THE TRIP IS OVER! WE ARE HOME! WERE BAAAACK!
By Brad Sears
Oh how time flies when you are having fun. Just over seven months ago Brian and I had the electrical system of the old Foretravel spread all over my work area. The solar panels were leaning up against the barn wall and the inverter/converter/charger and control units were laid out on the work bench. The new secondary circuit breaker panel had been purchased from Home Depot and the rolls of wire and boxes of connectors were ready to go. And the six batteries had been removed from the golf cart as it was not going with us, but the batteries were, and they were near new and tested perfectly.
There is one point here that may drive some techies wild. The battery pack for the house system was a mix and match. There was the six 6 volt golf cart batteries connected in a series parallel configuration and they were then tied to a couple of year old 8-D heavy duty truck battery. The battery pack gave me 1025 amp hours of power meaning that we could draw one amp for 1025 hours, 1025 amps for one hour or any combination in-between. But the guru’s said that a mix and match was bad, however it worked well for us on the six month road trip and is still working. The only thing to watch here is to make sure that the batteries test good. A weak battery in the system will raise havoc.
The system went together piece by piece and the original wiring modified to work with the new concept. That was to be able to use 110 volt A/C current when boondocking and have automatic switching, to have 100 amp charging capability when plugged in or on generator, to limit the number of hours of generator time on the total trip, and to take advantage of the sun to charge our battery pack when boondocking.
The goals were met over the five plus months that we were on the road. Our trip was for me a recreation of a 1984 running of One Lap America. That was to circumnavigate the US non stop in seven days. I was younger then.
Our trip this time allowed us time to sight see and enjoy the country. We spent about equal time in camp grounds and boondocking, almost 20 days on the Arizona desert, where power is always a problem. In our travels before we have always used the generator to charge batteries and supply 110 volt current for the conveniences, coffee pot, microwave and more when boondocking. Generator time per day has always averaged 3 to 4 hours a day, an hour or two in the morning for breakfast and a couple of hours at night for diner and TV. That would have amounted to about 320 hours of generator time if we boondocked 80 of the 175 days that we were on the road. At a gallon of $3.00 a gallon propane an hour that would have added about $1,000 to the trip expenses. Oh the selling point for this trip to Lucy was that if we stayed home we would put 1700 gallons of heating oil through the furnace to stay warm and on the entire trip I estimated that we would only burn 1000 gallons of diesel. Well we burned 1050 gallons of diesel.
Our total generator time on this trip as recoded by the hour meter was 10.7 hours. Two of those hours were logged to supply power for the engine heater on cold mornings so the diesel would start. A little better than three hours was to power the air conditioner during a warm humid spell and the other four plus hours was run to top off the batteries during a three week stay on BLM land in Arizona. The system did exactly what my fuzzy math said that it would do for us on the road. Oh ya, then there was that time that I forgot to shut off the headlights when we boondocked in that pull off overlooking the Pacific Ocean and had to run the generator the next morning with the Aux switch locked over so the engine battery would charge a little before trying to start the big diesel.
The rest of our power was supplied by the following sources. When we left a camp ground and unplugged, our batteries were fully charged by the 100 amp charger that is included with the system. The size of the battery pack has a lot to do with the success of the systems operation. Then there is the drive from the camp ground to the boondocking location with the 150 amp alternator of the engine charging the batteries. And yes the solar panels on the roof do work when moving and take some of the load off the alternator to keep the batteries fully charged, arriving then with a fully charged battery pack.
Now, we did not practice conservation as most of the time when boondocked we had two lap tops running, the TV on for noise, the satellite dish, heat when needed in the evenings, and lights. We made coffee, used the microwave, and Lucy even baked brownies in the convection oven on one or two occasions. The success of the system to turn the motor home into a very livable experience is the entire system, not just the solar panels.
Our system included a large enough battery pack to handle anticipated loads and durations. A high output alternator on the engine of the motor home to rapidly and fully charge the multiple batteries between overnights. A high capacity inverter/converter/charger, and a generator as backup. The cost of the system including the 6 golf cart batteries would be about $3,000 and as such amortization just using the cost of propane would take 3 of these trips.
Now we have been home 2 weeks. The coach is parked. But that does not mean that it is not used as we have 3 grand kids and their mom, our daughter, visiting. Ages 2, 3, and 5. The coach is my office and hide out during the noisy parts of the day. It has only been plugged in for a day and a half due to rain in that time, the rest of the time the solar and batteries have supported it.
Is solar for every one? Probably not especially if you consider every thing that you do an investment and it must meet some financial formula or other. If you spend most of your time in campgrounds even when traveling from point to point then you would not benefit from a solar installation, for that matter you could probably leave your generator home too. But for us it worked well and did what my fuzzy math thought it would do.