When we are up on our future homestead, working our bodies to an over-exhausted state, it’s always nice to have a hot shower and an evening television show or two to vegetate over.
We set up a really nice “camping” spot on our property to live in while we are up working (click here to see) and are completely off grid, so unless we want to run a generator (noisy and pollutes with fossil fuels) or bring up fully charged batteries from home (very heavy to lug around), living comfortably in the trailer on work weekends would not be feasible!
The first solar panels we obtained were from our brother-in-law, Danny, who got two of them from his work. They were solar panels that had fallen off one of those digital roadside signs you see in construction areas. The glass had shattered but all of the inner workings were still intact. These panels still work pretty well despite their damage and have helped supplement our battery system when we are “dry” camping. This was our first dabble with solar energy and we were quite impressed, but it didn’t completely solve our energy problem on rainy days, when the panels didn’t work as well and the batteries got low. We would have to choose between watching a little television or taking a shower, and the shower usually won. Then Ray found a small 45 watt system sold through Harbor Freight (see here) that had three panels, an adjustable stand and a battery controller for less than $150. We set the new panels on top of the trailer and they worked like a charm. This system allowed us to camp for more than four or five days at a time without having to use our generator, as long as we were very conservative with our energy use. In the meantime, we switched all of the lights in the trailer from those little incandescent bulbs to LED, which saved a tremendous amount of energy.
This worked well until a few years ago when we had to switch from analog TV to digital. Being off the grid and having no prospects of getting cable TV, we opted to use one of our digital satellite receivers from home and purchased another dish that we set up on a tall tree snag. Unfortunately this brought another energy using appliance into the equation as the satellite receiver also uses energy – not a lot, but enough so that we again had to be very conservative in energy usage if we wanted to watch the news and an hour long program in the evening.
Ray fixed all that with an ingenious system. We bought two more Harbor Freight 45 watt solar systems and instead of hooking them up to the trailer battery, Ray devised two more separate systems, one for each the TV and the satellite receiver. The TV now has it’s own set of solar panels linked to two deep cycle batteries. The satellite receiver also has it’s own system of solar panels and batteries. Inside the trailer Ray installed a simple switch for each system, so now all we have to do is flip a couple of switches to watch TV. Last Sunday we watched about 6 hours of TV (1 hour of morning show, 1 hour of news at noon, 1 hour of Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, and then a 3 hour movie) without any glitches in the power supply! The best part is that our trailer has never run out electrical power for the lights and the water pump since this entire system has been set up!
- Solar panels On the trailer roof we have three sets of the Harbor Freight solar panels and two old damaged ones. One set of the HF solar panels and the two damaged ones energize the batteries for the trailer, which runs the water pump, fans and lights. The second set energizes two batteries for the television, and the third set is for the receiver!
- The inside view This is an inside view of our set-up. You can see the receiver and above it is the TV. Each is plugged into an inverter which is then plugged into a wall socket, turned off and on with a toggle switch, which saves a lot of wear and tear on the 12 volt sockets and plugs.
- Outside connection You can see the electrical wire running from the outlet in the side of the trailer down to the batteries and charge controllers. The wires from the solar panels run down the other side of the trailer. through the charge controller and the power is then stored in the deep cycle batteries.
- Batteries and Charge Controllers Under the trailer you can see the two charge controllers, each with two batteries. The power goes from the solar panels, into the charge controllers and then into the batteries. When the TV and receiver are turned on, the power goes from the batteries up into the trailer, through an inverter and finally to the appliance.
- Trailer Batteries We actually have three deep cycle batteries for the trailer itself, run by one set of Harbor Freight solar panels and two free (though a bit damaged) solar panels courtesy of my brother-in-law, Danny. Since we have had this system set up we haven't run out of power, though on dark and rainy days we are still a bit conservative.
After a hard day of working, it sure is nice to sit in front of the TV and vegetate! Besides, I truly think Ray would surely go through withdrawals if he wasn’t able to watch Wheel of Fortune. I secretly think this was his motivation for getting this set up! 😉
We are also using solar energy in several other places on our future homestead. Our paths are lighted by small solar landscaping lights. My middle son, Matthew, gave my husband a wonderful motion activated, solar powered, LED light that he mounted on our shed. We also have another solar panel mounted above our satellite dish that charges three batteries in the shed, which powers the light inside the shed, a porch light, a small refrigerator, and a TV (not all at the same time, of course).Needless to say, we are sold on solar! When we build our home up on our future homestead, we plan to use a lot of solar power! We will use it to power the house (lights, fans, very energy efficient refrigerator, small water pump for upstairs) and also for heating water in a hybrid system with a propane tankless hot water heater. If you haven’t seen our soda can heater, which uses the sun to heat soda cans that in turn heat a room, click here to read the post! We plan to build a bigger, more efficient and 🙂 prettier 🙂 one that we will permanently attach to our new home.
Our ultimate goal will be total energy independence. Only the future will tell how successful we will be in this goal! Life is good.
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