Monday, September 28, 2015
Power to the RV people
Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My husband wants to spend a couple grand on a solar panel system for our fifth-wheel. He complains every time our lights go dim while dry camping. We had to leave Big Bend National Park early because we were out of battery power. It was cold and we had to run the furnace every morning. The furnace fan seems to suck a lot of juice from our batteries.
I argue that we can buy a lot of full hookups for two grand. He is not listening. He is too busy studying the solar system. I tell him he has stars in his eyes.
Do you think I am being unreasonable, frugal or cheap?
--Powerless in El Paso
It really depends on how often you dry camp. You can easily pay for a system in a year if you dry camp the majority of the time. Because so many RVs now have solar, many parks will have a reduced rate if you do not want to plug in. Some Arizona State Parks will reduce the rate and lock the electrical box if you opt out of the electric.
Yes, the furnace fan is a power hog. Another option would be to install a catalytic heater such as an Olympian Wave. They put out a very nice radiant heat without the need for a fan. You can recess mount it or use a long hose with a disconnect to enable you to move it around.
I am solar biased, but it really depends on how you use your RV. If you seldom dry camp, solar is probably a waste of money.
You will start to see more manufacturers offering a solar option. They need little maintenance, give you quiet, continuous power, and as Elon Musk recently said, "We have this handy fusion reactor in the sky, called the Sun."
Another point to be made is the fact that many RVs now come standard with a generator that people put few hours on. For the same money you can put on a very efficient solar system. If you can live with the 12v power that is generated, it will not be necessary to spend another thousand or so for an expensive inverter. You can buy small inverters (400 watt) that are capable of running a coffee grinder, recharge computers or power an electric razor.
You can easily add up your energy needs and see if it is a good investment, a fun project or a worthwhile convenience. You are not going to run an electric heater or refrigerator from a small RV solar array. They have their limitations.
I can tell you from experience that once you can live within the means of a 300 watt system it will set you free.
LED lights can also be a good, long-term investment that will extend your Big Bend, out of the way stay.
And don’t forget CONSERVATION, it gives “power to the people.”
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink