Solar Success — Another Notch in our Freedom Grip!

This is what being able to tell your power company to go sit on a sharp stick looks like. For those keeping score at home, this panel is nearly 7′ x 4′ = 28 square feet of sunpower harvesting glory . . . I’ve seen it generate up to 82 volts of power!

PV PANEL

We woke this morning to see our batts still doing their initial recovery at 13.2 volts and still charging at 18.2 amps — with perfectly silent serenity from the sun. I’m still doing my research and scoping out the install: compiling a short list of ‘improvements’ I want to make. One of them is that the large fins on the back of the charge controller are in a now-wide-open enclosure above our reefer, but the fins (as installed) are horizontal *and* the controller is up tight against the ceiling. Common sense — and the owner’s manual — requires 150 mm (5.9 inches!) above and below the controller to allow for cooling. The enclosure it is in is 28″ wide, 13-1/4″ deep but only 14″ tall (at best and slopes shorter from there) and the controller is 9-1/2″ tall. This means I can only leave less than 2″ above and below the controller for cooling = not ideal but certainly much better than being jammed tight up against the ceiling as it is now. The cooling fins are currently so HOT that I can’t leave my fingers on them (frowny face) and I can smell some plastic components “curing” . . . I’m thinking not good!

CHARGE CONTROLLER

I could add a little computer fan to ‘enhance’ the otherwise natural ventilation but then that becomes one of those insidious phantom loads which consume energy whether they’re doing any justifiable work or not. A thermostat to turn the fan on/off as needed is another option. Then again, we don’t plan to endure the high temp extremes which would surely put the less-than-ideal installation of our charge controller to the acid test. Unlike the technomadia dudes, if it gets too hot where we’re at, we’re moving — same thing if it gets too cold. What’s the point of this highly-mobile lifestyle if you can’t MOVE to where the temps are moderate and the living is FREE? I understand that installations are “bid” and choices are made in the real world to getter’ done in a timely fashion. There is a 1/8″ thick piece of wood paneling hanging vertical above our reefer. It’s the thermal divider between the ‘chimney’ at the back of the reefer (where air naturally moves in, up the back of the reefer, and out through a capped hole through the roof) and this now open ‘enclosure’ which was just a wasted dead space before = not accessible with nothing in there. The piece of paneling is stapled to a 1×1 stapled to the ceiling. In typical RV construction fashion, there is nothing behind the panel on the sides *or* the bottom . . . it just kinda’ hangs loose there like a curtain.

In a more-perfect world, our charge controller would look more like this:

VERTICAL CONTROLLER
So our installer jammed the charge controller up against the ceiling (and horizontal) because at least that way he could get two of the four mounting screws into some solid wood. The mounting ‘holes’ are slots so the two lower screws keep the five-pound beast from sliding down and away from the upper two screws. As you can imagine, those lower two screws through 1/8″ wood paneling are about the structural equivalent of running a screw into a marshmallow. At some point, yours truly will pull the curtain down, install glue blocks down the sides *and* across the bottom. Then the void between the framing can be filled with foam slab insulation. I’ll use the ‘curtain’ as a pattern to cut a piece of 1/2″ plywood so the controller can be mounted vertically as it should be. This also allows for future changes/additions such as swapping the controller for one with a different mounting pattern. The reefer cavity is a common chase for solar installations and it worked well for ours. The furnace cavity is directly below the reefer and the power supply panel (also on the floor) is to the immediate left of the furnace. Above the power panel and directly under the stove/oven is our OEM house battery (outside access only). Under the OEM house battery and extending to the left are the two boxes which contain our 30 amp 25′ power cords (one for the house and one pre-wired for an AC above the bedroom which we’ll likely never use). To the left of those cord boxes is a large floor area where the three batts we added live. The proximity of all these components simplified the solar installation a great deal. This shot shows our two cord boxes and the next one shows the three new batteries:CORD STORAGE BOXES

THREE MORE BATTS

Folks can be reluctant to give up ANY of their creature comforts in exchange for this magical level of FREEDOM but anyone thinking about boon-docking full-time will learn there are a few things they’re gonna’ have to give up in order to BE where the living is FREE. In order of increasing importance (or sacrifice — depending on your Zen-est point of view), three of those strictly verboten ‘things’ are the furnace blower, the microwave, and the AC. In the deserts of the Great Southwest, it can get cool at night, but that’s when you’re supposed to be under the blankies and sleeping anyway! Come morning, the hardiest among you can go light a stove burner or three (maybe even the oven too?) and go back to bed (but not to sleep or it could be your last!) for the 5 or 10 minutes it takes for your spaceship to warm up. RV microwaves are notoriously weak, crappy <insert your favorite dis here> and stove-top popcorn is 100 times better (and better for you) anyway. Ours doubles as the exhaust fan/light for the stove so that’s all we use it for. When you have all the time in the world, who cares that it takes a few minutes longer to warm up your leftovers in the oven or on the stove? And — guaranteed — the food will taste (and be) better. Don’t get me started on AC units! But if you’re retired or full-timing someplace where you think you can’t live without one of them dad-blamed things droning on for eternity, you need to move . . . immediately!

I AM FREE

 

4 Responses to Solar Success — Another Notch in our Freedom Grip!

  1. Lamarr Harding December 23, 2015 at 7:19 pm #

    What part of Idaho are you from.

  2. sail4free December 23, 2015 at 8:25 pm #

    Most recently, we are from Kuna — a small town 20 miles from Boise. I was born in Caldwell but have always told everyone I’m from Cascade. 🙂 At one time, my Grandpa had an 832 acre ranch at the South end of Round Valley (about 17 miles South of Cascade) and we lived there off and on as kids. We actually moved into our fifth wheel six months before retirement. Not having to pay $750/mo. rent (plus utilities) on our duplex really helped us to get all our payments paid off before we hit the road. Thanks for leaving a comment!
    JIM P.

  3. Martin December 24, 2015 at 4:48 pm #

    Hi Jim and Annie
    Will your system allow you to run the A/C for half an hour to cool the place down before bed?
    Thanks!
    Martin

    • JIM PETERSON December 24, 2015 at 5:38 pm #

      Nope — that would require a system MUCH larger than what we have . . . how about a fan? Most fulltime boondocker setups are in the 450 to 600 watt range (ours is 420 minus a 30% hit because we leave our panel laying flat = 294 watts in the real world). To run the AC at all would require many, many times more equipment. It would be nearly impossible to justify the expense.
      ==========
      Three things which are verboten in a small RV world powered by PV panels are furnace blowers, microwaves, and air conditioners! We either power those — offgrid — with a genset *or* we don’t power them at all. :o) Of course, the beauty of it all is if it gets too hot, we can seek refuge some place further North *or* head for the hills — each 1,000′ you go up, the temp drops four to five degrees F.

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