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Solar for Boondocking


(Cheryl asks...)

We want to go solar for boondocking. Currently, we have one 12 volt marine battery. Our needs are few, but our wants are many.


How many batteries and what size solar panels would we need to...

~ Run a small refrigerator day and night.
~ Run a small personal heater, only on cold nights.
~ A small fry pan (electric).

We have a converter. I ran the refrigerator on it for five hours and drained the battery. (Did it as a test.) We can get by without the fridge, but was wondering about the heating items, even a hairdryer. Our converter lets me use my hairdryer on low, but not high. We use only small Christmas lights, if any at all, for night lighting.

We have a very small wooden teardrop trailer. We love it!

Coleen, the RVing editor replies:

To determine how many photovoltaic panels and batteries you need, you need to have more specific information.

How many watts does each of your appliances use?
How long -- how many minutes or hours -- will you use each one?
Will you turn off one when you use another, or will you have them running simultaneously?

What kind and quality batteries will you have?
What are the ratings on your panels?
What inverter will you use?
How do you have these elements wired together?

Where will you be boondocking?
What time of year?
How many days do you need your batteries to last on solar?

Will you tilt your panels?
Will you move during the day to give your panels the best exposure?
What other electrical draw will be coming from your solar system?

Heating and using heat producing appliances isn't the most practical application for an RV solar system. You may find that you don't have enough roof space on your trailer and tow vehicle for the number of panels you'd need to do what you ask. Finding space for the batteries, as well as the extra weight they would add, may be other issues.

When we are boondocking, we try to use non-electric energy for heating. We run the fridge on propane. We heat with a propane catalytic heater. I use my propane RV range and oven for much of the cooking. I also use my crockpot and microwave for cooking, because the crockpot is low wattage and the microwave is only on for seconds.

Here are links to more articles that will give you a better overall look at boondocking and solar:

RV Boondocking

Solar Panels: What Do I Really Need in a Photovoltaic System for RV Electricity?

The Magic of Solar Panels: Bob's True Fairytale RVing and Photovoltaics Story

Go to the RV Life and Travel blog.

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