We haven’t plugged into the grid twice since April

Published May 5, 2017   Posted in In Retirement

I know that I’ve said this before (countless times, I’m sure), but we absolutely love our solar system that sits gracefully atop our 2005 Airstream Classic. Since we set sail on a journey of full-time travel April 1st, we’ve only plugged in once.

And that only lasted for two days. For the remaining seven or eight weeks, our power has come entirely from the 500 watts of solar we had installed last November in Oregon. We’re out in the middle of the desert. Or forest. Right now, we’re 10 minutes from Bryce National Park.

We aren’t exactly roughing it, either. We charge two cell phones, three computers and run a nice 27″ flat panel monitor inside this place. We turn on the lights whenever we damn well please – only some of them have been converted over to much more energy efficient LED.

By the time we lay our heads down on the pillow at night, our battery bank is almost always above 90% full. By morning, we’ve only sucked down 10%. We begin each day with at least 3/4ths of our batteries full of beautiful electricity.

It helps that we’re spending our first year out west where the sun shines almost every day. In fact, it’s nearly impossible for us to drain our batteries during a day of full-blown sun. We just don’t have the demand necessary to pull more than our panels are putting in.

Yes, solar isn’t cheap. After the tax credit, we spent around $8,000 on our system. But, it’s also the best money we’ve ever spent. No need for a generator (although we have a Honda 2000 sitting in the truck). It’s just stupid easy. If the sun shines, we’re charging the batteries. Period.

If you boondock as much as we do, solar is a total game-changer. And, itΒ stands as an excellent demonstration as to why living small has some incredible benefits.

And now, the obligatory Bryce Canyon photograph. This shit never gets old.

Beautiful Bryce Canyon from around Sunset Overlook

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30 responses to “We haven’t plugged into the grid twice since April”

  1. Your pics are just incredible! That $8000 was worth every. single. penny. Because it bought you a freedom almost no one in this country has! The freedom to go where you want, when you want – and not depend on anyone! Love it!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Vicki! And I agree – expensive, but definitely worth it. It’s enabling us to live exactly how we want, out in the middle of nowhere. πŸ™‚

  2. Wow $8k seems expensive when it comes to solar panels but it sounds like it is well worth the cost based on tremendous freedom that it provides. Also keep those pictures coming. Amazing!!!

  3. How are the showers working out now that your away from family? Love the pictures by the way. Someday I’ll get back out west with that travel trailer. For now I’ll settle for your pictures.

    • Steve says:

      We take military showers every few days and sponge bath type things in-between. It’s working out well. This does make taking real showers…you know, like, in a house and everything…extra special!

  4. TheRetirementManifesto says:

    My wife and I were talking about you last night, Steve. Our power went out for 12 hours, and I told her about your solar. Definately something we’re going to do when we hit the road after FIRE in June 2018. Clearly, the cost is worth the benefit. I don’t think I’ll drive to Oregon to get it installed, tho!! Keep those incredible photos coming, great stuff!

    • Steve says:

      Ha! Small world. The power would occasionally go out when we lived in California as a kid. Fun. But yup, cost was definitely worth it. The convenience is amazing.

  5. DadsDollarsDebts says:

    Solar on the RV seems like a great idea. Man can I come live with you guys for a few months!

  6. ssichler says:

    Nice. We’ve been loving our 300 watts of solar and it definitely meets our needs down in the Southwest but are thinking of adding a couple more panels for less than perfect conditions when we are back in Oregon. Our friends with an Airstream got the 800 watt setup with lithium batteries from AM Solar and a portable panel. I did not ask them how much it cost but really spendy is my guess.

    • Steve says:

      Yup, AM Solar did our install as well, and we could have fit 900 watts of solar on top of our rig if we wanted. But yes, the costs would have been pretty great, and honestly, our battery bank would have been the limiting factor if we got 900 watts. The 500 we have up there now is a pretty good fit for us. Easily charges our batteries and has us nearly 100% full all day.

      Good times!

  7. I guess you haven’t gone anywhere that you need to run the A/C?

    That’s perhaps my top concern. At least here in the southeast, it’s already very humid. And it’s been hot. But even when it is cooler, the humidity makes it very uncomfortable. Without the option of kicking on the AC (even for just a few minutes) it would get really stuffy fast.

    • Steve says:

      Nope! Our intent is to “follow the weather” so we never need to run A/C, but if that ever happens, we will consider staying in campgrounds with 50 amp hookups. Haven’t run into that yet, though. I totally understand your concern, though. I lived out east for 15 years and the humidity was a killer. One of the reasons why I decided to relocate out west! πŸ™‚

  8. Amy Blacklock says:

    That’s awesome! Must be such a freeing feeling, on top of all the other incredible feelings you’ve expressed! Another gorgeous shot! How’s the new camera?

