Boondocking — often called free camping — is considered by many to be the “purest” form of camping or motorhome living. Without access to running water, restrooms, and shore power, it really is just you and the great outdoors.
If you’re a seasoned boondocking motorhome fulltimer, you may be used to subsisting off sourcing or storing drinking water and burying your waste off-site. But at some point, you have to park at a campground to access shore power.
Solar panels let you camp off the grid without relying on campgrounds for electricity supply. It frees you from reliance on the grid and offers a cost-effective, renewable energy source.
Find out how many solar panels you’ll need to keep your motorhome charged off-grid, depending on your energy consumption, vehicle design, and more.
How Many Solar Panels Are Required for Boondocking?
There are many opportunities for free camping in Australia. Free camping or boondocking is when you camp in nature without water and electrical hookups. It helps preserve the natural landscape and puts less strain on the land.
With solar power, you can be a true boondocker while still being able to run all your essential electrical appliances and devices. First, you’ll need to determine the suitable number of solar panels for your rig.
The amount of electricity a solar panel can capture is measured in rated power. For example, EcoFlow sells portable solar panels with rated power outputs of 110w, 160w, 220w, and 400w. You can chain solar panels together to obtain your desired level of solar energy output.
Bringing along a portable power station will meet the power needs that your motorhome cannot. The solar battery inside your portable power station can charge up during the day, even on overcast days, so you can use it throughout the night. But how much capacity that battery has and how many solar panels you intend to use will ultimately determine your charging performance.
To calculate the precise number of solar panels to install on your motorhome, you’ll need to consider three factors: energy use, battery capacity, and the solar panel design.
Are You Running Your Appliances Continuously?
To estimate your energy usage, you need to determine how much wattage each appliance you want to operate uses and how long you intend to run it.
If you spend most of your time hiking, reading, and sitting around a campfire, you might only need occasional power to keep a phone charged and use an electric skillet every night. You could get by with only 200W of rated power from your solar panels.
Running basic kitchen appliances like a coffee maker, refrigerator, and skillet doesn’t draw as much power as you might think. However, the surge power — the amount of power required to turn the device on — for appliances like microwaves requires significant electricity. Add that energy drain to other appliances that constantly run, like a furnace and water pump, and you’ll quickly realise how much energy you need adds up.
The easiest solution here is to estimate your energy use for each appliance and determine your total energy requirement from there.
What Size Batteries Are You Using?
Your solar battery size, i.e., capacity, determines how much power you can store from your solar panels.
Capacity is measured in watt-hours (Wh), meaning how many hours the battery will last to power a device roughly equal to 1 watt of energy. When you see that a portable power station, which is needed to draw in solar power and convert it to AC (alternating current) electricity that you can use, is 600Wh vs 300Wh, that means you’ll be able to power devices for half as long.
AC output is a measure of the maximum energy load that the portable power station can handle. That means it can only take so many devices plugged in at once, each of which has its own power demands, before overloading. Fortunately, most modern portable power stations have built-in surge protectors and power controllers that prevent short-circuiting.
Think about how many devices you’re going to need to power while boondocking. Will you be using a mini-fridge and lighting continuously? Are you only bringing one along to power cooking equipment once a night and charge phones and laptops intermittently? Look at the power capacity to determine which is best suited to your needs.
Roof Mounted Panels vs. Portable Panels
The solar panel design refers to their capacity and setup style.
The capacity of EcoFlow’s solar panels ranges from 110Wh to 400Wh, meaning the number of solar panels you need also depends on their capacity.
The design also affects how much power they generate. Roof-mounted setups are the most prevalent but have some drawbacks for motorhome users. For one, the fixed positioning limits their angle of exposure. Also, the roof set up means you must park in a specific direction for optimal exposure.
Mounted rooftop panels do have the advantage of being able to capture power while you’re on the road, which can be a huge benefit.
You don’t have to mount your solar panels on the roof or side of your motorhome, though. With portable panels, you can position the solar panels at the optimal angle and to face true south for maximum light exposure. Flexible solar panels can also be a viable option.
EcoFlow Power Kit
The Pew Research Center recently reported that residential solar power installations have increased steadily. More and more people are going solar, whether for boondocking, casual camping, or home backup.
The EcoFlow Power Kit is the ideal modular power source for boondocking, no matter if you drive class A, class C, camper, or trailer. It integrates with motorhomes seamlessly through a simple plug-and-play design.
It puts customisation in your hands, letting you choose your size of lithium iron phosphate battery (2kWh, 5kWh), with stackable capacity that enables you to connect up to three batteries for maximum power supply.
You can also customise the size, type, and input of your solar panels and choose from rigid, flexible, or portable designs. With a cycle life of ~3000 cycles up to 80% capacity, the Power Kit lasts for years and powers up all your boondocking needs.
Boondocking is a fantastic way to experience the great outdoors without forsaking all the comforts of home. With solar panels to keep your rig charged, you don’t have to sacrifice creature comforts to get off the grid.