Posted April 7, 2019 – Narrated by Jim (Updated October 2020)
We posted about water conservation and black water tank maintenance. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We installed our initial electrical solar panels and inverter back in May 2017.
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.
Upgrade May 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.
Now with six 100 watt solar panels on the roof, our batteries recharge twice as fast as the initial setup.
To store that solar power, we have two Lifeline AGM GPL 31-T and two AGM GPL 24-T 12 volt batteries. (see the battery upgrade in October 2020 at the end of this post)
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Upgrade October 2020
We replaced our 4 AGM batteries with 4 Battleborn lithium batteries and a new lithium battery monitoring system called the Victron BMV-712 Battery Monitor Kit. We love the lithium batteries.
- October 2020
- Four Lithium Batteries, plus new Lithium Battery Monitoring system – $5,089
Better to boondock at a Harvest Host or a free campsite than to settle for “close but no cigar.”
How is your solar system set up? Tell us about it in the comments section.