Our Solar Power Setup
Before embarking on our new travel living journey, we tried our best to make plans which would allow us to live and travel as sustainably as possible. And since I’m a writer and photographer who makes money online, our priority was to make sure we had a way to generate electricity. I’d already chosen solar power as my preferred method, and had actually been experimenting with various passive solar techniques the last year or so we lived in the house.
Just before selling everything and hitting the road though, we invested in a cheap starter solar panel system. Now this isn’t a top of the line power generator but we had to go cheap. We also wanted to experiment a bit and see how well it traveled before we put too much money on the line.
This set of solar panels came in a kit from Amazon, and it included everything we needed except a battery. It boasts 60 watts of power generation during peak times and conditions but we currently have nothing set up to try and gauge its actual output.
The battery we bought for the system is a cheap $20 lawn and garden battery from WalMart, so I suspect we’re not getting nearly as much power storage from the setup as we probably could be. Overall though, the system works really well and I – after having paid $100-$300 per month in electricity bills for over 5 years – have fallen completely and totally in love with solar power!
The one other solar device we had before even leaving on our first trip was a small solar yard light. This was also a cheapy from WalMart, but at around four dollars I’ve kind of fallen in love with it too.
We’ve found it comes in handy for almost everything. We can remove the top part and use the bare bulb as a half decent flash light or reading light, and it’s wonderful as a general night light too. We simply set it out by the solar panels during the day when we’re in camp, or I sit it on the dashboard in the Jeep when I’m driving. It charges easily regardless of what the weather is like, and with a strong charge it lasts all night long. An on/off switch would be nice but for as cheap as this thing was I’m not complaining. It’s fairly simply to tuck the light under a blanket or cloth when we want it “turned off”.
Over time we’ve collected a couple of other small solar panels to charge a radio and a tent light, and we’re enjoying it so much we plan to add to the collection as we go.
When we first started traveling we had the solar panels disassembled and padded thickly in a large bin with sleeping bags. Each time we made camp we’d put the frame together, attach each panel, then hook it all up.
As you can imagine this was a little time consuming and it took an enormous amount of space in the Jeep. Once we traded our tent for a cargo trailer though, and then started outfitting that for our lifestyle, we ended up with a much easier solution which allows us to simply slide the panel assembly out and attach the legs, then plug everything in.
So why don’t we simply mount the panels onto either the Jeep or trailer? Well… for now that’s an ongoing debate Having the panels mounted would eliminate all setup and take down time plus allow us to charge even while driving down the road. The biggest problem though, is that when we make camp we try to park the Jeep and trailer in a shady spot so they don’t get too hot inside. And that of course, wouldn’t work for generating power if the solar panels were on top.
So for now we brainstorm how that could change in the future.