Welcome to the SolarLoco Podcast! In today’s episode, Jef and I talk about why you should go solar, and what you can power with a decently sized photovoltaic system. We also talk briefly about the components that make up my system.
As promised, here is a list of the major components in my solar electric system:
- Solar panels: Renogy 100 Watt Monocrystalline Photovoltaic Solar Panels (Qty. 6)
- Batteries: Lifeline AGM 220 AH 6 volt (Qty. 4)
- Charge controller: Morningstar Tristar MPPT 60
- Battery monitor: Bogart Engineering Trimetric 2025-RV, with shunt
- Inverter 1: Xantrex PROWatt SW 2000
- Inverter 2: Samlex 600 Watt Pure Sine Wave Inverter
- 12 volt fuse block: Blue Sea 5026 ST Fuse Block
With this system, I can power:
- An induction cooktop – Duxtop Portable Induction Cooktop Burner
- A water pump – SHURflo Aqua King Mini 1.0 (this model appears to have been discontinued)
- A bucket-style immersion water heater – Allied Precision Bucket Water Heater
- A toaster – Panasonic Flash Xpress
- A refrigerator – Edgestar 43 quart
- A freezer – Edgestar 43 quart
- A laptop
- A smartphone
- An LED projector – Aaxa P300
- A mini washing machine – The Laundry Alternative Mini Wash
- A mini spin dryer – Nina Soft Spin Dryer
Amazing, right? (Note: I don’t use all of these at the same time.)
Here are a couple of photos of my system:
So, is it possible to live well purely off of solar energy? Absolutely! And we will show you how! Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks for more SolarLoco. We’ll start slow, going over the basics of how a photovoltaic system is configured, and how to size your system … then we’ll talk about the best batteries to buy, the best solar panels, the best charge controller … and finally we’ll talk about installation and accessories. Sound good?
P.S. If you listened to Episode 1, you probably noticed that Jef sounds like he’s broadcasting from a tin can. That’s because I’m in San Francisco, he’s in San Diego, and we recorded via telephone. It’s now a few days later and we’ve discovered the miracle of USB microphones and Skype, so Episode 2 should sound much better. And I promise to watch a few tutorials on basic sound engineering.
P.P.S. Comments have been disabled on SolarLoco because I am terrible at keeping up with them. I will re-enable them if and when I get my act together.
Click here to view the podcast transcript
Christine: What’s up everybody? I am your host, Christine On and if you’re thinking about building your very own solar power electrical system, you’ve come to the right place. Whether you want to install a small solar powered light and a fan inside your shed or maybe wire up your RV or your tiny home for solar. Or maybe you are looking for advice on portable solar panels for car camping, this is the show for you. Today on the SolarLoco podcast, my co-host Jeff and I give you an introduction to what this show is all about, why you should go solar and we give you a brief glimpse of all of the possibilities that solar has to offer. Jeff you want to start us off? What is the podcast about?
Jef: Well it’s about small solar powered systems or 12 volt systems, so on the small side. We basically want to tell you why you want to go solar and how you can do that.
Christine: Exactly. There is a lot of misinformation out there on the internet and we both have come across a lot of it in our quest to put in our own solar powered systems so we would just like to clear up a lot of that and we would like to take you through a journey that is easy to understand because that is the other problem we found with our research. A lot of the resources out there are just so difficult to digest. They use words that you don’t know, that you have never heard before, then you have to go look them up and then they use them interchangeably with other terms that don’t really make sense so we want to clear all of that up.
Jef: A lot of times they use the terms incorrectly.
Jef: Which can be very confusing when you are just getting started and everything is new to you. Then people start using terms incorrectly and it just adds to the confusion.
Christine: Right. Right. We are going to try and not do any of that. We are sticking with 12 volts primarily because that is what we are experienced in. Not just that but I think it’s a good starting place for most people. It’s really hard to jump into the systems like the large residential systems, like the 48 volt systems because it’s really daunting to think to yourself I want to wire up my whole house for solar and then you start looking at the costs and it’s like $30,000 and you really don’t know anything about solar. I think it’s easier for people to maybe wire up something smaller like a shed or an RV or a boat. Something that kind of seems a little more, I don’t know, just not as overwhelming.
