Tuesday, February 17, 2015

My Solar Setup (again)

I get asked about this a lot on FB and in the forums so I think I'll type it once here.  :-)  I've updated this post as I've changed equipment and preferences over the past year and the post was buried. If you click on links in here, in theory Amazon throws me a couple bucks if you buy.

I am a very light electrical user.  I don't watch much TV, I try to camp in climates where I don't use heat or ac and I use led lights as much as possible.
Speaking of LED, this lantern right here is the greatest thing since sliced bread.  It is perfect for me. I have a few of them.

It weighs nothing, and is bright enough to read by.  The hanging hook is a bit flimsy but c'est la vie. Be gentle with it.  I have a small bungee (I have a lot of bungees) that I use to hang it from the AC unit sometimes, or from the overhead cabinet knob above me when reading.  The dimming feature is sweet.  I'm working on converting all the house lights to LED but it's going slower than I'd like.

I have a Phoenix Cruiser 21' motorhome with 2 group 24 batteries that I replaced in April 2014.  The big things I need power for are the fridge, which uses electricity even when on propane, and charging laptops, phones, tablets and camera.  If I'm driving, I plug everything in and try to charge as much as possible while the engine is running anyway.  When I'm camped I have the most basic portable solar setup imaginable.  I started out with the 45watt Harbor Freight kit because I didn't know any better.  The panels work but they're old technology and they're heavier and less efficient than new ones.  And not sturdy.  The plastic frame cracked the first tie I used them and the hardware all rusted that first weekend too.  Back they went.  However, they did work, and I went looking for a better option.

I ended up with a Renogy 100watt panel from Amazon.

This kit puts out over twice the power for the same price as the Harbor Freight one, and weighs half as much.  This panel weighs 16 pounds so it's no problem to move.
I actually bought the panel, cables, connectors, and controller separately but this is a better deal.  I also screwed up and bought a 10A controller which left no room for expansion.  The kit above has a 30A which will allow another panel or two down the road.

***Update: in April 2014 I upgraded the controller to this one:
 RioRand 30A Controller

Having the display is nice.

I chose to not mount my panel on the roof.
First, I didn't want to climb up there.
Second, I like shade.  Solar panels like sun.  We each need our own space.  :-)

I can park in the shade and put the panel in the sun.  Yes, there's a possibility of theft.  If I ever decide that's a real concern I'll use a cable lock to attach it to whatever I'm leaning it up against. Or I'll move.  Who wants to park somewhere where you're worried about theft?  Right now I just use a bungee so an errant gust of wind won't blow it over. In this case I got to this CG in the afternoon and just set the panel up against the grill.  At sundown I turned it the other way and propped it up against the picnic table since the rig would be in the shade at sunrise.  Yeah, it's a bit more difficult than set-it-and-forget-it on the roof, but I sooo much prefer being in shade if it's available that it's worth it.  I plan to eventually mount one permanently on the roof at some point too.  Then if there's no shade I can just use that, or use both if I need more juice.

I bought all my components separately, which meant installing MC4 connectors on my cables and controller since that's what's on the solar panel.  This was a pain for someone like me who is new to all this. But even I did it.  Just buy the kit though, it's less than buying the parts and no screwing around.  :-)

(As noted above, I recently replaced this SunForce controller)

The panel connects to the controller with cables and MC4 connectors.  These connectors are made to NOT come apart easily, and they don't.  In fact, you need a special tool to disconnect them.  It's cheap but it's one more thing to carry, store and lose so that didn't work for me.  I filed off most of the barbs on the male ends that lock the connectors together, and  made sure what was left was rounded.  They still lock but a good pull will disconnect them.  Like any connection, pull on the connectors, not the wire.  If you try this and don't file enough and they won't disconnect, two thin bladed screwdrives will probably get the tabs depressed enough to get them apart.  I attached the alligator clips you see above to the output of the controller and just clip them to the battery for now. One of theses days I'll install that permanently but for now it works just fine.  I had the clips left over from another charger or some other 12v thingy but you can get them at any auto parts store or from Amazon as well.
The controller is not waterproof so it sits in the battery compartment with the batteries.

I keep the panels on the ladder rack and leave it connected to the batteries.  This kept them fully charged even in the Virginia miserable winters, and I had battery power when I went there to work on it or take it out for a day or whatever.

I would keep it behind the seat at first but no longer do that.

