For the last several years I have been living “off grid.” 100% of the electricity I’ve used has come from solar panels. I’ve been running three in parallel. They are all made by Renogy. Before buying the first panel I did some investigating of companies on line. While Renogy isn’t the least expensive they seemed to be one of the better established companies producing solar products and should probably be around for years to come.
So I started with their 50-watt rigid panel. Worked fine, but if there was a cloudy day the panel just didn’t provide enough power to keep the twin battery bank topped off so I had to use a generator hooked to a battery charger at least three days a week. Then came the 100-watt rigid panel followed later with the addition of a 160-watt flexible. The 310 watts works great. I have a 1,500 watt inverter that provides 110 AC power to run drills and saws and with a bunch of 12-volt cigarette lighter sockets I kept power going to my phone, iPad, and Macbook Air.
When I was planning on making my move from the boat to the Montero Sport I contemplated moving the battery bank to the SUV. Instead of the hassle I bought a Bluetti eb70 power station. It can be charged either through the cigarette socket while driving, by a rather noisy “block” running off of 110 house current, or by up to 200 watts of solar paneling. Worked great through my two month 3,500 mile adventure. It kept the fridge working throughout. Over one long weekend in Virginia stuck at an auto repair shop the solar panel kept the unit charged.
After returning to The Swamp here off the Saint Johns River in central Florida, I moved back on to the boat and brought the Bluetti on board, too. The difference is that I am also hooked into “The Grid” to run the fridge as well as an incandescent light. I’d been using Luci Lights that are solar charged, but they don’t provide very powerful illumination for doing tasks like food prep and cooking after sunset. But I use an LED bulb which the manufacturer claims uses almost no power to give off the same amount of light as a regular 75 watt bulb. I know it doesn’t even get warm after being on for several hours so it’s not burning up the kilowatts.
While I have five cigarette socket outlets running directly to the 12 volt battery bank only two of them were actually in working condition. It doesn’t matter since the Bluetti handles all the 12 volt recharging duties, anyway. So this morning I decided to disconnect those items from the battery bank and stop using it altogether. I disconnected the two rigid panels from their charge controllers as well and have wrapped up all the wiring that has been cluttering up precious space just aft of the rear bulkhead. There was a lot, too. Each of the sockets had a positive and negative lead going to the batteries and each of the charge controllers had two wires. The rigid panels are connected together using what are called “branch connectors” The two positive and two negative wires from each panel are fed into the top of the connector and then there’s just one positive and one negative wire leading away to be hooked into the charge controller. When set up, the charge controller has a positive and negative wire running into it from the solar panel and then there’s a positive and negative wire that feeds from the controller down to the battery bank. Each of the three panels came with about thirty feet of positive and negative wiring. It’s rather stiff, 6 gauge wire an is rather unruly.
Three hundred and ten watts of solar energy is overkill for recharging the Bluetti which is supposed to max out at 200 watts. There’s a bit of a fudge factor here so I’ll be combining the 160-watt flexible with the 50-watt rigid. I’m waiting on the delivery of wire strippers and a crimping tool designed to deal with the heavy duty wires the panels use. You can’t find them in stores around here. Not Lowes, not Home Depot although you can order them at both places as well as from Wally World. But they’re not in stock so you have to order and wait. I already have the branch connectors but I need to crimp new pins and end connectors to wire that will be cut to a proper length. I’m going to hold the 100-watt panel in reserve for the moment but will probably be hooking it back up to the battery bank just to keep that in shape.
As my old reporter hero Linda Ellerby used to say at the end of each story…”And so it goes.”