Solar Independence

12 Aug

Since I work in the Solar industry (at least for now), there’s really no excuse for not having a few things sorted out. One of the issues that bugs me when I go camping is the lack of refrigeration. An Esky and ice just doesn’t cut it. You end up with a pool of water with soggy things floating in it and food you have to throw away. The problem with a car fridge and solar charging system is that it is quite expensive to set up so the cost/benefit ratio is poor.

Not to be put off, the company for whom I work, Solar Newcastle, recently set up a Recreational Solar department and the pricing they got on 12v panels was amazing. This prompted me to explore the project again and with the help of our senior design engineer, Lee, I pieced together a plug and play solar charged fridge system for my car camping needs. First things first, there’s no point having a good deep cycle battery if you can’t keep it maintained so a proper multi-stage charger was the first thing to buy. Plenty to choose from but Projecta kept popping up as a big player and I scored this thing from my friendly Ebay store:

Projecta IP1000

This thing can handle any chemistry battery up to 10A. It can recharge a car battery in situ and still connected so in short it is ideal for the job.

Next was the battery. Now, I am an electrician and electronic engineer but, in truth, batteries were never a thing I studied much. Fortunately, Lee is a battery master and he schooled me up good and proper. So now I can do batteries, me. I really wanted an AGM 100Ah deep cycle but the cost was more than I could justify at $369. So I opted for a 100Ah SLA which I got for $200 from Newcastle Batteries, our sister company.

This weighs more than a car.

So now I have a battery and can keep it charged and in good order. With an Engel 50l fridge at 2.5A maximum draw, this will give me about 20 hours of autonomy time before the battery gets below its critical 50% discharge. That will do for an overnighter but I need solar panels to make it permanent. The panels our company now sells are OK and the pricing is very good at $480 for a 130W bi-fold with regulator. This price is hundreds cheaper than similar at the big retailers like Ray’s Outdoors and Camping World but then I found this:

120W Bi-Fold waterproof panels

This setup is 120W, waterproof with protective corner guards, a superior tilt stand, Anderson plug connector and only $355. A steal and it’s on its way.

Now I have the ability to keep my battery charged for years without the need for mains connection. Unfortunately, all I can do is look admiringly at my system because the battery has nothing to run. Sure I can charge my iPod but I could do that in the car. Naturally, the fridge is next.

These days there are several good car fridges to choose from but I will pick from either the Waeco or Engel ranges. The Engel runs much lower current draw because it uses a Sawafuji swing motor which is more efficient than Waeco’s Danfoss compressor. It’s a difference between 2.5A and 5A maximum draw and this will impact on autonomy time for the battery. Both fridges are highly recommended with impressive track records for serviceability but the Engel’s higher price might be worth paying. I only need 50 litres so I expect to pay around $1k unless I can get a great Ebay deal. I will keep you informed when it arrives.

Finally, my next step is plug and play so Anderson plugs will go on all connections and the battery will live in a box with Anderson plugs, car d.c. socket and a little recharge inverter for all my electronic gadgetry. My next post will show it all together and working.


Posted by on August 12, 2011 in Paddle Gear


Tags: , , , ,

6 responses to “Solar Independence

  1. Mark S

    August 12, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    Hey Brad, on our recent North Reef Tripnwe rocked up to North West Island, 80km off the mainland and we figured pretty remote, and there were 10 Fishos camped, with 11 bar sized fridges and a freezer! The night before we arrived They had ice cream for dessert, and had snap frozen (using their cryovac machine) all of their fish. They had solar arrays like the one in your pics, actually about 8 of them, and a camp set up like a mobile military camp. That would bea good look for the Klan at the next RnR!

    • rjimlad

      August 12, 2011 at 11:27 pm

      It’s going to happen Mark. If our company survives the next weeks and I still have a job we may even be minor sponsors and I’ll have a stall there selling plug and play solar camp kits like mine. Year after a 2kw fuel cell to power the entire event.

  2. Gages

    August 13, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    Hi Brad after living 100% on solar now for 14 years sometimes these cheaper panels aren’t the best ,for example I have 2 x65w Canon Uni solar panels that put out an amazing 3.5amps in fairly shaded conditions and I have 8 x 140 w BP panels that only put out 3 amps each and only on a good clear day some time’s a slightly more expensive panel can be a better option when you consider the output ..I wish I spent the extra $$$ on some more Uni solar panels rather than the cheaper BP ones ..They trick you on the wattage versus output

    and money spent on good batteries is well spent and money you will save in the long run…..Thats the way you have to look at Solar..the long run ..I learnt the hard batteries,cheap panels = didn’t last

    i find these guys the best in Australia and I love their buisness address
    Bloody hippies !!

    Hope you keep you solar industry job !!

  3. John Anderson

    August 14, 2011 at 10:26 am

    It sounds like a nice set up Brad, now that the tiddlers are getting a bit more independant, Jules and I are going to be doing a bit more camping and have also been thinking about this sort of set up. Thanks for the write up and I look forward to seeing the finished set up.


    John A

  4. rjimlad

    August 15, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    Good advice Gages but unfortunately I have no way of knowing performance until I have them and my budget is pretty small since I work in the solar industry. We use JA Solar with our own spec for grid connect and they are one of the best panels on the market but the stuff they are buying for our recreational division is not JA and untried. I have to take the risk on these bi-folds because the Engel is bloody dear and could lead to a divorce after which that fridge will be earning its keep. RPCs 120W bi-fold is $899 and that could buy me a lot more stuff.

  5. kayaksolitude

    January 3, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    I get the feeling you guys are all a bunch of gadget fanatics.. 😁
    Just looking at the Sherpa 50 Adventure Kit… Looks ok… Can I run the 12 volt esky I carry on my Kayak? .. (I did read somewhere they have a duel purpose as a safety device) I have also managed to fit the Aldi Expresso in the front but had to leave the milk frother behind on my last paddle.
    So does anyone have experience with the Sherpa?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: