonal travelers at Quartzsite, Arizona. Annually, legions of sun rustlers descend from their northern habitats and lasso their RVs to the sun and wind for months at a time.

It’s a fabulous display of indefinite power, engineering, and unlimited funds.

Shoot, those guys could probably harvest the bling on Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday Mr. President” dress.

RV solar system
Supercharged energy source

It’s a strange and uniquely American custom to set out into the wilderness even though you’re not evading the law, creditors or The Apocalypse. But it’s good to know that you probably could if you really, really had the need.

Cutting the cords – even temporarily – that connect oneself to the providers of water, sewer, power and ATM machines is a cheap and legal thrill. And, with the correct equipment, it’s mostly harmless.

RV solar power
Boondocking in Quartzsite, Arizona

Two weeks

So far, living off-grid for two week spells is therapeutic enough for us. Serene views free of dominating infrastructure combined with the adventure of off-road survival can be incredibly romantic.

But that blaze-of-glory vibe only endures up to the moment when we wish there was a Trader Joes or Costco nearby.

Then, it’s time to go full-tilt ‘city-folk’ and pull our dusty rig out of “God’s country” and into a suburban, palm tree lined luxury RV resort with full hook-ups and access to shopping, breweries, and entertainment.

Cava Robles
Cava Robles RV Resort – Paso Robles, California

Then, within two weeks, the constant din of traffic, sirens, leaf blowers and the stench of pesticides chases us back to the wild places where nature is less throttled and dirt isn’t filth.

Meriwether Lewis Campground
Boondocking at Meriwether Lewis Campground – Natchez Trace, Tennessee

And, that is our 4-3-2 rhythm.

Living off-grid requires a mix of low-tech and high-tech skills – Water conservation (low tech) and solar power (high tech). Constant awareness and assessment doesn’t come naturally for either of us, so we have a few bells and whistles to help us manage our resources so we can relax.

Power Usage

DC and AC electrical power are both necessary in an RV.

DC power is used for lighting, fans, Monitors (propane, refrigerator, water tank), and to power on the water pump and cell signal booster.

AC power is used for our microwave/convection oven, computer monitor, ice maker, Vitamix, Instant Pot, air conditioning, and recharging most of our devices and electronics.

We use propane to run the refrigerator, hot water heater, furnace and stove top.

Initial install

We installed our initial electrical solar panels and inverter back in May 2017.

RV solar power
Jim and Vinnie discussing the initial solar installation.

In Vinnie Lamica and That Lucky Old Sun , we go over the step-by-step process of how our system was installed.

Fact is, back in 2017, we hadn’t really camped off-grid that much. We were newbies – still learning about our rig – and the vision of our future needs was only developing.

The day after the system was installed, we took off for Water Canyon Recreation Area. This Bureau of Land Management campsite is just a couple of miles from the city of Winnemucca, Nevada and within cycling distance in case of a problem.

That turned out to be a good plan, because the beautiful weather suddenly turned and we had freezing rain and snow for four out of seven days.

Water Canyon Recreation Area
Boondocking at Water Canyon Recreation Area – Winnemucca, Nevada

Upgrade in 2018

Over the next year, weather events similar to Winnemucca repeated quite often. Even while wintering in the southernmost latitudes of the U.S., we had freezing night temperatures for days. As a result, in 2018, we opted to upgrade our system with more panels and batteries.

We needed to extend our ability to boondock with normal winter disadvantages, as well as the freakish.

Our current configuration has tested positive many times now for a 3 to 14-day off-grid experience with minimal conservation efforts.

Solar Panels

Now with six Sunrunner 100 watt solar panels on the roof, our batteries recharge twice as fast as the initial setup.

Batteries

To store that solar power, we have two Lifeline AGM GPL 31-T and two AGM GPL 24-T 12 volt batteries.

The selection and configuration of these four batteries was predicated on available physical storage space near the inverter. Switching to a 6-volt system was not an option for us, nor were we ready to invest in Lithium at this time.

The total electrical storage between the four batteries is 370 amp hours.

Without getting into the technicalities of defining amp hours and the relationship to watts and voltage, 370 amp hours will run our convection oven for a little over an hour or our ice maker for about 7 hours before depleting the batteries.

But with normal usage, on a cloudless day of full sun exposure, our solar panels can keep the batteries charged to 100%.

RV solar power

Inverter

The  Magnum MS 2000 watt “Pass Through” inverter supplies enough AC power for two people to live comfortably. It will run everything we need, excluding the air conditioner.

RV solar power

Our air conditioner consumes a lot of energy, so it was bypassed on our inverter system. We have a Honda generator if we need the air conditioner while boondocking – but generators are noisy and stinky, so we try to avoid using it. Also, many of the best campsites are in the non-generator sections of State and National Parks.

