RV Solar – Camping off the Grid

pool

After Lynda and I retired and started traveling in our RV we enjoyed staying in RV parks and campgrounds with other campers and RVers. RV parks offer many amenities especially parks in the south where snowbirds spend their winters. We enjoyed many social gathering and made many new friends.

These parks have so many amenities it would take years to experience all of them. The favorite, of course, is swimming pools, as well as pickleball (a cross between table tennis and court tennis), horseshoes, boccie, tennis, billiards and many card clubs, and from carving and jewelry making, to yoga and pool aerobics, just to mention a few.

Dry Camping/Boondocking

Desert camping

RV parks are fun, but they can be expensive. The prices vary from several hundred to a thousand dollars per month and often electricity is extra. The amount RV parks charge is directly related to the number and quality of the amenities.

Although we enjoyed the amenities and activities, after a month or so it was time to move on, we decided to leave the crowds and try boondocking.

Boondocking is an entirely different experience, away from the crowds in the wide open spaces. It's almost free once you are set up with the necessary equipment.

Dry camping can be as remote or social as one would like. Activities are quite different from the standard RV park. Campfires are not permitted in most RV parks where as campgrounds and boondocking campfires are the norm.

socializing in the desert
Socializing with other boondockers.

Hiking, ATV riding, fishing, kayaking, and bicycles are some of the other activities you can enjoy. Or just sit back and take in the solitude, peace and quiet, or enjoy reading or some other solitary enjoyment.

Water & Sewer

Dry camping, however, creates a different set of challenges, with no hookups to electricity, water or sewer. Different arrangements and equipment may be necessary if the plan is to dry camp for more that a few days,

The challenge of water and sewer can be resolved by hooking up your RV or driving your RV to replenish your water tank and empty your grey and black water. Another solution is to haul water to your site in a potable water container and pump it into your tank.

We use a 30-gallon water bladder, easy to store and the bladder can be positioned higher than your water tank inlet and it will flow through a hose into your holding tank eliminating the water pump.

Note: our new trailer's water connection will not allow water to free flow into the fresh water holding tank a pump is required. After checking out the plumbing configuration I concluded the problem is  the half inch pipe and the upwards 90-degree angle.

For your sewage a portable storage container called a blue boy is handy, they normally are equipped with wheels for easier maneuvering. If it is necessary to transport the container in your vehicle be careful not to fill it full, you may not be able to lift it into your vehicle.

I learned my lesson the hard way, I delayed draining my black water longer than I should have and when I did the storage container over flowed. There was quite a smelly mess that took many trips to the water source before the landscape was back too normal.

Some locations allow grey water to be drained onto the ground, I usually dig a hole for the grey water. Check with the local authorities before attempting to drain your grey water onto the ground.

RV Battery Power

Dry camping with no hook ups especially electricity will definitely limit your stay to a couple of days, 3 if you are very frugal with your power.

After this time your RV batteries will be almost dead (totally discharged). If your RV is a towable (trailer, or 5th wheel) plugging the RV cord (lights & brakes) into the receptacle on your tow vehicle and running the engine for many hours is an option to recharge the batteries. Although, you should keep an eye on your fuel gauge, and hopefully your vehicle is quiet and not a smelly diesel.

The next option is a generator, a 2000 watt generator or even a smaller model will work, if recharging your batteries is your only application . Operating a microwave, TV or most other RV appliances a 2000-watt generator will be adequate, but if running your air conditioner is necessary a much larger generator will be needed, 4000-watts or more.

A generator works well except for the noise and the fuel, oh and maintenance, changing the oil, fuel stabilizer when not in use, air filter, fuel filter, and tune ups, and damage to the environment from exhaust emissions. You can spend $1000 on a Honda or Yamaha or about half as much on this Champion.

Solar Power

The easiest and most convenient way to keep your batteries charged is solar power. Once the system is installed, no maintenance is required, except for occasionally washing the solar panels .

Not only is there very little maintenance, there is no noise and most of all solar panels have no emissions, no greenhouse gases, a completely renewable resource, the sun.

Solar power is the conversion of sunlight into electricity, either directly using photovoltalic (PV) cells (solar cells), or indirectly using concentrated solar power (CSP). Concentrated solar power systems use lenses and mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. Photovoltalic cells convert light into an electrical current.

The solar cells are connected together to form a solar panel, and then the panels are connected together to form an array. The number of panels is determined by how much power needs to be produced. The array is connected to a charge controller and then to a battery bank.   Click here to check out a previous article on what you need to know about RV batteries.

Sunlight is all that is needed to charge your batteries and keep them charged.

Some of the very first solar panels made back in the ’70s are still pumping out power in Northern California after 40 years, and they’re still at about 80% of their original power ratings. Solar panels lose about half a percent a year in efficiency, the reason they are only warrantied to 25 years.

RV Solar Systems

A solar system for your RV is a relatively simple installation if you are at all handy.

A system for your RV can be mounted on the roof or not, less panels are needed if they can be manipulated to follow the sun through the day rather than be in a fixed position.

In fact it takes twice as many watts of stationary solar panels to produce the same electricity as panels that follow the sun through the day. The more direct sunlight the panels absorb the more electricity they will produce.

DSC01951
Our solar system in action.

A tripod structure providing support at the back of the panels will work well, and moving them a couple of times through the day as the sun crosses the sky is easy.

Note: it may be necessary to include some kind of anchor like large rocks if you are camped in a windy area.

 

 

Another advantage of NOT mounting your solar panels on the roof of your RV, if it is necessary to park your RV under a tree it will shade your panels, where as, if they are portable you can move them into the sunlight, as long as you have enough electrical wire.

If your solar panels are mounted on your RV  tilting them towards the sun will help to increase their effectiveness.

Solar power is becoming more popular as it becomes more affordable and the cost of fuel rises as well as concern for our planet and the damage being caused by emissions from fossil fuels.

Watch for my next article on Solar Power, I will describe how to determine the size of your solar system.

Thanks for visiting I hope you have enjoyed this article on boondocking and solar power.

For your convenience I have compiled a comprehensive list of equipment and items you may need for your RV and camping travels, complete with product  links, click here to check out my list & links.

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Thanks for visiting.

Gord B.

 

3 thoughts on “RV Solar – Camping off the Grid”

  1. Hi. Great site , but please mention, in your solar commentary, is to check on batteries, regarding water levels….extremely important. With constant power coming into batteries, they cook and off gas. Top up with distilled water or plates will be damaged and battery is useless

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