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Installing solar power

Category: My first slide-on campervan. Published: 23 Jun 2009

My first slide-on campervan had lights and a powerpoint when it was connected to mains power and only lights when it was connected to the truck battery. I realised that I was going to need some sort of power supply while bush-camping. I did a bit of research into the options and decided that a solar power system would be ideal. The only other option was to get a generator, but these are banned in most National Parks so aren't particularly useful. There is a lot of information on the Internet about solar power systems, and a lot of conflicting advice. From my research and advice from the suppliers I ordered:

  • Solar panels: 2 x 80 watt.
  • Batteries: 2 x 100 amp deep cycle AGM fully sealed.
  • Regulator: PL advanced solar charge controller.
  • Battery charger.
  • Inverter: 300 watt pure sine wave.

From everything I'd read I thought I'd be able to install everything myself. When I actually got the equipment I realised I had no idea!

Next step was to find someone who would do it all for me in the few days I had before I had to leave Canberra. I watched and helped as everything was being installed so that I would have some idea of how it all worked and was able to install other items later. It actually wasn't as difficult as I first thought -- but everything is easy when you know how!

All the items were installed inside a cupboard, so I installed a couple of vents to help keep the components cool.

Early in my travels I found the charger had decided to stop working, luckily it was still under warranty so I had it replaced for nothing -- this is unusual, normally these things break down the day after the warranty runs out.

When bush-camping this system was required to power all my appliances -- most important was the fridge. During my travels I found that this was barely sufficient -- with my computer being the biggest problem. On bright sunny days this system allowed me a couple of hours computer use per day, with limited TV/stereo use. The inverter did not allow me to use the computer and watch TV at the same time. I did a few tests with my laptop -- using the laptop on its battery and then recharging it via the house batteries with the computer turned off did not seem to use any more or less power than running the computer straight from the house batteries. On a cloudy day I really couldn't use anything other than the fridge, and if I had several cloudy days in a row then I needed to find a caravan park to recharge my batteries (I mean the van's batteries).

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