2015 UPDATE – We have a new and greatly improved solar system!

Click the button to see our most recent upgrades:


 

A look at our new 600 watt RV Solar System; the gear, the power and the cost.  For us it’s 4 times more power than we had in 2011 and way safer for our gadgets.

We first met the GoPower team while speaking in Abbotsford at the Earlybird RV show.  At the time we knew our RV solar setup was way under powered for our Wild Camping needs; however we hadn’t considered an upgrade due to cost.   Then we were introduced to the 120 watt Portable Solar Kit.  With a street price just over $500 this no installation folding panel produces equal power for way less cost than our previous roof mounted solar setup.  Needless to say we were sold on the upgrade.

After leaving the show we did a little research on the company and found they offer a host of other solar powered products.  The item that really caught our eye is the 3000 watt continuous pure sine wave inverter.  The Magnum inverter originally installed inside our Windy was a measly 1200 watts (barely enough to run the microwave), it only powered one outlet inside the RV, and due to the modified sine wave several of our appliances wouldn’t work when running off solar and the house batteries.

One thing led to another and we ended up with the 120 Watt Portable Kit and the 480 Watt Solar Extreme Kit.  That’s right…600 watts of RV solar power…I think we may have gone a little overboard!

The kit is under $4,000 on Amazon.com (this is the best price we have found so far, here’s the link: Go Power! Solar Extreme Kit) and comes with:

  • 160 watt solar charging kit + 2 x 160 watt expansion kits
  • 3000 watt pure sine wave inverter for AC power
  • 30 amp pulse width modulated digital solar controller
  • 75 amp smart battery charger
  • 30 amp pre-wired automatic shore power/inverter AC switching kit
  • DC inverter install kit
  • Inverter Remote on/off

It also came with everything needed for RV setup including detailed install instructions.  I thought about installing myself but considering I have very few tools on board, limited knowledge of electrical, and wanted to wire a lot more outlets, I opted for a dealer install.

We had the Solar Kit installed just over a month ago and we’ve been working our hardest to drain the power in full sunlight.  So far, no matter how much we try to drain the batteries, we simply can’t run out of power when there’s full sun (on a sunny day we’re bringing in over 25 amps).  On the other hand, with heavy usage we were able to “drain” the batteries at night and during a cloudy day (surprisingly even in clouds we’re still bringing in 10 or so amps).  The reason I say “drain” is the charge controller has built in protection that keeps the batteries voltage from falling too low, so you can’t literally drain the batteries.  This has us realizing we have more than enough solar coming in, just not enough batteries to fill with that power.  Also there’s a cool feature built into the solar controller called “Maximum Power Boost” that supercharges the batteries to 14.4 V so your batteries will last longer through the night (extremely helpful but don’t expect to run a bunch of high draw appliances without sun or lots of batteries).

Over the next few months we’ll be doing our best to understand the system, push it to the limits and see how it works in all types of weather/sun situations.  After a month of use our solar has allowed us to boondock several extra days without having to worry about power and for that piece of mind I’d say we’re off to a great start.

Just to clear up a few basic questions that we’ve already received via facebook:

What’s the big deal with a pure sine inverter?  A pure sine inverter operates just like household power.  Basically if you can run it inside your house it will work in your RV.  For example our modified sine wave inverter wouldn’t run our induction plate, milk frother or espresso machine (and I’ve read it’s hard on laptops and camera battery chargers).

If you’re dream is to switch to a Sailboat in 2014 why are you investing in more solar?  We can’t think of a better reason to test out a new solar setup!  When we hit the water the last thing we want to deal with is learning more equipment than we need to.  Plus a lot of this solar will work on a sailboat too (if it’ll fit) 🙂

How in the world is $4,000 affordable?  2 main reasons we’re calling this solar setup affordable: 1. Compared to our last solar setup installed at the factory this kit is way cheaper per watt.  2. Assuming an average campground cost $40 per night, this solar setup will pay for itself in a year if you wild camp just 2 days per week (or 100 days).  Often times we’ve found free camping in the surrounding areas of popular destinations like Lake Tahoe, Grand Tetons, Savannah, Lake George and many more.

Did you upgrade the batteries?  We did not.  With so many different types of batteries, and varying reviews on which battery is best for each application, we’ve decided to live with our solar setup for a bit before we invest in new batteries.  If you have any info to share about batteries (flooded vs. gel vs. AGM) please share in the comments below, we’re all ears and looking to upgrade sometime in the near future.

Share your solar experience or questions in the comments below, it’s a complicated subject and the more we talk about it the better it’ll be.

Disclaimer:  While our solar was provided by GoPower for review purposes…all of our experiences and opinions are not purchased and are still our own.  It’s also important to know we contacted them after learning they were a small company with great quality and sustainable business practice’s.  We only work with companies we truly believe in and who support our mission to live a sustainable and adventurous life.