Solar

Here, I will be explaining my solar setup and why I did it the way that I did.  It’s a relatively small solar system, but it suits my needs, and it fit my budget.

February 7th/2011

I sort of pieced my solar setup together over the years.  I know it would have been more efficient to have designed a solar power system as one unit, for one intended purpose, but things don’t always work out the way that we want them to, so we just need to go with the flow, and use what we happen to have at the moment, and that’s what I did.

Some things I did specifically purchase for this possible use, but others, I already had, and I intend to use them in any way that I can, to help in producing the power that I will need on the road.

Again, I will be doing a show and tell style presentation of these items, and the way that I intend to use them.

Windshield Solar

I picked up these small solar panels, intended as ‘battery maintainers’, on sale, at different times, over the years, and I figured that I would find a way to put them to use.  Some panels similar to these, are either 1 watt, or 1.8 watt.  These happen to be the latter.

As you can see, I mounted them on one of those windshield shades, that are made to put inside the windshield, to reduce heat build up inside the vehicle.  In this case, it will be doing triple duty.  One, it will do what it was intended to do, reduce heat build-up, two, it will provide some privacy, if I happen to be inside the vehicle, and three, it will produce solar power.

Ok, so it’s not going to be a huge amount of power, but six panels, at 1.8 watts each, will produce 10.8 watts of power.  Every little bit helps, and I especially like when I can double duty something, never mind triple duty.  That’s a real bonus!

This set of solar panels, doesn’t have a charge controller attached to it, but there is no way 10.8 watts of power is going to over charge my battery.  I could leave this permanently connected to the battery without fear of overcharging.

80 watt hinged panel

These are two 40 watt solar panels that I purchased on ebay for $200.  I hinged them together, to make one 80 watt panel.  This panel does have a charge controller connected to it, as you can see.  The 6 ga. cables might be a slight overkill, but with DC, it’s better to be too large, than too small.  By the way, I used jumper cables to make most of my battery and solar panel connections.  I just bought them when they were on sale.  That set of jumper cables cost me $6. at TSC hardware.

80 watt panel fully opened

Here’s another view of that panel, fully opened.  I can put this panel on top of the truck, when I am parked, and fold it away into the cargo box, on top of the truck, when I’m travelling.  Or, I may choose to put it on the hood of the truck, just under the other solar panels, the ones that I just showed above, which are inside the windshield.  The cables are about 12 ft. long, so I do have a bit of choice, as to where I can put them, unlike fixed mounted solar panels.

Cables and charge controller

A closer look at the cables and charge controller for the 80 watt folding solar panel.

15 watt solar panel

This is a 15 watt solar panel that I purchased on sale.  I got all these panels at different times.  They weren’t purchased with the idea of combining them into a whole system.  They are just what I happen to have at the moment.

Homemade 30 watt solar panel

I made this panel a number of years ago.  I got the solar cells off ebay, and the building instructions somewhere online.  At the time, I didn’t know much about solar panels, and the solar cells that I purchased were not tabbed.  For anyone who had built their own solar panels, you will know how difficult it is to tab each and every cell.  You have to solder the tabs on, and it’s very fine soldering work, and very time-consuming.

However, I must have done it correctly, because this panel still puts out full power.  Again, a mismatched panel, but I can use it.

This gives me 135.8 watts of solar power.  Like I said, it’s not a large amount, but it should suit my purposes.

'House' battery

'House' battery top

This is the battery I chose as my ‘house’ battery.  It was the most amp hours, in the smallest package, I could find.  I’ll be putting this battery in the foot well of the front passenger seat, and believe it or not, there will still be room for a passenger to get their feet in there without too much trouble.

At 140 amp hours, with the solar panels I have available, I should be able to keep this battery charged, if I have a reasonable amount of sunshine.  I also have the Optima AGM battery in the RoadArk, and I can switch, some, or all of the solar panels to that one, if need be.

