Hot Stuff

Posted April 7, 2019 – Narrated by Jim

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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.

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.