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Old 11-04-2013, 10:23 PM   #1
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Kyle401's Avatar
1969 27' Overlander
SW , Missouri
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 114
Off the grid power concerns

I am planning a trip out west next June and will be spending a considerable amount of time off the grid. Here in southern Missouri most of the campgrounds have electricity so I have never had to push my single group 29 12V. I'm certain that I will need some supplemental power since we will spend as many as 9 consecutive days off the grid.

So far the power needs that I have identified are:

Furnace - 3.2 Amps running (measured)
Dometic 2652 - Controls while running on propane?
Lights - fluorescent and incandescent
Water pump - 7 Amp (internet estimate, seems high)
Charging phones/Kindle - .5 Amp each (often can be in the Yukon)

Nice to have conveniences would be:

120V drip coffee maker
900W microwave

If I were confident that I could meet our power needs, I would most prefer to just add battery capacity. We could leave the house with a fully charged bank and never worry about missing generator hours or shaded solar panels. Well that was a nice dream!

Since that doesn't seem likely it leads to my secondary preference, solar. It appears that about 200W of solar and a decent charge controller is pretty cost competitive to a 2000W generator in red or blue. It would also have the distinct advantages of being quiet and not requiring starting/stowing/gas refill etc. Since we wouldn't be bound by generator hours it would also increase flexibility to explore the park.

Of course the generator option seems to offer the greatest charging control and elimination of variables. Basically if it will start, it should charge. It also offers the ability to run high demand appliances when it is turned on.

So my questions are:

How much power (Ah) should I expect to use?
Can 200W of solar keep up with light usage 12V only? Cloudy days? In the Sequoia NF?
How much storage capacity do I need?
When will all the western parks install power hookups so I can listen to my Magnetek hum?

Sorry for all the boondocking newbie questions. Thanks in advance!

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Old 11-04-2013, 10:59 PM   #2
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1971 25' Tradewind
Menlo Park , California
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We have a 200W solar installation and so long as we're not parked in the shade keeps up with our power requirements, which are modest:

* water pump (not much here, 10 or 15 amps when running, but it doesn't
run much otherwise we run out of water
* LED lights - all the lights in the trailer are now LEDs.
* my CPAP machine (perhaps 16 A-hrs/night)
* fridge (basically nothing)
* water heater (1.5 amps when on)
* stereo (1 to 2 amps depending on volume)

We have two group 27 batteries. We use a drip coffee filter & the kettle, and no hairdrier - that would clobber the batteries in short order.

The only place we've had issues is Yosemite in the fall - parked under dense shade. The batteries were at about 50% charge (we use a Trimetric battery monitor) after a long weekend.

Solar works well, and is basically maintenance free aside from hosing off the panels. But no toaster or hairdrier - but no gas, generator or noise,

- Bart

Bart Smaalders
Menlo Park, CA
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Old 11-04-2013, 11:12 PM   #3
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2007 25' Safari FB SE
Suburbia , Sunny So Cal
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If you are coming out here in the summer. You may want to go with a pair of Honda 2000's. A/C is a real nice thing out here in the that time of year.
I'd rather be boon docking in the desert.

AIR# 13896
CA 4
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Old 11-04-2013, 11:21 PM   #4
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1974 Argosy 20
2014 20' Flying Cloud
Kooskia , Idaho
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There is no way to answer your question with any certainty. We all use power differently. I assume if you are using some 120 volt appliances you already have an inverter, otherwise the only real option is a generator on them.

I have had solar for quite a long time, on my 20' Argosy and now also on my 20' FC. I would very strongly suggest you go to a pair of 6 volt golf cart batteries in series as your battery system. Even a pair of the #24's and #27's will not give you the capacity of a pair of GC batteries.

I have an inverter in both of my rigs and it powers the microwave just fine, but I would suggest you find a different coffee making system other than electric. That just takes too much power.

I have two 100 watt panels on my FC now and a MPPT charge controller, and so far have not had any problems at all keeping the batteries charged. The FC does have all LED lighting, and you still have some incandescents. Get rid of them unless they are closet lights which are never on.

I have found that with my solar systems, neither trailer has ever really needed to have my Honda 1000 generator run to recharge my batteries. In fact, now I generally don't even bother to bring it with me.

