Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The good and the bad of off-grid camping

This trip we've camped in areas lacking grid power a lot more than ever before. The van has a 100 watt panel mounted to the roof, feeding a 12 volt deep discharge battery. Tied into that is a dual 12 volt outlet jumper and 1000 watt inverter.

I use the 12 volt outlets a lot. One usually charges my cell phone. The other runs my c-pap directly on 12 volt. That's a huge power savings. The regular AC cord has a power converter that drops the voltage from 120 AC to 12 DC. Not only is the DC cord more efficient, it will run the c-pap even when the battery is too low to power the inverter.

Before I left home I snagged my small solar electric system out of my beach shed. It's a 50 watt panel, charge controller, and a 12 volt battery, plus a 400 watt inverter. Since it's all portable, the panel can be placed in the sunnier parts of our campsite.

I planned to mostly run my computer off that system. However, with the heat and humidity we've been getting, it's been powering a fan a lot too. That really puts the system to the test. It mostly keeps up. There's a third deep discharge available if the main two get too low. It's the battery that was running my sailboat.

Whenever we stay at a campground that provides electricity, I make sure to charge all my batteries to the max.

The ugly part? It's no surprise that it's the 12 volt cooler. Cheap thermometric coolers using a Pelitier circuit are known to be power hogs. Compressor types are more expensive, but a lot more efficient. I wanted one, but my lovely wife pointed out our budget constraints so we made do. The solar electric system does not keep up. It runs fine on grid power, but we've been off-grid a lot this winter. Sometimes we even use ice in the cooler, which is a big no no. However, if the cooler dies because of it, I'll happily throw it away.

We've stayed off grid a lot this season. That has allowed us a lot more camping options and saved us considerable money. (enough to pay for a compressor cooler, hint, hint)



  1. Looks like you've got it all together.

  2. Replies
    1. Fine for keeping your drink cool, but how do you chill it in the first place?

  3. We started out cruising with the sailboat, using one of those electronic coolers.
    Seemed we could only use it while the engine was running or shore power.
    Later on I switched to a regular small apartment 110 volt refrigerator using an inverter. It worked great and on far less juice than the thermoelectric one.

  4. Well, you sure know your electrical stuff, and I'm envious of your ability to rig all these things and make them work.