Here Comes the Sun! Our Solar Power Installation
We always knew we wanted to get solar panels installed on our Airstream because it would give us more freedom in choosing camping spots. We are not that into RV Parks, except if we want to stay right in a downtown location. We are much happier in national and state parks, have found many wonderful county parks and are itching to try some remote BLM locations. Very few of the camping spots at the parks where we prefer to stay have electrical hookups. Those precious spots are often the ones that get reserved well in advance. Not relying on electrical hook ups would allow us the freedom to choose prettier spots and give us the spontaneity that having no reservations brings.
The choice of what to actually install on our trailer was painstakingly researched by Iain. After his meticulous research we discussed what was realistically needed and how much we wanted to invest in the system. One of our main decisions was whether to choose flexible or rigid solar panels. Ultimately we chose rigid. The flexible panels seem like cool new technology and if ours was a vintage Airstream, that had been lovingly restored, we may have chosen not to compromise the look of the roof line. But there is a lot of crap on the roof already with an air conditioner, antennas, fans and vents. We decided the addition of rigid panels wouldn't make much difference. They are slightly less expensive, more efficient and a tried and trusted technology. Compared with flexible panels they are also much easier to swap out if one gets damaged.
We chose to get four 135 watt panels and replace the flooded batteries that came standard on our rig for two AGM batteries giving us major increase in energy storage. We also upgraded our 1000W power inverter for a more efficient model. We are by no means energy hogs. We already ditched our factory installed microwave (see here), don't have a coffee machine and I don't use hair appliances (see here). Other than lighting and other low energy requirements, we mostly need power for our computers and TV. With this new set up we should be able to generate more than enough power and have the capacity to store what we need even in less than optimum sun conditions.
We decided to have a professional install of our system. We greatly admire those who do it themselves but we just didn't feel comfortable without the tools or the expertise. We contacted AM solar in Eugene, Oregon who are extremely experienced in RV solar installs. They seemed to be recommended highly by almost all the blogs we read. It turned out they were so busy that they could not fit us in for months. As an alternative solution that worked around our schedule, they recommended we contact one of their approved installers, Lew Farber. Lew spends the summers in the Hood River, OR area which was perfect for us. After a phone consultation and several follow up e-mails we headed up to his area to start the installation on Labor Day weekend. The installation took nearly four days, with a few additional jobs we threw in. As well as the solar we had Lew upgrade the TV antenna, install a cell phone booster and external antenna and an outside 12 V outlet.
I can't say enough good things about Lew, his work was impeccable. He always aimed for a "factory or better" finish and was open minded to our suggestions of how we wanted things done. He treated our home with such great care and was very understanding that we had to live with whatever was done.
We were lucky to spend our days exploring the Columbia River Gorge area while Lew worked on our rig. What a beautiful spot. We hiked on the Washington side of the gorge and another day had a fantastically memorable visit to the Timberline Lodge on the south side of Mount Hood. We also took the time to head into Portland to get some practical things done like shopping at IKEA and The Container Store, for the continual improvements to organization in the Airstream.
After 4 productive days we said thanks and goodbye to Lew and started our journey southwards. For the first time in our trip we had a few weeks with no campground reservations. Sure enough we spent our first night completely off grid and generating our own power at Hilgard State Park. After that brief stopover we continue our journey filled with the confidence that our newly installed solar panels will allow us the freedom to head off into the distance and explore new spots wherever the sun is shining!