The Ultimate Overland Solar-Energy Setup

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Are you intimidated by the price and complexity of installing solar energy on your truck, van, or camper? I know I was, but with a small enable from my good friends at Go Quickly Campers, I feel I’ve figured out a answer that is surprisingly affordable, incredibly successful, and simple to set up. 

Why Solar? 

Your automobile supplies energy whilst it is operating. Most new autos give you each 12-volt DC and 110-volt AC outlets, which signifies you can very easily recharge your gadgets or run accessories, like off-road lights, an air compressor, and even a fridge, with no any hassle beyond bolting these items to your rig. But all that adjustments as soon as you switch your automobile off. 

In the previous, the answer to energy when your car or truck was off was a dual-battery setup, in which a vehicle’s electrical functions were split into a difficult mess that was each expensive and a hassle to set up. Plus, modifying the incredibly complicated electrical systems of contemporary autos invariably creates more points of possible failure. By decreasing the reliability and serviceability of your rig, such setups essentially compromised a vehicle’s capability to facilitate adventure. 

In current years, innovations like LED lighting, lithium-ion batteries, and battery monitors incorporated into refrigerators have also decreased the loads placed on your vehicle’s battery through engine-off operation, and they’ve enhanced the possible capacity of that battery, additional minimizing the need to have for a single of these dual-battery circumstances. 

But one critical use case for engine-off energy remains: extended-term operation of a fridge-freezer, a luxury that is come to be increasingly critical for my automobile-primarily based camping trips. Not only does it let me to take good meals off-grid for longer periods but also bring along the raw meat that I feed my 3 huge dogs day-to-day and preserve something I catch through my hunting and fishing trips as fresh as doable. I installed this solar-energy setup especially to allow a extremely huge fridge-freezer to preserve ice frozen indefinitely. 

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Mounting solar panels with roof bars is a single way to go, just make positive the face of the panel sits under the top rated of the bar, so you can nevertheless carry loads. (Photo: Wes Siler)

Which Autos Will This Operate On? 

Technically, something. But you’re going to need to have to be capable to mount a solar panel or two to the roof in a semipermanent fashion and drill a hole in stated roof so you can pass cables via it. For that cause, a thing like a pickup-bed topper, camper, or trailer is likely a much better candidate than a Subaru.

I’ve mounted my solar method to the Go Quickly Camper in the back of my 2019 Ford Ranger. Getting capable to set up this setup so very easily, with no compromising my bed’s load space or the carrying capacity of the camper’s roof, is a single of the factors I feel a Go Quickly Camper mounted in the bed of a midsize pickup creates the ultimate sensible adventuremobile. 

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Operating the energy cables via the roof is best, but it does imply you are placing a hole in the roof of what ever you are mounting them to. (Photo: Wes Siler)

The Components You will Want

Since my target is to preserve each 35-liter compartments on my fridge-freezer constantly frozen at zero degrees, I went with two 100-watt solar panels. If you are just trying to bring ice cream and cold beer on a camping trip, or applying a smaller sized fridge, you will locate that just a single of these panels is sufficient for your requires. 

I’m applying affordable Renogy panels from Amazon. At just $113 apiece, they’re incredibly reasonably priced, whilst a predrilled aluminum frame tends to make them lightweight and simple to mount. Renogy claims they’re made to final through decades of outside use, but even if that does not finish up becoming the case, and even if their actual output is closer to 75 watts, that is nevertheless fantastic worth. 

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You will need to have to connect these panels to your energy cable, and this pair of Y-branch parallel adaptors will get the job done, whilst providing IP67-level waterproofness, all for a grand total of $eight. 

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These adaptors connect the energy cable to this BougeRV10AWG extension cable, to carry energy down to your bed. It is also IP67-rated, offers way far more energy than the panels are capable of making, and expenses $30 for 20 feet. That is longer than you will need to have, which makes it possible for you to route the cable out of the way, along your vehicle’s interior contours.

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Drill a hole in your roof to pass these cables through, and cap that hole with a waterproof housing. This small $18 cover supplies waterproof housings for two cables and mounts with 3M sticky pads that I backed up with a continuous bead of silicone. 

