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Solar Power: Celebrating 25 Years of Electricity from the Sun

Free electricity from the sun! It was 25 years ago this month that we got our first solar system. It went on the first travel trailer we used for full-time RVing. We are still using most of those components today.

Coleen and I had decided it was time to leave the rat race and go on the road full-time, and make our living flea marketing. We had purchased an old travel trailer that we were fixing up for our home. Among other things, it needed the plumbing completely replaced and the electrical upgraded. It was still winter in South Dakota.

There were no Camping Worlds, or even well stocked RV dealers around. Neither of us had any RVing experience, other than to sleep overnight in a 12-foot trailer with no water or electricity. This was before we had internet. Most of our research was done through magazines: Trailer Life, Motor Home, Highways, Escapees, and FMCA. Follow up was over the phone, a landline.

I was busy with the plumbing, electrical, tires, brakes, and the rest of the trailer. Coleen ferreted out sources for water tanks, pumps, and all the specialty items needed for the RV. In her searching, she found Noel and Barb Kirkby, at RV Solar Electric in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Photovoltaic Solar PanelOne of the Original Photovoltaic Panels in our RV Solar System, Curretly on our Motorhome

I was not at all sure solar was a legitimate, or reasonable option. After talking with Noel and reading their little planning book catalog, I was willing to give it a try. I spoke with Noel again, and he and I planned out a modest system.

Coleen and I talked it over, and we decided to go for it.

Coleen called to order our solar system, including a 12 volt DC to 120 volt AC inverter. She  talked with Barb. After their meeting of the minds, we had a vastly larger, vastly more expensive, system charged on a credit card, on its way to Deadwood, S.D.

It worked great then. It still does today, 25 years later. The original solar panels are still making electricity. They are powering the computer I am writing this article on in our motorhome. The Trace 2012 inverter works as well as the day it was new. The Power Guard controller, with the old analog meter, with the skinny red needle, may not be as efficient as the high tech new ones, but still maintains my batteries, tells me what the voltage is, and how many amperes my solar panels are putting into my batteries.

Power Guard RegulatorOriginal Power Guard Regulator that We Are Still Using in Our Motorhome Solar System

I look back and can count at least five different RVs these original solar panels have been mounted on. There isn’t anything we started RVing with that we still have, still use, that still works, and that has saved us as much money as our solar system. Coleen and I have made some good decisions during our lifetime together, and buying our solar system is among the best. A good solar system makes an RV truly self-contained. 


Editor's note: My husband, Bob Nilles, wrote this article. Solar power fascinated him when he installed our first photovoltaic system on our travel trailer, and lo and behold, without being hooked up to a regular electrical connection (shore power), we had electricity to power our lights, tools, and appliances. After using our RV solar system for 25 years, we now have a better understanding of how it works. But the end result -- electricity from the sun -- still thrills us. It may not be exactly free, as we did have to buy the photovoltaic panels, inverter, batteries, charger, and other components, but our RV solar electric system has been an excellent investment for our RVing life and travels.

Go to the RV Life and Travel home page to find more articles about RVs, RV camping, and full-time RVing.

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