I was a techy! In my past life when working for an income. As a Project Administrator and Program Support for both IBM and the State of Virginia among other positions, I built web sites, designed and buit databases and repaired both hardware and software. Then...I spent years off grid - like really off grid - no lights, no solar, no mechanical anything. Well I did have a Vortex blender for a while! Most of my years in Costa Rica were spent off grid. I was raised in a family homesteading situation and homesteaded four other times. (I got tired of losing homes)
Among RTRers and RVers power systems seem to run 85% of the conversations and the rest of the conversations are about how to use the toilet! Well not really although it feels like that.
I like Low Tech! (Yes Wolf I do enjoy your company as well) I prefer to live a Low Tech lifestyle. I also gather information, practice using it in practical terms and store it mentally because it is only useful to me that way. I think that solar stuff is kewl.and wind powered stuff. And anything that is free and renewable and practical. I learn from the past and history. Historical life and primitive living skills are useful.
I've heard too many people lately talking about thier power systems or dream systems and how much stress they put on themselves over the money they need or spent and how they will put off the safety of replacing a bad tire or upgrading a truely bad drive battery in their vehicle in order to get the 'right system'.
I am living with a low income and have myself on a strict budget for this year. I have an old van and I have to do maintenance and repairs often. I want a life just like others do. I have a smart cell phone, a tablet, books to read (man I miss my Kindle reader), crafts to make to pass the time. I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and like to turn on a light!
I am offering up some advice here - before you get into debt or borrow from your kids/whoever, please do yourself a favor and get an LED Volt Meter. Even if you are not traveling. If you charge cell phones in your car it pays to get one. Learn how to read it - its truely not rocket science! Now charge your phone. Then check your Volt Meter. Then charge your tablet. And check your Volt Meter. Use a light in your vehicle. Check your Volt Meter! Remember knowledge is power! If your Volt Meter shows your battery as low then unplug your travel chargers and turn on your engine. You just learned how to manage the life of your vehicle's drive battery. In the picture below, you will see my Volt Meter. Mine has three lights and a readout. When the lights are all lit the drive battery is full and in good shape. I have learned to monitor my battery by the numbers as well. When my readout is at 12.3 or 12.2 then I stop charging things until I either run the engine or drive somewhere.
For lights I have choices. I like options. I have been in the dark. I have candles for use outside or in an emergency (they can help start a fire in windy conditions.) I also have flashlights and a headlamp. The van came with some of the first low power usage LED mood lights. I added one LED lightbulb to one of my van's fixtures. Because LEDs use so little power it is economical for me to use that light running on the power of my drive battery - I always check the Volt Meter before and after using that light. I also have had a solar powered Luci light.I love Luci BUT the company has had to replace mine three times in the two years that I have been using them! Unfortunately the switches go bad at about 6 months of daily use. Luci lights are affordable, self contained and put out enough lumens to read by. I'm waiting for yet another replacement from the company as we speak. I have also borrowed a friend's tiny battery and LED light system. I really like this one. I see potential for charging this with a small solar panel. I expect that this could keep a cell phone charge as well.
Solar systems. I had a portable Solar Gorilla system complete with battery pack while in Costa Rica. It worked very well for keeping a cell phone and netbook computer charged. I had one on my van for four months. It was a low end Harbour Frieght system that some friends and I mounted to the roof rack on my van using zip ties. I could not afford a sealed agm battery and was given a small one that I think was a 33 amp hr wheelchair battery. The system could not improve my life in that particular configuration. I already had lights and cell phone charging under control. When driving I often worried about the panels flying off the roof and hitting the car behind me. My priorities changed from becoming more like my vandwelling friends to that of both safety and peace of mind. I found a great cause and donated the panels. Then I continued to use the battery with a portable trickle charger for nearly a year. That same battery and solar trickle charger was moved to my Scamp. Just a short time before I sold the Scamp the wind caught the solar trickle charger panel and it landed upside down on the rocks. It no longer put out a charge. I have used a trickle charger solar panel to power a 12V fan with out a battery in the heat of sunny days. I have used reverse diode solar trickle chargers to successfully keep my drive battery full when I didn't want to drive.
I simply want to share there may be other ways to handle your needs. Let it be ok for you (and me) to think outside the box. Gain knowledge of how you use things and what is truly important for your life and situation. If you have to have a cold Coca Cola with ice in order for your life to be okay. Find a way to make that happen. Please be safe but know that it may have to take time for you to get there - or not! Don't sacrifice safety for that one drink...you can get free ice and a small cooler and keep a few drinks on hand while you safely manage your power needs. Sometime I will let you know how I changed my mind about needing a refrigerator and live happily without one. Yes I enjoy an icy iced coffee every once in a while.