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Lastly, you will want to attach a DC connector, so you can plug these cables into what ever energy-management device you chose to run. This one’s $12. 

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You will also need to have some way in which to mount the panels to your roof (I used Go Quickly Campers’ new Beef Rack crossbars) and a couple of odds and ends from the hardware retailer, like straps and bolts. Everyone’s answer right here will differ, but it will not be difficult to figure out. 

What Do You Do with That Energy? 

Of course, making a flow of energy into your truck bed is only half the answer. You will also want to capture, retain, and distribute that energy. Traditionally, that is needed a charge controller, batteries, and an inverter to transform DC to AC energy. All 3 elements have not only been high priced, but they also haven’t played nicely with every other, major to limitations with each reliability and practicality. 

Luckily, Dometic has solved these challenges with its new PLB40 transportable battery ($850). The PLB40 integrates a charge controller with a battery especially tailored to the special energy requires of transportable fridge-freezers, and it supports flow-via charging, which means it can recharge itself whilst also delivering energy to devices. In quick, all I need to have to do to permanently run my Dometic CFX75DZW is plug the solar panels into battery, then connect that to the fridge. It is that uncomplicated.

Dometic chose to omit a energy inverter from the PLB40 to save size and weight, but it can nevertheless run a separate inverter (like the sort you’d plug into your car’s cigarette lighter) if you need to have to energy AC gadgets like a laptop. It also constructed the PLB40’s battery cells from lithium-ion phosphate rather than the common lithium-ion chemistry, to much better allow them to deal with the substantial energy requires of a fridge-freezer. Exactly where a significant unit like my 70-liter fridge will rapidly trigger low-voltage warnings and turn itself off if I try to run it on a lithium-ion battery, the PLB40 will continue to energy that fridge down to an indicated 0 percent charge, even whilst defending itself from intense temperatures, low voltage, and other damaging circumstances. 

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True-Globe Testing

Just like coolers, fridge-freezers have to perform hardest when they’re empty. So I hooked all this up in the back of my Ranger and set each empty compartments of the CFX75DZW to 0 degrees. Then I proceeded to use my truck normally around town for a strong week in August. I created no work to park in direct sunlight I just kept parking overnight in my driveway, which is shaded for half the day, and operating my usual errands. The battery would normally charge to more than 90 % capacity whilst operating that freezer in its hardest-doable-duty cycle, then discharge to about 10 percent overnight—not a substantial margin for error, but it worked. Regardless of whether the freezer is loaded up with ice or I’m parked all day in an empty sagebrush expanse, all this really should have no problems operating constantly all through multi-day hunting trips, enabling me to return to the truck with each fresh meat and still frozen ice. 

Far more often this just signifies that I by no means have to be concerned about connecting the fridge to my vehicle’s energy provide. I haven’t had to splice into any of the truck’s electric cables, I do not have to be concerned about waking up in the morning to a dead automobile battery, and I’ll generally have a cold beer prepared at the finish of a difficult day. Plus, the fridge and battery disconnect and can be removed very easily, so I’m absolutely free to use my truck bed as a truck bed anytime I need to have to—no difficult-mounted battery compartment gets in the way. I’ve obtained a substantial added luxury without sacrificing any of my stock truck’s reliability, and at a price that would have been unbelievable just a handful of years ago. 

Subsequent week I’m taking my setup elk hunting. I’ll be away from the truck and in the backcountry for seven days. I program to pack the fridge-freezer complete of ice the evening just before I leave, and if I’m capable to get back to the truck with numerous hundred pounds of fresh meat, I’ll be capable to load every little thing into my gigantic 220-liter Yeti, total with rock-strong ice for the daylong drive house. 

In March, my fiancée and I are driving down to southern Baja to get married, camping along the way there and back for our honeymoon. We’ll be capable to take pleasure in lots of fresh meals and cold drinks and feed our dogs raw meat the entire way, all with no compromising the reliability of our truck as we pass via some seriously remote regions. 

Is such a ridiculous quantity of off-grid refrigeration a luxury? Totally. Does it add to our capability to take pleasure in the outdoors? Ask us that when we’re roasting a fresh elk backstrap more than a fire, whilst watching a sunset from our extremely personal private beach in Mexico. 

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