Saturday, January 25, 2014

Solar Experiment

Solar seems to be a big subject among both Vandwellers and Fulltime Boondocking RVers.  Being more of a low budget, low tech traveler with 'tendencies' towards the natural and green, gentle on the earth thinking, I seem to view this subject a bit differently. 

I understand where the majority of people are coming from. Generally, they have lived lives in the mainstream of USA America, with hotwater for dishes and showers, televisions, sterios, computers and video games for entertainment, telephones, computers and gadgets to communicate with others.... and though I too, at times, have lived with these things. I have, as well, chosen to explore living life without these things.  Why?  I think its interesting.  I dont have people to lean on in an emergency so I feel like I need to know how to take care of myself.  My income is concidered a poverty income by some agency in the US, because of that I dont have some of things others do. When I travel, think that its kewl to learn how people who have less than me can be happy and survive, so I try to learn all I can from them....have you ever considered what to do if you were to poor to pay to see a doctor or too poor to buy toilet paper?

When I first began Fulltiming or Vandwelling, I didnt see much of a need for solar. Other than a couple solar driveway lights that were inexpesive and easy to carry.  My van has a shore power connection for use at campgrounds and, with a good drive battery and a few LED bulbs, my ceiling lights are no power issue.  There were times when the very short battery life of my cellphone was annoying, then I got a tablet to use for blogging and its battery is similar to a cellphone.  My needs are pretty minimal. 

On the other hand, there have been people so anxious for me to conform to thier idea of normal Vandwelling, that they nearly push all my migraine headache buttons with thier idea of my NEED. Geez.  So this fall, I gave in and tried a solar system.  I had a Harbour Frieght basic 45 watt system mounted to the roof rack of my van.  I was given a sealed AGM 12V 33ah battery. Yes, tiny, but what do i have to run? With my multiple chemical sensitivites and asthma and storage inside the van, I felt it best to only allow a sealed battery.

So what happened with your experiment? you may ask.

It worked. Just like it was supposed to. Sun power in and electric power out. 
With the size battery I have, I could charge and re-charge my phone and tablet multiple times daily.
The panels on the roof traveled fine.  The industrial zipties we used as a hinge were strong and not affected by the sun although metal pipe clamps maybe a better choice in some situations.
The pipe insulation we used to direct the wind around the panels and to protect the roof from scratches as a result of screws and bolts worked very well.
The way we set it up so I could climb the back door ladder and lift the panels into a tilt possission also worked very well.  Even with a weak shoulder (old rotator cuff injury) I could push them up into possition.
I had difficulty reaching them to clean them. A long handled squeegie would have helped, and been yet another thing to carry.
The lights that came with the set were great.  Initially I liked them, although my eyes ached from the brightness and I had to ask myself if they were worth using.
I really liked the controller box. More companies should make similar designs.  Although an actual reading of the state of the battery itself would have been handy.

I learned - 1. that having the large, rather heavy (from my viewpoint because I cannot lift it alone) system on my roof  added another thing to think about everyday. My K.I.S.S., minamalist lifestyle doesnt need BIG stuff to think about.  Like when I wanted to wash the van, or driving down a really bumpy road.
2. If your panels are overkill for your storage battery, you essentially are wasting energy. Unless you can put it to use during the day when the sun is most powerful. Unfortunately, because of the storage battety size I have, it limited what I could run on this system during the day - wont run my 4.5 w 12V cooler bummer.
3. I already have a sufficient lighting system both inside and outside the van that causes me no extra thought.
4.  I already have a sufficient way to keep my cell phone and tablet charged for daily use. Cleaning my cellphone by taking it back to factory settings extended the life of my battery and basically ended that anxiety.
5.  I learned what I wanted - if I had more power I would power a 12V cooler and sometimes watch movies. AND to do that I found adding a simple SDcard to my tablet enabled me to watch movies with no additional power.  To run a 12V cooler, I will need a larger battery. I dont have the budget for a larger sealed agm battery right now, so that idea is on hold.

So, now, when I deal with a larger system in the future, I will get a large wattage small sized solar panel, something I can lift, install and manage alone and a larger battery (of course, I have to deal with my fear of batteries and electricity too)

Im very happy with my simple solar lighting choices which i will discuss in my next solar post