I went back to carrying the panels on the ladder.  I attached keyrings to the back of the panel which makes attaching the bungees a LOT easier than trying to force the hooks through the holes in the frame.  And I'm down to 3 bungees.  It takes 2 minutes now and I'm not dragging sand & spiders inside.

Of course it's dark in this pic, but you can see the panel set up, poised to catch the rising sun.  I know it sounds like a giant hassle to set up but it really isn't.  After the first couple times where I was still figuring out where everything went, it takes only moments.  The longest process is untangling the cables if I was lazy stowing them.  It's quite the conversation starter too, as everyone who walks by will ask you about them.  This may or may not be a good thing.  :-)  All these campground photos were taken in Shenandoah National Park, Fall 2013.

In July 2014 I added 2 flexible 100w Renogy panels. They were $215 each. While I LOVE the weight, they are dirt magnets and the dust adheres to the the plastic like it's glued on.  It can't be easily brushed or blown off, I need to wash them. The glass panels are much easier to keep clean. Also, the plastic ones do not put out as much power. The technology still needs work.  However, you can get 4  or 5 of them for the same weight as one glass panel so for portable setups it is a great option.

When I was out west there was no shade and I just tried  to park so the panels were in the sun. It's not a great angle for maximum wattage but I was driving almost every other day so I didn't need it.

Now, to the usage.  I have a 2000w whole house inverter built into the rig that I seldom use.  It works great but draws a lot of amps just sitting there.  No bueno.  I use it for the TV and that's about it.  OR if I'm driving, I have that on & plug lots of stuff in to charge. When parked,  I have one 12v socket that is wired to the house batteries.  These are generally fused at 10A so one should not attempt to draw more than 100w.  I do NOT want to blow that fuse as god alone knows where it is but I guarantee it's a struggle to get to.  That said, I lived on the edge for a long and used this inverter:

Schumacher XI75DU 750 Watt DC to AC Digital Display Power Inverter

I've had it for a few years and used it in my car before I got the RV and never blew a fuse.  It claims less than 1A resting current draw.  It runs my laptop and Nikon battery charger just fine.  I have yet to draw over 60w with those.  You could certainly get a smaller one cheaper.  This one will power stuff like drills, etc, you just have to connect directly to a battery for that.  (As of 2/15 I plan to use this inverter to power some stuff on a lot I bought in FL and bought a smaller pure sine for the rig.)  I do plan to add another house 12v outlet at some point as well. They're handy.

I recently bought a pure sine inverter as, believe it or not, Sonicare toothbrushes require pure sine power. Who knew? :-)  This is the one I went with.
Wagan Elite Inverter

Hope this info helps.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

1/13/15 ATT Sucks. I know, shocker, right?

I might have been the only person in the Western Hemisphere who was mostly ok with my ATT phone.  Happy would be a stretch, but over the past few months I had noticed an increase in my ability to actually complete a call and an increase in data speeds. Well, that mystery is now solved, apparently it was because I wasn't really using ATT's network!  I got this bit of happy news today:

Please note the line, 

We've updated your device so you'll know when you're outside the AT&T network. Just check your home screen and when you're on another carrier's network, now you'll see "Off Network" instead of "AT&T" in the status bar.

They don't tell you you're off network until you've exceeded the limit! And PERMANENTLY disabled your roaming ability!  They gave me a warning when I was in Utah and I bought a Straight Talk Verizon phone. It worked so much better than my ATT phone that I was tempted to switch, but I was too lazy to go through the process of porting my number. Obviously, now I will be doing that. This is one of the Verizon ST phones, and is the one I bought.  Make sure it says CDMA-V.
Although, if you get one on the ATT network I think it would not be subject to this stupid policy as ST has its own set of rules.  But why go with ATT when you can get one on Verizon that might actually work most of the time?

Another line of note under Options is:
• Terminate your service with AT&T, with no early termination fee.
This would seem to be an excellent "Get out jail free card" for anyone who is looking to get out of an ATT contract without an ETF. (Early Termination Fee)  Just head to one of the spots on the ATT coverage map that are striped (3rd party provider) and burn up some data.  

As for me, I guess I'll be watching a LOT of Netflix on my phone until 1/27.  Oh, and updating a few gigs of maps, etc.  Consider it a parting gift.

Friday, January 9, 2015

1/9/15 Is it soup yet?

