Exploring Solar Power for Our Fifth-Wheel

There are a variety of reasons people are interested in alternative energy methods for their homes, their vehicles, and to generally power their lives. For those of us who are sustainably-minded, and particularly interested in living a 'normal' life without causing harm to our eco-systems, solar power is a viable alternative energy source. 

For a while John and I have toyed with the idea of adding solar panels to our home. However, we don't have much south-facing sun exposure, and our home was built in 1840 and adding solar panels to the front of the house {which faces south} would be highly frowned upon by the historic district. The cost is high, but we realize there are incentives that would alleviate a portion of the expense. 

What about our second home; our home on wheels? 

We spend a great deal of time in this fifth-wheel camper, and although we live a very green lifestyle while on the road (here's a post to read, too!), there are improvements to be had.

I spent some time looking into solar power for our camper for the green energy, the ability to power our things 'for free', and the flexibility it would offer us when we travel to more remote areas of the country.

How can I use solar power for my camper? 

There are really two ways people can use solar power for their camper or RV, the first is for trickle charging batteries when a camper battery is sitting unused for an extended period of time. The second is to create and store power, therefore eliminating our need for electrical hook ups. This is what we are interested in. For those RV'ers who have a generator, this second type of solar power could eliminate the need for a generator.

Essentially, anything run on batteries can be run off of solar power. However, after some preliminary research, we estimate that outfitting our camper with the solar power system needed to run appliances, gadgetry, lighting, etc. could cost upwards of $5,000.


How much power will I need for my camper? 

Most solar panels can capture about 100 watts per square yard of panel, after figuring in loss due to weather conditions, wear and tear, etc. To power our camper and maintain a sense of normalcy in our daily activities,  we would need at least 800 watts of solar power, several batteries, an inverter, and other supplies for maintenance and monitoring.

When I say "sense of normalcy", I want to be clear that while we're choosing an alternative lifestyle by living in our camper, there are certain things we enjoy and simply do not want to give up. Indeed it is challenging at times. However, we enjoy watching DVDs, listening to the radio, using a laptop or tablet, and small appliances like slow cookers, toasters, etc.

And, you can see that our fifth-wheel is set up to take advantage of the conveniences of modern day living:

Of course, we enjoy the great outdoors, and seize every opportunity to get back to nature. That's the whole point of living in a camper part-time, right?

Our exploration of solar power for our camper isn't over. We've barely begun, actually. There are so many additional things to consider, like choosing the panels, monitors and gauges, figuring out the wiring and installation, as well as the mounting and dismounting of the panels when we are on the road, and system maintenance.

What experience do you have with solar power or other alternative forms of energy? What advice can you share with the group?


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