Alternative lifestyles offer a variety of experiences that make life interesting. Some people naturally gravitate to a settled and conventional approach to living. Other free-spirited individuals demonstrate a desire to shed convention in favor of adventure. Among these adventure-seekers a life lived on the road can be accompanied by different levels of convenience. Roughing it with backpacks and tents may be the most appealing option for one minimalist subset. Others want to take along as many comforts as they can fit in their vehicle of choice. Technology makes that a possibility.
Many of the conveniences enjoyed in modern living require electricity. The utility industry has built a complex web of generation, transmission and distribution systems that connect to homes and businesses with electrical power. This system supports the more conventional lifestyles quite well. But what about those who choose to live a mobile lifestyle? There are many facilities that cater to road warriors by making utility hook-ups available. But as far-reaching as the utility grid is, there are many places that are still without electrical service. Those who venture into these rural territories have found creative ways to keep electricity with them on the go. These mobile power producers may include a sleek solar panel system or a large gas engine-driven generator setup.
Recreational vehicles come in all shapes and sizes. Bus-like RVs with pull-outs offer what equates to a house on wheels. Smaller pickup bed campers are less roomy and are available in styles that offer little more than adequate sleeping space. Along with this variety of size comes a variety of mobile electrical solutions. Gas-powered generators are a common feature found on many RVs. They allow for living in even the most remote locations.
Another electricity-producing technology that is gaining in popularity is solar power. Advances in the technologies that make up these systems have made them more accessible and convenient for non-technical consumers. Building and using a mobile solar energy system is now an almost plug-and-play option. Using electrical energy-producing solar panels for living off the grid and on the road does require some understanding of how it works and the components that enable different options. Building one of these systems comes down to using a combination of 3 different components.
Solar Panel Component of Off-Grid Systems
The rectangular panels that convert sunlight into electricity are commonly called modules. Solar modules are a packaged collection of solar cells that have been connected electrically. The output from these modules can vary in voltage and current levels. The important points to be aware of include the voltage, current and power output. Matching a group of modules and connecting them together makeup what is referred to as an array. This array produces direct current electricity (DC) like that stored in a battery. The power output of the array is proportional to the incident sunlight that falls on its surface. Understanding the total power output and sizing the array appropriately to match electrical load is a matter of doing a few calculations.
Inverter Component of Off-Grid Systems
Because some electrical appliances and devices are made to use alternating current electricity (AC), this component of the system converts the array’s DC output into AC energy. Modern inverters are very efficient devices that typically convert over 95% of the DC energy input into AC power. Still, including the losses that occur in the conversion process are important when sizing the array and the inverter.
Battery Storage Component of Off-Grid Systems
Because the sun doesn’t shine continually, if electricity is needed after dark or on cloudy days, battery storage must be included in the system. This represents the most technically complex element of calculations needed to appropriately design the system. Generally, battery, inverter and solar module suppliers are happy to assist customers with these sizing calculations. The important information required is how much electricity is needed when the solar resource is not available.
Living a carefree life on the road is an attractive idea for many people. If circumstances permit it, a mobile living experience can be an enriching and satisfying adventure. Thanks to modern technological wizardry having the convenience of an electrical outlet can be part of that experience.
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