Well, it's obvious that I'm desperate for blogging topics when I'm posting recipes. :-)  But it's cold here in Florida and soup is good food. Plus we're on a diet so soup is definitely on the menu. I had a hankering for green chile stew and found a few recipes on the net, but being incapable of following a recipe I made my own stew with green chiles in it. Can't call it green chile stew as green chilies are absolutely the only the common element. Well, ok, I guess it doesn't even have "official" green chiles in it, but the poblanos are as close as I could get. And they are very green. It is yummylicious though.

2 poblano chiles, charred over a flame or roasted in the oven, and skin removed, or substitute canned chiles (You can youtube how to do this or check out this page: http://www.focusnewmexico.com/chile/chile2.htm  I might use canned next time, this charring was a pain and used too much propane)

1 small onion, chopped

1 small zucchini, chopped

1/2 T olive oil

1/2 t ground cumin

1/2 T chili powder

1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, I used ones flavored with garlic etc so didn't use any added garlic. If you use plain, add a crushed garlic clove

1 14 oz can hominy, drained and well rinsed

1 can of stock, chicken or veg would work well. I used powdered bouillon and a can of water.

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot and saute the onions and green chiles until tender. And the garlic if you're using a clove. Add the zucchini, tomatoes, hominy, stock, cumin and chili powder. Simmer till done.  Topping with some chopped fresh cilantro would be awesome. I didn't have any.

It really came out well. More heat than I expected but just wonderful on a cold day. Next time I might add some smoked paprika to bump up the smokiness. I also might use the diced fire-roasted tomatoes, think that will be good too. I'm waffling over the idea of adding mushrooms...  Also, for those who don't care for hominy, subbing potatoes or chickpeas might be an idea. I'm sure it would work well in a crockpot too.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

1/7/15 Still parked in Florida.....

Hasn't been much of note to blog about. I did close on my lot, and my stepfather Robert has been doing what clearing that has needed to be done. It looks 1000 times better and I bet I could nearly double my money with just a few hours work. I ordered some new breakers and a 30a RV outlet which should be here in a day or two and then hopefully next week I'll get the power on.  I decided to buy a 12x20 lofted barn. If I get back up to VA I'll pick up my freezer & wine fridges & will keep them there. I was gonna let them sell with the house but if I have space for them....why not.  I moved my stuff in a 5x8 Uhaul so the building is overkill. However, Mom wants to get into ceramics so she can keep supplies there, and I can get some of my art supplies out to use when I'm here. I feel pretty confident I'll be able to sell the lot and building for more than I paid so it's a no-brainer.

Thinking of heading to the Tampa RV show.....I definitely feel the need to get out of the yard LOL

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

12/17/14 Parked in Florida

Well, there hasn't been much to report. I've been parked in Mom's yard in FL for a week or so now.  I just went into contract on a lot just up the street from her. I'm hoping we can close before New Years, and it may be possible since it's a cash sale. I'd like to either put up a storage building or get a cargo trailer and park it on it so I can get my stuff out of storage. While it's vacant land, it does have a well, septic and power pole already in place. And is mostly cleared. That's what sold me on it. When I get the electric hooked back up I'll get a 30 amp outlet installed as well and I'll have somewhere else to park when I'm in FL. While I could park in Mom's yard as long as I want, they deserve their space. I made a killer lowball cash offer, 60% of the asking price, and to my utter shock they accepted! I thought for sure they'd counter. Of course I'm glad they didn't.  I feel pretty sure it's a decent investment at that price.  I'll be really happy to get out of the storage unit.....it was really annoying me to pay for that dumpy place. This might delay my westbound trip for a while, but FL in the winter does not suck either. :-)

Another project I've been fighting with is getting my gps tracks organized and uploaded.  I have October done so far....

I'll work on getting Nov & Dec up soon.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

12/9/14 Heading to Mom's

I had my last pecan pancakes for a while and hit the road. (I don't eat at CB except when I'm staying there, and almost never eat breakfast out when not travelling. Not sure why.)  I was about 2 hrs from Mom's so it was a short driving day.

I did a little detour near Ebro as I had read of a riverfront CG that sounded interesting and I wanted to check it out for future reference.  Well, the dirt road was a little rough, and there were a lot of colorful residents along it. And signs like this never inspire confidence.

12/9/2014 10:47:25 AM

Eh, what?

12/9/2014 10:47:30 AM

This guy had it made.....had obviously been there a long time as there was a covered woodpile taller than me.

12/9/2014 10:48:13 AM

It was a pretty spot.

12/9/2014 10:48:50 AM

12/9/2014 10:49:46 AM

It wasn't much of a cg, there were only a few spots to park rvs.