Controller and display

Our solar system equipment includes a Blue Sky controller and display panel. It allows for complete system monitoring and programming.

RV solar power

Core Kit Monitoring and Management

We currently have the SunRunner Signature 25MPPT/6/PRO Core kit. It offers a digital display, system programming, battery and system performance monitoring, temperature compensation, disconnects and cable management hardware.

Upgrade in 2019

When we added 3 more panels, our intention was not to necessarily ever experience 100% direct overhead sunlight on all 6 panels theoretically producing 600 watts at a given moment, but rather to give the sun more opportunity throughout the day to impact more panel surface.

Based on that, in 2018, we chose not to upgrade our Core Kit monitoring system from a 340 watt capacity. But since the extra panels have been working out so well, an upgrade to the BlueSky 3024iL with a 540 watt capacity is on our to-do list for 2019.

RV solar power

It is very tight to fit 4 batteries and an inverter in the available space. But somehow another, we managed.

A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but a great campsite is LIB’s best friend. No dreary RV parks for us. A robust solar system frees us from high rates for hook-ups that we don’t need and opens up more opportunities for peace, quiet and adventure.

  • May 2017
    • Install 3 solar panels and control/monitor system – $3,770
    • Install Magnum 2000 watt Inverter – $2,975
    • Two AGM 12 volt Lifeline GPL-31T batteries – $619
  • May 2018
    • Three more 100 watt solar panels install – $1,188
    • Two more AGM 12 volt Lifeline GPL-24T batteries – $840

Better to boondock at a Harvest Host or a free campsite than to settle for “close but no cigar.”

“Ever notice that ‘What the hell’ is always the right decision?” – Marilyn Monroe

How is your solar system set up? Tell us about it in the comments section.

14 thoughts on “Hot Stuff

  1. Jim, with such beautiful legs, I’m happy to know that you have enough electric power to use an electric razor to shave them!

  2. Great post! Thanks for sharing! You have a great setup and it’s great that it affords you so much independence.

    We are in the process of renovating our Argosy, and planning a full solar setup. I have most of the equipment, it’s just not installed yet.

    We are a little crazy, and I’m not 100% sure it’ll work, but here it is.

    I’ve rearranged our roof and removed the AC which allows me to fit 900w between the vents.

    I’m installing an extremely efficient mini split AC on the tongue where the propane used to be. The thing is, it’s 220vac. So, that means I need a 220v inverter, which I’m buying from Victron (a Multiplus).

    I also bought a Tesla 5.3kWh 24v battery. At 24v and a sustained amperage at 233amps, it’ll be able to handle the load of the AC (theoretically).

    Like I said, I’m not completely sure how it’s going to work. It’s a grand fun experiment pushing the limits (especially my limits).

    Cheers,
    Bryan

  3. Over my head…..but glad you understand so you can have your “off the grid” peace, quiet and adventures! Perhaps I can consult you on our condo building 🙂

    1. Jan, great to hear from you! We got a bit technical here because so many have been asking about our solar equipment. It does provide us with peace quiet and adventures, that is for sure!

  4. Thanks for sharing. I’ve been thinking of adding solar to our unit. Can you share a ballpark figure on what it cost?

    1. If click on the menu item, Travel Facts, you will find a complete listing of all the costs for not only the solar equipment, but everything we’ve spent on our Airstream. Hope this helps.

  5. Hi Guys, I enjoy reading/listening to your blog. We have a 2015, Airstream International Signature, 27ft. front queen, purchased in November 2017. In January 2018 I employed Marven Braun, Precision RV, http://precisionrv.com, in Casa Grande AZ, (close to our Oro Valley Arizona home) to install 6, 100 watt roof mount solar panels, blue sky controller, 3000 W hybrid inverter/charger, and 600 amp hours, lithium ion batteries. Marvin does exceptional neat, precision work. I know Vinny and the folks in Oregon do as well, but in our case it was a matter of location, location, location.
    We also have a couple of Honda 2000 W generators so if we get into serious cloudy rainy weather, can top things off.
    Living in the desert southwest that’s mostly unnecessary and we can live in our Airstream, off grid, with much of the same comfort we would have at home, we can even run our air-conditioner for a few hours on a hot afternoon. That makes water our weak link and we are careful to conserve as well as pack 3, 7 gallon jerry cans in the bed of our pick up. Just another $$$ solar config to an AS rig. But blessed to be enjoying such a glamping arrangement. Keep on keeping on, full speed ahead.

    1. David, great to hear from you! Sounds like you have a serious setup! Congratulations! We would love to hear more about your lithium batteries and how you like them. Hope to meet you all someday on the road.

    1. Geoffrey, glad you were able to make the ‘follow’ button finally work! We will keep in touch and reach out to you when we are back in your area to check out some eBikes. Safe Travels!

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