We get a few emails from readers, asking for advice on their own bus conversions. As the number of inquiries goes up, I thought it might be neat to have a reader Q&A section on the site where we answer the most common questions people ask. If you have a question about the bus, traveling, or anything else about our lives – shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
So, today’s question, from Amanda:
I didn’t see anything about a generator in your blog, so is solar the main source you use for electricity? What do you do if the solar energy runs out or if it is not sunny outside? I am sourcing and comparing both solar panels and new generators, and am wondering where you got your solar panels?
You’re right, no generator here! The bus is powered completely by solar energy (everything electric) and propane (fridge, water heater, stove, and furnace.) We originally thought we would need generator power because we didn’t think solar would provide enough energy, but ultimately decided that we wanted to make solar work, no matter what. As tent and truck campers, we’ve been very annoyed ourselves when RVs have pulled into remote campgrounds and fired up their generators at night – we really didn’t want to impact others negatively like that. Not to mention, we love how sustainable solar energy is!
OUR GO POWER SOLAR SETUP
Our electrical system is made up of a Go Power Solar Extreme kit ($3,679.99 on Amazon) which comes with everything you need to get up and running, except the battery bank. We added four Vmaxtanks 125 amp hour deep cycle batteries, which cost about $250 each.
If you’re curious, the Go Power Solar kit comes with: (taken directly from the Go Power Solar product page)
3000 watt pure sine wave inverter for AC power (GP-SW3000-12)
30 amp pulse width modulated digital solar controller (GP-PWM-30)
75 amp smart battery charger (GPC-75-MAX)
30 amp pre-wired automatic shore power/inverter AC switching kit (GP-TS)
DC inverter install kit (GP-DC-KIT5)
Inverter Remote on/off (GP-SWR-B)
50′ of MC4 output cable (#10) and all mounting hardware (2 x GP-MH-2)
Installing the Go Power Solar kit was as simple as calling our friendly RV contractor, Byron. Will and I aren’t electricians, and though we were generally comfortable jumping in to learn new things while building the bus, electricity was one of the things we wanted to make sure we got right on the first try. We laid the ground work – running the wires, mounting the panels, and preparing the battery area – and Byron had the system up and running in just a few hours. Since then it’s required absolutely no tweaking, adjusting, fixing, anything: it’s working great, and I love that we don’t need to think about it!
OUR POWER NEEDS
In the bus we have two electrical systems: 12v that runs all of our lighting and hardwired appliances like the furnace and toilet fan, and 110v that powers our outlets. We regularly run all of our lights, two MacBook Pro computers, and two LED monitors, along with lots of smaller devices that need charging like cell phones, cameras, watches, etc. On occasion, we fire up our electric pressure cooker or tiny electric oven. Our fridge, which is a Norcold 410, runs off propane when we’re parked and AC (110v) while we’re driving.
We don’t have an air conditioning unit, which a lot of people think was a mistake. We’ve been on the bus for almost two months now through the hottest months of the year and there has only been one day so far that we’ve wanted A/C. In the mountainous places we frequent we’ve found ourselves needing the heater much more than an air conditioner!
LIVING WITH GO POWER SOLAR
When we first got on the bus we were very, very conscious of our power consumption. We learned that to keep our batteries healthy we shouldn’t drop them below 50% charge, so we were always looking at our little meter to see how we were doing on power. What we found was that throughout the day our battery level would fluctuate up and down, but it mostly always evened out. We regularly get down to the 65 – 75% zone by the end of the day, but we know that we don’t need much power overnight so we don’t worry about it.
One of the biggest changes we’ve made is adjusting the time of day that I cook things – now I know that if I need to use a power hungry electronic like our pressure cooker (which draws a huge amount at startup then needs less to keep going) I try to do it during the middle of the day when we’re more likely to replenish the batteries from the sun. It’s not a huge change, just a little different mindset!
What if it’s cloudy or if you park in the shade?
We’ve had a few cloudy days, and at first they worried us, but now we know that even when it’s cloudy, the panels are able to bring in enough power for us to get the basics done. We might not use the pressure cooker on a cloudy day, but we can still get our work done!
Can you plug in if you want to?
Absolutely! The Go Power Solar kit came with all of the pieces we need when want to plug in. We can plug into 30amp, 50amp, or just run an everyday 110v extension cord to a regular outlet and refill our batteries from there. It’s the best of both worlds!
Are the panels durable? Do you need to remove them while driving?
So far our panels have been rock solid. They went through several hail storms in Montana and I was so nervous that they would be ruined, but afterwards we checked them out and they looked as shiny as the day we got them. We don’t remove them while driving, though we have had some close calls with low tree branches!
How did you mount the panels?
Check out Bus Project Update 6!
How long can you go without plugging in?
The longest we’ve done is about 20 days, but even then we didn’t really need to plug in!
Have a question I didn’t answer? Add it to the comments and I’ll get back to you!