Both of these batteries will also be connected to the trucks alternator, so that they can be at least partially charged while I’m driving.  The RoadArk battery will just be charged through the trailer wiring harness, and I know that this limits the amount of charge it will get.  The ‘house’ battery will be hooked to the alternator via a continuous duty solenoid mounted on the firewall inside the engine compartment.  Again, I will be using jumper cable to wire this up.  It’s nice and flexible, and can carry a good amount of current, and I got the cable for a reasonable price.

Continuous Duty Solenoid and cables

I haven’t installed these yet, just waiting for warmer weather.

Continuous Duty Solenoid closeup

Most of the information I read on the internet about these continuous duty solenoids, has stated that the smaller terminals would be, one to ignition power, and one to ground.  That’s not the case with this particular solenoid.  After testing it, it seems that both small terminals are for power, and one is intended for a switch.  It looks like this unit grounds through the body of the solenoid.  There are no markings on the case, except for 12V.  (Just to clarify this point, I have now installed the wiring for the “house” battery, and I found that the two smaller terminals on the solenoid were indeed, one for positive, and one for negative.  It does not matter which one is used for either polarity, it just completes a circuit to close the solenoid contacts.  It is, however, imperative that the positive wire go to power that is only on when the ignition is on.  This way the two batteries will be disconnected with the ignition off, and there will be no chance of depleting the starting battery, while using power from the “house” battery.)

Power adapter

I’ll be using this little adapter, to distribute power off the house battery, inside the truck.  I beefed it up a bit with heavier wiring, and fuse, than it came with.  It will be use for my laptop, a small fan, or any other type of 12 volt accessories, with cigarette-style plugs on them.  It also has a handy USB charging port, for handheld devices, like my Ipod Touch, or cell phone.

For items that need AC power, I have a few inverters, that change 12 volt DC power, into 115/120 volt AC power.  If you want to spend a bit more money, and get a pure sine wave inverter, and you have the cash to do it, then these type of inverters will give you ‘cleaner’ electricity.  But, for most purposes, a modified sine wave inverter, which is the most common, will do the trick.  Only in very specific cases, such as some very fussy electronic equipment, would you actually have to have a pure sine wave inverter.

75 watt inverter

These little inverters are pretty neat.  I picked up a couple of these 75 watt inverters on sale for ten bucks each.  I use one inside the truck to power my netbook, and I will use the other one in the RoadArk, where I have a cigarette lighter socket for 12 volt output.

The good thing about these small inverters is that they don’t waste a lot of idling power.  If an inverter is turned on, even if it’s not being used at the moment, it will still draw a certain amount of ‘idling’ power.  So, whenever possible, it’s more efficient to use the smallest inverter you can get away with, to power the accessory that you are using at that time.

You will also notice, in my setup, that I almost always have battery clips on any component attached to my batteries.  This is because I prefer to be able to completely disconnect any particular item from the battery, so that there are no ‘phantom’ loads to slowly deplete the power in my batteries.  Never assume, that just because a unit is turned off, that it is not drawing power from your batteries.  This is not a problem in a home connected to the electricity grid, but, when you only have a limited amount of power in a battery, you need to be aware of any, and all draws on that power.

700 watt inverter

I happen to have 3 of these 700 watt inverters.  I mounted one under the countertop of the RoadArk, to provide power for any accessory I might use there.  I can use another one for inside the truck, in case I need more power than the smaller 75 watt inverter can supply.  I’ll just keep the third one as a backup.

The 700 watt inverters will run just about anything else that I will be using.  I don’t have, nor do I plan on having, a microwave.  They are convenient, and I use the one I have here in my apartment all the time.  But they do draw large amounts of power, even if it is only over a short period of time, and it only makes sense to use them if you have a much larger power supply than I have.  The same with air conditioners, only they eat up energy at a more constant rate, but I do have air conditioning in the truck, so I’m not completely without that luxury.

