Boondocking Tips: Getting and Managing Your Electricity

Boondocking Tips Before You Boondock Series

Getting and Managing Your Electricity

Laura & Sasha's Excellent Adventure!

Laura & Sasha’s Excellent Adventure

Boondocking Tips Before You Boondock This is Laura & Sasha of Laura-n-Sasha’s Excellent Adventure coming to you from Clark County Shooting Complex, a campground in North Las Vegas, NV.

We are using the campground as a place to do chores until we leave to boondock in amazing places.

Sasha has a boondocking spreadsheet that he started on December 18, 2013. As it is the fourth anniversary of that spreadsheet, we thought it might be nice to go over our Boondocking Tips Before You Boondock.

From December 18, 2013 to now, we’ve boondocked 393 days. That is with four summers (May through September 30th) of being connected in an RV spot. Every spring, fall, and winter of 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 we were boondocked for part of the time.

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6 Solar Panels

Being Installed at AM Solar

Getting & Managing Your Electricity

When we started RVing in 2005, we got a truck camper and had the dealer install a solar panel. It was a 100-watt panel and inverter. We boondocked extensively with that truck camper and full-timed in it for 2.5 years. We managed to go 14 days in one spot with this rig!

When we traded up to our fifth-wheel toyhauler in November 2009, we went to AM Solar in Oregon for our solar array system. What follows below is Sasha’s 2012 write-up of our system. Both of us have spent time explaining to others about solar and electricity. I also have a video on YouTube: Electricity in an RV Using Solar Panels.

Search on Amazon

In Sasha’s words, with a few added extras from Laura…

Our “Standard” Solar System Manifesto:

Near Quartzsite, AZ

Near Quartzsite, AZ Solar Panels UP!

We are major solar fans and have an integrated solar system hardwired into our RV electrical system and totally built in. It allows us to live off-grid in our RV as though it is our home, which, it is, no matter where we are. As long as we are in temperate environments. No amount of RV-based solar is going to run an air conditioner or furnace heater for any appreciable amount of time. Not gonna happen. NO LONGER TRUE, see below.

Unless you have a system like Jim Denning! (NOTE: this has now changed and SOME folks spending lots of cash can run rooftop AC off their system. In My Opinion (IMO) it’s not cost effective. If it’s too hot, either move to a cooler spot (higher elevations) or go to a campground.)

That said, our houses have wheels and when boondocking, we generally point ours towards moderate climates where we can keep our windows open and enjoy low humidity. In these conditions, our solar rig allows us to boondock indefinitely. Water and black tank dumping are the only limiting factors then.

Being Off-Grid

Having the solar system and parking in the right spots, you can be totally off-grid. Runs our TV, laptops, back up hard drives, home stereo, wireless router, microwave, ceiling fan, lights, motorcycle battery trickle charger, auxiliary refrigeration, and water pump. It also charges our phones, Kindle, and iPod. We typically boondock for at least 6-7 months out of the year and when we do, we leave the inverter running 24/7.

Our system dates from late 2009 and was pretty state of the art at the time. Since then costs have come down a bit and capabilities have gone up. The system has six roof-mount 100 watt panels, a 600 amp-hour AGM battery bank with four 6V batteries, a 2000-watt Magnum inverter with a dedicated remote-control panel and a 30-amp solar controller with its own dedicated remote panel.

We also have a built in 30-amp, 5000-watt generator with 30-gallon fuel station. In addition to general 120VAC power, the generator recharges the battery bank if there is no sun. Keep in mind about solar: Yes, it’s expensive to have a system like ours that supports long term boondocking. No doubt about it. If you don’t do a lot of dry camping it’s a waste of cash. We do, so for us, it’s totally worth it.

While you will save on gas and campground fees, you can’t really think of “recouping” your investment. What you are buying is this: Freedom, Calmness, Peace and Quiet. Freedom to park on any public land with sun and not hear a nasty generator, nor smell the fumes or have vibration in your rig.

Noise-Free, Fume-Free

Our solar electrical system is basically like a noise-free, fume-free “invisible” 24/7 generator. As long as we are in temperate climes. What’s that worth to you? To us, it’s priceless.

