What will you do when the lights go out? How long can you sustain yourself at any location? Could you run basic electronics, a fridge, and keep your battery charged? Can you do it without a generator? Would it be devastating if the worst happens, and an Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) takes out the grid, or a tornado takes down the grid in your area for weeks, or months?
A few years ago, I told my wife I wanted to get into solar. She laughed and said, “you’re crazy,” and then, what all of us men hear, came next, “we can’t afford that.” So, I did my research and came up with the best option for our budget. It was summer in Texas with over 100-degree August temperatures. It was an easy sell to convince her we needed solar.
When you think of solar power, it might seem very intimidating, but it’s actually very straightforward. It consists of a few essential components;
- Solar Panel(s)
- Charge Controller
- Solar Panel Wires
- Battery Connection wires
Solar power has evolved considerably over the years. Prices have come down, although home installation prices have gone up, primarily because installers are overcharging to absorb all available federal and local tax credits. While there are some “off the shelf” so-called solar generators, most of them are overpriced and overstated concerning their capabilities. It is a far better value, to build your own, or work with one of many companies to build your own system, which will be far more powerful, for very similar money.
For our setup, we designed a standalone system for our house, one in our trailer, and one for our bug-out vehicle. The home and the trailer system can be connected, essentially doubling our capacity should the need arise in a long-term situation. The vehicle system can be interconnected as well if desired. This scenario allows both redundancies and the flexibility to bug-out with or without the trailer. It also provides you the ability to drop your trailer and use it as a base of operations.
In our bug-out vehicle, we run a dual battery system, where the primary starter battery is not used to run our Snomaster fridge. The fridge, the radios lights, and other gear all run off the second “house” battery. Solar charging is provided on a 160w 4thD-Solar solar panel, bolted to the roof rack on cross rails, with four simple bolts. You will need a solar charge controller, think of it as being like a “battery charger/regulator,” which takes the solar power, and regulates the charge cycle, through the house battery first, then also maintains the starter battery depending on your wiring scheme.
The methods of wiring these components, connecting it to your vehicle, and creating a house battery system vary greatly depending on your goals. You will add components to your system, which would most likely be a dual battery controller. The advantage of this is being able to charge your house battery with your vehicle running, versus a standalone system, where the two systems are not connected. The advantage of the connected system when done correctly is that you can feed power to existing electrical systems in the vehicle or use it to jump-start your vehicle should your start battery die. There are limits, however, so for interconnecting systems, which are larger, special considerations are required to ensure the vehicle alternator can handle it, and you might need a DC to DC regulator to ensure you do not burn out your alternator for anything higher than a simple dual battery system.
With the technology that we recommend, today you can take a trailer or larger style box, van, etc. and put as much as 2300 watts of solar on the roof, it is even possible to install DC air conditioner and batteries larger than 15Kw. This is a potent system, with the ability to do anything you need, with comfort. We have installed a lot of solar systems over the years and seen quite a few substandard panel failures. As a result of years of experience, we use panels from www.4thdsolar.com. They will handle years of reliable service while the average life of off-brand discount panels for us has been 18-24 months.
One can slowly integrate all these items into your bug-out vehicle and budget.
The Total system, as outlined here, would be roughly $1595, and you would have a 100Ah system, with excellent output. As described, an off the shelf system would run you around $1099, plus an additional $499 for the solar panel (200w) and then some extra for cables, adapters, and so on. So, why not build your own, and gain a better understanding of the technology behind it.