Living in this way, is an exercise in conservation.  You need to know how much you have, and you need to learn to use it wisely.  I know that my setup is not perfect, but I used what I had available, in a way that I feel gives me the best return.  I may add, or change things, as I go, and that’s ok.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Q. How did you connect all the little panels together? I have about that many panels and have wanted to connect them for quite a while now.
    Cheers and thanks in Advance.

    Reply

    • Hey Wild_E;

      Actually, I haven’t connected them together at this point, although they do sell junction boxes for multiple solar panels. I have those large, alligator-type clips on them right now, and I can connect them to the battery, or batteries, as required. Since I’m staying in one place at the moment, in an apartment, I don’t need solar power. However, that can change at any time, so I’m still ready to become self-sufficient if needed. When I first came up here, I had no intention of staying here, I was just passing through, but I really liked this area so, for now, I’m stationary.

      I’ve been reading some of your blog and it sounds very familiar to me, since I’ve done some of the things that you’ve done, and are still doing. I built a cabin in the wilderness and discovered that, once you own property, you are no longer free. Also, it became a real headache because of other unforeseen problems.

      Right now, I’m just doing what I enjoy doing and, when that changes, I’ll start moving again. I’ve been looking into the possibility of some other form of mobile home, although I’m not going to give up my present setup unless I find something that I feel will be better for the lifestyle that I lead.

      It’s good to hear from a fellow Canadian traveller. I’ll be watching your blog.

      Alan.

      Reply

      • My partner and I bought a mobile home as a home base. And we are currently fixing up the RV for the road. It’s nice to have a place to dwell in between travels. Get other clothes and supplies, plus, this is in-expensive living and safe. We thought about buying a home etc, but realized it would take much of our travel money to maintain it. With our set-up we have a 4×6 plot of ground to grow a garden when I choose, as well as raised beds, so when we travel there isn’t really any garden work and we have a neighbor that will take care of that for us if we’d like. This winter we will be going to Arizona/Ca border to where it is warmer as my partner has MS.
        I wish you luck with your travels and hope to see you on the road again.
        Sky

  2. Thanks I will have to look out for the junction boxes. Wondering right now, if I can just clip all of them together on a small bar, then connect that to the battery?

    Hoping to get some Gov lease land up North, build a permaculture /aquaponics setup.

    Why did you not like the property ownership? I want to build a Round House or a Winter Yurt, with a workshop and winter greenhouses on it.

    Reply

    • Hey Wild_E;

      You will see a lot of opinions on how solar power should be set up and, in your case, I would say that, as long as your wattage is not too high with all the panels combined, you should be okay doing that. Once the power feed to the batteries becomes high enough that it will over-charge the batteries, then you would need to connect the panels through a charge controller. For example, a hundred watts going into a good deep cycle battery will never over charge the battery, no matter how long you leave it connected. There’s just not enough power coming in to over-charge the battery.

      If you mean Crown Land leases, I don’t believe that the government will lease land to any individual now. They used to do it many years ago, but they don’t now. The only possibility would be to sub-lease from someone who already has a lease grandfathered into the system. This is very rare though.

      I was planning to build a ferro-cement structure on the property, but I first built a cabin. I had that property for twelve years and, over that time, more and more municipal restrictions were passed. It got so bad that, every time I went up there to work on my cabin, I would find a note from the local building official saying I couldn’t do this, or I couldn’t do that.

      Also, even though my nearest neighbors were a half a kilometer away, they were very jealous of what I was doing on my property, and they were upset with me because I would not sell it to them. So, they would call the building official anytime they didn’t like what I was doing.

      One of the most important reasons I bought that piece of land was so that I could be free to do whatever I wanted to do, but it turned out to be just a pain in the ass dealing with the government and the neighbors. It’s the same all over Ontario, no matter how far you go. If you build it, they will find you.

      Alan.

      Reply

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