I built a moving cabin to travel to all the national parks in 2021. One of the advantages I brought to this project is years of volunteer work building and maintaining the power grid at Comfort & Joy at Burning Man. Since I started the moving cabin project, many of my close friends and family members have started similar projects. As a result, many of them have asked me how to do their power systems.
My own power system is very large and very expensive. If you want HVAC and refrigeration, big expensive power systems are the only option. If you just want to charge your phone, laptop, and other small devices, then you can get by with a much smaller and cheaper system. This is particularly helpful as a starting place that you can later expand on if you decide to do a bigger system in the future.
In the past, I did a post with a list of suggestions for how people can build what I called a tent-scale microgrid (with 120v) I added another post earlier this year with a slightly larger system that’s usb only.
Times Have Changed
There are exciting new products available that are much better than the ones I recommended in the past, so I decided to do a new post explaining the best, cheap options for small solar power grids.
Things To Keep In Mind
You need to know two numbers, what is your total daily consumption and what is your peak consumption. A cell phone will need about ten watts a day to charge. A laptop could use up to a hundred or more to charge completely. A small 700w microwave actually only needs about twelve watts per minute of cooking, but with a very high peak consumption for that minute (700 watts).
The biggest tip I have to keep your daily consumption low is to use USB christmas lights for your lighting. These use basically no power and you could run them for like a year on either of these battery options even without solar panels to recharge the battery.
Want A Microwave?
If yes, then this is a perfect battery which can handle up to 1800 watts of draw with 288wh of storage. It also has an add-on option for additional battery storage. It takes an XT-60 input and up to 200w of solar panels.
You can use two of these solar panels at just $80/each to get the full 200w of solar charging capacity.
This adapter will connect the MC-4 connections from the solar panels to the XT-60 MPPT input of the battery.
I also used an MC-4 extension and a roof gland to get the solar connections inside the camper. One of the big advantages of this design is that you can add more panels to the roof later and use the same wiring to get the power to a larger future battery system.
If you want a cheaper alternative with a lower maximum power draw, then this battery is perfect. It comes with 297wh and 330 watts of draw. It can also only charge at 100w max so it would take just one of the solar panels.
Option A: 600WH, 1800w Max
Solar Panels: $159.99
Option B: 297WH, 330w Max
Solar Panel: $79.99