Our Long-Awaited RV Solar Power System Upgrade

How fitting it is that I’ve put this post off long enough to coincide with Earth Hour – when everyone is supposed to turn off their lights for one hour at 8:30 tonight in a showing of global showing of solidarity for energy conservation. But let me tell you, Earth Hour happens every night around the LiveWorkDream rig!

RV Solar Power System System Upgrade for AgredaShortly after we returned to Slab City, we got fed up with killing our batteries every evening. And coincidentally, I had just completed a design project that enabled us to afford an upgrade to our RV solar power system. But what to upgrade with the budget we had? That was the big question, so we went and saw Solar Mike.

Our original system included one Evergreen 120w solar panel rated up to 7.6 amps. Considering we draw about 10 amps when using our satellite internet connection and charging our laptops, it’s really no wonder our batteries would often be drained at the end of the day – even if the sun was shining bright. Simply put, we were just using more juice than we were making even on the best of days.

So back to the question at hand … what to upgrade? We had the opportunity to rebuild an Outback MX60 MPPT charge controller – and still do – which would give us the boost available from Maximum Power Point Tracking for about half the price of a new controller. But that would still only buy us another amp or so.

So, we took Mike’s advice and added another panel. While we were at it, we modified our existing mounting hardware to let us tilt both panels for maximum solar exposure, all day long. And now we’re making too much power!

Our new Kyocera 135w panel is rated up to 8.3 amps. During our entire stay over at Anza Borrego, I don’t recall running the generator once. But that changed yesterday. It was a beautiful day for making power. The sun was shining bright, a steady breeze kept our panels cool, and we drained our batteries by the afternoon. Huh? That’s what I said!

Desert Boondocking in Anza Borrego

Upon investigation, I discovered the batteries were not only dead, but there was no status LED blinking on our C40 charge controller. Great, I thought, now we’d have to stay until next week and take the rig over to the Sun Works to find out what was happening. Then I discovered we had just blown a fuse!

The 15 amp Buss fuses we had protecting the controller were more than sufficient for the single Evergreen panel we originally installed. But with the recent upgrade, we had apparently peaked at more than 15 amps of power being generated at some point! Not bad, not bad at all. Now if only we had the battery bank capacity to hold the extra power allowing us to work a few more hours into the night. That upgrade will just have to wait until we return to the Slabs and go see Solar Mike again next year.

RV Solar Power System System Upgrade for AgredaMy only regret was not asking Mike about a trade-in of our first panel before we started remounting it. But with the price of panels coming down, he assured me we wouldn’t have gotten much for it.

Yes, solar panel mismatch is something to consider – it’s not just aesthetic – but in an RV system like ours, where squeezing out every bit of possible power in a limited space on a limited budget, it is as they say … what it is.

Besides, the two tilted panels still look pretty cool! And yes, we did consider the swing of the arm on our F2 Dish when re-installing the panel. To my surprise and delight, it clears the elevated panel with room to spare. Now whether or not it does so next time we are way up north is another story. Let’s hope by the time we get back to Maine, we remember to check the panel before stowing the dish.

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10 Responses to “Our Long-Awaited RV Solar Power System Upgrade”

  1. Hey that’s a nice tidy solution. Do you use deep cycle batteries? Kyocera and Outback have a good rep.

    The location independent gang are congregating down here near Algeciras waiting to get the ferry to Morocco. Being European their RV’s are more compact but a lot of them have small box trailers kitted out with Solar panels, batteries, (even a few wind generators) and various other utility items bolted on and in them. I even saw one with a fold out kitchen and oven. It’s mostly German and Dutch which are generally an enthusiastic bunch of renewable energy practitioners. I’ll grab a few photos and send them.

    • Yes, they are deep cycle … but just the two stock 12v Interstates that came with the rig. Well, we’re on at least our second replacements now after nearly three years. But like I said, we hope to upgrade the battery bank next!

      PS: Since you’re the second person who has mentioned Location Independence here, I’ll repeat our tweet about this Location Independent Professionals survey. A student from Belgium recently contacted us her thesis on the subject and needs as many LIPs to provide data as possible.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience with us Jim. Jeremy and I are thinking about getting going solar in a couple of years when we save up enough money and pay off all of our “home” loans (truck and RV). I am sure we will have some questions for you then too~

    Hope everything works out and looking forward to see you guys here in Phoenix!

    • Keep putting those pennies away and be sure to design a system to meet all of your possible power needs. No one has ever complained about having too much power! Photovoltaic prices keep coming down and technology is on the rise, so by the time you buy you should be able to get a pretty robust RV system at a great price.

      See ya at the dog party! Rene says she will send you the new location (in Mesa) via Facebook.

  3. ! huhhhh!???

  4. Congrats… and fantastic way to acknowledge earth hour! We tweeted out last night something to the effect of:

    ‘For earth hour we’ll just continue to use our LED lights and 12v converted laptops running off our banked solar power. We live Earth-Life.’

    🙂

    For us RVers, solar power is so much more than just being more environmental.. it gives us an even bigger degree of location independence. It allows us to stay in remote places that power hungry rigs just can’t for very long.

  5. KarenInTheWoods March 28, 2010 at 6:36 am Reply

    Oh how great is that! I have friends that used Solar Mike at the Slabs for their setups too. Nothing but praise for his work, prices and knowledge.

    We are upgrading on our motorhome this month to four 100W, 50MPPT Blue Sky controller, Trimetric gauge and we already have four 6V batteries in the bay. Wheeeeeee

    Karen and Steve
    http://kareninthewoods-kareninthewoods.blogspot.com/

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