Solar Versus Generator

Let me start by saying I dislike generators. They are noisy antisocial devices that are not needed in a well thought out and equipped rough road van. We have spent month after month on the road and never needed 240 volt power. We do not own or carry a generator.

Of course if you must run your electric blanket or air conditioner at night or can’t cook without a microwave, must have an electric washing machine or can not do without your satellite TV then perhaps your travelling should be limited to caravan parks instead of destroying the peace and tranquillity of fellow campers in the bush. I was camped at Kalpower Crossing in Lakefield National Park, a generator free area, or so the signs said, when two people owning very expensive collapsible caravans started their generators to run their fridges. They had each paid about $80K for these vans yet had no solar power and thought it their right to run a generator because their fridge (which incidentaly did not run on gas) was not working. There is of course a valid reason for using a generator whilst bush camping and this is associated with running equipment for some medical conditions. If this is the case let fellow campers know, they are sure to be understanding.

If all your lighting is not 12 volt LED lighting then your caravan is not really equipped for bush camping. Your fridge should run on gas to minimise battery draw and to allow for prolonged periods of cloudy weather that may result in the solar panels not delivering sufficient power to the storage batteries. A 12 volt fan is useful in hot conditions but make sure that it is a low current draw model. Fans are available that draw as little as a quarter of an amp on 12 volt whilst others draw two to three amps. Unfortunately the low current fans are expensive but are an excellent long term investment. You may need an inverter to charge telephones, cameras and computer batteries. Ensure that such an inverter is adequate for the job but not ridiculously large. Inverters are not 100% efficient and use power in the conversion process, the larger the inverter the more power it will consume just to operate.  If you have a TV make sure that it runs of 12 volts without needing an inverter, much more efficient (leave the 48 inch plasma at home though).

If you have adequate solar panels and battery storage for your requirements and this has all been correctly installed then you have no need for a generator in most circumstances. The exception being that after a prolonged period of cloudy and inclement weather you may have discharged your batteries to the point were they need recharging.

With the popularity of bush or free camping and the ready access to information by such books as Camps6, more and more people are using such camps. Unfortunately a lot of these vans and motor homes are not equipped to exist without 240 volt power.

If you must purchase a generator make sure it is one of the recognised low noise brands. Unfortunately there are generators sold by hardware stores for around $300 that are very noisy. These cheap generators also have issues  with the stability of the current they produce so beware. Also be aware that to charge your batteries you need a suitable 240 volt battery charger, that has an output capacity matched to the storage capacity of your batteries, as the 12 volts produced by generators provides a very small and inadequate charge.

You will most likely have a second battery in your vehicle separated from the others by a solenoid or other device. Redarc a company in Adelaide make a very good solenoi. After reading the articles by Collyn Rivers you will have fitted the correct battery and understood why your car alternator will not fully charge it.  When this second battery is connected to the caravan via Anderson Plugs (as you would do when underway) it will receive charge from your solar installation so why not make up and carry a two to three metre length of cabling with an Anderson Plug at each end. Then when parked near your van it is easy to connect your second vehicle battery to your caravan batteries in parallel. Thereby optimising the charge in both sets of batteries.

You may also wish to consider carrying a portable 80 watt solar panel. Such portable units normally have their own regulator. When parked in the shade it is simply a matter of moving this portable unit into the sun to top up the charge. Ensure you have a spare Anderson Plug to connect this to.

Enjoy the bush without the noise and smell of a generator!

updated 21/3/2012

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