So, my OPINION is that you probably will be fine with just a solar system of 200 watts or so, if you get a MPPT charge controller, change batteries to golf cart type, and get rid of any remaining incandescent lights. The fluorescents will be fine with moderate use. Don't use a 120 volt coffee pot. Careful use of the microwave, via an inverter, will be OK. By careful use, I mean less than 10 minutes a day.

BTW the water pump load is very minor. It only runs briefly and does not take much when it runs.
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Old 11-05-2013, 12:30 AM   #5
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1978 28' Ambassador
Morada , California
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Sorry, I'm in the same camp with the old 'Tim the Tool Time' man that always liked gadgets with more power...rummmm, rummmm..

I carry our little red Honda genny (2K inverter model) with us when we're out in the sticks away from shore power...

While a proper sized solar system can furnish substantial charging amperage for most uses, there are times when a quick boost from a generator can come in mighty handy...

For example, it takes a hefty rated inverter to run a microwave oven properly, and with plenty of available amp hours from fully charged batteries...Here's where a genny will really 'shine', as it will power the microwave up properly...

We've got (3) group 27 deep cycles (300 amp hrs total) on board, and typically run all the usual stuff; water pump, LED lights, plus a 22 inch LCD TV & Dish Sat receiver (through a 1500 watt inverter) - maybe 3-4 hours at night...we'll power up the genny for a few min's when we use the microwave for meal prep...

Each morning, we then power up the genny for about 2 hours to recharge the batteries - it's important to recharge each day so the batteries don't get discharged too deeply, which would require many hours to bring back to a full charge...

We have a 3-stage converter/charger along with a digital voltmeter mounted in plain sight - as the charging progresses, from 'Bulk' charging, to 'Finishing' charge, and finally to 'Float' mode, when the voltage will drop back to about 13.6 volts to indicate our battery system is again fully charged - the genny is then turned off, and all's well inside our aluminum 'tube' again...!

I think a genny gives us more versatility in keeping the batteries up to snuff, as it were, while having portable power to run other stuff - microwave oven, air compressor, power saw or drill, etc...we sometimes also run a remote 120 VAC pump at a favorite camp spot to pump water from a river up to camp for a shower system & to fill the AS's tank (with a dash of bleach to purify - not to drink, tho)....

Most places we camp don't require us the run the AC, so we only travel with the one 2K genny - works for us -

Have a great trip...
Ray & Pat; Morada, CA
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Old 11-05-2013, 04:48 AM   #6
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here is a plan

stay at a campground once in a while. You could top off batts, get water, and dump waste tanks.
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Old 11-05-2013, 05:31 AM   #7
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2013 20' Flying Cloud
Cream Ridge , New Jersey
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"Miss Piggy" has two group 24 batteries up front and 160 watts of solar panels on her roof. They take care of most of the daily electrical requirements. I also take along my 3000 watt Honda to run the AC or the microwave. We do not use the inverter for anything but very low amp draw items such as my electric shaver. The inverter just draws too much from the batteries. We make "cowboy coffee" in a pot on the stove so no electric coffee pot. In the bed of the pickup I have two more group 24 Optima batteries paralleled to a cord that I use to operate my boat trailer winch. Since they are already there it is a simple matter to hook up a plug to the trailer as a backup set of batteries. These get charged from the truck alternator whenever it's running so they are fully charged when you return from your day trips. Don't forget, you can also plug your trailer back into your tow vehicle and run the engine for a while to charge the batteries. We did this for several years when we first started out with our SOB. We just plugged in and ran the TV for a half hour or so in the morning and that's all it took to fully charge the batteries.
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Old 11-05-2013, 05:38 AM   #8

2003 25' Classic
Zanadude Nebula , WNY
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Thumbs up

I'm with Mexray...

A 2000w genset when 'dock'n is the most consistent way to assure adequate power. Especially with a single 12v battery.

We also camp a lot in state forest campgrounds w/o hook-up's.
We have done a few simple upgrades to extend battery power.
Replaced all high use interior, step & porch lights with LED. Two grp27 Lifeline batteries. Iota DLS 55a IQ4 converter.

Most importantly,
Train the brain to be electrical centrical.

The off switch 'duz wonders in conserving.

