I am a huge fan of solar and I sometimes get a little bit geeky about it because I think it’s amazing that we can harness an unlimited amount of energy from the sun.
The sun has an infinite amount of energy to offer and I am a huge proponent of using all of it that we can instead of focusing on fossil fuels for our energy needs.
I find it strange that in today’s world, with all of the technology and intuitive products we have, we don’t make use of solar energy more than we do.
If you are like me and are interested in taking advantage of what solar can provide, you will probably be interested in an off-grid solar system. This is just one way that you can achieve your energy needs by relying on the sun.
What is off-grid solar?
Off-grid solar is a solar system that is not connected to a grid such as your local utility service. It is a complete standalone product that pulls energy from the sun to charge a battery bank that can be converted to electrical energy for your home, camper or other livable structure.
The cool thing about off-grid solar is that you can completely harness the sun’s energy for yourself and be totally independent of a grid.
It’s a way of “sticking it to the man” so to speak and using a free method to get electrical power.
This is especially great for campers, van lifers and other adventure seekers who need to power their daily lives but still want to enjoy time away from it all.
A camper is the perfect example of off-grid solar. When you have solar panels attached to a camper or a van, you are completely off-grid and using energy from the sun to provide power throughout your camper.
It’s a good feeling knowing that you do not have to pay for the energy that is coming in and powering your devices. It’s also nice knowing that you are not contributing to dirty energy sources when using off-grid solar.
The Difference In Off-Grid And On-Grid Solar
The difference between these two types of systems is mainly where the energy is stored. In an off-grid situation, all of the energy is stored in a battery bank.
In an on-grid system, the energy that you generate with your solar panels gets sent to your utility company’s grid.
In turn, you receive a credit for this and you can withdraw as much solar energy as you have deposited.
With on-grid solar, even though you are drawing energy from the sun, you are still attached to the grid. This means that you are still at the mercy of your utility company to distribute your solar energy as needed.
This is unlike off-grid solar because with off-grid you are drawing energy from the sun and it is 100% usable without anyone else having a say so.
The energy that you get from the sun is stored in your battery banks and you have total control over how much or how little you use. There is no utility company involved in the process.
How Does Off-Grid Solar Power Work
An off-grid solar power system is really quite simple. There are only a few working parts to a system like this.
Below, I have listed the items that are needed to turn the sun’s energy into usable energy for you to use to power devices.
An off-grid solar system has to have solar panels so that it can pull in energy from the sun. There are many different sizes and they are the piece of the system that converts the sun’s energy into voltage and current that will charge batteries through a charge controller.
Solar panels can either be mounted permanently or they can be portable which many people use when camping since they are easy to position where needed.
Those who would have solar power at a house or some other solid structure would likely have their solar panels mounted permanently.
Oftentimes, solar panels are mounted at an angle that follows the ark of the sun so that it can receive the highest amount of sunlight possible throughout the day. This allows you to absorb as much sunlight as possible.
Once you have solar panels in place, you will need somewhere to store the energy that you receive from the sunlight.
This is where a battery bank is used to store the energy so that you can use it even when there is no sun.
This is where the energy is stored when you receive it from the sun. It will be stored in batteries and available to use at any time.
Most systems utilize deep cycle AGM batteries because these are the most cost-effective type to use.
Lithium batteries are another popular option and do have more benefits over using deep cycle batteries but they are much more expensive to acquire.
Batteries can be quite heavy.
As an example, a 12 volt, 100 amp-hour, deep cycle battery from Renogy weighs in at 66 pounds. You would probably need two of these to make for an effective solar battery bank. You would be looking at 132 pounds in total.
Compare this to a 12 volt, 100 amp-hour, lithium battery from Battle Born that weighs in at about 30 pounds. Two of these would bring your total weight to 60 pounds.
This item controls the charge that happens to your battery bank. The charge controller is what determines how much voltage and current is needed to keep your batteries charged.
It also keeps your batteries from being overcharged when the sun is beaming down on the solar panels. When the sun is not out, it keeps your batteries from losing charge or being drained.
You could call the charge controller the brain of the system. It’s like a computer that takes the input from the sun and then determines what to do with it.
The main job of the inverter is to invert direct current to alternating current. This could be a very complicated topic so I’ll keep it simple.
The main thing you need to know about the inverter is that it takes the 12-volt direct current and turns it into 120 volts of alternating current.
The 120 volt AC outlets are the ones that are in most homes and powers most of your household devices. The inverter allows you to power these same devices using the same plug.
Other essential items that are needed include cables, connectors, racks, and mounts.
All of these items work in combination together to supply you with the energy you need to power your 12 volt DC and 120 volt AC devices.
Of course, a solar system is much more intricate than what I am describing but I am pointing out the basics the way I learned them as I was researching the subject for my van build.
Examples Of Off-Grid Solar
Solar systems are in demand more than ever and there have been many improvements as companies have innovated and have developed some pretty cool systems. These systems are easy for someone to pick up and create an awesome off-grid solar experience.
These can be divided into a couple of categories. Some of them will fall under portable solar units where the unit is an all-in-one system that contains your battery, charge controller, inverter and all the connections and hookups that you need.
It is highly portable and can easily be carried from one place to another.
The second type of system is one that is not portable and this includes all of the same components except they are not in a nice portable package. They must be installed permanently.
Let’s look and an example of each type below.
The Goal Zero Yeti 1400 consists of a very small portable unit that only weighs about 43 pounds and contains a 1400 watt-hour lithium battery (132 amp hours). The inverter is built-in and the unit also contains all of the ports that you will need.
All you need to do is connect solar panels to the input and you have a fully working off-grid, portable solar system.
The solar panels will keep the unit charged so that you can plug your devices into the ports and use them just as you would if you were connected to the grid.
This is the solution I have in my van and I have been very happy with it.
The 12-volt Renogy 100 watt solar RV kit contains a 100 W solar panel, a charge controller, cables, adapter kit, entry housing, mounting brackets, and a Bluetooth module.
The kit contains everything you need except for the battery and the inverter. By adding these two items, you would have a fully-functioning, off-grid solar system.
Building your own non-portable system is usually the cheapest way to go. It’s the best bang for your buck because you are going to get more out of it for less money.
However, the benefit of the portable unit is that you don’t have to install it and you can take it from place to place.
This makes portable units great for those who want to use them for things like camping, using around a farm, in the shed or garage or other places where you might need electrical power.
This type of system is usually installed on campers and many people who build their own custom van or RV use an installed system like this as well.
With so many available products on the market, it’s easier than ever to create a highly functional, off-grid solar system to power your life.
One can live off-grid and still maintain the majority of their energy needs, depending on the size of the solar system they have.
Solar is the way of the future and it is a great feeling to know that you are getting enough energy to power your accessories from the sun alone without having to pay a utility company.
An off-grid solar system is perfect for people who camp and as someone who travels often in a camper van, I couldn’t imagine being without one. Mine serves me well and allows me to keep my electrical devices working while on the road.
It easily powers my lights, refrigerator, water pump, fans, laptop, phone and other items that I want to plug in. No matter where I go, I can power all of my devices just as I would at my house.
That’s the beauty of having an off-grid solar system.