The More that You Read,
The More Things You Will Know.
The More that You Learn,
The More Places You Will Go.
˜ Dr. Seuss
A year ago — no a MONTH ago – had you asked me about solar power, I would have given you a blank look. What a difference a month makes and shows that the more that I read, the more things I will know and armed with that learning, the more places Roque and I will go.
From the scores of Overlander blogs from we have read and studied over the past couple of months, it seemed pretty clear that life on the road will be a whole lot more comfortable and enjoyable if we have a 12 volt refrigerator with us. Not to be confused with thermoelectric coolers, 12 volt refrigerator/freezers are true refrigerators and have the capacity to maintain temperature required for real refrigeration, regardless of external temps. Not only will this allow us to have fresh veggies, beverages and meat food on hand for days, it will allow us to save leftovers, etc. without having to deal with the inconvenience of locating ice and dealing with the melting, to say nothing of the spoilage that inevitably results from days of camping with coolers and ice. Not a necessity, for sure, and relatively expensive (certainly compared to the cost of ice), but having such a fridge is a luxury we figure will be a great investment considering the amount of time we will be on the road and the unknowns of locating fresh food and ice.
These fridges are easy to power while we are on the road since they are equipped with DC (cigarette lighter) cords and draw very small amounts of power. They are also easy to power when you have a source of AC (electrical plug) power. The trickier question is what to do when we are stationary at a campsite. For anyone who has camped in a tent, you know that finding sources of electricity is a major challenge and Roque and I have been known to run the car just to charge our phones.
Earlier, even before the decision on the fridge, we knew that we wanted a source of power for times when we were stationary to charge phones, iPads and computers without HAVING to find a Starbucks (been there), an electrical outlet in a camping pavilion (done that) or having to take the car on the road JUST to charge our communication devices. While it may sound bougie to want phones and iPads while camping, remember that we will be living on the road for perhaps more than a year and we want to live with some of the things that we love, even if we are sleeping in a tent. Clearly, we need some sort of generator.
While camping in Watkins Glen this summer, we saw solar panels outside of an RV in our camping loop, which inspired us to look into whether there were solar powered generators available on the market. Based on my research, I know now that this RV was probably not using the panels to power a generator but, well, this is where we started. Shortly later, we discovered the Goal Zero Yeti solar generator (and related products) which are really not “generators” as much as they are generator/inverters or “battery inverters” since they do not actually MAKE electricity as much as they store electricity in a beautiful, compact way. The Yeti (made in 3 sizes) can be powered by AC, DC or solar. We figured that we would plug up the Yeti while driving and, depending on the size of the unit, we would be good to go for many charges of iPhones and iPads and even computers. While stationary, the Yeti should be able to supply all of our power needs for days except for the fridge. Even the most efficient of 12 volt fridges draw watts at a rate too great to rely upon a fully charged Yeti.
Enter the solar panels; this is how we figure we will be able to continue to charge the Yeti when we are not on the road. Goal Zero sells portable solar panels and they, too, are beautifully packaged. I thought that we were pretty decided, then, on the Yeti 400, large enough to power the fridge, and the 30 watt solar panel. I cannot now remember why I thought that the 30 watt would be large enough to power the Yeti to run the fridge but as I started to ask questions on web forums and read more about the power consumption of the fridge, I realized we needed more than 30 watt panels — like 3 times more. Why? Because the recharge power of the 30 watt panels, even under optimal circumstances, with long days and unobstructed (read: no clouds) sunlight, was simply not going to be enough to ensure that the fridge would be powered at a campsite for more than a few days. Since it’s likely that we may decide to stay in some places for a week or more at a time, we figured we needed larger panels.
Even with 100 watt panels however, if there is insufficient sun, there may not be enough solar power to recharge the Yeti to run the fridge. What we need is more stored energy. Solar is just power; we needed a way to store the solar power. Enter another battery, also powered by the solar panels, to be another reserve source of power.
The set up now looks like Yeti 400, 100 watts of solar panel (we’ve chosen s suitcase model – more compact than one large panel), additional 100Ah solar storage AGM battery, and solar controller.
Behind the scenes, I had to study watts versus amps versus volts; math to calculate power needs, what size battery and solar power controller we need and more. I never thought that I would be learning about power, and batteries, and generators but it’s clear that the more I will learn, the more places I will go. So true, Dr. Seuss.