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August 1st, 2007

One of our goals is to be able to boondock most of the time and avoid as much in the way of campground fees as we can. One of the nice things about campgrounds is that they offer electrical hookups.

Now, common wisdom on solar panels is that they take 10-15 years to pay for themselves. I did some back of the envelope calculations based on our home bill and assumed no price increases. Fifteen years looks reasonable for our usage; probably a fair bit less once you factor inflation in.

On an RV, things are a bit different. Why? Because campgrounds average around $30 a night. Alternately we could run an annoyingly loud generator and pay high fuel prices. For simplicity’s sake, lets assume we could average $20 a night one way or the other. If we can avoid paying that $20, the system will easily pay for itself in under a year.

Currently I’m thinking about a 700W solar panel installation. I haven’t started shopping around for batteries and accessories just yet, but I have been able to find solar panels as low as $4.25 per watt. I believe that price may come down a bit more before we’re ready to start bolting on panels. This is the new price of course. There is an electronic salvage shop in town that may be able to bring that price down if we can find some relatively new 12 volt panels.

One of the challenges will be lowering our overall electrical usage. We’ll be generating roughly 10% of our current usage in an apartment on a good day!

  • We’ll be cooling roughly 10% of the current volume.
  • We’ll be using laptops instead of overpowered gaming rigs.
  • We’ll move from 4 servers running at all times to a single file server running when we are actively using it.
  • We’ll be actively trying to prepare food with a minimum of energy usage.
  • We’ll only need to run the water heater 10-15 minutes a day.
  • We’ll be traveling to avoid too much in the way of extreme heat or cold (except when it’s time to go skiing!).
  • We may look into using a swamp cooler some out west. It’s not terribly practical where we are currently.
  • We’ll be using a catalytic heater instead of electrical.
  • Jenn already works for the light bulb police.

I’m sure we’ll come up with many more tricks along the way, but as a start I think we’ll be some of the most energy efficient folks in the country without losing too much in the way of comfort.

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2 Responses to “Juice!”

  1. Jack says:

    On your solar: 700 watts is a lot of panel. If you still plan a truck camper that won’t work. Plus, I doubt you need that much, but your energy audit will tell you….You might find our website helpful jmayer6.tripod.com If I can help you can email me. Address on site.

  2. johnny says:

    Thanks for your comments Jack. I’m planning our space / weight around 7-800W of panels as the upper end.

    Most of the time, I doubt we’ll need anywhere near 700W, but the possibility of having to run AC in southern summers makes me want to err on the side of caution. We’ll probably start with more like a pair of 190W panels and see how much the AC needs to run to keep things reasonably cool.

    Currently, I’ve found some factory second panels at below $3/watt. Dimensions are 61.5″ by 37.5″ for a 190W panel. If we go with a truck camper, it will definitely be in the 10-11′ range (plus cabover) and probably 8′ wide.

    I don’t think mounting the panels will be an issue although we need to keep a close eye on the battery storage and weight.

    The truck camper is still more of a dream than the more available 5ers and class c’s in Florida. I’m afraid we’ll have to custom build one and drive cross country to pick it up to get what we want in one. We’re still trying to figure out how to do it and we may just decide to work an extra 6-12 months to get exactly what we want.

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