AF #1

"Sticks & stones can break your bones...and hail will dent your Airstream"

So when is this..."old enough to know better" supposed to kick in?
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Old 11-05-2013, 07:38 AM   #9
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2008 22' Safari
Oracle , Arizona
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I too am with Mexray....
we replaced all lights with LED's and do just fine with with the Honda jenny and one GR27 battery. We use a french press for coffee or a percolator, that's why you have a gas stove. 9 consecutive days is a bit optimistic. We are comfortable doing 5 in any one spot then on to a full service campground for a night or two.
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Old 11-05-2013, 07:52 AM   #10
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1987 32' Excella
Knoxville , Tennessee
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There are more and more forest service campgrounds with electricity now.

I bought the generator. We do not use it much but it is nice to know that we have it if we need it. I carry the gen with a full tank and carry and empty gas can that I can fill if I know we are going to run the generator a lot. I have only filled the gas can once when were were in Mesa Verde before the season started. I have a CPAP machine and do not want to chance running the batteries too low for it to run.

The big user of power is the furnace. When it gets cold and gray outside for a couple of days it is nice to stay warm and dry. We do not run anything from an inverter or 110 when we are not hooked up. Have not bought the second generator for the AC yet. Thought we would, but generally in really hot weather we will move to a place with electricity.

Might depend upon what you are towing with and if you have room for the generator. One thing in favor of the generator is they are easy to sell if you want to use it and then recover part of your money. An extra battery is going to weigh as much and take up as much space as the generator.
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Old 11-05-2013, 04:55 PM   #11
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As others have said, it all depends on your usage patterns. We have solar and really do like it... It can keep us going for quite some time if we are careful with usage, have nice sunny days, and are not in the shade. That is a lot of "ifs" when you are camping in unfamiliar places. So we also have a set of Honda 2000s ... we don't run them any more often than we need to, but it sure takes a lot of stress off us knowing that we have that power option if/when we need it. We'd rather be enjoying ourselves rather than worrying that our batteries won't last through the night if we need the furnace. That's no fun. We camp in both campgrounds with and without electricity, but we are prepared for anything, so we are good to go no matter what. In our part of the country it can get warm enough to need AC even in the fall and spring, and even in higher we have the set. We haven't needed to run both too often but I can say from experience that when we did need them, they saved the day. Oh, we make coffee on the stove top with a percolator rather than an electric drip coffee maker... even when we have electricity! We like it better than drip.
TB & Greg and Abbey Schnauzer
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Unit #3954
Travel Log: AZBambi...On the Road Again
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Old 11-05-2013, 08:13 PM   #12
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1969 27' Overlander
SW , Missouri
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 114
Thanks to all for the input.

I can certainly appreciate the reduced stress and increased charging control that using a generator would provide. However, it does seem like the restricted run times in NP campgrounds severely limits their practicality. At Lodgepole in the Sequoia NP they can only be used from 8-11AM or 5-8PM. The evening hours would probably be workable, but I would like to be out hiking and exploring shortly after 8AM.

It wasn't really clear in my first post, but I wouldn't plan to use any 120V appliances if I went solar. The drip coffee maker is nice, but I have a percolator for the stove top when needed.

Hopefully it won't be hot enough to need the AC since we will be camping at higher elevations in early to mid-June. I expect to need the furnace some based on the historical averages. Of course weather doesn't always follow the historical averages.

Even with a generator, I probably won't buy enough capacity for AC. If I was planning to boondock in the Ozarks it would be a priority, but most of my local State and Federal campgrounds have electricity. When it's hot, the electric hookup is a necessity for my family.

It sounds like a decent solar set-up is pretty workable for light to moderate power users. The only incandescent that we use a lot is the light over the sink. I could change it for LED which should reduce power usage.

Is anyone using a portable solar unit like the Gopower 120? Thoughts on these units?
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Old 11-05-2013, 08:26 PM   #13
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The Gopower 120 is too expensive for the power output and it is a very attractive theft item when you are not at the campsite, but it is out in the sun looking pretty.
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Old 11-05-2013, 08:36 PM   #14
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Is there such a thing as a 1000 genny? I just need to top off fan and fridge fan. I struggled this Summer debating to go solar and park in sun or park in shade and keep shades down. I guess the weather was pretty good this Summer because I was never terribly hot, I barely ran the fan for fear of using too much battery. I was able to go five day with plenty of battery left. But living simply.

2006 Bambi CCD ("EireStream!!")
2010 Funfinder
2005 T@B
2001 Teardrop, Mountain Hardware Tent
For some perfection takes a little longer...
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