Here Comes the Sun

I’ve had my coach, Roamward Bound, for over three years now, but this by far is the largest upgrade.

After spending four of the last five weeks camping with the WINs (Wandering Individuals Network – RVSingles.org), first in Yuma, then in Quartzsite, I’m back in Yuma …

WINs Campfire at Quartzsite
WINs around the campfire at Quartzsite

Quartzsite Sunset
Quartzsite Sunset

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, and I say it’s all right

… back in Yuma at Starlight Solar having a solar power system installed.

Roamward Bound getting 780 watts of solar power at Starlight Solar in Yuma, Arizona
Roamward Bound getting 780 watts of solar power at Starlight Solar in Yuma, Arizona

This will make dry camping / boondocking much more feasible. In theory I should almost never have to run the generator or worry about my electric use when I’m not on shore power. I’m going big with the project:

  • Magnum 3012 3Kw inverter
  • Magnum PT-100 Solar Charge Controller
  • Magnum Advanced Remote
  • Solar Charge Remote Display
  • 3 Solarworld 260 watt panels (780 watts total)
  • 400 Amp-Hours of GBS LiFeMnPO (lithium) batteries (5 kilowatt hours)

Lithium ion batteries are fairly rare in the RV world. Nearly everyone uses flooded lead acid deep cycle cells, with some opting for more expensive sealed AGM batteries, but lithium offers many advantages:

  • Lithium batteries are smaller and lighter.
  • Lithium batteries can be regularly discharged down to 20% of their rated capacity. Lead acid batteries should only be regularly discharged down to 80% and occasionally to 50%.
  • Heat tolerant. Lead acid batteries have only half the capacity at 95 degrees than they do at 77. Lithium has nearly the same capacity at 95 degrees.
  • Lithium takes 40% less time to charge. There’s no three phase charging cycle – they are always accepting a bulk charge.
  • Expected lifetime is 12-15 years.
  • No maintenance.

The only disadvantage is cost. The 400 amp hours of lithium batteries (equivelent to about 1200 AH of AGM batteries) alone cost over $2600.

While I’ve always wanted to, I’ve never had solar on any of my houses. The economics of putting solar electric in an RV are completely different than residential. For residential, the savings come from utility bills and can take up to 20 years to recoup the cost of the system. In an RV the savings come from campground fees ($20-$50 per night) and/or generator fuel ($2.50-$3.50 per hour to run my generator). I’m expecting to recoup the cost in 11-18 months.