Jef: It also has the advantage that it’s sort of self-contained. You don’t have to worry about tying back into the grid or anything like that. You are not wiring a large 120 volt system like you would be with a house. It’s just simpler and it’s sort of everything but on a smaller scale so it’s easier to digest for beginners I think.
Christine: Precisely what I was trying to say. For the time being maybe later on in the lifetime of this podcast we will get into larger systems, residential systems. But for now we are going to stick to small things. We are going to stick to RVs, boats, maybe vans, maybe portable systems for campers, small off-griddy-type of things. Which is sort of … Sorry what were you going to say?
Jef: Tiny houses.
Christine: Tiny houses. That’s sort of my way of saying this podcast is really for RV’ers, boaters, tiny house dwellers, campers, homesteaders, off gridders.
Jef: I guess anybody that is interested in a smallish 12 volt solar system for any purpose really. Could even be a garden shed or something.
Christine: Oh yeah. See that’s the thing. I kind of feel like you have to start small.
Christine: In order to start understanding all of this. For example, I hadn’t done any electrical work before I put my system together so I literally took out a light bulb and a battery just to build up my confidence so that I could say okay is this going to work? Do I really know what I am doing? Let me start with the very smallest system I could possibly put together and let’s see if I could make this work. I did that and I thought okay I made that work so maybe I can do something a little bit bigger.
Jef: Great idea. You start at the most simple, with the simplest system that you can imagine which is one battery and one device.
Jef: I am curious what kind of light bulb did you use that you powered off of a DC, because you can’t just take a regular household light bulb and hook it into a DC battery and expect it to work.
Christine: No I actually took a LED light, it was, I can’t remember the exact model of the light right now. But yeah it said that it was a 12 volt LED light. I grabbed a 9 volt battery and I thought that’s close enough. I hacked the end off that had the connector and I thought I hope I am doing that right. What’s that?
Jef: You had hacked the end of the light that had a connector?
Christine: Yeah the cord coming out of the light had a connector on it.
Christine: I cut that off. Luckily it had a red and a black wire coming out of the end so I knew which one was positive and negative. I grabbed my 9 volt battery and I just held the little wires up to the contacts and it lit up and I was just absolutely ecstatic. I couldn’t believe it.
Jef: On a 12 volt light with a 9 volt battery?
Jef: Wow. You are rouge.
Christine: Why do you think our listeners should go solar?
Jef: Well because it’s fun. Maybe I’m a little bit more of a geek than most listeners. Maybe you should tell us some practical reasons why.
Christine: Well I think they should go solar because I think in the end it’s a money saving thing.
Christine: I don’t know what the average household electrical bill is in the United States but I know for me in the condo, it was about $100 a month. I mean making what I made back then, $100 a month, that’s a lot of money. To think that I stayed in that place for 10 years, $100 a month, that’s $1,200 a year times 10 years. That’s $12,000 just on electricity.
Christine: Doing the math you kind of think well geez, isn’t there a better way to do this?
Jef: So money is a big one but like we were saying earlier, this is going to be primarily for Rv’ers, well not primarily for Rv’ers but …
Christine: Well it’s for tiny house dwellers.
Jef: If you are in an RV or living in a RV or a van or something, well it’s not your only option but it’s one of your only option right? You can either do solar or you have a generator.
Christine: Right and with a generator you have to maintain it. You have to go get gas. You can’t just use it anywhere. I hate to say that a solar system is a set it and forget it type of deal. But for me so far it has been.
Christine: Whereas with a generator you can’t do that. You can’t run a generator if you are in an RV park. You don’t want all these people all running their generators all throughout the night. It’s really noisy.
Jef: Right they are noisy and you have to buy gas.
Jef: To power the generator.
