My, how time flies. My last post was apparently made way back on August 7, 2019. Thats a few days more than 2 months ago but it seems like a million years! In that post I wrote about our travels to the Lake Tahoe area, Grand Canyon and Bryce National Parks (NP). Since then, where have we been? I mean where have we been… who can remember??? I’ll try… [READ MORE…]
In June of 2018 Diane and I set off on a west coast to east coast cross country round trip. We couldn’t stay in some places as long as we would have liked because we had a wedding to attend on the east coast. On the return leg of the trip we also felt a little rushed because there were some things I wanted to attend to within a certain time frame out west. All told that trip was 7 months long. I know it may be hard to imagine that someone could feel hurried taking 7 months to get across the country and back, but hey, there’s a lot to see and do in this country–it could easily take 7 years to make the trip if you ask me.
At the beginning of last month we set out on another trip. Before we did we decided we would spend more time camping and less time driving than our previous trip. So far its been that way. On our first day of travel we drove from the San Francisco bay area into the Sierra Nevada mountains where camped for something like 11 nights at Alpine Meadows campground in Truckee, CA.
Originally we had hoped to travel south from Truckee along US 395 boondocking for a couple or three weeks in the shadow of the eastern slope of the Sierra. The view of the mountains to the west is pretty spectacular along 395. It’s best where the mountains are highest–the Sierra Nevada peaks get higher the further south you travel until they reach Mount Whitney which at 14,505′ is the highest mountain in the contiguous 48, then they rather abruptly fall away.
We had to skip our boondocking plans along 395 because they weather was too hot. Originally we had planned to hit the road a couple months earlier in which case the weather would have been just fine but life got in the way and we were delayed. A little factoid of interest, BTW, is that while Mt. Whitney at 14,505′ is the highest place in the lower 48, Badwater in nearby Death Valley is the lowest at 282′ below sea level and it’s possible to drive from Badwater to Whitney Portal in the same day. Whitney Portal is not the top of the mountain but rather where you can begin the climb to the summit some 6,000′ above.
Although we skipped our boondocking plans we spent one night in the Crowley Lake area and 3 more in Lone Pine in order to visit Manzanar, the WWII Japanese internment camp and Mobius Arch along Movie Road in the Alabama Hills.
From there we hightailed it to Ten-X campground in the forest just outside Tusayan, AZ by Grand Canyon National park where we parked ourselves for 12 days. Another nice, long stay… long for us, anyway.
Our next destination, Bryce National Park in Utah. We had hoped to visit the other amazing National Parks in southern Utah–Zion, Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef–but again, due to our late start it’s too hot to visit any but Bryce which is cooler due to its elevation.
Along the way we passed through the Kanab area, Utah, where we had a serendipitous encounter with artist Patti Lewis who was painting a mural on the side of a building in town where she as adorned a number of others in similar fashion.
As I write we are happily boondocked in a terrific location in the Dixie National Forest. Our nearest neighbors are at least a few hundred feet away. We’re in a ponderosa pine forest. It’s quiet, and lovely, and free. We’re about 20 minutes from Bryce. Yesterday we made a day trip to Cedar Breaks National Monument where we went on a short hike and reveled in the beauty of the wildflower bloom there which is at its peak. We expect to spend about 14 days camped here, another nice long stay, before heading north to the mountains in Idaho, but we’ll see.
In my previous RV I only had 110 volt household current when I was plugged into shore power at a campground, when I ran my disturbingly noisy generator, or when I turned on my inverter to power the single, dedicated outlet I had installed along with it. This last method involved running extension cords from that outlet to other points inside (or outside) the RV where I wanted or needed household current–inconvenient and a tripping hazard.
Upon getting a new RV my plan had always been to have an inverter installed that would supply power to all of the RV’s existing 110 volt outlets so that power would be available throughout it without needing to run extension cords–a more convenient and aesthetically pleasing arrangement that would also eliminate the hazard of tripping over extension cords.
When I started looking at all that was involved in wiring an inverter into the RV’s electrical system it soon became apparent to me that it was outside my wheelhouse of skills. So, I decided to have that done professionally later on, but until I could hire it done I was comfortable doing a more simple trip-over-the-extension-cord style hookup that would at least provide us with some AC until the professional installation could be performed. [READ MORE…]
In my most recent post I promised an upcoming article about a DIY inverter installation. I haven’t gotten around to that yet and I apologize to everyone who has been breathlessly waiting for it… both of you!
As for an explanation as to why that post has been delayed, well, I have been working on something of a larger project that has demanded my attention and kept me away from my writing desk: a DIY solar install on the RV. That job, now largely complete, shall be the subject of this post, or series of posts.
My interest in solar power for RVing has its wellspring in my love of nature which by extension means camping more closely to it in more natural and off-the-grid locations where it becomes necessary to be self-reliant for services such as electricity. Back in the old days when I had my first RV (named Charlene, a 30′ Coachmen Class C) I traveled the country with a 120 watt GoPower portable solar panel I would set up then pack up as I moved from location to location. Although “Sunny” (as my panel became known to me) could not supply all the power to meet my electrical demand, he served me well once I replaced the cheap controller with which he was equipped from the mfr., and he is still part of my solar arsenal today. (Previously I wrote a User Report about the GoPower 120 watt portable kit.)
Over the past weeks and months I have been working on designing and installing a more complete and robust solar installation on my current RV. This system, now fully operational, includes four, rooftop mounted and tilt-able 190 watt solar panels, a 60 amp TriStar MPPT solar charge controller, 4 LifeLine 6 volt AGM batteries (wired in series/parallel to make 12 volts), and a Bogart Engineering TM-2030 battery monitor along with a remote control for the TriStar controller. Of course, there are a number of minor components such as circuit breakers, busbars, terminal blocks, etc., but the components I listed above are the major players of the system.
