Solar Camping on Steroids

solar battery (Large)

[Rick] does a lot of camping, but he loves his electronics. So he’s now on his third iteration of his solar-powered battery box, and it packs quite the punch!

It’s a pretty simple build, but very effective. [Rick] is using a 200W solar panel, a 20 Amp MPPT solar charge controller, a large 100Ah Military Spec Deka 6TMF deep cycle battery, three 12 volt car accessory outlets, and to box it all up — an inexpensive plastic tote from Walmart to keep it dry in bad weather. The only problem we can see with this is that since the battery isn’t a sealed gel cell, it could out gas inside the tote which might cause him problems down the road. He’s aware of this though so the lid is only on when it needs to be.

This unit can power pretty much anything that runs on 12 volts, from USB devices, to camping light batteries, air pumps for air mattresses, C-PAP machines via the included A/C inverter, and it can even run an EdgeStar FP-430 portable fridge/freezer for 3+ days before even needing to plug in the solar panel for recharging! Total system cost is a bit high at around $1000 — but that includes the portable fridge, solar panels, and all accessories and miscellaneous hardware that went into assembling the system.

Stick around after the break to see the video demonstration.

Comments

  1. Dax says:

    The Edgestar FP430 fridge is specced to draw 65W and 5.4 amps at 12 volts, which would give it a run time of 18 hours, not three days. Even the video shows the fridge drawing 50 Watts according to the charge controller meter. I don’t believe for a second his claim that he’d been running the fridge for five days on the battery unless he set the thermostat to something like 60 degrees. It definitely won’t keep below freezing with just 9 Watts that it is allowed to draw on average if it’s supposed to run for five days.

    The source of confusion might be that the listed AC current draw is 0.75 A which would give you a runtime of 5.5 days, except that would be at 110 volts.

    • Simonious says:

      The fridge does not run nonstop – he specifies it can be run 5 days without sun IF you don’t open the fridge too often.

      • Dax says:

        The power draw of the fridge depends on what temperature you set it to. The colder you want it, the more power it will draw because the temperature difference to the outside is greater, therefore the heat flux through the insulation is greater.

        • fartface says:

          And it’s all moot, a GOOD cooler and some Dry ice will outperform double his system easily. A good commercial cooler and Dry Ice we kept a cooler cold enough to slightly freeze pop after 12 days of camping. And that was with kids opening the dang thing every 2 hours looking for something to drink.

          • Sonny_Jim says:

            I spent a while in Australia with a camper van and quickly learned that you just can’t beat a good eski with a slab of Boags and some ice. You can buy ice everywhere and it’s cheap.

      • Rick says:

        You are correct. The fridge only runs maybe 10 minutes per hour on hot days so that’s why it can run on the 100ah battery for 3+ days.

    • Dax says:

      Also, his comment: “On regular deep cycle batteries they will be damaged but I’m using a military spec battery that is certified to run down to 0.75vdc and be able to come back up to full charge without damage.”

      No such PBA batteries exist. All lead acid batteries suffer from deep discharge. They may come back to full charge, but not without damage. As far as I know, the DOD specification is for 1000 cycles at 50% depth of discharge, and recoverable without failure from extended 100% discharge.

  2. DainBramage1991 says:

    FYI: Most CPAP machines come with a 12vdc jack and therefor do not require an inverter. The older ones I’ve had all had a DC jack, and my current one runs off of a 12v external supply.

  3. vonskippy says:

    To me, all that gear defeats the purpose of “camping out”.

    YMMV

    • F says:

      So people who require CPAP machines, they should just stay at home?

      • fartface says:

        Camping is about roughing it, let me guess, you also complain that the sand dunes are not ADA accessible for wheel chairs and the eldry in scooters? Damn Nature! Where are your paved paths and ramps!

        • anomdebus says:

          For you (two) it is.

        • pcf11 says:

          Camping is not about roughing it. Camping is about enjoying nature with a minimum of gear. I would say a freezer is a tad excessive on that account too.

