Trip to Wonderful

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Getting off "The Grid"

As I posted over on Wampum yesterday, I've spent the last week immersed in the workings of alternative energy sources for camping in areas without convenience hookups, electricity in particular.

So why would families with neurologically exceptional children choose to forgo such ammenities on their vacations? For one, as I mentioned in an earlier post, National Parks and other US government lands offer deep discounts in entrance and camping fees for disabled individuals and their families. That means that most campsites are $10 or less per night. Compare that with $40-$50 per night for many private campgrounds.

In addition to lower cost, public land campgrounds offer larger, more private campsites. This provides not only room to expend the extra energy a lot of our kids have, but is welcome in the middle of the night when children like our Jonah decide it's time to get up and play - loudly. Not having to deal with angry neighbors in the morning greatly increases the chance of an enjoyable camping experience.

While our needs will be a bit more extensive than the average camping family, there are requirements for all families who choose to "rough" it in more primitive campgrounds, whether in a tent or a 40' motorhome. For us, it means that our electric needs, mostly limited computer, lights and TV/DVD use in the evenings and coffee maker and toaster in the morning, must be handled by energy stored in the house batteries (DC) or produced for immediate use via a gas-powered generator.

Many national and state parks prohibit the use of generators for long periods, even the new "super-quiet" models, due to noise concerns. So while recharging the batteries every few days is a possibility, depending upon full-time generator power isn't feasible, or even environmentally friendly, as generators burn gasoline and produce emissions.

While not an inexpensive initial outlay, we've decided to replenish most of our energy usage with a solar-electric set-up consisting of 2 125W solar panels mounted on the trailer's roof and a medium-sized bank of deep-cell batteries for energy storage. We'll convert from DC 12volt to AC 110volt, as we can then use most of our own appliances, rather than purchase new 12volt substitutes. On days with little sunshine, we'll supplement recharging with a small generator (2KW), rather than having to invest in a large (4.5KW+), expensive model.

Of course, all of this is hypothetical, as we still haven't purchased our trailer yet. In addition, the question is whether I can install the system myself, or have to turn everything over to an RV electrician. Stay tuned.

16 Comments:

  • Campsites at national and state parks may be larger than in private campgrounds, but I wouldn't call them spacious or private. For one thing, in a national park, you MUST park an RV on a paved surface, which means you are going to be close to the road. In national parks, you can't run a generator after 7 pm at night or before 7 am (I think). There was something else I was going to comment on ... Oh, I know. Bears. They aren't in all national parks, but in Yosemite, the bears come into the campsites after dark. The best way to get the bear out of the campsite is to make sudden loud noises, like shouting, banging pots together, and the rangers have a noise gun thing.

    By Blogger Neefer, at 2:23 PM  

  • Sounds like a nice setup, especially if you've taken into account that the solar panels will have considerably less than their rated output mounted flat on the roof (since they can't be pointed directly at the sun).

    However, it seems to me that you could get by with a considerably smaller system by foregoing the toaster and coffee maker. A solar system is great for electronic devices and lighting. But these appliances, and any kind of electric heating appliance, draw large amounts of current, and greatly increase your needs.

    Since you presumably have a propane stove, I would recommend it for you toast and coffee needs. Toasters that go over a burner are available for just a few dollars, and there are many ways to make coffee (including the drip coffee makers to which most people are accustomed) over a burner.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:55 PM  

  • I saw a really cool short wave radio the other day, it has a rechargeable battery, but if you crank a handle on it for a minute, you can listen for an hour. Free power! That's a bargain.

    ITA understand about having to save the $$$ - do your kids like camping at all?

    By Blogger Moi ;), at 7:04 PM  

  • The kids absolutely love camping. I can't imagine doing this for a year if they didn't :-)

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