Going off-grid doesn't have to mean giving up luxuries like hot tubs, blended drinks, flat-screen televisions or electric razors.
While it may look suspiciously like a storybook witch's cauldron, the Dutch Tub is a portable hot tub that runs entirely on wood. I have been looking into getting the Renogy solar panel kits, the price of solar panels have really come down since we moved off grid some 8 years ago. While solar power has been around for a long time now, for most of us it was so expensive we couldn’t really afford it, And if we could afford it we found it too confusing to figure out what we needed and how and where to get it.
However, in the last few years all that has started to change as the price of solar has dramatically dropped. In fact, they are so popular and so good that my standard recommendation for most people on a tight budget is to order a 100, 200 or 400 watt kit from Amazon, depending on their budget and power needs.
A 100 watt kit is probably enough if you have very minimal power needs like a LED light, your cell phone, laptop and a few other small devices; a single 100 watt panel will do that just fine.
But if you want to watch TV, use a 12 volt compressor fridge or run a fan a lot, you need 200 watts: two 100 watt panels. If you want to use a microwave or have Satellite TV you need 400 watts: four 100 watt panels.
For most people, 200 watts is the sweet spot with enough power to meet your needs for the least amount of money.
It makes installation so much easier that most people can do it by themselves with a little guidance. You don’t have to drill holes in the roof which is a very scary idea for a lot of people and eliminates the risk of leaks. You can park the van in the shade and move the panel out into the sunshine, keeping it much cooler in the summer. It’s easy to tilt the panels, you just lean them up against something like the side of the van. The main disadvantage is you can’t use them while you’re traveling and you can’t use them in the city. I won’t go into details but the main difference between the two kinds of controllers is that the MPPT is more efficient and will get  25% – 35% more amps into the battery than a PWM controller will. Because she didn’t mount the panels on the roof the Z brackets were unneeded and to make it easier to connect and disconnect the panels she adapted a standard 110 volt outdoor extension cord instead of the MC4 extension cord so she didn’t need the it either. First thing to do when you start the installation is to decide where you are going to mount the controller. She wanted the extension cord to be easy to connect and disconnect and also be very strong and durable. In a later post  I’ll give you details  on how to adapt the 110 volt cord to use it with your solar panels.

An interactive map showing who wants to go off-grid, where they are, and who has land to offer. A Resource Website For Emergency Preparedness & Survivalism From a Holistic Perspective. Joe Pinzone is a casting producer for Leopard Films in NYC and they are casting a new documentary in which they want to profile people who are moving “Off the Grid”. In a perfect world, they would like to document their move from Suburbia to off the grid in order to live off the wild, build their own homes, to be safe, and healthy. They would love to document the journey of moving in which the family is building their new home from scratch.
This entry was posted in Off Grid Living and tagged emergency preparedness, off grid living, self sufficiency, survivalism, survivalist. In fact, as proven by these 15 awesome (and sometimes a little weird) off-grid gadgets, clothing, homes, skyscrapers and even entire islands powered by solar, wind, wood and human movement, living the unplugged life can be relaxing, fashionable and cutting edge.
Some may question the greenness of any hot tub, regardless of how it's heated, but off-gridders who are determined not to give up life's little luxuries will appreciate the ability to lounge and soak, without consuming fossil fuels. I ran across Bob Wells, a long time van-dweller, he posted this article all about how to install this Renogy 200 Watt Solar Kit and kindly gave permission to reblog his post. Suddenly solar prices were reasonable and the average person could actually afford it for their homes, van or RV.
If you have a little more money to play with, and are willing to do your homework, I think you’re better off to spend a little more and buy higher quality individual components, but that requires a lot more learning and study, plus more money, so for most people it’s just not worth it. If your budget is tight, then that will be the deciding factor and it makes the decisions for you. Start there if you can afford it and if you can’t then get a 100 watt kit to see if that’s enough and if it isn’t you can add a second 100 watt kit when you can afford it. Like most high-top vans, her fiberglass roof is very convoluted and she had a hard time finding a place to mount even one panel much less two.
Dandelion was fortunate in that she had a friend here in camp who led her through the whole process making it much easier. The combination of tilting and tracking the sun with your panels will give you a lot more power into your battery at the end of the day. An MPPT controller will give you about 33% more power into your battery  but will cost much more, so many people argue that instead of buying the more expensive controller, you should just buy a third solar panel which will give you 33% more power. Fortunately, Amazon sells a 200 watt kit with a PWM controller and without the feet or extension cable for $309: Renogy Solar Panel Bundle 200 Watt. Because you don’t want to draw the voltage of your battery down below 12.2 volt (50% of capacity) you need to monitor it’s voltage every night.
So rather than use a common solar power extension cable she decided to use a heavy duty outdoor 110 volt extension cable like the heavy duty yellow ones you see at construction sites.

I’ll also talk about connecting your panels in series instead of parallel  to reduce the voltage drop over a distance. From a safety standpoint it may be wise to wire the plugs so the female plug end is on the panels. This is geared toward mobile use, but the information could easily translate to a cabin or other stationary use. I know at least a dozen people who own Renogy solar panels or complete systems and they are all totally satisfied with them. In fact today we are taking a look at how a friend of mine (she’s known as Dandelion on my forum) installed her Renogy system. So she decided to do what a lot of people do and not mount them on her roof at all, instead she carries them inside her van until she gets to where she’s camping and then she takes them out and sets them on the ground.
But that means you have to have enough room on your roof for a third panel, which dandelion didn’t have, or she has to carry and store a third panel and take it in and out every time she drives.
For that reason I recommend you put the controller somewhere in easy eyesight so you can see it’s voltage at a glance. She wanted to be able to park the van in the shade and set the panels far enough away so they could be in the sun and that meant a long extension cable.
If you paid someone else to install it the costs would skyrocket and most people didn’t know what to buy or how to install it. You will run into storms and clouds and if you don’t want to run out of power you must have more solar than you need in good weather. For city dwellers or frequent travelers it’s a bad choice; for boondockers it’s a great choice. Also because she wasn’t mounting her panels on the roof she wanted to put it close to a window that opened so that she could just put the cord through rather than drill a hole.
That eliminates most of the decision making and cuts the high cost of shipping out of the picture. If you buy all you can afford, even if it seems like too much,  you’ll be ready for bad weather and able to add extra electrical devices you didn’t even know you wanted.
For boondockers another very good option is to buy the 100 watt folding suitcase solar panel from Renogy; we’ll talk about that in my next post.

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