So, you’re looking to go energy independent. You want to power that Macbook and recharge your headlights so you can blog and explore the night. It’s not as hard as you think. Let me say that again, it’s as hard as you think. There is plenty of sun power to charge all your devices. Powering your vitamix and microwave at the same time may not work but for most of your basic needs, setting up one solar panel and deep cycle battery will be enough to run lights and charge cell phones. Disclaimer: I’m not a professional electrician. This how-to is more of a story of how I’ve set up my basic solar panel installs. You do not need to follow my steps 1 by 1 and I suggest maybe you don’t. I want to give you an idea on how easy it is to get running off solar energy. I can’t perform the complex mathematic calculations, all I tried to do was get enough power to charge most of my devices and power my lights. I can tell you right now that I never ran out of power in California but I was always mineful to not leave the big screen tv on all night. 😉
The three things you will need.
- Solar Panel
- Solar Charger Controller
- Deep Cycle Battery
Optional : Extension cables for your solar panel.
Ohhh ahhh! Those solar panels are shiny. They’re getting more efficient each year. You’ll need to determine what size you’ll need.
100 watt solar panels are cheap, you can get them with a controller and extension cables for less than 200 dollars. Here is one on Amazon for sale.
What does the charge controller do? It limits the rate at which electic current is added to or drawn from electric batteries. It prevents overcharging and may protect against overvoltage. Some people will add a fuse box for an extra level of protection but I was fine without a fuse box.
For the deep cycle battery: Get as many amp hours as you can get for the price. You want a deep cycle battery, not a standard car battery. Deep cycle batteries are built to withstand the constant drain and fill associated with a solar panel system. There are plenty of 12v deep cycle batteries on ebay and amazon for a cheap price.
Here is one with 100Ah for 159.99 and free shipping. I have used this brand of battery and have had success.
What to think about when installing?
Don’t put it in a place that will be shaded. Try not to have surfboards covering any part of the solar panel. You don’t have to mount it, you can store it inside and bring it out during the day, just make sure you have long enough cables from the controller to the solar panel. If installing on a van, cabover, or RV, make sure to be careful about having a water tight seal. RV putty will help with that. I’ve installed solar panels on a cabover camper as well as a regular camper shell.
That’s the basics, each install will be a little different. Please leave any questions or comments below and I will attempt to answer them. Thanks for reading!
Here are some panels I installed on my roof rack of my van. I ran the wires down the rain gutter through the back door.