12/9/2014 10:50:53 AM

Guess I'd check the weather before stopping here. There were a lot of beer bottles & stuff around. I'm sure in warmer weather it's a party spot and probably jammed with boat trailers. Not sure if my comfort level would allow me to camp here. Maybe the guys wandering around only looked sketchy.

12/9/2014 10:51:12 AM

A few miles from the house, I pulled into this little marina to brush my hair, change, and do a little tidying before seeing Mom. The store was out of business and the place was deserted so I parked a little close to the boat ramp. No sooner did I get out of the rig to stretch did a truck pulling a boat trailer pull in, and stop short of where I was parked. I was like, "Are you freaking kidding me???? No one around and the MOMENT I stop, here comes someone who HAS to use this ramp, and not the other one right next to it! Unreal!" I let out a big sigh and started walking over to the RV, then saw there was a car behind the truck. It just gets better. Then I took a second look at the car & my jaw dropped as I realized it was Mom! And the truck was Robert!  What are the odds on that one?? She had told me they might pull the pontoon boat out of the water today but I assumed they'd use the ramp a few blocks from their house. It turns out that one is too shallow.  It was just too funny. We left the truck there & headed to the house for lunch & to get the boat.

12/9/2014 11:46:10 AM

We had lunch and hoped the wind would die down a bit, but finally decided to give it a shot. While windy, it was a gorgeous day.

12/9/2014 2:52:49 PM

12/9/2014 2:54:18 PM

12/9/2014 2:54:21 PM

12/9/2014 2:59:44 PM

12/9/2014 3:01:30 PM

12/9/2014 3:09:06 PM

While it's very hard to tell from this pic, this is a bald eagle.

12/9/2014 3:14:33 PM

12/9/2014 3:15:48 PM

This was the biggest nest I've ever seen here. It's like a high rise nest condo!

12/9/2014 3:18:36 PM

12/9/2014 3:18:58 PM

12/9/2014 3:23:36 PM

12/9/2014 3:25:19 PM

12/9/2014 3:25:37 PM

12/9/2014 3:29:58 PM

12/9/2014 3:30:03 PM

12/9/2014 3:43:45 PM

Rose "assisting"

12/9/2014 3:44:34 PM

12/9/2014 3:45:02 PM

12/9/2014 3:46:36 PM

12/9/2014 3:46:47 PM

I'll be parked here in Mom's yard till sometime in January. Hopefully I'll do a few short trips, we'll see.

Monday, December 8, 2014

12/8/14 Pass Christian to FL

I think I've fixed the timestamps on these pics so they're correct.  I took another walk on the beach then decided to head further east & explore more of the area.  I was blown away by how pretty the beached were, and how deserted.  There was just no one around.

Watching the shrimp boats head in

12/8/2014 11:38:31 AM

Parked in Pass Christian
12/8/2014 11:47:26 AM

Pass Christian MS
12/8/2014 12:24:19 PM

I stopped and bought some shrimp from a boat here. (Not this one)

12/8/2014 12:24:28 PM

Shaggy's on the water
12/8/2014 12:26:16 PM

Shrimp boats
12/8/2014 12:28:11 PM

I had asked the shrimp seller where to eat, and he said Shaggy's was good but expensive. But the view was killer!

12/8/2014 12:28:33 PM

Crab stacker.  Crab cakes & fried green tomatoes.

12/8/2014 12:49:19 PM

Shrimp PoBoy

12/8/2014 1:04:16 PM

12/8/2014 1:49:04 PM

12/8/2014 1:51:18 PM

12/8/2014 1:52:02 PM

Cute decorated boat in Pass Christian
12/8/2014 1:52:17 PM

12/8/2014 1:53:40 PM

Gorgeous deserted beaches in Mississippi
12/8/2014 2:21:43 PM

I continued driving on 90 through Gulfport and Biloxi. They were a little too overcrowded for my taste.  I got back on I-10 and headed east.  According to the Garmin I could make Panama City by 8pm. I wasn't really up to it though, and by Crestview FL I had had enough.  I stopped at the Cracker Barrel there and got permission to stay the night. I had dinner there, which was fairly lackluster except for the baked sweet potato.  I'm just never that impressed with their dinners....I need to stick with pancakes :-)  The spot in the back of the lot that I had chosen was really unlevel so I moved to one of the RV spots, which had the added benefit of being close enough to Hooters to pull in their wifi with the external antenna. It was a pretty quiet night.