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Amy – incredibly freeing! The camera is working out great. Awesome image quality, very sharp EVF (Electronic Viewfinder) and easy to use. I’m a happy camper!

  9. Shavano says:

    I really like your camping style. We have always liked to backpack and car camp as far away from established campgrounds as possible! So the idea of extensive time in an RV has never appealed, since I have always had the idea that a campground is necessary for those things. But I am really impressed with how you’ve done it. By focusing on “boondocking”, you’ve combined the best of both worlds–having your own private spaces but still “having it all” with electricity, internet (I assume through wifi hotspots?), etc. Nothing really much more to add, other than, looks awesome. Last year I was out in Zion, Valley of Fire, etc. with my son for spring break and enjoyed seeing your pictures of that area.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks so much, Shavano. Yeah, we definitely think that boondocking with solar fits our style of camping quite well. It gets us outside of the city, but we still have some of the modern amenities that we like during the day (like computers with an external monitor, internet access, etc).

  10. Divnomics says:

    Another amazing picture, and love how you’re experiencing traveling. Like how your being able to go anywhere, sleeping in the midst of nature (inside an RV of course) and still being environment friendly in such a way is truly deserving some respect.

  11. paulandrews says:

    Steve, I’m DEFINITELY sending this idea to my mother-in-law. She’s determined to live the same lifestyle you’ve got going on so she can be closer to the grandkids (even though that’s at least 4 years off for me and the lady). Great to see your investment really pay off!

    • Steve says:

      Very cool, thanks Paul! I can definitely see where your mother-in-law is coming from. The ability to just go where ever the tide takes you and be perfectly comfortable in your surroundings is absolutely magical. She’d love it!

  12. Mr. Tako says:

    Very cool Steve.

    What do you guys do for internet when you’re out there in the boonies? Do you just tether with your phones?

    • Steve says:

      We have a Verizon unlimited plan that we use with a MiFi device, so it acts just like any router would at home. Works great!

  13. jcw3rd says:

    Nice setup. Ok, brag time…

    We’ve got 1110 watts of solar on top of our 40′ diesel pusher (acquired in three stages over the 10 years we’ve been on the road), 500 watts of Lithium batteries (went from Lead-acid to AGMs to LI during those three stages of solar upgrades). The last solar upgrade was to help support our upgrade to a residential fridge (Samsung RF18). We also have a Magnum Hybrid inverter that allows us to ‘borrow’ power from the battery when plugged into a lower amperage connection (think 15amp while driveway surfing at friends houses) or when hooked up to a pay meter at a fancy RV resort. Hey, we love it all, boondocking and nice campgrounds. It’s nice to have choices. We went solar mainly to expand our lifestyle choices. It’s probably never going to be a break-even deal for us (we’ve invested quite a bit in our system, much more than we save by boondocking), but we love having the option to stay anywhere we wish.

    • Steve says:

      Very cool! And I agree, solar for us is much more about the convenience of generating our own power than it is about saving money. We’d have to boondock a LOT before we even come close to breaking even on our solar purchase. But, that’s okay. It’s still the best money that we’ve ever spent.

      During the install, we experimented with how many panels we could fit up on top of the Airstream. To our surprise, we could fit 900 watts of solar up there if we really wanted/needed. We don’t have anywhere near that need at the moment, but it’s nice to know that it’s there.

      • jcw3rd says:

        Yea, I’ve still got room for two more panels up there, if we find what we have does not totally support the residential fridge. So far, it works fine unless we spend the day at home using more power to drive the computers (one of them a deskside server) and/or watch a bunch of TV. In those situations we find we may need to run the generator for an hour or so. We get about 100AHrs of charge out of every hour running the generator. BTW, just so you know, battery state should be measured in Amp Hours consumed vs Total Amp Hours available rather than static voltage. It’s the more accurate method of monitoring the charge state of your battery. In other words, if you have 500AH lead acid, only 50% (250AH) is available for usage. If you use up more than 50% before recharging you risk damaging the battery and shortening its life. With Lithium batteries you can use up to 90%. So a 500AH LI battery can supply 450AHs before its protection circuitry will shut it down to protect it from over discharging.

        • Steve says:

          Don’t worry, I’m well aware! πŸ™‚ We have a 440 Ah AGM solution with 220 usable. We’ve never dropped below about 75%. Once the lithium prices drop a bit over the years, we may upgrade our battery bank then.

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