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Old 03-14-2016, 02:03 PM   #1
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Off Grid Electricity - A Minimalist Approach

If youíre full-timing with a microwave, hair dryer, electric coffeemaker - this exercise is not for you. You can easily spend into the low 5 figures for solar, lithium, etc.

But letís attack this problem from the other direction - limiting demand in order to reduce the power system needed.

LED lights: 4 amp/hours per day.
Letís say we average 4 hours a day running 2 lights. Thatís more than I would realistically ever typically use, but at 6 or so watts each, that would be 1 amp per hour.

Daily total so far: 4 amp hours.

Propane refrigerator: 12 amp/hours per day
Please correct me if Iím wrong, but Iíve read that on propane there might be a 0.5 amp or so draw for the fan and control board. I think this estimate is high, but letís go with it.

Daily total so far: 16 amp hours.

Laptop and cell phones: 10 amp/hours per day
Running through a small inverter, so thereís a conversion penalty. These things are very light users though. I think this would be more than enough to watch a movie or two with enough left over to check on everybodyís Facebook cat videos many times during the day.

Daily total so far: 26 amp hours.

Propane detector: 3 amp/hours per day
Also not sure about this one. Feel free to correct me.

Daily total so far: 29 amp hours.

Water pump: 4 amp/hours per day
Also not sure about this one. Feel free to correct me.

Daily total so far: 33 amp hours.

Furnace: 0 amp/hours per day.
Sorry, this is the battery killer, so the Atwood has to go. Switch to catalytic, marine stove, heavy blankets, or aerobic exercises of your choice.

Daily total so far: Still 33 amp hours.

If you camp in the open (I donít) in a sunny climate (nope again) a single 100 watt solar panel would probably keep up with this. A 1000 watt generator for a couple hours every few days probably would as well.

Feel free to poke holes in my usage estimates.
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Old 03-14-2016, 02:17 PM   #2
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There is a good analysis here. Which suggests more along the lines of 50-60 AH per day, factoring in a little heat and not a huge desire to conserve.
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Old 03-14-2016, 02:41 PM   #3
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Thanks for the link.

My point of view is that it's more effective/efficient to save an amp/hour than it is to provide it in the first place.

The biggest power hogs are the furnace fan and the water pump. So - eliminate the Atwood for a huge gain in efficiency. Conserve water (a necessity anyway) and there goes another big user. Replace anything electric that has a heating coil or a motor with something more efficient.
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Old 03-14-2016, 03:14 PM   #4
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We don't use any of the small kitchen or bathroom appliances except occasionally a slow-cooker when we're plugged in. Nuthin' wrong with wet hair, and we use a drip coffee cone and filter that drips coffee into an insulated pot or thermos.

We save on battery power and propane while boondocking by freezing blue gel pacs in the freezer at night, then turning the fridge off completely during the day, and inserting the frozen gel pacs amidst the food, as we would with a picnic cooler. The fridge is incredibly well insulated, and we've never had food warm up or go off with this system. Then at night we re-freeze the gel pacs for the next day. Usually they're still mostly frozen. at the end of 12 hours.

With this system, we turn off the batteries (2 6-volt) during the day from the main switch if we're out hiking or whatnot for the day.

When the furnace is needed, we keep it at a really low setting (like 63F) and pile on an extra comforter or sleeping bag overtop the regular bedding.

Small electronics like a cell phone, Kindle, or laptop can be recharged in our vehicle's port while driving, or with a small portable solar gadget.

Outdoor grilling and salad/sandwich type foods save on the stove exhaust fan.

If the batteries are 100% charged prior to boondocking, we've been able to camp for 5 days with this system without having to use our generator. Then we bring along a battery recharger that we can plug in when we're at a RV park.

(No serious solar yet, but we're intrigued.)
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Old 03-14-2016, 05:39 PM   #5
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I wouldn't say efficient as much as I would say, cheap.
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Old 03-14-2016, 06:39 PM   #6
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Really? Would it make sense to power up enough to run a clothes dryer?
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Old 03-14-2016, 06:47 PM   #7
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Really? Would it make sense to power up enough to run a clothes dryer?
Yes if it is a solar clothes dryer
I have managed to deplete two deep cycle fully charged batteries in 3 days with minimal usage, by accident, converter was unplugged with out my noticing it. Normally take the amps your batteries have and don't use more than half before recharging.
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Old 03-14-2016, 08:56 PM   #8
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Real world experience tells me 1.) you're exaggerating 2.) 100-watt panel won't keep up with 60 AH a day in real world conditions if full timing. Considering that a GS100 panel only puts out 5.7 amps of power. How many hours of full sunlight do you need to top back off?

Maybe some weekenders.
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Old 03-14-2016, 11:28 PM   #9
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Just normal summer camping we use about 25% of our battery per day. With 2 group 24's at 80 amp hours each that come to about 40 per day. Now I have 400 Watts of solar and in full sun it's all returned by lunch. But in inclement weather a minimalist approach is required. (Need better batteries)
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Old 03-15-2016, 07:13 AM   #10
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Real world experience tells me 1.) you're exaggerating 2.) 100-watt panel won't keep up with 60 AH a day in real world conditions if full timing. Considering that a GS100 panel only puts out 5.7 amps of power. How many hours of full sunlight do you need to top back off?

Maybe some weekenders.
The disclaimer in my first post said this did not apply to full-timers. For the rest of us, the energy equation has two sides - supply and demand. You can increase the supply with an array of solar panels, lithium battery banks, pairs of 2000 watt generators, or - as an engineering exercise look at the other side and reduce the demand.
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Old 03-15-2016, 07:19 AM   #11
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When I am boondocking for any extended period, I turn the water pump off to conserve battery power.

Turn the pump on only when you have to have it, use dishwater to empty the toilet....minus the extra water and pump use from flushing.

I also turn off my TV antennae.

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Old 03-15-2016, 12:19 PM   #12
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The disclaimer in my first post said this did not apply to full-timers. For the rest of us, the energy equation has two sides - supply and demand. You can increase the supply with an array of solar panels, lithium battery banks, pairs of 2000 watt generators, or - as an engineering exercise look at the other side and reduce the demand.
Glad someone has addressed the demand side! (I have been reluctant) Very simple behavioral changes can reduce demands. Much cheaper to reduce demand than add capacity. Coming from the marine world I am often surprised at the conversations here about the necessity and size of generators (solar and gas).

A simple marine manual foot pump or hand pump would eliminate the water pump from the demand side and add redundancy to your system. LED lights are a given. Agree about the forced air heating. Providing battery/solar/generator capacity for a furnace is not wise imo. A catalytic heater makes much more sense to me.

Thanks to NW Getaways for addressing the topic!
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Old 03-15-2016, 12:46 PM   #13
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The water pump takes no power when not pumping water, so there is no need to turn it off when you are out, or inside not using any water.

When the pump runs, it takes 4 to 7 amps. It pumps about 3 gal/minute when operating. So, in 10 minutes it can pump a 30 gal fresh water tank dry.

10 minutes is 1/6 of an hour. So, if the pump takes 6 amps per hour, 1/6 th of that is 1 amp hour to pump 30 gal of water. If it pumps the same 30 gal over two days, the same 1 amp hour is used over two days.

The water pump is NOT a big user of the stored battery energy. And it does not take any power when it is not running, so turning it off and on when you want to get a cup of water, or flush the toilet, does not use less battery capacity.
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Old 03-15-2016, 12:52 PM   #14
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Great tips everybody!

My estimate for the water pump was way off. How about the refrigerator?
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