I've had a lot of interest in our solar power setup, and I want to share our costs and installation process in the hope of helping others get on the road or become another step closer to self-sufficiency. This system is specced for an RV, but with a few small tweaks, it would easily power a tiny house, yurt, or any number of off-grid housing options. Solar, like any technology that works with nature, needs to be properly adapted to each application. In my next post, we'll take a look at how to determine power needs and what it takes to live off solar.
The most frequent questions I get are how much power do we have and how much did it cost? Before we talk about the bottom line, I need to state that our system is customized for our needs, and you can (and should) examine your own power requirements before you go any further. When I designed our system, it was with the basic goal of supporting two people, their laptops, and a fridge while working anywhere in the country with minimal maintenance. I wanted a reliable system that I could count on without worry or hassle--essentially the Macbook of solar power. That's how we ended up with 600 watts of panels, 275 amp hours of battery storage, and a $2092.62 price tag.
Here's an itemized breakdown of component costs:
- Aluminum "Z" panel mounting brackets (4): $30 (eBay)
- MC4 panel connector ends (10): $8.62 (Amazon)
- Trimetric 2025 RV: $152 (Northern AZ Wind and Sun)
- 500 Amp shunt: $27 (Northern AZ Wind and Sun)
- Tristar 45 PWS: $160 (Northern AZ Wind and Sun)
- DMsolar 158 watt panels (4): $536 (DMsolar)
- Magnum inverter MMS1000: $762 (iMarine USA)
- Magnum MM-50 inverter remote: $47 (Ecodirect)
- Crown CR260 batteries (2): $300 (Michigan Battery)
- #00, #6, and #10 wiring: $60 (Airgas, local welding shop, Ecodirect)
- 1" aluminum conduit: $2 (Home Depot)
- Weatherproof junction box: $10 (Home Depot)
- 10 Ton Hydraulic Wire Crimper: $37 (eBay)
I tried to buy the best, most bulletproof components that were user serviceable. One way that I was able to offset these costs was with tools. Because I hate planned obsolescence, I've made a point of accumulating common mechanical and electrical tools to fix things myself. From a soldering iron and a socket set to a good voltmeter, there's so much you can repair with a few basic tools. I normally can't justify buying a tool to use once, but the solar's wiring terminations required hydraulic crimping and I splurged on one from eBay. Once I completed the cables, I managed to resell it for the same price, but most of the time it looks more like the picture below. During the install process, I was forced to get creative because of tight spaces and my favorite example is still the homemade sticky wrench (patent pending).
You can certainly find cheaper components, but if you depend on solar for your livelihood and independence, as well as having limited space, I don't recommend skimping on equipment. These are electrical components bouncing around a vehicle at freeway speeds, and poor quality will eventually out itself. We've never had a single issue with any of our components, and even when I've been forced to run the batteries hard (think a week of Boston fog during the winter), our system has held up admirably. The only maintenance I have to perform is watering the batteries monthly and pressing a button to equalize them (level out the charge).
Yes, $2000 is a lot of money for solar, but at $30 a night in a campground with full hookups, 60 nights is about $2000. The places we've been able to camp and work for weeks at a time with no generator or shore power have more than made up for a stressful week on installation. Sure, we don't have air conditioning, but people have been fine for thousands of years without it, and besides, we're nomads. If it's the wrong weather, we can move. The point is, to be self-sufficient we had to be willing to live in balance with our power system and be reasonable with our energy demands. All the technology is here, you just have to put it together.