Solar panels for “free” power

Solar is a great way to recharge a battery and keep equipment like fridges and fans running during the day.

There are many options for solar panels – different sizes, voltages, and types. You can get flexible panels that stick to any surface, or rigid ones mounted in aluminum frames designed for house roofs.

Along with the panels, you also need a controller. That takes the energy from the panels and converts it to a steady 12 volts to power equipment and charge a battery.

We chose to use 265W Grape Solar panels, because we could fit 3 on the roof and still have just enough room for a fan behind them. That’s overkill for most people, but we have a massive Lithium Ferric Phosphate battery that can easily store all the power the panels produce. Some people prefer to mount the panels so they aren’t visible from the ground. We wanted more surface area of solar panels so we had more power coming in, so we made ours look more like a roof rack.

We also chose an overkill solar controller/charger. It’s Victron Energy’s MPPT 150/70. Victron make nice equipment, and the controller will “talk” to our other Victron components. For smaller solar arrays, Victron also make smaller controllers.

Solar Controller is on the left of the picture

Now, obviously any power we generate from the panels is in no way free. The whole setup costs money and it’ll be a while before we can recoup that. But here, it’s less about the cost and more about the ability it gives us to live “off grid” for longer. Typical camp grounds that offer electrical hook-ups aren’t the types of places we want to stay, so it’s important that we can keep our battery charged in other ways. Solar adds a great capacity for freedom.

2 Replies to “Solar panels for “free” power”

  1. Would you mind sharing the details on the hinged enclosure you have covering the switches? Wondering is this is something you fabricated or purchased. Thank you.

    1. That enclosure is hand-built. It’s a piece of clear polycarbonate in a wood frame with a piano hinge and some magnets to keep it closed. before the door was on, I dropped something against the switch panel and broke off a couple of the white breaker handles. That was an expensive accident. The door really protects the panel from being knocked and also from dust.

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