Christine: Which I mean it’s not the worst thing in the world to run off a generator. It’s just, I think it’s probably if you are going to be doing this a long time it’s probably more economical.
Christine: To have a solar panel system.
Jef: Yep and sunlight is free. You have to pay the initial cost upfront to get the solar set up or to buy the solar parts but after that you get the energy from the sun.
Christine: Right and then once you’ve got it all set up, you can go out boon docking, you can go into the national parks, you can go on BLM land and you can stay there for however long you want as long as you have enough food and water.
Jef: And as long as the sun is shining.
Christine: Yeah but you know I kind of feel like the sun is going to shine everything. I am just optimistic that way.
Jef: That is very optimistic of you. You are obviously not from Ireland.
Christine: Well that’s true and I obviously haven’t spent much time in Seattle I guess.
Jef: Money, convenience, what else?
Christine: Like you said it’s really fun. Putting the system together has actually been, and for our listeners who don’t know, I am building my own camper van with a Chevy Express that’s right now sitting in the driveway. It’s a 2004 and I have put plumbing inside and I put electricity and I built a bed and I did all of that stuff. So far for me the solar has been absolutely the most fun part of building that whole camper van. I don’t know why, I don’t know if it would be like this for everyone if everything thinks that solar and electricity is this fun but I love it and that’s why I started SolarLoco and I started the podcast. Sorry what were you going to say?
Jef: There is something just very satisfying about hooking up something that is fairly complex and you got wires and you got invertors and you got all the stuff and you hook it up and you turn it on for the first time and it actually works. It’s just very gratifying.
Christine: Oh I know. I still get that.
Jef: Yeah. That’s part of what makes it fun. You really can see your accomplishment. You are like wow I can turn on a light now in my van or my camper whatever. Yeah it’s just neat.
Jef: Seeing your work in action.
Christine: Yeah it really is. Every single time I turn something on that is newly wired I flip it on and I am just absolutely amazed that it works.
Jef: Yeah you are like wow it works!
Christine: Yeah I guess I shouldn’t be amazed. I put the system together, I know it should work. But still you are like, it works!
Jef: Yeah. I think that’s a good reason too. Having fun while you are in the process of it is important. It’s not just the end result but its having fun along the way. And learning.
Christine: Yeah the learning part is a lot of fun. I hope our listeners listening to this podcast can have fun with us as we put out all of this information for them.
Christine: We will try not to be too boring. I have to say we are not the life of the party kind of people. We are kind of mild mannered to be honest. We will try to be as entertaining as possible while we impart our knowledge.
Jef: While still providing useful and accurate information.
Christine: Yes. Should we go into what we can power with solar? Should we talk about that?
Christine: Okay well theoretically there are infinite possibilities what you can power with solar. I mean the only thing you might not want to really consider is air conditioning.
Christine: Because with a small system, you will need a huge battery bank and gigantic thick wires. For a small system I would not recommend trying to do air conditioning. I mean you could do it if you had a generator or something.
Christine: But we are trying to, why don’t we put a pin in that and say we’ll try to tackle how to power something like an air conditioner or as energy sucking as an air conditioner later on down the line.
Jef: Yeah because it’s theoretically possible.
Christine: It is.
Jef: It’s a practicality issue. Do you really want to be using up that much of your solar power for one device or one appliance.
Christine: Yeah. It seems like there are other ways you could go. You could use fans, you could probably use swamp coolers. You could just, particularly if you are in a van or an RV, just go to a cooler climate. But anyway as far as what you can power with solar, I mean you can really do almost anything you want. You can use induction burners, you can use refrigerators, freezers, and we will show you how to do all of this.
Jef: Microwaves, blenders.
Christine: Oh yeah microwaves, coffee pots, water pumps …
Jef: As well as all of your electronic devices. Charging your cell phone, your laptop or running a TV, especially with today’s TV’s, they are pretty low power.
