The title of this post is a little misleading. I do have solar panels and deep cycle batteries and an inverter to provide electricity for my fifth wheel out in the desert, but I don’t have any sort of solar setup for my van.
There was a time when I seemed to keep meeting men 15 to 20 years older than I am who liked to tell me, You need solar! without taking into account my particular situation. They had a solar setup; it was working well for them, so they thought I should have what they had. I know these guys were trying to be helpful, that they thought solar power could help me as it had helped them. However not only did I bristle at having someone who barely knew me tell me what I needed (none of them ever asked if I’d considered solar power or what my reasons were for not having a solar setup), my individual situation kept solar power off my list of needs.
Most importantly, for at least the first four years of my solo vandwelling, I simply couldn’t afford the components necessary to provide my van with solar power. Even if I could have gotten the installation done for free at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous or some other van gathering, I couldn’t afford all the necessary pieces. I still live pretty much hand to mouth. Add in a van that seems to need a repair every six months or so and has needed new tires three years in a row (!), and I just haven’t had the several hundred dollars I’d need to buy solar panels and a deep cycle battery and an inverter and all the other pieces and parts I don’t even know I need.
Up until I got my fifth wheel last winter and was able to use it as a place to store some of my stuff, lack of space in my van was a huge issue. Anyone who lives in a van with every single item s/he owns knows space is at a premium. I am not a minimalist, and for most of my life as a vandweller, I could not image where I’d put a deep cycle battery. I literally had no place for such a thing.
Another factor in my hesitation to spend a bunch of money on a solar setup was my place of employment. For the last three years (and this year too) I’ve worked in a National Forest during the camping season from mid-May to mid-October. Forest = trees and trees = shade. What good are solar panels that aren’t in the sun? Not much good! I’d have to move the solar panels around all day to keep them in full sun, and my work hasn’t been conducive to such uses of my time. It never made sense to me to spend a large hunk of money on something I couldn’t use fully for at least five months out of the year.
I’ve figured out ways other than solar panels and deep cycle batteries to meet my vandwelling needs. I use solar powered Luci lights to see by at night and a small, foldable 24 Watt solar charger manufactured by 1 by One to charge my phone. I also have a 140 watts Schumacher power converter that plugs into my 12 volt power supply and allows me to charge my laptop and phone, as well as a USB power adapter which allows me to charge two phones at once. I spent about $20 on the most recent Luci light I purchased via Walmart.com, under $25 for the power converter, and about five bucks for the USB power converter at a Family Dollar store in a small desert town. I received the folding solar panels as a gift (and now I can’t find them on Amazon to tell you how much they cost my benefactor).
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling anyone they shouldn’t get a solar setup for their van (or car or RV or truck camper or whatever). The solar setup on my fifth wheel (which was already up and running when I moved in and was very reasonably priced) is very convenient. What could be easier than flipping a switch and having a light come on? Remarkable! However, because the fifth wheel is out in the desert, the solar panels are out in the sun for hours almost every day. I don’t have to move them around to catch the sun. I don’t have to do anything to make the system work.
What I’m saying is that I don’t need an entire solar setup to live in my van. Most rubber tramps do not need an entire solar setup. A nomadic life can be lived without it. Heck, for years I didn’t have a power converter and only charged my laptop when I had access to electricity in a house, business, or library.
If you want to use solar power in your rig and can afford a full setup, go for it! However, if you’re a nomad wannabe without a lot of money to get started, don’t think you have to delay your nomadic life until you have solar panels on your roof and a deep cycle battery next to your passenger seat. Most folks actually need very little to start living nomadically. Get your rig. Move in. There you go! You’re ready to hit the road, even if you don’t own a single solar panel.
Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-silver-solar-panels-159397/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/bright-countryside-dawn-daylight-302804/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/abstract-beach-bright-clouds-301599/.