Friday, March 27, 2015

"Always sunny in Lone Rock..."

The perfect days are kind of coming one right after another.......perfect temperature, perfect weather, perfect location, perfect company, perfect view.....I'm not trying to make you jealous, although that may be a byproduct, I am trying to convey how happy I am to be where I am at this juncture in time.  Being able to find a boondock site with the 'it' factor, and being able to remain there for an extended period of time is what I have been aiming for since the day we had the solar panels installed back in February of 2012.  Now that we have finally arrived at the point in our journey where we are in the perfect part of the country at the most ideal time of year where boondocking 'it' sites are available by the droves we are beginning to find spots we love to return to year after year.  We have really just begun to explore to find these sites......last winter we found 3 where we stayed briefly, but this year we have been able to spend more time at each enabling us to get to know our coach's electrical needs much better, and how to manage those needs within the confines of our current setup.

What is our setup?  Before you even think about going 'solar', you must first have a place to store the energy converted by your solar panels.....we have on board two Interstate flooded cell 8D batteries which each provide just over 250 amp hours of 12 volt electricity (combined they provide just over 500 amps hours).  To avoid damaging flooded cell batteries you should not discharge them below 50%, so, in effect, we must divide the total amp hours available (500) by 2 to get the actual amp hours to which we have access when they are both fully charged.  Essentially if we have 250 amp hours (half of the total 500 amp hours) of 12 volt electricity available and we use 10 amps per hour we can, theoretically, power our coach with 10 amps of power for 25 hours before we have discharged our batteries 50%.

 Two Interstate 8D batteries providing around 500+ amp hours combined

Next you must have a way to convert that direct current (12 volt) electricity to alternating current (110) to power those systems/appliances in your RV that require alternating current to operate.  To do this you need what is called an 'inverter' inverter converts 12 volt (direct current) to 110 volt (alternating current).  We have a Heart Interface 2000 watt inverter that came with the coach, and is probably well over 20 years old, but it still works quite well.  Most late model coaches have the inverter/charger/converter all combined together, but ours is not.  Our charger/converter is in a different location near the rear of the coach.  The inverter is located in the front storage bin on the driver's side just below the cockpit area.  The batteries are located in the front storage bin on the passenger side just below the cockpit area, so they are only a few feet apart.

 Heart Interface 2000 watt inverter (Now owned by Xantrex)

Without solar panels the only way to replenish the 12 volt electricity we draw out of the batteries is via an on board generator.....we have a 7.5 kw Kohler generator fueled with propane, which uses about 1/2 gallon of propane per hour when in operation.  We also have a portable Honda 1000 watt generator (used about 1/2 gallon every 3 hours) that we use when we are not in need of air conditioning, or any other system/appliance that uses more than 10 amps of power.  Of course, fueling either of these electrical generators can become costly, and the whole point of going solar is to eliminate, or mostly eliminate those fuel costs.  The other thing you are trying to eliminate is the noise which results from the operation of generators.  Solar generators are silent, and require no fuel except the rays of the sun, which are free.

 Two 150 watt solar panels from AM Solar

To replenish the batteries without the use of a noisy generator we had two 150 watt solar panels installed by AM Solar.  These panels convert the suns rays to 12 volt electricity which is sent via cables to our Blue Sky charge controller, which then uses that electricity to recharge our 8D batteries.

Blue Sky charge controller

While not totally necessary, we also had a Blue Sky monitor installed so we could more precisely monitor our usage, the status of the batteries, and how many amps of power are being generated by the solar panels at any given time.  This is an invaluable tool, and if you decide to install a solar system I highly recommend you have one....maybe not Blue Sky, but some type of monitor.

 Blue Sky monitor

So, that is our setup.   Our cost to install this basic system was just under $3,000, and that includes labor.  The actual 'part's (two solar panels, cabling, charge controller, monitor and other associated materials) cost about $1,400.  For most late model RV's the labor would probably not be as high as for ours, but we have a vintage coach and running the cables effectively took longer than normal.

So, on Thursday by 3 pm our batteries once again reached 100%, which is the fourth time we have reached that plateau in 9 days.....all other days we have gotten into the high 90's.  We typically lose about 7% of our charge overnight while we are sleeping.....there are things in the coach that draw 12 volt all the time (refrigerator display, our radio, the ionization system for our black tank, the door bell button, the Blue Sky monitor, the various analog gauges throughout the coach), but account for less than 1% of our power draw each day.  When it is much colder than it is now overnight (now it's in the mid 40's at night) such as when we were boondocking near Cottonwood we can lose up to 12-13% overnight.  This is not because we run heaters at night.....the only time we might run heaters is when we are plugged in and it is really cold at night, like in the 20's, or 30's.  Very low temperatures increase the rate of discharge for flooded cell batteries.

Our Thursday, like virtually all the other days here at Lone Rock, was composed of a little exercise (I rode my mountain bike around the local hills, and we took our usual 3.4 mile hike out to HWY 89), a lot of reading, and another fire to welcome in the evening.  As I said earlier, it was another perfect day! 

Thanks for stopping by!

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