One more thing about solar costs. There is federal tax credit of 30% for your complete solar installation costs, effectively reducing your bottom line costs. In 2009, when we installed, the credit was the difference for us between writing a check to the IRS and getting a very healthy refund. Remember, this is a CREDIT to your account, not a tax deduction. So much better.

Depending on your domicile, there may be additional state and local incentives too. The Federal credit is currently good through 2016. (Laura’s Note: The 30% Federal Credit is still good until December 31, 2019. After that, lesser degrees of credit until December 31, 2021.)

Tax Credit Link: http://energy.gov/savings/residential-renewable-energy-tax-credit

Get Your Solar Education here: https://amsolar.com/diy-rv-solar-instructions/

If it was “summer hot”, our system could not run the air conditioning. If it was “winter cold” it could not run the furnace or the space heaters for long. Solar is great in temperate, low humidity climates like we prefer in the southwest and western USA. For our situation, it will run all our electrical needs indefinitely. You still need propane for heat, cooking, hot water, and running of the main refrigerator.

Boondocking Electricity:

Our Battery System

 

Specifications Current Future
4x Lifeline GPL-6CT 300; 6 V nominal battery with 300 amp-hour capacity @ 20hr. rate 2X Victron Lithium; 12 V with 200-amp hour capacity @ 20hr rate
Depth 10.3” 10.4
Width 7.1” 16.7
Height 13.0” 11.7
Weight 90 lbs 92.6 lbs
Total Battery Bank 12V AGM 12V Lithium
Totals Weight: 360 lbs 185.2 lbs
Totals Capacity 600 amp-hour capacity 400 amp-hour capacity
Usable Amp Hours 300 (50%) 320 (80%)
Footprint in pass-through storage compartment Width: 28.4” total Length and height stay the same. Width: 33.4″ with depth and height stay the same.
Price $1,680 Batteries only $5,000* Batteries ONLY!!!
  • for batteries, interconnects, fuses, crimps, and posts. The Battery Management System costs between $1,000 and $1,500.  They stated that to put in a Lithium battery system, their labor can be between $4,800 to $7,200.

It would take much longer than when we had the original system put in, only two full days. A half of our current battery bank weight and more useable capacity for more than twice the (current) price.

This picture below is for those that have tilt-capable solar panels and the position your rig needs to be to get the maximum effect of your solar array.

Solar Rig Position

North, South, East, West which direction is the best?

Finally, one of the best guys I know who is totally into electricity and how it is used is Mr. Electricity himself, Michael BlueJay: http://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/

The total system that we bought in November 2009 was $9,578 with no sales tax because AM Solar is in Oregon. We received a tax credit of 30% of the price. That year it meant the difference between paying taxes and getting a refund.

Besides the Solar System

We have a generator too. It came with the RV. It needs to be maintained and started at least once a month. Just like a car or truck, you need to do an oil change on it at least once a year. More oil changes if you use it more.

We have the generator for cloudy days or just to “top off” our batteries to 100%. It is smart to get your batteries to 100% by sunset. During the night, your rig will draw power from whatever is plugged in, like recharging laptops, cell phones, and in our case, our auxiliary refrigerator and motorcycle battery recharger.

If your rig has space, it is better to have a generator installed so that it can vent properly. We’ve heard of generators getting stolen while in use, but that would be next to impossible if the generator is installed. This also means having a gas tank within the RV.

Finally, some rigs, especially motorhomes, have a diesel system. An ideal situation for the batteries, where the diesel generator turns on automatically if the batteries’ power is low. You would use your motor to charge those batteries and would only be used in Class A, B, or C but not tow-behinds.

However, that method and even using a generator, is not energy efficient nor boondocking friendly. Both are noisy, smelly, and should only be used in poor weather.

As you can tell, we really like our solar array.

<<<If you go back, you can see the Mindset or If you go forward, you can see Water Usage>>>

Please check back each day for the next part of the series. Signing up to our eNewsletter will get you all the posts in one PDF, plus a worksheet to use for your first adventure! 

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