As a first step in planning an RV solar installation many people write about figuring out what your electrical demands will be and then planning the system size and components accordingly. Personally, I think, that while this may sometimes be valuable it isn’t always practicable. It involves cataloging all the devices and appliances you will be using, how much current they draw and how long you will use these devices every day. In other words, this means figuring out how much electricity you will need. It seemed to me that, for me, calculating this might be something marginally more possible than guessing the next winning lottery numbers. If you have an established RVing routine and the ability to measure all these things then this sort of assessment may be more useful, but even then electrical demands and the ability to generate power will change from season to season with the varying number of daylight hours as well as one’s current latitude to say nothing of the weather.
In my case I didn’t see how I could undertake a truly valuable assessment. I had no history in this RV. I should say “we” instead of “I” because I now have Diane as my partner in crime. Nor do we have too much of an idea of what our camping style will be. So, I took another tack which was to put as much solar on the roof of my RV as I could because, as they say, you can never have too much. However, I’m not so sure about that either.
My first step in doing all this was to get up on the rooftop, measure and diagram where everything was in order to know how much space I had into which I could place solar panels while (and this was a critical component of my planning) still being able to move safely from front to back of the roof in order to carry out routine maintenance as well as get to all the corners of each panel so as to be able to operate the planned tilting hardware. Another important aspect of planning the solar panel positioning was avoiding, as much as possible, any shadowing that might occur from objects on the roof such as the air conditioner and TV antenna and even one panel casting shadows on another. I am including one version of the roof diagrams I made. It shows the panels and placement that were ultimately chosen
Once I figured out which panels I thought would work best—part of this was the operating voltage which I will discuss below—I made a cardboard cutout the size of one of them, took it up to the roof to check the fit in the planned mounting positions. It would have been better to make four cutouts, but who has that much cardboard? I used some painter’s tape to mark the corners of the planned panel mounting positions. Then I walked from the back of the RV to the front, to see if I would be able to comfortably and safely step over and around everything as well as being able to access the corners of each panel in order to tilt them. It was a rehearsal, a pantomime.
In picking out which panels to get one consideration of course was their physical size. Another was their voltage. My lay understanding is that RVs have 12 volt systems and solar panels that can operate with RV systems can be 12 volt panels, 24 volt panels, 36 volts or perhaps even 48 volt panels but that 24 volt panels and above must be used with a solar controller that can reduce the voltage to the 12 volts used by RV systems. The advantages of using solar panels that produce higher voltages include they are both more efficient and that smaller wires (less expensive and easier to work with) can be used to carry the electricity from the rooftop to the solar controller wherever it is located (usually somewhere inside the RV). My choice of the Solarland 190 watt, 24 volt panels was made because they offered the advantages of a higher voltage (above 12) while fitting the spaces I had on the RV roof.
I chose a Tristar 60 amp MPPT solar controller from Morningstar. They have an excellent reputation and the MPPT style controller can transform excess voltage into usable amperage. This is where toast comes in… Our panels are rated at about 41 amps combined output for the four of them. When using our toaster the other day which puts a high demand on the system the TriStar remote panel we installed indicated 54 amps being sent to the batteries, 13 amps more than our panels can produce—it converted excess voltage to amperage thereby sending to the batteries more amps than the panels actually produce. Again, that’s my lay understanding of things, anyway. With all the wattage we have on the roof and the storage capacity of our battery bank we can make toast on a cloudy day. That may not seem like much when you live in a stIcks and bricks home, are plugged into shore power at a campground or running a generator, but when you are living off-the-grid on solar power alone it’s a pretty big deal.
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The campground sits on a hilltop and as I wrote this in early April many if not most sites have views through the trees in one or more directions. Once the trees fill out with the new leaves leaves of spring (they were still bare when I was there) those views will likely disappear–the campground is in a forest of deciduous trees.
Just a mile from the campground is the gravesite of and memorial to Meriwether Lewis of the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition also known as the Corps of Discovery. After that famed expedition, as Governor of the Louisiana Territory, Lewis traveled the Old Trace on his way to Washington D.C. and it is within a few steps of his gravesite that he met his untimely death by gunshot. It appears uncertain whether it was murder or suicide. READ MORE…
The route I was taking was from the Imperial Dam LTVA near Yuma toward Tennessee, a state I had not yet visited. I chose a route of secondary roads that would keep me off the Interstates and take me through the countryside. This was true through Arizona, New Mexico, and the panhandle of Texas. All of these places have some beautiful country including the mountains of Arizona and the gorgeous orangy-red soil of northern Texas. I also followed a secondary-roads route through another state I’d not yet been to, Oklahoma. This route was south of I-40 taking me through the Ouachita National Forest where I stayed at Sandy Beach Campground after looking also at North Shore and Shady Lane–all three campgrounds are at Cedar Lake. READ MORE…
When I first set off on my See-the-USA-in-an-RV trip back in May of ’14 I brought with me a little, 120 watt portable solar panel kit with the idea it would generate a little electricity and cut down a little on how long each day I’d need to run my generator, and it has. As time has passed and my explorations into the scintillating world or sunshine and solar have progressed I’ve learned more and more about the whole solar thing. Learning about this sort of stuff is fun and has practical benefits, one of which led me to replace the controller on my solar panel kit and this has allowed me to go generator free for the most part since then. READ MORE…