Christine: CPAP, I know a lot of people have to have a CPAP to sleep at night. Really anything except for the air conditioner. I will talk about anything but the air conditioner right now. What else? I actually have not had anyone ask about electric heaters. It’s the heating and cooling are the things that I probably would say don’t try to tackle that on your first 12 volt solar system.
Jef: Yeah. Those are both large power draws.
Christine: Right, right. I would say for right now if you are dead set on having to power an air conditioner or a heater, use propane for the heater and use a generator for the air conditioner.
Christine: We will figure out how to do that with solar later on. But everything else you are good.
Jef: Did you want to talk about what kinds of things you are powering in your van now?
Christine: Sure that seems like a good place to go. Just to give you an over view of what my system is, I have 600 watts of solar panels. I have 440 amp hours of battery capacity. I have a small little battery monitor which is a trimetric. I have a 2,000 watt Pure Sine Wave invertor. I also have a 600 watt Pure Sine Wave invertor but I don’t actually ever use that one. I always just use the 2,000 watt invertor. Those are the basics of the system and what I can run from that system is actually what I think is pretty impressive. I can run a refrigerator, it’s a 12 volt refrigerator, a 12 volt freezer, and I will put links to all of these appliances and also what my system is built from in the show notes on SolarLoco.com. The fridge, the freezer, I have a set of Ikea INREDA LED lights, I have a water pump, I have several 12 volt outlets, I have several 5 volt USB outlets. I can power an induction cook top for 15 20 minutes every morning to make bacon and eggs. I can power a toaster with it. I even have, believe it or not, I have a mini washing machine and a miniature spin dryer and I can do my laundry off of my solar system.
Jef: Wow. Wow. You have everything. This is all in the van?
Christine: Yeah it’s all in the van.
Christine: Yeah it’s pretty crazy. I will have to take some pictures and post that in the show notes as well.
Christine: It’s really impressive because the induction cook top, powering that for 15 or 20 minutes uses up maybe 2% of the battery in the morning. If it’s a bright sunny day, my battery is back up to 100 in another 10 or 15 minutes. It’s really not that long.
Christine: If I do laundry, I can do four loads of laundry, which is not the same as a standard load in a standard washing machine. They are miniature loads so one load is probably the equivalent of one change of clothes. So its like a t shirt and jeans, underwear and socks and a sweater or something. I can do four changes of clothes and I think it only uses up 2% of the battery.
Christine: On a bright sunny day.
Jef: That’s with 600 watts?
Christine: Right. 600 watts. That’s not even 1,000 watts. That’s a pretty small system.
Jef: That’s a small system yeah.
Christine: Yeah and I also like to get into what other people, that we know, run. We know some people who have only less than half the panels that I have. They have a 230 watt panel and they use that for their coffee pot, they run their computers all day. They run two computers all day. They have a couple of 12 volt fans. They have lights. They even have a TV and a giant antennae. They are living pretty good and that’s only 230 watts.
Jef: Yeah. Yeah so you can do a lot.
Christine: You can really do a lot with very little. It just depends on the appliances that you choose to plug into your system. You have to learn how to plug them in and wire things up correctly and the most efficiently so you are not wasting.
Jef: Right. It’s important to learn how to estimate how much you will need for your system.
Christine: Right. We will show you how to do that.
Christine: Yeah we actually have a couple of pretty neat things that we are programming and getting all ready. A couple of tools for figuring out how to size your system and figuring out all these different calculators and stuff. Jef is working on those so he could tell you a little bit more about those than I can. They will be up on SolarLoco as soon as they are done. I am excited and anxious to let everyone know when they will be up. Okay so that was our first show. Like I mentioned before the equipment that I used in my own solar set up will be listed in the show notes which will be posted on SolarLoco.com/episode1. I would love to know what you thought about the podcast so feel free to leave a comment on that page and since the purpose of this podcast is to help everyone put together their own solar powered systems feel free to ask a question in the comments and we will see if I can answer that question for you in an upcoming episode. So again that is SolarLoco.com/episode1. I guess we will see you in the next episode of the SolarLoco podcast. Thanks everyone. Bye.