          • microcarl says:

            In September of 2007 high winds came through the Cincinnati, Ohio area that took down the power grid for nearly a week.

            The following January, we had a series of blizzards that came through the Cincinnati, Ohio area that closed the main roads down for several days. In both cases, the local grocery stores lost every bit of their perishable goods.

            In both cases, when I finally got to go back to work, without exception, the biggest complaint was that people had lost their food in their refrigerators and freezers and that there wasn’t any food to be purchased locally.

            You see, for some of us, it’s not always about some other persons definition of what camping should or shouldn’t be. Rather, it’s about being prepared for the untimely event that could tip the apple cart and ruin your day – or week.

            It only makes sense to be prepared because, every day, there is some event, some catastrophe, some loss of infrastructure – EVERY SINGLE DAY! It’s only a matter of time before catastrophic event comes your way!

        • James says:

          Camping is about whatever you want it to be about. Likewise, to anyone else, camping is about whatever they want to to be about. You think people should do things according to your specifications? You have a lot to learn.

          • pcf11 says:

            I learned about camping from experts. They all pretty much agree on the broader points of the activity.

          • James says:

            @pcf11 Well done you. Is your issue that Rick should not be allowed to use the word ‘camping’ for his activity? If so, please give us another word that you will allow us to use to describe Ricks non-camping activity. Or should he be banned from doing it entirely, since it does not fit the international rules of camping according to you and your camping expert mentors? In short, what point are you trying to make?

          • pcf11 says:

            If I really need to explain it to you then you’re not going to get it anyways, wiseass.

          • James says:

            So now you bring out the ad hominem.

            You failed to explain your thought process behind your weird, pointless comment, so I asked for clarification. I get it. Just because I understand what you are saying doesn’t mean you’re right. Since you make up your own definitions of things, here’s a widely held view of what most others might consider camping:

            ‘Camping describes a range of activities. Survivalist campers set off with little more than their boots, whereas recreational vehicle travellers arrive equipped with their own electricity, heat, and patio furniture.’

            ;-)

    • SATovey says:

      Perhaps, but it does provide a proof of concept should one be in a position where one needs to survive on a minimum amount of gear for a long period of time.

      Couple this gear with a full size van or RV and one has a mobile homeless shelter that allows one to relocate to a community where one may be more likely to find a job.

      So while you are disagreeable to the gear, the gear has it’s benefits in actual practice.

  4. Dra says:

    Both the person who made the video, and the responder who said the fridge will only run for 18 hours are “right”. The fridge will work perfectly well for four or five days on the battery to keep food cold. Hell, if it was completely full of frozen food and was left un-opened, there’s a fairly good chance it wouldn’t need power at all for four or five days.

    However, to keep food at a given temperature, freezers don’t need to run for significant periods of time, if it’s a well made freezer, that is fully stocked, (and your freezer should ALWAYS be completely full. Fill any un-used space with assorted ice packs, frozen water bottles, and the like, it can drastically lower your electricity bills. As a bonus, as he’s speaking about “emergency situations” if nothing else, it’s water storage.) and the door is usually left closed, it might only kick on for a couple of hours per day. Less, if you take care to further insulate the fridge, and keep it in a cool place, instead of in direct sunlight, like he has his for this example.

    I used to work for a guy who was a welder. At his home, he didn’t have electricity. He had a huge welder/generator on the back of his truck he plugged his washer, dryer, and fridge and freezer into. His fridge and freezer ran for an average of maybe two hours a day.

    • Dax says:

      The problem is that if he’s running it as a camping freezer, it’s going to need to do things like cool down your beer or ice the fish you just caught. Keeping food that’s already frozen is no problem at all – it’s the stuff that you want to make cold that uses up all your energy. Especially freezing water takes tons of power.

      • anomdebus says:

        In my experience that is the case of all camping freezers, even the larger RVs that are primarily hooked up to shore power. You fill the thing with already cold items before you leave.

      • fartface says:

        What nut wants to cool the fish you caught? you filet them and cook them right there. If you want frozen fish go to the store, the only reason to catch fish while camping is to enjoy the taste of just caught and not even dead yet while you are cooking it.

