We mentioned in a recent article how much fun we had during our five-day camping trip. This trip’s destination was a campsite about 25 miles southeast of Flagstaff, Arizona near the 790-mile Arizona Trail. The Pine Grove Campground is one that offers a “dry” location to park—without water or electricity directly available. Sometimes these locations have amenities such as restrooms, showers, and water from a centralized location. On this trip, we relied on what we carried for water and, for electricity, used our newly expanding RV solar system.
This was another shakedown trip for us to become familiar with our camping rig and to continue to gain an understanding of all its systems. We are experimenting with finding out what works best for our trips, in order to prepare for a longer journey next year. There will be no manual reading for us on our maiden extended trip!
We know that an additional power source is required when we are camping “off the grid.” We need power for phones, laptops, the TV for movies, and making popcorn in the microwave. Well I guess we could find another way to make popcorn, but it is nice to have that option. Here are the reasons we have spent money with RV solar power equipment as our choice for power.
Satisfaction with a closed loop system
I think our frugal-minded FIRE readers can understand when I say this: There is a certain kind of satisfaction that comes with a closed loop system. In personal finance, an example is saving money and investing it, which then brings in yet more money that can then be reinvested. Wait, isn’t this referred to as compounding?
Is RV solar power similar to personal finance compounding?
For us, we need the ability to have power to supply our water pressure pump, interior lights, the gas ignitor for the refrigerator, and a half-dozen other things. I think we could survive three to four days running these electrical items before we would run out of power.
Of course, we could connect to the truck, running a large gasoline V8 engine to recharge the trailer batteries. That seems simply wasteful. The next approach would be to purchase a small gas generator that we could use on demand.
We have chosen to go the solar path for our camping energy needs. With RV solar, we are creating a closed loop system. Our system so far consists of a 120-watt portable RV solar panel, a quick-release cable and spare jumpers, heavy duty wiring with an in-line fuse, a pure sine wave inverter, and an all-weather shore power cord we hook to the trailer.
The full impact of our developing system sparked an “ah ha” moment, demonstrating the circle of light in all its glory. The RV solar panel and controller converts the power of the sun to a trickle charge, which charges our two 12-volt batteries, which run the inverter that charges the eBike, and keeps the beers cool in the refrigerator. How can it get any better than that?
When we run out of beer, we can ride the eBike to town to buy more. In addition, our passive income will pay for the beer!
The eBike powered by the inverter and RV solar panel.
Silence and RV solar is golden
Trivia question: What are the two most common sounds you will hear in a full campground with no electrical hookups?
Answer: Barking dogs and generators are the most common sounds in a full campground.
We are attempting to be a different kind of camping neighbor with our RV solar system. This goes back to my sailing days when we used a combination of solar and battery, not wishing to go the generator route. Generators sounds permeate a marina, anchoring site, or campground. Unfortunately, it takes the solitude and peace out of the experience. For those reasons, we intend to camp off-season and at forest service lands, away from the crowds.
It costs money to save money with RV solar
Yes, it does cost money to build the solar system we are constructing. I suspect that for many high earner readers, this will set you back about one week of your total household income. For people like Steve and Courtney it makes perfect sense to spend the money on a system. They plan on going with a solar configuration when they take off next year, enabling them to stay in remote locations away from the busy campgrounds.
There is a price of admission for years of solar use, including the eBike. I got 25 years out of my last road bike and I plan to follow this pattern with our one-year-old eBike. We calculate that the ROI on the solar setup (excluding the bike) is less than a year of limited camping for us. The eBike paid for itself in a matter of months while we were a one-car family.
How about the environmental cost? I hate to say it, but it is beyond my “simple caveman primitive mind” to figure that out at this point. Granted, there were environmental costs to mine the raw materials from the earth, pollution in the manufacturing process, carbon monoxide emissions in shipping and trucking, and the cost of gas to transport in our trailer, and to ultimately dispose of the equipment twenty-plus years from now. My guess is that this has less of an environmental impact than what it would take to build a gas-operated generator.
Other closed loop systems?
This got me thinking about the other closed loop systems out there. Here are a couple more:
- Recycling: The process of separating out used aluminum, paper, and glass products with the goal of getting it to a recycle center or trash hauler.
- Composting: My grandparents had a large garden, raised chickens, used crawdads for fishing, and composted nearly everything. They used the compost material as a super fertilizer to enhance their garden and grow their vegetables.
- Everlasting Gobstopper: Willy Wonka created a never-ending candy “for children with very little pocket money.”
A perverse sense of “smugness” with Solar
There is a perverse sense of pride that sets off a smug alert in me. It makes me feel like I am doing a little something to help the environment, from both emissions and noise perspectives. With the right amount of sun and a proper RV solar configuration, we can run all of our modern gadgets indefinitely.
This really appeals to my occasionally exercised frugal muscles and number crunching gyrations. It is exhilarating to have the ability to capture a renewable resource like the sun, harness it to run our eBike and refrigerator. That is what I call hitting a RV camping “home run.”
Do you have experience with RV solar systems? If you have the RV bug, how do you plan to provide electricity for extended travel?