Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Easy Being Green - Solar Power at Hoop Lake

On April 7 I posted Easy Being Green about our plans to install solar panels on the trailer.  We selected the Go Power 50 Watt Solar Power Kit, had it professionally installed, and invested in 2 six volt batteries.  Our plan was to minimize the need to run a gas generator to keep the batteries charged and power the inverter.

The number one lesson about solar panels is – they don’t work so well when the sun is not shining.  When we arrived at Hoop Lake to snow, we used a lot more generator than we would have liked.  Thankfully, there weren’t many campers to disturbed with the loud noise and noxious fumes. 
As the weather warmed up, we rarely had to run the generator – the solar panels generated enough battery power to keep us in electricity.  Our solar power ran the lights, my curling iron, and most important – the stereo system.  We were able listen to music pretty much all day.  I was nervous about using the inverter to power the laptop directly, but was successful using it to recharge the battery.

We never did get enough power in the morning to run the percolator, but we adapted and truly enjoyed our “camp coffee” cooked the old-fashioned way – on the stovetop.  The solar panels didn’t generate enough power to run the microwave or the vacuum.  I used the microwave for storage, and yes, we ran the generator once a week to vacuum.  It was a small compromise for cleanliness.

We learned that the 2 six-volt batteries didn’t work together as well as we thought they might.  We will likely invest in a single 12-volt battery for our next adventure.
Our cost for the solar panels, including installation, was just over $880.  Our company advised us that most campground hosts used five gallons of gas per week in their generators. We stayed 15 weeks at Hoop Lake.  If we assume we used two gallons per week the first two weeks and one gallon a week after that, and assume an average price of $3.50 per gallon, we saved $206.  While this means the financial payback will be achieved over four+ years, the knowledge that we did our part to keep gas fumes and noise out of our little corner of the National Forest has been, well, priceless.

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