        And if you bring warm beer camping, Time to learn about camping and priorities.

        • pcf11 says:

          Yeah don’t bring beer when you camp, bring whiskey. It is about alcohol by volume. Whiskey is dehydrated beer. I suppose grain alcohol might be the best liquor to bring because you can run camp stoves on it too, but I have to make some concessions for taste myself.

      • microcarl says:

        The thing to understand is that, the charge controller was showing that the storage battery was being charged at about three times the rate at which the freezer was consuming energy. At that, if a 500 watt solar panel was used in place of a 200 watt solar panel, the battery could be recharge in less then half the time and, at lower light levels.

        Case in point, even on cloudy days, my 400 watt solar panel farm trickle charges my six 100 ampere marine grade deep cycle batteries at two to three amperes.

  5. wolfy02 says:

    great project, but i have a few problems with it. Specifically when it rains. If it’s raining, why are you trying to charge your battery? No sun, no power. Secondly, how exactly is he taking care of heat dissipation when the lid is closed? I see no fans anywhere on the enclosure for exhaust. I’d be worried that the damn thing would burst into flames before i ever had to worry about the fridge stopping.

    Great build though!

    • snow says:

      if you use the more expensive monocrystaline solar cells you don’t need full sun you only need (day)light to get a decent amount of power

      • Dax says:

        Even monocrystalline panels can’t make power out of nothing. When it’s cloudy, the amount of sunlight reaching the ground drops to about 10%.

        And even monocrystalline panels can’t make use of all incident radiation. It has to come in within a certain “cone” of directions or else it just gets reflected off of the surface.

        • m1ndtr1p says:

          Even with only 10% sunlight, he’ll still be getting roughly 16-17 watts of power through the 200 watt panel (give or take a few watts), which is more than enough to trickle charge the battery when the fridge’s compressor isn’t working, so unless it rains for 4+ days straight and his fridge is always powered on (which it isn’t), it’s still more than enough juice to last him for a week long camping trip.

          • Dax says:

            Not really, because he’d still have to be aiming the panel at the sun, or the part of the sky where the sun is supposed to be. And, a fixed panel will produce roughly 10% of its rated output on average over the course of a day (24h) , so you’re actually looking at something on the order of 1 Watts which is probably not enough to run the charge controller.

            Effectively, you get no charging on an overcast day.

          • Rick says:

            I also have a video detailing a 1 week stress test on the system while camping on my channel. When it rains you simply close the lid, and there are two holes under a lip on the case that keeps water from dripping into the case since the wires are coming out downward. As for heat inside the box all I have to do is grab a small twig and prop the top up about 15 degrees to allow heat and any hydrogen buildup to safely escape. Also when it’s full cloudy, I can still get 15-25 watts on that panel.

    • m1ndtr1p says:

      Well, hopefully, he checks the weather forcast before going camping (even if it isn’t 100% accurate, it gives him a rough idea), which most campers do as it’s not very fun going camping while it’s raining all the time. So he’ll have a good idea what kind of weather he can expect and plan accordingly. As for the airflow issues, he leaves the top off when it’s not raining, and I doubt there is much heat buildup anyways, of course it’s better to be safe than sorry, so I agree, he should have an intake and exhaust fan (120-140mm high flow computer fans would do nicely and be pretty much silent) in the box somewhere, he can cover the openings with plastic/PVC dryer vents sealed with silicone or a rubber gasket in order to prevent water from getting into the box as well.

      • pcf11 says:

        Many camping trips are planned far in advance. So when you go you get what you get as far as the weather goes. Hopefully it’ll be warm in the summer, but past that events like rain, that is what you bring a poncho for. It is part of the experience.

  6. St. Fu says:

    Is the charge controller screwed into the battery?

  7. fartface says:

    Better to buy TWO 100 watt panels that you can put hinges on and fold face to face for transport. His setup is unwieldly unless you own and drive a Canyonero XLT.

