Living in our travel trailer, off-grid, has presented quite a few challenges.
First, there isn’t enough storage space. We have had to be quite ingenious in finding ways to store things we need for our everyday living. But one thing we just didn’t have enough space for was food. Sure, we have a closet for our canned and boxed goods, but the little refrigerator/freezer in our travel trailer just wasn’t going to cut it! Especially if we didn’t want to have to run to town every week!
We decided to see if we could find a very energy efficient freezer to store our food. After a few google searches we found an Igloo 5.1 cubic foot chest freezer for sale at Best Buy. Sure, there were a couple freezers that were more energy efficient, but they cost lots more – one of them almost eighteen hundred dollars more! So, we had a choice: do we spend money on a beefy solar system to run an energy efficient freezer, or spend more money on a more efficient freezer and less on the panels. We opted to spend the money on solar panels.
Why didn’t we use a propane freezer? Well, what if there came a time when we couldn’t get into town for more propane? What would we do then? What if the SHTF and no propane was available… at all? Besides, propane is a petroleum product and we are trying to use the least amount of fossil fuels as possible here on our homestead.
Do you see that it only costs twenty-one dollars a year to run this appliance? Holy Cow, that’s less than two dollars a month! At just 172 kilowatt hours per year to run this freezer, we figured it couldn’t be too hard to set up a solar system to run the freezer.
With that in mind, we bought the freezer. Ray did some more on-line research and found a company called “Windy Nation” that sells solar panels, charge controllers, inverters – just about anything you would need to set up an efficiently run solar system. They put together entire “kits” – all you have to do is tell them what appliance you want to run and how many watts would be required to run the appliance (or appliances). Their customer service department is excellent and they have guys that will give you installation advice over the phone. With a smile! It’s rare to find good customer service these days.
When we got the panels (in just a few days) and unpacked them, we were very pleased! They were just what we needed.
The first thing Ray had to do was to build the tower that the panels would rest upon. Fortunately, we just had some very tall oak trees removed so that our fruit orchard would receive more sunlight, and sunlight (of course) is good for solar panels! Ray built the tower next to our tool shed with redwood treated 4” x 4” posts set in concrete for stability and 2” x 4” lumber for tie-ins and support.
Once the panels were mounted on the solar tower, they had to be kept covered so that they would not receive any sunlight. Why? So Ray wouldn’t get shocked when he was setting up the rest of the system!
Do you remember our laundry shed? Well, there was some room left in there, so we put the freezer, the charge controller, inverter and the batteries in there. Ray built a shelf for all the components right next to the freezer, with the batteries at the very bottom.
We bought four – 100 watt polycrystalline solar panels, 100 feet of 12 gauge wire (made for solar), a 1500 Watt inverter and a 40 Amp charge controller. The batteries are deep cycle marine “Die Hards” from Sears. The batteries were wired in parallel for 12 volt, which was then inverted to 110 volts for the freezer. We also have a 50 Amp auto-reset circuit breaker on the wires coming from the solar panels before they go into the charge controller, for safety’s sake. And for just in case, Ray put 3 feet of a copper pipe into the ground with grounding wire, so the charge controller and inverter won’t blow up if the line gets a surge.
How does it work? Beautifully!
We have been using it for about three months now and have had no problems! I recently bought 36 pounds of bacon and 40 pounds of chicken breasts from Zaycon Foods. (If you have never heard of Zaycon Foods, you’re missing out!) After just a day in the freezer they were frozen solid!
I mean S. O. L. I. D.
“So”, you may ask, “what happens in the winter when the sun doesn’t shine as much?”
You see, during the summer we get plenty of sun, which I suppose you already know. Lots of sunlight = lots of solar power to run the freezer, right? Right! But it is also warmer and so the freezer has to run more to keep the food frozen.
However, in the winter the outside temperature is much colder, so the freezer doesn’t have to run as much, which is great because there isn’t as much sunlight to charge the batteries!
It’s a beautiful system, isn’t it?
We are learning a lot about solar systems. Well, Ray is. I still get volts and amps and all that mumbo-jumbo jargon confused! When we build our new home, we plan to run almost everything with solar power. All the lights in the house will be LED, we will use an energy efficient refrigerator (no icemakers, digital displays, etc.), and a whole house fan and ceiling fans instead of air conditioners. Also, we have put our name on the long list for one of those new Tesla batteries!
Our goal is to be completely independent of any need for outside energy – eventually. At this time, the oven/range in the house will be run on propane. With no vampire lights.
“What are vampire lights?” you ask. Those are the little digital read-outs (time, timer, temperature, etc.) that can be found on your range/oven, refrigerator, microwave, etc. You would be amazed at how much energy these little lights use over the course of a year! The range we have decided to buy is made by Premier. You can see it by clicking HERE. We will also be installing a hybrid solar/propane tankless hot water system. But that’s just about it in terms of using fossil fuels for our new home. Of course, if we can’t get our hands on propane, or if the price skyrockets out of our reach, we can always cook on our outside barbeque grill, bake in our future pizza/bread oven or even cook/bake during the winter in our masonry heater. These are all future projects and we can’t wait to tackle them!
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