Overlanding with Solar Power
As I was driving down the road with the sunlight beaming down upon my rig, I couldn’t help but think how I could be harnessing some of this energy and transforming it into power in order to be able to go out in the middle of nowhere and camp where I want to, without having to PAY for an electrical site at some park somewhere. The whole goal and idea of overlanding to me was to get out where there is nobody and see things that most people do not see and do things that most people are not able to do.
If we just go from park to park we are seeing the norm, what everyone else sees and does and we really do not get to experience overlanding to the fullest. We are just park hoppers. So I wanted to make myself as self-sufficient as possible, being able to survive comfortably without the need for outside intervention for periods of time.
So there are several things to consider. Water was my first one. I have to have a shower. I have to be able to drink, brush my teeth, clean clothes and dishes. Power was the next one. As some of us here may be backpackers where we can put everything we need on our backs, we are here to speak of the overlanding experience. So we all have a vehicle of some kind. That vehicle has a battery and plug ins where we are able to charge everything we can think of in one way or another.
BUT, the last thing we want to do is to spend 3 days out in the middle of nowhere, reaching that destination of “going where no man has gone before” and living life without any interference of human resources and then we go to pack up and our vehicle will not start because we have drained the battery down to nothing from charging all of our necessities. So how do we keep from this? What are our options?
So back to my original thought while driving down the road, thinking about these things, and wondering what do I need to do to be able to be completely self-sufficient power-wise and harness this energy so that I can power all the things I have at my disposal in order to be a comfortable as possible and enjoy this overlanding experience to the fullest?
I considered and began to research solar. I had experience with solar before. I have backpacked and I had the small solar charger that clipped onto my pack and as I hiked across the earth, the sun would beam down giving it a charge and then I could throughout the day keep my GPS or cell phone charged. What I needed now was on a much bigger scale. But I still like the idea…
The benefits are out there and hold true for most people.
Before you get into “is solar right for me?” or “should I use a generator?” you need to determine the answers to a few questions.
Is it for me?
Compared to those people who spend $50k to 250k on an RV and then $30-50 a night in a full service campsite (I often think how in the world they can afford some of these rigs), we really do not have that much invested. But to us who work day to day jobs and live paycheck to paycheck it’s a small fortune. And if most of our wives found out just how much we had in our rigs we would be calling a lawyer instead of 4 Wheel Parts for our next purchase.
But we must decide if Solar Power makes sense for us. It’s kind of like sushi, it’s not for everybody. But for some of us, it is really a necessity and will make it where we can bring and enjoy many of the comforts of home and not need any outside sources to do so.
Basic Parts of an Overland Solar System
System Number of Panels Watts Charge Controller Inverter Price
Renogy 200 W 2 200 30 Amp Renogy N/A $464
Lensun 80W 1 80 Lensun 10A Regulator N/A $209
GoPower Electric 1 170 30A GoPower 1500W $1600
Windy Nation 200 2 200 30A P30L 1500W $533
Zamp Solar 480W 3 480 30A Zamp N/A $2000
Goal Zero 150 1 Folding 150 N/A Yeti 150 $449
NOTE – The Goal Zero kit listed last would not be connected directly to your vehicle power source but to the Yeti 150 Power Station.
Ok, so let’s go back to 7th grade and put all of this into a word problem and try and make this make sense and see if it is worth it to us. When thinking about energy savings of going solar, we must think in terms of whether it would be comparable to what we would spend using a gas generator. This is totally ruling out the sound co-efficient and just crunching numbers.
An Average generator burned one ½ gallon of gas per hour. If we round around and say that the average price of gas is $2.50 then being parked for 8 (normal time we would run it at night for lights and fans) hours we would spend $10 per night.
Based on that figure, if you have $1000 investment that you have made on solar, you would reach a breaking even point on that investment in 100 days. So how many days per year do you go out and need this type of charging system? If your solar system allows you to avoid $40-50 per night campground fees, then your break-even point would come much sooner.
After you reach that break-even point then your energy costs would be $0, other than what you would pay for replacement or broken parts such as batteries.
Model Technology Size Weight Voltage Cost
WalMart Everstart Lead-Acid 11×6.6×9 68 12 $100
AutoCraft Marine Lead-Acid 11×22.214.171.124 24 12 $115
Optima Yellow AGM 10×6-7/8×7-13/16 43.5 12 $282
Trojan Reliant AGM 13x7x11 81 12 $310
Powerbrick100 Lithium Ion 10.2×6.6×8.3 30 12 $725
Smart Battery Lithium Ion 12.8×6.5×8.7 28 12 $1300
I researched and looked around to see what was best to fit my needs. To be honest I put more investing into this presentation than I did my research back then but I think I made the right choice and it has been worth every penny.
I spent $200 on Ebay for the Lensun 80W solar Combo that came with a charge controller. I like Ebay because sometimes they run discount codes pretty often. I wasn’t in a hurry so I waited on the 15% off day. It was a flexible panel that is black and came with all of the cables needed to hook it up to a second battery. I planned to install the panel permanently on the hood of my FJ Cruiser where I had painted the hood black. It was the perfect size and would hardly be noticeable. I also purchased a Heavy Duty Dual Battery Auxiliary Isolator with 15’ and 4’ cables for $112 on Ebay. This is a necessity when using dual batteries and came with the heavy duty cables that I needed to hook everything together.
I went to the local HS welding shop and had them fabricate me a battery stand out of heavy metal. They measured and it took them about 30 minutes to come up with a stand with rails that would fit directly into the slot I had made for it behind my air cleaner, passenger side by the fire wall. They charged me $5 for the materials.
I bought 4 grade 8 bolts at the local Ace Hardware store for $6 with lock washers and washers in order to install the battery plate. This took about 30 minutes to drill the holes, insert the bolts and install. After this I went down to the local Advanced Auto Parts store and purchased their deep cycle battery for $109 and a battery holder for $9. I installed the battery and holder in about 10 minutes and tightened everything down.
I installed the isolator on the driver side and ran wires connecting it to the second battery and also to the alternator. A switch was installed inside the cab for me to push if I wanted to use the alternator to charge the second battery. Otherwise all of the charge would come from it sitting using the solar panel.
I had to purchase windshield water relocators because the solar panel being added to the hood covered up the OEM windshield washers. These were $8 at advanced. I used heavy duty double-sided tape and 4 self-tapping screws to attach my solar panel to the hood. I used double sided tape to attach the charge controller to the top of my sealed intake and ran wires from the solar panel and 2nd battery to the charge controller. It was done.
Total Cost – $435
I added up that I will spend (estimated) 60 days/nights in my tent this year. With an average of $10 per night running a generator the cost would be $600 for an 8-hour night plus the cost of a generator (around $800) totaling $1400. That leaves me with after 1 year a savings of $965 not counting the cost of staying in parks where it would cost an average of $40 per night.
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