    • Rick says:

      I do agree with you. The only reason I have the 200 watt panel is I got it for $0.90/watt when I bought it. I would have preferred two 100 watt panels as you stated. And the panel staps down nicely to the roof rack on a subaru impreza and can do 65mph easily without it catching wind underneath it.

  8. xorpunk says:

    Someone should compete with this guy by buying MORE stuff and putting it in an ABS storage container..

    Google “portable solar power”, this guy is only slightly exceptional because he’s using a better battery. Nobody is doing what’s really demanding and progressive and working on better battery designs or photo-voltaic elements.

    Now, hate me for not endorsing the endorsement of mediocrity like good lazy minded ‘smart people’.. I’m obviously just a troll..

    • Wut? says:

      Well, sorry to inform you, but —– when all you do is post to complain about what other people aren’t doing while doing nothing about the said subject yourself….. You are, in fact, the Definition of a troll.

      • mh says:

        I think you need to look up what a “troll” and “trolling” really is. Critisism is not trolling (and in this case he is even refering you to a google search for more information on why he made the critisism).

        Why people make stupid useless comments about the value of other people’s comments (without counter-arguments) is beyond me.

        If only people who had made a similiar project were allowed to have an opinion, these comment-sections would be rather empty.

        • xorpunk says:

          Indeed, it’s the stupid people who criticize.. Smart people settle..

          Thankfully the average human didn’t believe this before the Internet..

          By the way show me a person who can’t do exactly what this guy did in the time it takes shipping and handling, I challenge you wise one.. Defend the mediocrity that your popular blind support philosophy strongly endorses..

          • SATovey says:

            “Indeed, it’s the stupid people who criticize.. Smart people settle..”

            I disagree. Smart people reason, and when the matter is inconsequential, they settle. When the matter has unreasonable consequences, there is no settling, just fighting and winning.

  9. ok boss says:

    A good 12V 110amp marine battery will run a 250 watt fridge for about 8-10Hr(with power saver). When you calculate amps and devices with motors we go into different calculations.

  10. ptricks says:

    I wouldn’t power a fridge from a mobile solar supply, it is a waste of power. Instead look at refrigerators that are powered by propane or natural gas like those designed for camper use, those can run for weeks on just 1 tank.
    The comment about it not being sealed so you need to worry about off gassing is not correct. Batteries do not produce gas outside the cells during normal charging only when over charged. Think about it, what good would a battery be if it converted the water in the electrolyte to hydrogen every time it charged, you would have to refill it every charge. The only reason manufacturers warn against enclosed spaces is they don’t want to be blamed when someone doesn’t charge the batteries correctly which is sort of funny because even SLA batteries have safety vents that will vent hydrogen if the charger misbehaves.

    • dan says:

      I chill my beer with the coldness of criticisms seen on hackaday.

      if you drink real ales it’s best serving temperature is around 12 – 14 Degrees, this can easily be achieved with a wet sock wrapped round a can forming an evaporative cooler.

      for variants of the activity, I have to agree with the above, if I wanted a holiday with a freezer and electricity etc I’d go to a hotel, or rent a cabin near to nature that had these facilities.

      If I wanted to go camping, it’s involve a tent and a primus stove or just a fire for cooking.
      a wind up torch and a wind up radio are the only things that are really needed “modern technology” wise.

      • James says:

        It’s perfectly reasonable that you would go camping in the way that you would like to. But would you, like some others here, impose that others should do it only your preferred way? ;-)

    • Rick says:

      For the outgassing you are correct. The charge controller stops charging when the battery hits 14.4vdc, then floats at 13.3vdc. After using it for 6 months I checked the water levels 2 weeks ago and the levels have barely budged. It’s not even worth it to top them off yet as they have lost maybe 1mm of water. Now if your equalizing a battery bank all the time, then yes you will get plenty of gassing from the equalization charge.

  11. Fred says:

    Excellent job Rick.The comments are amazing,where do all you haters come from?

    Ive several small solutions like yours and they are extremely handy.

    Well done at a fine price!

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