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Prudent RVer says,

Live 'Off-grid' on Solar Power Using LEDs

People who live in RVs and Boats oftimes wish to live "off-grid." Off-grid refers to living in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on one or more public utilities: electrical power, natural gas, water, or waste. Such people are often searching for sustainable living, which they think of as cheap living.

Living off-grid is not necessarily cheap, nor is it simple and easy. It requires planning and work, and probably an investment. A key is to reach a balance in all you do. The need for LEDs is a good example.

In many boats and RV coaches with incandescent and/or fluorescent lighting, the installed lighting uses over half of the total 12-volt DC load on the batteries. On-shore is no problem, but if the primary power source is solar energy from the sun, power consumption is an immediate concern and excessive usage can make the difference between staying out as long as you want, or coming back to shore to find a recharge (or running your generator).

Let me tell you of my experience. We run an LED retail business while boondocking on the desert floor and require about two hours of Internet and TV connectivity per day. I typically need 25 amp-hours each day to power our TV, DirecTV Receiver, Internet Access, Modem, Router, and two laptop computers. 

In the evenings "Before LEDs" we typically burned four to seven 921 bulbs and a fluorescent that produced about 1,600 lumens of lighting for five or six hours in the winter months. This required about 8 amps for 6 hours, totalling 48 amp-hours. Our expected boondocking consumption was therefore 73 amp-hours per day.

My rig has only 240 watts of solar panels using a solar-boost controller, so on average I could expect to recharge my batteries with as much as 45 amp-hours on a good solar day. That meant I could be 28 amp-hours short at the end of the first day, another 28 amp-hours short the second day, and so on every day thereafter, until my batteries dried up.

But when I switched to LEDs for my lighting, I required only 2.0 amps to produce the 1,600 lumens, meaning I only needed about 11 amp-hours each evening. Now my solar system only has to replace 25+11 or 36 amp-hours each day, and the 240 watt panels can do that, even on an overcast day. I can even surf the web a little longer each night.

Of course, the Big Guys will have more solar, but they also have more toys and more lights. They still face the same issues when running "off-grid." It all comes down to using LEDs if you really want to stay off-grid with solar power.

And if someone asks, tell them the Prudent RVer told you so.

copyright Sam Penny, July 18, 2010